Welcome everyone Sandra in Spain - FlamencoI’m Sandra Piddock, and I’m a freelance writer, dividing my time between Spain and the UK. I’ll write about anything that interests and/or challenges me, and I like to focus on the lighter side of life whenever possible.. Read more
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Writers On Spain

My writing career started when I moved to Spain, because I got fed up of hearing different opinions from the Bar Stool Experts, and started finding things out for myself.  Lots of other writers said the same, and there are lots of talented writers and journalists who have made their homes in Spain. This is their showcase. If you write about Spain, and you’d like to be featured here, get in touch and we’ll talk some more.

Book Review: The Path Keeper by N. J. Simmonds

N. J. Simmonds's first novel, The Path Keeper

N. J. Simmonds’s first novel, The Path Keeper

N. J. Simmonds’s first novel The Path Keeper is due for release in February as young adult fiction, but it’s so very much more than that! Poor Little Rich Girl Ella – Arabella Imaculada Santiago De Los Rios to give her her full name – is torn between two lovers, mysterious poor boy Zac and decorative rich boy Josh. She’s full of angst, having been dragged from her childhood and spiritual home in southern Spain to London to play happy families with her mother Felicity and her stepfather Richard in London. To Ella, London is a ‘Shitty city,’ and she doesn’t care if she loses friends with her attitude. As she wryly observes:

‘The fewer people there are in her life, the less chance there is of it being fucked up further.’

Her mood isn’t helped when Richard – who she loves as much as she loves her Mum and respects a lot more – insists on adopting her, so that she can take his surname. The combination of Ella with Richard’s surname Fantz results in her being ridiculed and called Dumbo (Ella Fantz, geddit?). The name-calling follows her from Spain to London, and she’s like a fish out of water until she meets Zac.

Ella is foul mouthed and feisty – Zac describes her as having ‘The face of an angel and the mouth of a sailor.’ She’s also vulnerable and troubled, and it would be so easy for her to become a caricature of a stroppy teenager, but Simmonds’s  characterisation is far too subtle and clever to allow that to happen.

This isn’t just a simple love story either – although it is powerful, poignant and very different to the usual ‘boy meets girl’ stuff. Zac and Ella indulge in some deep and meaningful discussions on life and religion, as Ella learns more about her mysterious lover, who seems to appear out of nowhere every time she thinks of him. The discussions never get too serious though, because Simmonds’s wicked sense of humour shines through when you least expect it. When Zac tells Convent-educated  Ella that God doesn’t exist, she replies:

How come some guys wrote about God and Jesus and millions have worshipped it for 2,000 years if it’s all a load of bollocks?

Under her cynical carapace though, Ella is a lost, lonely, frightened girl, and Zac realises this only too well. In fact, he knows everything about her, because he is special as well as mysterious. When they flee to Spain to try to resolve their situation, he sums up the swearing and shouting by telling her ‘I realise your words are a carriage for your fear.’

Zac and Ella discuss life, religion and love, and Simmonds uses these discussions as a vehicle for her sharp wit, as this conversation shows:

Ella: We’ve done nothing wrong. We love each other, and doesn’t that mean anything?

Zac: Apparently not.

Ella: But you said all you need is love.

Zac: No, you’re mistaking me for the Beatles. I said all there is is love, and sometimes even that isn’t enough.

So there is laughter, love, happiness and profanity in The Path Keeper. There is also loss, tragedy, mistakes and mayhem. There is no happy ending – once we know Zac’s secret, that’s not an option, even in a fantasy novel such as this. However, there is hope – hope for a future where love is enough, and where families can be happy, once the secrets are known.

N. J. Simmonds’s first novel is a gripping read which will make you laugh and make you sad. It will also make you question what you have always believed about life, love and faith. I couldn’t put it down – and I doubt if you will be able to either. You can read a sample chapter here, ahead of the launch.

The Path Keeper launches 23 February 2017, but you can pre-order your copy here or ask for it at all good bookshops. N J Simmonds will be touring London with her debut novel next month and will be in Spain in April. To see where she will be next, and receive the latest news on this title and the sequel ‘Son of Secrets’, visit njsimmonds.com.

When Writers On Spain get together, the result is Tails of the Alpujarras!

Tails of the Alpujarras, with cover artwork by Charlotte Moore

Tails of the Alpujarras, with cover artwork by Charlotte Moore

One thing I love about being a Writer On Spain is that I meet and mix with so many many talented writers who are genuinely nice people too. In our Facebook Group, we have a lot of fun, but we also pass on helpful tips, share each other’s work to spread the love, and occasionally, we collaborate on a project. So when David Luddington asked for our help in writing an anthology to raise funds for Valle Verde Animal Rescue on the Costa Tropical, in Southern Spain, several of us signed up.

Like Writers On Spain, Valle Verde started out on Facebook, when Freya offered to foster a dog rescued by Linda. Now, the centre has been going for just over a year, during which time more than 200 animals have been rescued, treated and rehomed. The  centre receives no government aid and survives purely on public donations. The idea for the book came from David, who writes comedy fiction, and his publishers, Mirador Publishing, agreed to sponsor it.

Now – in the summer of 2015 – the book is in the shops, on Amazon, and available for download. There are 35 stories in all, and all have an animal at the heart of the tale – or maybe that should be tail? It’s a surprising and satisfying mix, with fiction, true life stories to melt and break your heart in equal measure, and even a few poems. There’s a mix of bestselling writers, published authors, bloggers and just people with a passion for animals who can write and want to help.

Chris Stewart, of Driving Over Lemons fame kicks of the proceedings with The Near Death of Bumble, a funny-but-almost-tragic tale of a dog who braved a raging river rather than be parted from his humans for even a few minutes. It’s a sort of doggy version of the old song Running Bear, and it resonated with me, because I could imagine Paddy doing that too. I can’t even go to the loo without him, so he couldn’t bear for us to be separated by water. Then it’s the turn of Costa Blanca radio station owner, writer and patron of Samaritans in Spain Dave Bull. He’s made several contributions to the book, and it seems his dogs are just as mad as he is.

One person who knows all about rescue animals in Spain and the work that goes into it behind the scenes is Jane Walters. While living in Northern Spain, she volunteered to help at an animal shelter. In between shovelling – well, you know what – and cleaning kennels, she gradually fell in love with Buddy, a big, black, hairy hound who went home with her at the end of her volunteer stint. He accompanied her back to England when she left Spain, and is about to come back home when Jane moves to the Costa Blanca soon. It’s a heartwarming story, told from two points of view.

Saxon, by David Luddington, is a doggy reincarnation tale, and  It’s a Dog’s Life by Fran Scott is a real tearjerker, although both stories are timely reminders that dogs, like us, have feelings and crossing the Rainbow Bridge isn’t the end, but a new beginning. Quirky Medium Alison Wynn-Ryder makes that clear in her contribution. Sarah Luddington makes a typical off-the-wall contribution with Dog’s Angel, the story of how a supposedly dangerous dog brought two lovers together against the odds. The book is full of such gems, and it’s a real treat for all animal lovers, as well as people who appreciate good writing. There’s one from Yours Truly too, about when Paddy came home.

I’m proud to be part of such an excellent collaboration to help the animals who find their way to Valle Verde. You can help these deserving creatures, and help Linda and Freya to continue with their inspiring work, by buying and reviewing Tails of the Alpujarras. Why not start your Christmas shopping early and buy the book for an animal-loving friend?

 

Writers On Spain: Inka Piegsa-quischotte – The globe-trotting Glamour Granny from Germany!

Glamour Granny Inka, looking very much at home in Torrevieja's Casino

Glamour Granny Inka, looking very much at home in Torrevieja’s Casino

I love the interaction in our Facebook Writers On Spain Group, and I get on so well with my fellow writers in there, I often wish some of them lived closer to me, so we could meet up for real. So when I found out that relatively new member Inka Piegsa-quischotte was based just 10 miles away in Torrevieja, I was delighted.

Inka didn’t have transport, and in any case, she didn’t have a clue where Algorfa was. Most people don’t until they arrive here, and then they wish they’d known about it before. So we scheduled a meeting in the Casino in Torrevieja. In my six years in Spain, I’d never been to the Casino, so I was blown away when I entered the beautiful salon, to be greeted by Inka’s beaming smile.

Being a blogger, I never pass up the chance of new material, and Inka kindly agreed to be interviewed for my Writers On Spain series. Once we’d got the gossip and the laughter out of the way – don’t know the last time I had so much fun without intimate body contact – I settled down to find out more about this very glamorous granny, who looks anything but granny-like.

Born in Berlin, Germany, Inka has travelled so much since her teens she doesn’t consider any country is exclusively home. She describes herself as a ‘Born nomad,’ and home is wherever she is now. By that yardstick, Inka has had more homes than most. She’s lived and worked in Turkey, Miami, Beirut, Oman, Spain and London.

Until recently, Inka was a lawyer with her own law firm. After studying law in Switzerland, she obtained law degrees in Germany, London and Granada, Spain. She spent 15 years in Marbella during the 1990s, practicing law there and also in London.
Travel has always been Inka’s main love though. After obtaining her first degree, she took a year out to travel Africa with her then boyfriend. It wasn’t very glamorous, and when they returned, the boyfriend vowed he never wanted to travel again. Inka, though, was well and truly bitten by the travel bug.

She’s not your typical foreign tourist either – she loves to immerse herself in the language and culture of her favourite places, and she has a particular affinity with Arabs. She told me she speaks four and a quarter languages, and I wondered how that worked.

‘Well, I’m pretty fluent in English, German, French and Spanish, but the Turkish is a work in progress!’

Inka’s last ‘home’ before landing in Torrevieja a year ago was Turkey, with winters spent in Miami. And Turkey is responsible for getting Inka into writing. Around five years ago, Inka was strolling with a friend along the waterfront in Kusadasi, and she met two American women in a state of panic. They were passengers from a cruise ship, and while they had answered a call of nature, they’d misplaced their husbands. Such was their distraction, they couldn’t see the cruise ship that was towering over them, and asked Inka and her friend to direct them to it!

‘They were typical helpless travellers, lost without their men, and I wanted to do something about it. I couldn’t believe anybody could be so useless they couldn’t find a ship on a waterfront – and it was the only one in the port!’

Once she got over her disbelief, Inka made it her mission to tell people to ‘Get off their backsides and see the world,’ and she does it beautifully through her Glamour Granny Travels blog. The blogs are witty, entertaining and informative in equal measure, because Inka doesn’t do Regurgitated Guide Book stuff. She’s been there, done it and got the t-shirt – even though the t-shirt is likely to be a designer one rather than one with ‘I Love Benidorm’ across the front!

If you’re looking for backpacking, roughing-it travel guides, Inka’s blog is probably not what you’re after, but although Inka is a Glamour Granny, she writes about places that are within almost everybody’s budget, as well as giving insights into the luxury resorts. So the blog is for anybody who loves to travel, as long as they travel with more than a rolled up one man tent and a spare pair of knickers.

So, are Inka’s travels over? Has the Glamour Granny finally settled down? Sadly for me – for I really got to know and like Inka during our meeting – the answer is a definite No.

‘Torrevieja is home for now, but I haven’t finished travelling yet. It may be a cliché, but I really am a true citizen of the world.’
She’s also an excellent Writer On Spain – and other countries – so check out Inka’s blog and travel guides soon. Who knows, maybe one day she’ll be your neighbour – she hasn’t yet decided where her next ‘home’ will be!

Writers On Spain: Debs Jenkins – The Boy Mad Brummie Cook From La Murta!

Debs, doing what she does best - providing hospitality

Debs, doing what she does best – providing hospitality

How to begin to describe my latest Writer On Spain, Debs Jenkins? The title of the post only scratches the surface, because Debs has done so much in her 44 years, I should probably be doing a biography here.

Born and raised in Birmingham, Debs always knew she wanted to be a writer, but her Career Advisor at school said she needed to train for a proper job. The teenage Debs was only interested in writing and boys, so she decided to become an electronics engineer after studying for a degree at Birmingham University. As Debs freely admits, she only did it to meet men – and it worked!

‘I met my two husbands through electronics, so it served a purpose. I got made redundant after a few years, which was probably just as well, as I’m not in the market for Husband Number Three!’

After being made redundant, Debs took any work she could find, but didn’t really enjoy it, so she set up a marketing company at the grand old age of 24. It was a home based start-up, but within a year or so, it was a big concern with several staff. And this was when Debs really got her teeth into the writing, and along with her brother she co- wrote ‘The best-ever book on marketing in the world.’

It might well have been the best in its niche, but nobody wanted to publish it. Not to be deterred, Debs and her brother set up their own publishing company, and published it themselves. At the time, it wasn’t easy to self publish, but Debs is a ‘Can Do’ person, and she did it. Again, the business went from strength to strength, and when Debs moved to Spain in 2005, her brother came with her and they ran the publishing business from La Murta in Murcia. However, after a year, her brother decided Spain wasn’t for him, so he returned to England and took over the running of the publishing company.

When we looked at properties in Spain, the apartment that’s now our home was the first place we saw, but Debs’ finca at La Murta in the Sierra del Carrascoy was the last place she viewed. Debs and her husband Marcus had almost given up hope of finding their dream home in Spain, but when she arrived in La Murta, she knew she was home. La Murta is a small village with a population of just over 100, and the Jenkins family are the only Brits there.

So, did the villagers take them to their hearts? Absolutely! Even though the children who have learned English from Debs are now talking with a broad Brummie accent!

In fact, living in La Murta is directly responsible for Debs’ two Spanish cookery books. The first one, Spanish Cooking Uncovered: Farmhouse Favourites has a fascinating back story. A Spanish friend showed Debs 2,600 hand written recipes he’d discovered in his finca, and asked if anything could be done with them. The recipes belonged to his grandmother Maria Luisa, and they dated back to the time of the Spanish Civil War. The book features more than 80 recipes, accompanied by stunning photos.

Debs is justly proud of this book, but her favourite is a book that came to life as a village fundraising initiative. La Murta may be small, but like all Spanish villages and towns, the fiesta is its life blood. Debs and her husband are honoured to have been chosen to serve on the fiesta committee on more than one occasion, and in 2013, they had the idea of producing a cookery book to raise funds for fiestas.

Debs asked in the local panaderia (bakery – of which there are three in La Murta) if anyone would be interested in contributing recipes to the book. The answer was a resounding ‘Si,’ and within two weeks, 40 local chefs had cooked over 150 recipes. Debs had the arduous task of photographing – and tasting – every single one. She remembers the experience well:

‘I love my food, and I loved the research for the book, but I put on a pile of weight. The Mediterranean Diet is a healthy one – but not when you’re eating on the scale I was. I mean, I had to try all the recipes, didn’t I?’

The book – Spanish Village Cooking – Recetas Del Campo – raised €2,000 for the 2014 fiesta, and has already raised around the same amount towards the 2015 celebrations. It’s written in both Spanish and English, and it’s clearly very close to Debs’ heart. Although she has written a number of books, including the best-selling Going Native In Murcia, she’s loving her role as a cookery ambassador for La Murta, and there are more cookery and travel books in the pipeline.

I was born within about 10 miles of Debs, in Walsall, West Midlands, and I discovered a real affinity with this warm hearted, generous Midlander who has slotted so seamlessly into life in a Spanish pueblo. She truly is one of the great Writers On Spain.

Photo Credit: Debs Jenkins

Writers On Spain: Simon Harris the Nottingham born Catalan!

Simon Harris - author, property finder, musician and advocate for Catalan independence

Simon Harris – author, property finder, musician and advocate for Catalan independence

Simon Harris hails from Nottingham in the Midlands region of England, and like many people, he pitched up in Spain by accident and ended up staying. Back in 1988, Simon was hanging around in London, feeling as if his life had closed down when his grant to study music in America at Berklee College of Music, Boston was withdrawn on the grounds that music ‘wasn’t important.’ His brother suggested Simon joined him in Barcelona to shake down and decide what he wanted to do next.

Simon took his guitar to Barcelona for a couple of weeks and never came back or looked back. The original plan was to give up music and teach English, but like most plans, it changed, and Simon joined a band until he met his Catalan wife and said goodbye to the rock and roll lifestyle. He settled down to teach English and have the occasional jam session with the jazz crowd in Barcelona.

However, 26 years on, Simon is still very much a performer, and I would love to have been in his English class, with him ‘Giving it shit in an arrogant way, giving it everything I’ve got.’ Simon is passionate about everything he does, and supporting Catalonia’s dual quest for more political autonomy and independence from Spain has become something of a crusade for him.

How does a lad from Nottingham with music in his soul become so enthusiastically pro-Catalan? Initially by deciding to support Barcelona rather than Real Madrid, which got him involved with Catalan society pretty quickly. He also learned the language, and if you can speak Catalan and absorb and understand the culture, you will be accepted as a Catalan, wherever you originate from. In fact, around 40% of Barcelona’s Catalan population come from other areas of Spain, and in addition, there are a number of what Simon terms ‘foreign-born Catalans.’ That’s people like him who have become absorbed into the culture and welcomed by the native Catalans as one of their own.

Simon’s introduction to Catalan culture and history was as personal as you can get. His Catalan wife’s Aunt Magdalena told stories of life during the Spanish Civil War, and talked about her school teacher, who used to teach the children to read and right in Catalan, taking a big risk in defying orders from Madrid.

The Barcelona dream became a nightmare in 2008, when Simon became seriously ill and his marriage broke up. It made him rethink his life, and change direction once more. Not being what he calls a ‘Bread Head,’ he realised there was more to life than just living to work. From now on, he intended to work to live, and do what he really wanted with the rest of his time. So the historian, musician and English teacher became a blogger and writer of books – oh, and a property finder too. His acclaimed book Going Native In Catalonia was published in 2011, after being blogged into existence, and he set up Barcelonas.com to find property for people wanting to move to Catalonia.

Simon has just published his latest book, Catalonia Is Not Spain: A Historical Perspective. It’s a book Simon’s been wanting to write for many years, and like the previous book, it’s been blogged into existence. In July 2014, Simon wrote the blog post On Becoming A Catalanist to explain how and why the musician from Nottingham arrived at the conclusion that the only way forward for Catalonia was independence from Spain. He wrote every day, until he finished the first draft of the book on September 11.

That’s a symbolic day, for Simon and the Catalan people, because it’s La Diada Nacional De Catalunya, or the Catalan National Day. 2014 marks the 300th anniversary of the end of the Siege Of Barcelona. The book details the history of Spain and Catalonia, relating a story that has been airbrushed out of Spanish history since 1714, before making a sound case for Catalan independence.

Simon raised €2,500 for professional proofreading and editing of the book, as well as other pre-publishing expenses, via a crowd funding project . These are very exciting times for Simon. There’s a lot of interest both nationally and internationally in his book, and the early indications are it could well become a best seller.

To round off this piece, I asked Simon for a quote that sums him up.

‘People often assume that because I’m a Catalanist I’m anti Spain, but that’s not true. What really gets to me are the Francoists and people like Esperanza Aguirre of the Partido Popular, who stir up anti-Catalan feeling by demonising the people and their ideals. I’m actually pro Catalan and pro Spain, but I firmly believe Catalonia’s future lies in independence from Spain. ‘

 

 

Meet and greet my favourite Writers On Spain

El Raso 012

I’m not enjoying myself here in one of my favourite Spanish restaurants – I’m reviewing it for my readers. It’s a lousy job, but somebody has to do it!

Since I moved to Spain in 2008, I must have written hundreds, if not thousands, of blog posts and articles about life in Spain. And I’ve also come across some excellent bloggers and authors about all things Spanish. Many of  them have become good friends along the way, and in May I set up a Facebook group called Writers On Spain. It’s a meeting place for writers who live in Spain, or who live elsewhere but write about Spain.

It’s also a place where they can promote their own work, share the work of others and pass on tips and information that may be of interest or help to other writers. But above all it’s a friendly, supportive and welcoming community where we can network, vent our frustrations to people who understand where we’re coming from and take a break when we need to. After just 5 months, we have over 150 active members, and I’m continually amazed by how many people – mainly expats – can write so knowledgeably and engagingly about the wonderful country that is now our home.

The Writers On Spain are the antithesis of the Bar Stool Experts we all know and hate and the so-called travel bloggers who regurgitate the guide book stuff without having ever set foot in Spain. Our writers have been there and done it, and they can take you there with their words in ways you would never believe possible.

The group is a closed group, so although if you click on the link you can see the group and its members, you won’t be able to read any of the posts. However, I’ll be bringing the writers to you by way of short profiles and blog links, so you can be guaranteed great reading on all things Spain related. and since this is my blog, bags I’m first in the queue!

I’ve been writing online for about 10 years now. Why the late start? Well, in my previous existence I was a catering manager, but when I was diagnosed with Lupus back in 1996, I was medically retired. It took almost two years to stabilise my condition, and then I decided to do what I’d always wanted to do – go to University and get me a degree. I always go over the top with everything I do, and my First Class BA in Literature and History wasn’t enough for me, so I did an MA in Anglo-American Literary Relations. The plan was to do a little part time lecturing – after all, Tony says I’m very good at lecturing – but it didn’t work out that way.

As I’ve always loved writing, I decided to see if I could get into it as a way of passing the time and even – dare I hope – earning a few quid. At first it was slow going. I joined a couple of content creation sites, and earned about $15 in my first 6 months as an online writer. Then some of the stuff I’d written for Helium started attracting attention. I sold a few articles as stock content, and got commissioned to write stuff for other sites. All of a sudden I was earning three figures a month. Okay, it was in dollars, which meant it was still in two figures in GB pounds, but it was a start, and if you’re just writing for the money, you’ll never make it. First you write for the love, then the money will follow if you’re good enough.

My breakthrough came in 2011, when I was commissioned to write some regional guides for Insiders Abroad. They were pleased with them, and they’ve kept me on as a regular contributer since then. I’ve also picked up regular private clients, and generated work and contacts from my first blog on Eye On Spain. And now I have my own, shiny new website, and I can say with honesty and pride ‘I write for a living.’ Okay, it’s a modest living at the moment, but hey, I get paid for doing what I love, and I’ve found my spiritual home in Spain. Life is great!

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