Friday, 2 November 2012

The paperback version of Death In The Sun came out yesterday, published by Faber, and I thought it might interest some of you to see where some elements of the story began.

My love affair with Spain is thirty five years old now, and for the past twelve years the Alpujarras has been home for periods of time. Death In The Sun is set in the Alpujarras and many scenes take place in actual places, or conflations of real places.
Here are some of them.

This is the cortijo of my friend Manolo who is the pastor (shepherd) in real life Almagen, which is largely based on the village of Yegen, home to the Bloomsbury writer, Gerald Brenan. Manolo's cortijo is the inspiration for the shepherd's house in the novel. Using all my powers of imagination, I came up with the name Manolo for my shepherd in the story.

This is the village of Yegen and Staffe's house in the cluster of  houses that you see.

In the novel, Staffe attends a matanza and this is a collection of friends from the Alpujarras up the mountain and down to no good. Recall is dim and fogged by home-made wine and cheap whisky but I'm pretty sure we were in the cortijo on which El Nido is based in the story.

Almagen's church square and a view of the ayuntamiento. Harry's school is to the left.

This is the bridge from which Raul Guitterez plunged to his death. To the left and out of shot is a lower, Roman bridge, beneath the village of Mecina, which is actually based on the real village of Valor, famed for its Fiesta of Moors and Christians, the first week in September.

People talk about the real Spain and the Alpujarras is as close as you will get. Life in 2012 is still very much the way it was when this photograph was taken. The mules are still there, the fascist dictator long gone, save ghostly images here and there in photographs and on cigarette lighters.

This is the grand entrance to Barrington's quite humble dwelling, and where his widow still lives.

The author in Eduardo's Bar Fuente - the real one. Wringing out a scene and sipping mint tea in the comedor until the ne'erdowells drift in for beer and tapas and raucous laughter.

Sad, the things a writer can persuade his family to do - in the name of getting in the mood.

A view from El Nido, with the Silla Montar in the background and Olive trees half way. The village of Mecina can be discerned to the right. The snow seldom lets entirely and it is this which fuels the irrigation system which the Moors designed and which makes this an improbably fertile region . 

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Death in the Sun and Books4Spain

Here is an extract from a virtual interview with Books 4 Spain

Twitter: @books4spain

What inspired you to write Death in the Sun and how much did you know about Spain before writing it?
The villagers in the real Almagen love a rumour and from time to time they refer to a woman being buried up the mountain. And you only have to drive through the dilapidated plastic farms on the Almeria coast to have shivers up and down the spine. It's very sinister. I have been to Spain every year since I was seventeen (that's  lot of years) and have had a village house in the Alpujarras for a dozen years. My understanding of Spain was formed on that first trip when I visited Franco's tomb at Val de los Caidos outside Madrid and sat with battalions of old men in suits weeping on the steps outside. They were weeping for Franco. I didn't understand. On subsequent trips I formed a love for the desolate Extremadura region which is landlocked and produced a generation of sailors who found the New World. With Spain, it is certainly a case of 'the more you know, the less you know'.

What did you learn about Spain, its people, culture and history as a result of writing Death in the Sun.
The taboos around the Civil War are beginning to fade, but very slowly, and as guirris, we are still very much on eggshells, but you can have conversations now that wouldn't have been possible, say, 15 years ago. The war itself, at a local level and forgetting (if we can) the brutality of Franco, had little that was good on either side. The longer history, of Moors and flamenco and bullfighting is still prevalent and an infathomable puzzle to the outsider. 

Would you set another one of your novels in Spain?
I have every intention of doing so. The long story-line of the DI Staffe series requires him to track down and encounter the killer of his parents: an ETA terrorist in hiding in Extremadura - still my favourite part of Spain. I would love to write a history of Spain as told through its fiestas. I would even do all the research myself! 

Do you remember your first encounter with Spain and, if so, what was it?
In Barcelona 1978, a mussel fisherman mistook me for his nephew and insisted on taking me home to his wife, who fed me and told him he was a fool. They kept us for three days. Barcelona was a dusty and dangerous place then, more like Tangiers than its modern self and the only way we could get from Barcelona to Madrid was to stow away on an army bus.  It nearly got us arrested.

Has your encounter with Spanish culture changed the way you live?
I certainly like to hop from bar to bar in England as in Spain, and go out to meet new people and have new conversations, which is how it works in Spain but I am fundamentally reserved in a way that defines me as immovably English and whilst I live to a totally different rhythm when in Andalucia, there is very little of that domestic routine which I bring back with me to England. When I'm home in Derbyshire I automatically become slightly less gregarious and flamboyant and eat more potatoes and less rice, though our intake of Ribera and Rioja is probably above the national average and we always have a Recebo jamon on the go.

Is there one thing in particular about Spain that you love?
Speaking in a foreign language is peculiarly liberating, especially when you lack command. People seem to like a well-meaning buffoon. It's a cliche, but the sun does make an enormous difference to one's life, outlook, and behaviour. Drinking brandy in the village square until two in the morning, watching children play and waiting for it to become cool enough to sleep is the greatest joy.

Is there one thing in particular about Spain that drives you mad?
The middle class of my generation can be terribly snobbish and when you look at how 'far' Spain has come since 1975 that is probably not surprising but often I find it easier to get on with the old and young in Spain. I suspect the racist tendency is a manifestation of this and I was appalled watching the Spain-Italy game in the Prado district of Madrid (like Kensington) to witness the abuse that Mario Balotelli received. Lewis Hamilton gets the same. 

People are always very curious about a writer’s daily routine, do you have a set routine or is it ever-changing?
I prefer the mornings and also like writing on the hoof. When in Spain, I have a routine in which I go for bread and fruit first thing in the morning, then to my friend Eduardo's Bar Fuente where he lets me sit in the comedor. I write 500 words over a cortado, then have a chat. Then another 500 words over a sol y sombra. I know when it's going well because there'll be another 500 words over a glass of his own 'Terreno' wine. Sometimes, the day just drifts straight into lunch. There's a whole section on the Writer's Life on my website (awful plug, I know!)

If you had to recommend one book to someone who knew very little about Spain, which one would you recommend them to read.
Robert Elms' love of Spain is infectious and he wrote a book called 'Spain' about 20 years ago. It is a snapshot of modern Spain in evolution. If that is out of print, it would be Giles Tremlett's, 'Ghosts of Spain'.

What book are you reading at the moment?
'A Late Dinner' by Paul Richardson.