We're delighted to present an extract from The Italian Escape, the debut novel by Catherine Mangan, published by Sphere.

Niamh Kelly has made a right pig's ear of her life thus far. She’s thirty-three, still living at home and was recently dumped… by her boss. So when her sister invites her to tag along on a work trip to Italy’s Ligurian coast, impulsive Niamh jumps at the chance, and discovers a world of wine, opportunity and friendship.

With help from her new-found community, can she make her new life a success?


It was the most perfect palette of colours, Niamh thought, as the ferry rounded the edge of the promontory and made a right turn in the direction of Camogli. They were still a few miles out from the town as they turned and faced into the bay, but even all the way back out here the town looked like a warm orange glow at the foot of a lush, dense green hill. The buildings were taller than in Portofino and they stretched far left and right beyond what looked like the beach and the pier. The strong sea breeze had helped shake off some of the overindulgent cobwebs, and Niamh was starting to feel a bit more human. Grace was still unusually quiet and sat back against the railing with her eyes closed and face tilted up to the sun. The ferry continued steadily towards the village of Camogli, the burnt orange buildings getting larger as they drew closer.

The bay was protected by massive, overgrown cliffs on the right side, dotted here and there with pretty villas. To the left was Genoa, resembling little other than a white Lego town in the distance, and straight ahead of them sat Camogli. As the ferry slowed and made its approach, it veered right and followed the still waters around the pier, into the marina. The difference in the boats at this marina was notable. These were fishing vessels and small pleasure boats, nothing like the hyperbolic statements of wealth and affluence she had seen in Portofino.

The coloured collection of buildings stood five or six storeys tall in front of them. Many of the windows had been flung open, as if to invite in the warm, early summer air. Lines of laundry flapped in the breeze. Not uniformly starched, white linens but rather a more domestic, honest kind of laundry of underwear and towels. The ferry chugged to a stop, pulling up at one of two piers, and began to disgorge its passengers along a narrow wooden plank.

'Are we there?' asked Grace as she stood and followed Niamh down the stairs.

‘Yep. Let’s go find a coffee.’

‘Definitely.’

They followed the long line of passengers along the pier and up towards the town. Everyone ambled along, with no one appearing to be in any particular hurry. Niamh noticed that they hadn’t heard any English spoken since they had left their hotel earlier that morning.

‘Oh look!’ Niamh gushed as she pointed at one building after another.

‘Can we please just get a coffee first? I promise I’ll be more human then. Just a large injection of caffeine and I’ll function much more normally,’ Grace said quietly, as she hid behind a wide-brimmed hat and oversized sunglasses.

‘There’s an Illy coffee sign right ahead.’

‘Best news I’ve heard all day,’ Grace mumbled, following Niamh through the meandering clusters of people. The crowd splintered once they had left the marina and they made their way easily up into the town. Cafés, restaurants and gelaterias were clearly in abundance. A narrow street sloped up into a piazza with commanding views of the marina and the bay. From there the street climbed higher to a wide pedestrian promenade. It was late Friday morning now, and the promenade was getting busy, but everyone looked and sounded Italian.

‘They can’t all be Italian, can they?’ Niamh asked, as they pulled up two white chairs outside the café.

‘Why not? We are in Italy, after all. What were you expecting? Arabs?’ Grace asked sarcastically.

‘God, I had forgotten how pissy you get when you’re hungover. I’m going to stop speaking to you now until you have mainlined some caffeine and normal levels of human decency back into your system.’

Niamh ordered two cappuccinos and a couple of biscotti in the little café. The girl behind the counter clearly didn’t speak English and so the short exchange was conducted solely in Italian, with strong support from hand gestures. The girl motioned for Niamh to take a seat, indicating that she would bring the coffees out once they were ready.

‘The coffee is so good here, isn’t it?’ Grace said, sipping her cappuccino. ‘Why does everything taste better here?’

‘Dunno, it does though. Are you up for a walk around before lunch?’

‘Yes, I’m starting to feel human again. Sorry for being such a witch all morning. My headache is starting to ease now, too. Good biscotti!’ Grace wiped crumbs from her mouth.

‘Ooh look, Grace! An estate agent. Let’s take a look. I’d love to know what a place here would cost. You know the way people stick things on their fridge for motivation? Mine could be an apartment here in Italy.’

The Italian Escape by Catherine Mangan is published by Sphere, 29th April 2021, Trade Paperback, £12.99

It was the most perfect palette of colours, Niamh thought, as the ferry rounded the edge of the promontory and made a right turn in the direction of Camogli. They were still a few miles out from the town as they turned and faced into the bay, but even all the way back out here the town looked like a warm orange glow at the foot of a lush, dense green hill. The buildings were taller than in Portofino and they stretched far left and right beyond what looked like the beach and the pier. The strong sea breeze had helped shake off some of the overindulgent cobwebs, and Niamh was starting to feel a bit more human. Grace was still unusually quiet and sat back against the railing with her eyes closed and face tilted up to the sun. The ferry continued steadily towards the village of Camogli, the burnt orange buildings getting larger as they drew closer.

The bay was protected by massive, overgrown cliffs on the right side, dotted here and there with pretty villas. To the left was Genoa, resembling little other than a white Lego town in the distance, and straight ahead of them sat Camogli. As the ferry slowed and made its approach, it veered right and followed the still waters around the pier, into the marina. The difference in the boats at this marina was notable. These were fishing vessels and small pleasure boats, nothing like the hyperbolic statements of wealth and affluence she had seen in Portofino.

The coloured collection of buildings stood five or six storeys tall in front of them. Many of the windows had been flung open, as if to invite in the warm, early summer air. Lines of laundry flapped in the breeze. Not uniformly starched, white linens but rather a more domestic, honest kind of laundry of underwear and towels. The ferry chugged to a stop, pulling up at one of two piers, and began to disgorge its passengers along a narrow wooden plank.

'Are we there?' asked Grace as she stood and followed Niamh down the stairs.

‘Yep. Let’s go find a coffee.’

‘Definitely.’

They followed the long line of passengers along the pier and up towards the town. Everyone ambled along, with no one appearing to be in any particular hurry. Niamh noticed that they hadn’t heard any English spoken since they had left their hotel earlier that morning.

‘Oh look!’ Niamh gushed as she pointed at one building after another.

‘Can we please just get a coffee first? I promise I’ll be more human then. Just a large injection of caffeine and I’ll function much more normally,’ Grace said quietly, as she hid behind a wide-brimmed hat and oversized sunglasses.

‘There’s an Illy coffee sign right ahead.’

‘Best news I’ve heard all day,’ Grace mumbled, following Niamh through the meandering clusters of people. The crowd splintered once they had left the marina and they made their way easily up into the town. Cafés, restaurants and gelaterias were clearly in abundance. A narrow street sloped up into a piazza with commanding views of the marina and the bay. From there the street climbed higher to a wide pedestrian promenade. It was late Friday morning now, and the promenade was getting busy, but everyone looked and sounded Italian.

‘They can’t all be Italian, can they?’ Niamh asked, as they pulled up two white chairs outside the café.

‘Why not? We are in Italy, after all. What were you expecting? Arabs?’ Grace asked sarcastically.

‘God, I had forgotten how pissy you get when you’re hungover. I’m going to stop speaking to you now until you have mainlined some caffeine and normal levels of human decency back into your system.’

Niamh ordered two cappuccinos and a couple of biscotti in the little café. The girl behind the counter clearly didn’t speak English and so the short exchange was conducted solely in Italian, with strong support from hand gestures. The girl motioned for Niamh to take a seat, indicating that she would bring the coffees out once they were ready.

‘The coffee is so good here, isn’t it?’ Grace said, sipping her cappuccino. ‘Why does everything taste better here?’

‘Dunno, it does though. Are you up for a walk around before lunch?’

‘Yes, I’m starting to feel human again. Sorry for being such a witch all morning. My headache is starting to ease now, too. Good biscotti!’ Grace wiped crumbs from her mouth.

‘Ooh look, Grace! An estate agent. Let’s take a look. I’d love to know what a place here would cost. You know the way people stick things on their fridge for motivation? Mine could be an apartment here in Italy.’

The Italian Escape by Catherine Mangan (published by Sphere) is out now.