Real Life

Nicky Pellegrino's wake up call

How former Weekly editor Nicky Pellegrino - now the beauty editor - became the author of her own destiny

By Nicky Pellegrino

It’s exciting to have a new book out, to see it on shop shelves and hear from readers who have enjoyed it. This month, I’ve released my seventh novel – The Food of Love Cookery School. And I’m just as nervous about how it will be received as I was with my first one a decade ago.

Writing has always been the only thing I’m any good at. I was fired from a waitressing job, failed as a shop assistant, and I can’t add or subtract without using a calculator. But I love books.

As an awkward adolescent, they were my faithful companions. I dreamed that someday I would write one myself.

The trouble was, someday never seemed to come. My excuse was being too busy. At the end of a long day working on magazines, I felt tired and stressed. The last thing I wanted was to sit with a laptop and try to write fiction. No, far easier
to slump in front of the TV with a glass of wine. But someday I’d do it, I kept telling myself.

I even had an idea. I was going to travel to my father’s hometown in southern Italy and spend six months with my Neapolitan aunts, learning how to cook our family recipes then weave a novel around them. I would take the time off work and do it. Someday.

And then, one afternoon, I was sitting at my desk at New Zealand Woman’s Weekly when my email pinged with a message from a friend who worked at TVNZ. It was to tell me that, at the age of 56, newsreader Angela D’Audney had been diagnosed with a brain tumour. I wasn’t very close to Angela at that point, but I’d interviewed her a few times and been to her house in Auckland’s Kohimarama. The last time I’d visited, she’d been having a new deck built. “Come back and have a drink on it someday when it’s finished,” she’d said.

She repeated the invitation several times in the months that followed, but I never quite got round to it. Even though I knew it would be lovely, I thought I was too busy to get away.

And so, when that email arrived to tell me she was dying, I had a powerful realisation of how short and unpredictable life can be. I call it my seize-the-day moment. In a flash, I understood you should never put off the things you really want to do. I’d told myself someday I would write a novel. But now I saw that if I kept procrastinating, someday might never come.

At home that evening, I fired up my old computer and wrote the beginning of my first book, Delicious. I continued to potter away with it at weekends and holidays, telling myself it didn’t matter if the thing never got published – I only had to finish it to cross it off my bucket list.

And then Angela phoned me. She had been approached to write her memoir, but was too ill to tackle it herself, so wondered if if I would help her write it. I said yes, of course.

At that point, we knew Angela didn’t have much time left, so I put Delicious aside and devoted all my spare moments to her story. It remains the most difficult, saddest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Every time I saw Angela, she had deteriorated a little more. Soon, the woman famed for her amazing diction couldn’t speak at all. But there was no crying in front of her – she’d have hated that. Instead, I would sob in my car all the way back home.

Angela: A Wonderful Life (Penguin) hit the top spot in the bestsellers list and, thankfully, she was there to see it happen. After that, returning to my own novel seemed like such a luxury and a pleasure. I even managed to finish it and sent it off to a few publishers and agents.

Delicious has gone on to be sold all over the world. It‘s the book that changed my life. I left my magazine job to freelance so I’d have time to write. And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.

It can be tough at times, but there it can also be glorious.

Discovering that TVNZ newsreader Angela D’Audney had been diagnosed with a brain tumour had a major impact on then Weekly editor Nicky, who went on to help the beloved star pen her memoir.
Discovering that TVNZ newsreader Angela D’Audney had been diagnosed with a brain tumour had a major impact on then Weekly editor Nicky, who went on to help the beloved star pen her memoir.

For The Food of Love Cookery School, I got to eat my way around Sicily, and I’ve just returned from Venice, where I’ve been researching the next book I’m planning.

Lots of people have helped me along the way, but if not for Angela, I might never have started in the first place.

I can’t claim that I never procrastinate – that would be a huge lie. But if there’s a thing really want to do, I don’t put it off until someday. Not any more.

Oh yes, and I did finally have that drink on Angela’s deck. Sadly, it was at her funeral.

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