WHILE she was growing up Patricia Borlenghi never knew she had a severe hearing problem. It wasn’t until she was 39 that she was diagnosed with a degenerative hearing condition called otosclerosis. Here the novelist and founder of Patrician Press publishing house talks to Louise Howeson about her battles and triumphs.

"I WENT to a very regimented convent school where I quickly learned to adapt to the fact I couldn’t hear.

I could hear some things, but mostly I would lip read to get by. Not that I even realised I was doing it at that time. I thought everyone else was the same.

I think being surrounded by very empowered nuns, who proved that women could get on alone, was good for me. It gave me a sense of independence.

It was not until I was nearly 40 that I was diagnosed with otosclerosis. Now I have a very discreet hearing aid, which means I can still partially hear. I do think about what it would be like if I lost my hearing completely.

I would get on with things of course, but I would miss music and bird song most of all. However, I would be completely lost without my sight. I love writing too much to imagine not seeing the words on a page.

After graduating from university in 1975, I got a job at Usborne, the children’s book publisher, where I worked in foreign sales and production.

It’s a cut-throat industry and I saw a lot of people’s manuscripts end up in the bin. I speak Italian and would go every year to the Bologna book fair and it became a place me and my husband Charles visited.

Both sets of my grandparents grew up in Italy, in provinces of Bologna. Their names were Celesta and Joseph Berni, and Romeo and Filomena Borlenghi. Now I actually live in my grandmother Celesta’s house.

My latest novel, Zaira, is loosely based on her life. She was a strong woman, who moved to the UK to start a life there. I was inspired by her adventurousness and I also wanted to show how a woman in 19th Century Italy could prosper in life, despite coming from a humble background.

Now Charles, who’s an artist, and I live half the year in Italy and the other half in Essex. Food and drink is a big part of our lives in Italy and I am currently writing a book entitled Food Fetish – a Life of Eating and Drinking. It is a year-long food diary. Once I had finished my MA in Creative Writing at the University of Essex, I set up the publishing house to allow other writers the opportunity to get their work out there. Writers seem to need an agent now and that can be as hard as getting a book deal.

It was a vanity project, I admit, but it was something I wanted to do. There is a freedom in being able to publish your own work.

I did make the mistake of not employing a copy editor with the hard copy of Zaira and I have gone on to find some mistakes.

However, the beauty of e-books is that the changes are ongoing. If people comment on the story and give feedback, I will consider it and if I think it is a valid suggestion, I will make changes.
I didn’t even know what an e-book was before I started Patrician Press – now I am hooked!"