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What does the name ‘Don Juan’ mean to you? No doubt you can think of various characters with the name and attributes of Juan, the archetypal womaniser.

Given that the heroes in my Andalucían Nights series are all strong, virile, handsome Spanish men, the legend of Don Juan resonated with me as I wrote.

It dates back to the seventeenth century, when a dramatist called Gabriel Téllez wrote a play under his pen name, Tirso de Molina, entitled El burlador de Sevilla y convidado de piedra (The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest). In the play, Tirso portrays Don Juan as a seducer of women, suave and smooth and devilish. A wealthy man, women are his sport: he lives to conquer. Tirso wanted to send a message that one cannot sin throughout life expecting merely to repent on the deathbed and enter heaven, but must live a good life; otherwise, consequences would ensue. In Tirso’s original version, the dastardly Don Juan murders the father of a girl he has seduced, and upon his own death he is condemned by God.

Since Tirso’s play, many writers have seized on the character of Don Juan and reimagined him for new cultures and times. The ending is the most reinterpreted element of the story. In the Don Giovanni version, Don Juan refuses to repent. In Espronceda’s version, ‘Don Felix’ enters hell through his own choice. In Zorrilla’s take, Don Juan solicits and is granted a pardon from God.

Versions of Don Juan include:

Poems: Don Juan(1821) by Lord Byron;El estudiante de Salamanca (1840)by José de Espronceda.

Plays: Dom Juan ou le Festin de pierre (1665) by Molière; Don Juan Tenorio (1844) by José Zorrilla; Don Juan (1959) adaptation by Bertolt Brecht.

Operas: Don Giovanni (1787) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; Réminiscences de Don Juan (1841) by Franz Liszt.

Movies: most notably Adventures of Don Juan (1948) starring Errol Flynn; Don Juan, or If Don Juan Were a Woman (1973) with Brigitte Bardot; Don Juan DeMarco (1995)starring Johnny Depp; Don Juan (1998) with Penélope Cruz and Emmanuelle Béart.

Don Juan also inspired Victor Hugo in Les Misèrables, and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, in which the Phantom is writing an opera focused on the legend entitled Don Juan Triumphant.

Clearly, the legend of Don Juan has inspired many creative types – even writers like Jane Austen, who said of Don Juan: ‘I have seen nobody on the stage who has been a more interesting Character than that compound of Cruelty and Lust.’

For me, in writing Indiscretion and Masquerade, I was most interested in how the Don Juan type Spanish culture relates to the idea of honra, which is an important theme in both of the books.

In the Don Juan legend, Juan is a man without honour in the true sense of the word. He feels nothing for the women he leaves behind, who are merely a number – a notch on his bedpost, as they say. And yet, the women he seduces do not have the same luxury of living without the constraints of the Spanish honra. If they are seduced outside of wedlock, they are dishonoured; and that dishonour extends to their entire family.

Although Don Juan is a centuries-old legend, the questions it raises about honour remain relevant in Indiscretion (1950s) and Masquerade (1970s).

In Indiscretion, Salvador feels bound by honour to another woman. Is that honour misplaced? Can a woman, in fact, be just as much a Don Juan as a man? Will the heroine Alexandra lose out because of the seductive wiles of her adversary, a young and cunning gypsy?

In Masquerade, Luz must question the importance of the traditional honra as it relates to her own blossoming, and the sexual revolution being driven by Spanish women in the 1970s. Should the men she is torn between – Andrès and Leandro – protect her honour? Should she hold herself back, and save herself until marriage? Or should she redefine honour for a young woman in the new Spain that is emerging?

Ultimately, in each of my books the hero is not the Don Juan of the original Tirso play. But he has a little of the legend in him. He is not about control and conquest; but he can make the heroine’s knees weak and her heart flutter in her chest. I imagine him having something of the Johnny Depp characterisation in Don Juan DeMarco:

‘There are only four questions of value in life… What is sacred? Of what is the spirit made? What is worth living for, and what is worth dying for? The answer to each is the same: only love.’

Now that, honour aside, is a Don Juan to set a writer’s pen aflame!

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In my new novel Masquerade, the heroine Luz is a writer. She works on commission, writing biographies of notable figures.

A Cambridge graduate, her first commission was penning the biography of an ancestor for one of the great families in the Highlands of Scotland. With that book now complete, she has returned to her homeland of Spain, and is keen to find a job that will allow her to stay:

She could feel that Spain was where she was meant to be, where she was always meant to be. Here, she could breathe, feel her body come alive under the Spanish sun, and let all the pent-up, reckless instincts she had tried so hard to tame all through boarding school in England run wild and free.

Serendipity leads her to a job advertisement for a biographer working in her home town of Cádiz and its vicinity, and ona subject that interests her greatly: modern art. This is her big break if she wants to establish herself as a serious biographer in Spain – and she does, because Luz is proud and ambitious.

The subject of the biography is Count Eduardo Raphael Ruiz de Salazar, a famous Spanish Surrealist, and the man hiring is his nephew, Andrès de Calderon. But it turns out that Andrès is no easy potential employer to impress.

For the characterisation of Luz, it was important to me that she be a strong and independent heroine. She is making a life for herself in Spain in the early 1970s, a time of great social change when women were securing new rights; she is the embodiment of the new woman. When it comes to interviewing for the biographer job, I wanted her to demonstrate acute business acumen, a fighting spirit, professionalism, passion and talent in her chosen profession.

Which means Andrès de Calderon, who has investigated his potential hire’s work history closely and is ready to challenge her walking out of an early biographer assignment, has met his match! Still, that won’t stop him testing Luz by inserted a particularly unfavourable clause in the work contract, giving him the right to potentially take copyright of Luz’s writing. How will Luz, spirited, enflamed, strong modern woman, react to a man attempting to rob her of her rights? You can be sure of fireworks!

Readers of my other novels will notice a theme emerging in my writing: my heroines all have careers, even at times when that was not the norm for women. Coral in Burning Embers is a photographer. Venetia in The Echoes of Love is a mosaic restoration specialist. Alexandra in Indiscretion is a romance novelist.

Luz is Alexandra’s daughter, and has inherited her way with words. But I wanted to differentiate between mother and daughter. Where Alexandra has channeled her writing ability into pure creativity and fictional worlds, Luz is much more grounded and businesslike, and has picked a very well-respected profession (there are even awards for biographies, such as the Whitbread Prize in the UK and the Pulitzer in the US). It’s an interesting contrast between the two, given that in many ways Luz is the more spirited, more impassioned – the one you’d perhaps more associate with romance.

What makes Luz’s work interesting in the context of the novel is that her job is to root out the truth: to research and delve and investigate the artist Count Eduardo Raphael Ruiz de Salazar tirelessly, until she can write an honest, detailed and thorough account of his life. But can Luz similarly root out the truth in other aspects of her life? Can she see the reality beyond the masquerade? Can the professional biographer turn her talent and skills to her own personal life? The answers lie within Masquerade

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What springs to mind when you read the word gallant? For me, the word is from a time gone by, when social norms were very different.

The adjective can be used to describe bravery and heroism; but it is mostly used to describe a male, not a female, who is charmingly attentive to women, and chivalrous and courteous. Originally, the word gallant meant spirited or dashing (from the Old French galant), but in the seventeenth century the French adopted it to mean politely attentive to women.

Pick up a work of classic literature and you will invariably encounter gallantry: a knight-in-shining-armour sort. But what of more modern works?

My new book Masquerade is set in Andalucía, Spain, in 1976. This was a seminal time in Spanish history, when society was on the cusp of great change. The dictator Franco was dead, and a new king and government were developing Spain into a nation that could stand proudly beside its European neighbours. Long-entrenched social norms were being cast aside in favour of a more liberated, modern way of living. Nowhere was the transformation more evident than in the shift in relations between men and women. Spanish women had long been cast as the damsels in distress; now they wanted their own rights and the freedom to be themselves and the equals of men. (For more information, see my blog post ‘Luz: A heroine of the sexual revolution’).

The women’s right movement that was gaining ground in this era was scathing of gallantry. Yet many women then and since have seen a certain beauty in the gallant actions of a man, so long as they are coming from a place of respect and not domination.

In Masquerade, the story opens with the ultimate act of gallantry. Luz, the heroine, falls from her horse and loses consciousness, and a gypsy, Leandro, carries her to his encampment and cares for her, and then takes her on horseback back to her home. Afterwards, Luz thanks him:

‘I’ve been meaning to thank you for taking care of me after my fall and returning me safely home. It was very kind of you.’

‘You were hurt, what else could I do?’

She thought she glimpsed a spark of something in his eyes: frustration, anger, impatience, but then it was gone and his expression became unreadable again.

‘Still, not everyone would have been so … gallant,’ she stammered, trying to find the right word. As she said it, she thought of him delivering her directly to her bedroom and felt her face warm at the suggestion of just how gallant he had been.

As if reading her mind he looked down at her and gave a slow, mischievous smile.

‘This is true. But we gypsies can be honourable, too.’ Green eyes glittered at her with amusement as he lowered his face closer to hers and added, ‘Or did you think we were all rogues and bandits, perhaps?’

Leandro is quick to associate his gallantry with honour, a very important tenet for the Spanish man. He is also careful to break down any assumption that gallantry is only a gentleman’s quality; a gypsy can be gallant too. How is Luz, the modern woman who is feisty and independent, to interpret such care? Are her feminist sensibilities to be injured, or is she to accept his action in the spirit it was carried out: simple kindness and protection for a lady in need?

Later in the book, a strong attraction has grown between Luz and Leandro. In his straightforward and provocative way, Leandro calls Luz on their feelings, and why she will not give into them.

‘There’s no shield from the forces of destiny,’ he says.‘I think you want it as much as I do – it was there from the first moment we laid eyes on each other. When two consenting adults are in agreement, where is the problem?’

Luz responds:‘But I don’t believe I’ve given my consent to anything of the sort so I think your presumption is a little misplaced.’

From there, the conversation turns:

‘We’re going to have to do something about your old-fashioned ways, Luz.’

‘I’m not old-fashioned, I simply don’t …’

‘Don’t what, Luz?’ As before, his eyes travelled up and down her in a way that made her legs go weak and her stomach fill with butterflies. ‘I think you are a little tense then.’

‘I’m not tense,’ she lied, instinctively taking two paces back and crossing her arms against her chest. She needed some distance between them; to put their relationship – such as it was – back on a more formal footing. ‘What you’re so casually suggesting is not something a decent woman does lightly, that’s all. And no decent man should demand it either.’

‘It’s not gallant, you mean?’ His green gaze was twinkling again.

She couldn’t help but smile at that quaint description she’d once used with regard to him. ‘It’s a question of “la honra” as even rogues and bandits know.’

The challenge, for Luz – and indeed for all the women of her time – is whether to desire and advocate for gallantry, or fight against it at every turn.

Here, Leandro is not being ungallant; he is not, of course, demanding that Luz be with him; he is mischievously challenging what holds her back: her head, not her heart or soul. He is asking her to consider what is old fashioned in her beliefs and values; how they fit with the progressive Spain.

But it is one thing to believe in progress and try to be a strong and free-willed woman; it is another to walk that path. As the poet John Donne wisely wrote:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.

Luz has to place her choices and actions within the context of the society in which she lives. And although that society is changing, it is not entirely changed; the vanguard exists still, and plenty of traditional views and norms are adhered to. The reality for Luz is that her honour is still very important.

Luz was well aware of the Spanish traditions that ruled the women in her country. Men often had dalliances before they committed to marriage; it was widely accepted. Spanish society also demanded that a woman be a virgin on her wedding night.

Where does that leave Luz and Leandro? Must she insist that he be a gallant gentleman and not seduce her? Must she suppress her own sexual awakening, and turn her back on the sexual revolution occurring around her? Or can she put aside gallantry and take control of her own desires and needs – and destiny? But if she does, what will be the consequences in a still-conservative country? Will she face rejection for her own casting off of gallantry? Is the path of a woman who does not closely protect ‘la honra’ a lonely one?

In my new book Masquerade, the heroine, Luz, is descended from an old and well-respected Andalucían family. But such is her manner that she usually avoids mixing with the aristocratic circles of the region, preferring instead quiet evenings spent with the same handful of friends, long walks in the countryside around Jerez and riding her mare.

To appease her parents, however, sometimes Luz must put on a beautiful dress and attend an event as one of the de Ruedas. Going to see a performance of the opera Carmen is no hardship, especially given that it is held at this spectacular theatre in Cadiz:

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As her father puts it, the Gran TeatroFallain the Plaza Fragela is one of the notable monuments of Andalucía, a lovely example of the neo-Mudéjar style. It stands in the Plaza Fragela, in the north-west quarter of the Old Town, a grand and atmospheric theatre welcoming its visitors with beckoning mystery, like a magician inviting one to step back in time.

Inside, the theatre is the perfect setting for an opera attended by the gentry of Andalucía, with a handsome marble staircase, antiquated gold and claret décor, and ornate Moorish revival arches, all overlooked by a stunning nineteenth-century ceiling fresco, Felipe Abárzuza’s vast allegory of Paradise. Beautiful – but a little faded, Luz can’t help but notice. Her generation, the new blood of an emancipated Spain, is not represented here. This is an old world to which her parents belong, but not so much Luz.

In the family’s box, Luz scans the audience with a pair of opera glasses:

The lights were dimming, and she was on the verge of putting them down when she breathed in sharply. She found herself looking directly into another person’s pair of binoculars, a man seated in the box opposite. Luz just had time to notice the slow smile that curled at the side of the stranger’s mouth before the place fell into darkness. The curtain lifted and the first notes of Carmen’s overture resonated in the vast auditorium.

For the entirely of the performance, Luz is consumed by the thought of this strange man watching her. She is barely present, barely watches the show.

In contrast, a little earlier in the book Luz is a spectator of a very different kind of performance, one which holds her attention absolutely. She has found a gypsy encampment near her home, and hiding behind a large clump of bristling cactus, she watches a vibrant Romani spectacle of song and dance. Then, when night falls, a solo performance takes centre-circle. He is the gypsy who rescued her at the start of the book, and he is mesmerising as he strums the guitar and sings. The words are in Caló, the language of the gypsies, and Luz cannot understand them; but she sense that he is singing from his soul, laments of sorrow and misfortune, and declarations of passion and longing.

He sang in a kind of trance, as if reaching deep down into his soul to uproot the pain, drawing out the final notes in a prolonged, descending strain, with seemingly never-ending turns and tremolos. It was a haunting sound, so poignant Luz had great difficulty in controlling her urge to reach out to him.

Luz is supremely moved by the gypsy Leandro’s performance; in so many ways this is the show she wants to watch. This is where she wants to be, in nature, wild, impassioned: not in the theatre with the gentry watching performers pretend to be gypsies, but within the action itself.

But she does not belong in the gypsy encampment. As I write: she was not a part of these strange, passionate people, merely an onlooker, an intruder; she had no right to be there.

The two spectacles that Luz watches represent a difficult conflict in her character. She wants to be her own person in this new Spain, yet she cannot completely cast off traditions and what is deemed respectable for a young woman in the 1970s. She wants to follow her heart, but she cannot ignore the logic of the head.

Over the course of the book, Luz becomes torn between two men who symbolise this struggle between old and new, traditional and maverick, respectable and liberated. Andrés is the hidalgo, the gentleman – the kind of man who is respected in aristocratic circles and approved of by her parents. Leandro, conversely, is a gypsy, against whose people a great deal of prejudice exists; and how could Luz’s parents ever accept him, given their rocky history with the gypsies?

For Luz, falling in love forces a journey of self-definition, of who she is and what she will stand for. Does she want to attend the theatre and sit politely and silently as a performance unfolds, or does she want to stand in the circle of gypsies and stand and clap and chant her affinity with the performance? Or in fact is the very choice illusionary? Must Luz choose between one and the other; or can she find a way to embrace both?

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Welcome to Cadiz, setting for my new novel Masquerade. But not the sparkling, alluring parts of Cadiz to where the tourists flock: welcome to another world – to the gypsies’ world.

A little distance from the sea in a glade as dry as brown wrapping paper, wild and barrenlay the encampment. Yawning with caves and split by rocky gorges… Formed in a rough crescent along the hillside skirting the glade, many of these homes had crude rectangular doorways in front of which were assembled rickety chairs, tables and lines of washing.

Great flaming wood fires were burning, above which large copper containers filled with stew – the powerful smelling pirriá for the evening meal – hung from iron hooks. Two gypsies were singing while beating metal horseshoes on an anvil over a fire, their strong, hoarse voices resounding loudly in the camp. Men sat in groups of three or four in front of their tents, chatting or playing cards; decrepit-looking mongrels sniffed around the cooking pots, hoping for a bone; olive-faced urchins of various ages played hopscotch or ball in front of their doorways.

Now that you have taken tentative steps into the camp, allow me to introduce you to the indisputable leader of these gypsies:

She must have been in her late forties or early fifties, still handsome and well-preserved for a gypsy, not a wrinkle on her olive skin, which nonetheless had a somewhat pallid look. A mass of tousled black hair undulated wildly around a fiercely sensual but hard face, and down to her shoulders. The gold and silver chains and bracelets she wore spoke of her status within the camp: a striking gypsy queen.

Here is Marujita, antagonist of Indiscretion, the first book in the Andalucían Nights trilogy – the beautiful, seductive gypsy who coveted Salvador de Rueda, but lost him to Alexandra de Falla. Now, it is a generation later, and while Salvador and Alexandra have moved on, Marujita has never relinquished her bitterness over the past, and her thirst for vengeance against the couple she believes wronged her.

Marujita is not only a gypsy queen now; she is a mother – to Leandro. Whom she loves. And whom she will mercilessly manipulate in her final days, as she slips slowly away.

And when Leandro rescues a girl named Luz, thrown from a horse, and brings her to the encampment for treatment by his mother, little does he know the chain of events he is setting in motion. At once, Marujita recognises Luz as the daughter of Salvador and Alexandra, and she sees her opportunity.

‘My wish has been granted,’ she tells Leandro,‘and only you, my beloved son, can carry it out to its final closure so I may die in peace.’

Gypsies never forget a bad deed, she informs her son, and the evil actions of enemies must be returned upon them or their children, by law. She demands that her son exact la venganza de Calés (the vengeance of the gypsies) upon the de Ruedas.

What would you do, in such a predicament? Leandro is a good man with a conscience, and already he feels the stirrings of attraction and protectiveness towards Luz. But if he does not do the bidding of the one they call Il Diabolica, the one they all fear, she will cast him out and curse him. As will the other gypsies, to whom Leandro’s identity is tied. Plus there is the small matter of his uncle, Marujita’s brother, who promises to hunt Leandro down and kill him, should he let his mother down.

Of course Leandro does not wish to let his mother down. Whatever she is, whatever she has done and would have him do, she is his one and only mother, and that is sacred. He wishes her to die in peace, released from so many years of hatred. Loving him. Proud of him.

Marujita’s plan is simple: Leandro must seduce Luz, make her fall in love with him – entice her to become his lover. And then:

‘She will be used goods. No honourable Spanish man will marry her after that. La honra in those aristocratic circles obeys rules just as fierce as ours. It will ruin her life and her parents will shed tears of blood, as I have.’

La honra: the honour. Such an integral value in Spanish culture. Marujita is relying on her son’s honour in doing right by his mother, and she is relying on the societal notion of honour to condemn Luz and lay low the de Rueda family.

But what of Leandro’s honour? I am reminded of an axiom from the classical Greek philosopher Socrates: ‘The greatest way to live with honour in this world is to be what we pretend to be.’ But that, of course, means taking off the mask and revealing one’s true self. Will Leandro find the courage to do so, or will he remain a player in the great masquerade?

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