When the Mountains Dance

When the Mountains Dance is a heartfelt, thought-provoking and boldly intimate story imbued with love but also tough reality and intrigue. It is a story about the places that make us, and the life-changing thunderbolts that can come at all of us, at any time from any quarter.

“A brilliant memoir” Mariella Frostrup

Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson ( 2023) it transports you to a small medieval earthquake-stricken town in the Italian mountains and invites you to reflect on those places and moments in your own life that have shaped and shaken you and, in doing so, remade your world.



‘In the wake of the strongest earthquake in Italy for nearly forty years and the many aftershocks that followed, Italians began speaking of the earth beneath their feet as la terra ballerina, the dancing earth. The dance they spoke of was unrelenting…’

Foreign correspondent Christine Toomey spent years renovating her glorious, long-abandoned hill-top home in Amandola, a small medieval town just within the boundaries of the Monti Sibillini national park in Le Marche, Italy, as a haven of rest from covering crises around the world. But in 2016, the peace and beauty of this beloved landscape were thrown into chaos when a series of powerful earthquakes struck the heart of the Apennines.

Wracked with grief for a place still reverberating with seismic aftershocks, Christine set out on a journey of discovery through the history of a landscape that gave birth to so much of Western culture and civilisation, telling the stories of those who were violently and abruptly forced from their homes and communities overnight.

Fuelled by a collection of century-old letters, oil paintings and an earthquake map of Sicily hidden away and thick with dust in her attic, she becomes increasingly absorbed in the life of the last permanent resident of her house, the enigmatic priest, Don Federico Bellesi, and begins to unravel his own myriad connections to the convulsions that rock the region.

Underlying WHEN THE MOUNTAINS DANCE is a recognition of the fundamental uncertainty that defines all our lives, the truth that there is really no such thing as solid ground, and that earthquakes come in different guises and reshape our lives again and again.