This week I’m celebrating four years since I became a published author (see my Monday post, ‘Win my novel Burning Embers’).
It is in fact four and a half years since I started blogging, and in that time I have written hundreds of posts on all kinds of subjects, from art to architecture, history to folklore, cuisine to fashion – and of course plenty of articles on my inspirations and writing process, and the background to my novels.
Today, I’m sharing with you ten of my favourite posts over the years. I hope you enjoy revisiting them.
An interviewer asked me: If Burning Embers was optioned for a TV drama/movie, who would you like to play Coral and Rafe? I had a lot of fun considering my answer, and especially in casting the male lead…
The Sun newspaper described The Echoes of Love as ‘an epic love story that is beautifully told’. In this article I consider how the term ‘epic’ has been redefined, and how this has influenced my writing.
Fortune-telling is a common theme in my novels. Here I explore how it helps me build on three key aspects of my stories – mystery, control and the taboo – and I share a poem by Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani that beautifully conveys the emotion of the fortune teller.
A look at the Andalucían legends that I touch on in my novel Indiscretion, from the tale of Lover’s Leap, to the story of Pedro the Cruel and María de Padilla at the Alcázar, to the promise that those who wear matching sultan and sultana costumes are destined to fall in love.
On my passion for dance, and how it breaks down barriers between my heroes and heroines, so that illusions fall away, leaving the beautiful, sensual truth.
How I endeavour to each hero so that he is not only so attractive that readers will wish him to life, but also realistic, believable, true to life. For how can the heroine, a flawed human as we all are, have a hope of building a future with a god?
In which I explain why in my novels I challenge my heroines, by taking them out of the comfortable, safe – a little staid – life they have always known, and plunging them into a brand-new culture, one that is colourful and vibrant and exhilaratingly exotic, but also, by its nature of being foreign, somewhat overwhelming.
Remember the comic strip series ‘Love is…’ by cartoonist Kim Casali? Love is so much, but if there is one single definitive ‘Love is’, I think it is this: ‘Love is… discovery’. Here I explain how, in my new book Legacy, this theme is at the core of Luna and Ruy’s love story.
My home in the South of France – a French mas (Provençal farmhouse) in Ste Maxime – affords beautiful views over the Mediterranean. I often write in the garden, in the shade on the terrace, or in my writing room if the heat is too much; and as I write I glance up now and again to drink in the colours of the view, especially the azure ocean. Sometimes, though, a glance is not enough: the view commands my attention!
This is especially the case at the end of the summer each year, when a regatta, Les Voiles de St Tropez, takes place in the gulf of St Tropez. This is what I see from my house:
I love to watch the sailboats racing through the waters; they call to mine this verse from Lord Byron’s The Corsair:
O’er the glad waters of the dark blue sea,
Our thoughts as boundless, and our souls as free,
Far as the breeze can bear, the billows foam,
Survey our empire, and behold our home!
Freedom, exhilaration, abandon, joy – these are sensations that I associate with sailing, and they were inspirations for my Andalucían Nights series.
The second book, Masquerade, and the final book, Legacy, are set in the city of Cadiz, Spain, which is known as ‘the Bride of the Sea’ because it is almost entirely surrounded by the ocean. In Masquerade, my heroine Luz is spirited and liberated. She feels an affinity with the sea, and is confident in taking to the water herself:
On one of her outings of exploration, as she climbed through the opaque forest of thick vegetation that wound up and down the coast, she had burst into a clearing. From there, as if out of nowhere, she had come upon an expanse of shimmering blue ocean enclosed within a small cove. It lay at the bottom of the escarpment, surrounded by little creeks and rocky caves, with lonely golden beaches sandwiched between haciendas. Since it was impossible to reach by foot, the next day she hired a small boat and, using her sense of direction, found one of the approaches to this magical place through the rocks. It looked lonely, with only a few seagulls strutting about on the wet sand at the water’s edge. And there, in complete seclusion, she bathed until sunset. After that, she came every day.
Later in the book, the hero Andrés takes her sailing and… well, I wouldn’t want to give away the plot. Suffice it to say that I explore the dramatic, as well as the serene, side of sailing.
Legacy, the final book in the series, resonates with echoes of the past, one of which is a return to the water. Ruy takes Luna sailing on the Vela Gitana (Sailing Gypsy), a 1953 yacht. It may be old, but it is also handsome and romantic –‘What a dream,’ Luna says as she climbs aboard.
I could not resist working in at this point Les Voiles de St-Tropez. Ruy explains:
‘Last year she entered the regatta of Les Voiles de St-Tropez, which used to be known as La Nioulargue, and she more than held her own among all the modern yachts, as well as some really beautiful traditional ones.’
There is something sublimely romantic about sailing; but beyond romance, a sensuality can spring up. In both Masquerade and Legacy sailing stirs emotion in the characters; their proximity to nature, to the wild and tempestuous sea, fires up their chemistry.
I will leave you with a poem by one of my favourite writers from English literature, William Wordsworth, which perfectly encapsulates the fusion of sailing and sensuality.
With ships the sea was sprinkled
With ships the sea was sprinkled far and nigh,
Like stars in heaven, and joyously it showed;
Some lying fast at anchor in the road,
Some veering up and down, one knew not why.
A goodly vessel did I then espy
Come like a giant from a haven broad;
And lustily along the bay she strode,
Her tackling rich, and of apparel high.
The ship was nought to me, nor I to her,
Yet I pursued her with a lover’s look;
This ship to all the rest did I prefer:
When will she turn, and whither? She will brook
No tarrying; where she comes the winds must stir:
On went she, and due north her journey took.
After all the vibrancy and jubilant cacophony of December, January always feels a quiet month to me: the silence of a snow-covered field, the gentle crackle of logs on the fire, the scratch of my pen moving over the paper, and – most notably – the lulling melodies of classical music playing on the stereo.
This week, I have been rediscovering the works of composer Manuel de Falla. Here is one of my favourites; it’s a nocturne called ‘Noches en los jardines de España’ (Nights in the Gardens of Spain):
Beautiful, don’t you think? So passionate and arresting. Falla described this work as ‘symphonic impressions’; it was inspired by three gardens in Spain, one of which is the jasmine-scented garden at the Alhambra, Granada, as described in my novel Indiscretion.
In fact, Falla was a great inspiration for me for all the books of my Andalucían Nights series, which is why, as a nod to him, I named the heroine of Indiscretion Alexandra de Falla.
Manuel de Falla was born in Cadiz, setting for Masquerade and Legacy, in 1876, but it was at the Real Conservatorio de Música y Declamación in Madrid that he learned his craft: piano from José Tragó and composition with Felipe Pedrell. Pedrell was particularly important, instilling in Falla a passion for Andalusian flamenco music, which would inspire his later classical compositions.
Travel broadened Falla’s horizons, and in Paris he was influenced by composers like Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy and Igor Stravinsky. His rising star caught the attention of King Alfonso XIII, who gave Falla a royal grant to remain in Paris, but when World War I broke out he had to return to Spain. What followed was a fertile creative period, during which he wrote Noches en los jardines de España and other works that entered the annals of classical music history.
When Franco came to power after the civil war in Spain, he offered Falla a sizeable pension to work in Spain, but Falla preferred exile. He chose Argentina as his home, and lived out the last few years of his life there, teaching and composing. He died in 1946, and the following year his remain were repatriated to Spain, and he was laid to rest in the beautiful crypt at Cadiz Cathedral (pictured below).
Falla’s musical legacy is a body of musical work that continues to define a time and place, and to inspire so many other artists and music lovers. He is also honoured as the namesake of the Gran Teatro Falla in Cadiz, setting for all manner of artistic performances, including those that are integral to the annual carnival in the city.
Where better for my heroine of Masquerade, Luna, to spend the evening watching the opera Carmen? Here is Luna’s first glimpse of the theatre:
A first night at the Gran Teatro Falla had a charm of its own. Standing in the Plaza Fragela in the north-west quarter of the Old Town, the grand and atmospheric theatre welcomed its visitors with beckoning mystery, like a magician inviting one to step back in time. The century-old coral brick building, with its distinctive red- and white-banded arches wrapped around three vast keyhole-shaped doorways, was filling up when they arrived. There was a festive atmosphere about the place and the lobby was buzzing with different languages. The audience was a mixed assortment of Spaniards and foreigners, an attractive, cheerful crowd made up of distinguished-looking men and women, all of them united by their love of opera.
Ultimately, that unity is the lasting legacy of any great composer like Falla. All over the world people from all walks of life can listen to his music, and be transported to a dimension where they are connected by their mutual appreciation for the sound and the emotions it stirs.
I hope you will give Manuel de Falla’s music a try, and ‘meet’ me in those jardines de España.
Since I began my publishing adventure in April 2012, I have published five novels. What a journey that has been, for me and for my characters. Together, we have been to so many fascinating places – in England, in Italy, in Spain and in Kenya.
Today, I’m offering you a glimpse of just a few of the places I have featured in my books. I hope it will give you a sense of what my writing is all about: transporting readers to beautiful, inspiring locations around the world.
The Masai Mara, Kenya: Burning Embers
The Masai Mara National Reserve is a vast game reserve in Narok County, Kenya, where visitors can see so many wild animals in their natural habitat: lions and leopards and cheetahs and zebras and wildebeest and the Thomson’s gazelle. In Burning Embers, Coral and Rafe have a spectacular opportunity to view the Masai Mara from on high, with a hot-air balloon ride:
Gradually the mist had lifted, and the sun burst forth, a ball of fire radiating the sky with unnaturally incandescent hues. Coral was reminded of the strident brushwork and wild colors of the Fauvist paintings that filled her mother’s gallery, which Coral had always loved. The scene was now set for the show to begin: the drama in which the broad, breath-taking landscapes of Africa were the stage and the animals the actors.
And such actors! They see everything from elephants to impalas to antelopes to hippos to flamingos to buffalos to giraffes. And what of the lion, the monarch of the wild? That beast proves elusive, and so they take to the ground in search of the perfect shot. Little do they know the close encounter they will then have with a very dangerous big cat…
Piazza San Marco, Venice: The Echoes of Love
Napoleon called St Mark’s Square in Venice ‘the drawing room of Europe’. Certainly, it is always busy, because it is so popular with tourists (and with pigeons, I may add!). They come for good reason: to see the stunning Byzantine architecture of St Mark’s Basilica, its imposing Campanile bell tower with gold archangel Gabriel weathervane, and the early-Renaissance clock tower. They also flock to the oldest coffee house in the world, Caffè Florian, whose clientele has included Balzac, Goethe, Casanova, Lord Byron, Proust, Stravinsky, Rousseau and Dickens. Here’s a glimpse of the square as featured in my novel:
The two bronze giants on the top of the San Marco clock tower beat out one o’clock on a sounding bell. Venetia hurried towards her destination, in the midst of the great streams of people who came flooding from all directions in the sunlight, bringing with them the myriad buzzing and humming of the international world. For once, as she walked along, she was not admiring the Doge’s Palace which shut out the sky with its great façade supported on a double tier of arches, or the renaissance front of the Library of Saint Mark where she spent many winter afternoons reading and researching. She crossed the great square with its Campanile towering above, the graceful shaft flecked with the shadows of passing clouds; the severity of the sober red brick of the bell tower made the main edifice of the Church of San Marco look almost fairy-like with its wealth of white marble lace-work and golden mosaic. Hundreds of pigeons crooned and strutted round her, glorious in their opal plumage, as she crossed the broad square.
The Alcázar, Seville, Spain: Indiscretion
The Moors from North Africa ruled parts of Andalucía for 800 years (between the 8th and 15th centuries), and they left their mark, most especially in architecture. My favourite example is the Alcázar, which Alexandra and Salvador visit in Indiscretion:
Alexandra was dazzled by this palace straight out of One Thousand and One Nights, with its vast rooms covered in glazed tiles. Never before had she seen so many marble columns, arabesques, arcades, galleries and cool, echoing corridors. They walked through the silent gardens covered in clouds of roses, laden with the pungent scents of myrtle hedges and the sweet balmy breath of orange blossom.
It was the history of the palace that most interested me when I explored it for Indiscretion. Its first occupant was King Pedro of Castille who, legend tells, fell in love with a woman called Maria. Her response: she burned herown face, thus putting an end to the accursed love that her beauty had inspired.
Alexandra does not find this story, related by Salvador, remotely romantic. But in this atmospheric setting, will she be seduced by the legacy of her Spanish background and the man who is revealing it to her? Certainly, the Alcázar is a stirring, atmospheric place that demands drama. And indiscretion?
Running of the Bulls, Pamplona, Spain: Masquerade
Pamplona, the capital of Navarre, is a beautiful city that is known internationally (thanks largely to the writing of Ernest Hemingway) for a single event: the Running of the Bulls. In Masquerade, when my heroine Luz receives an invitation to the town’s Festival of San Fermin, of which the Running of the Bulls forms a part, she at once accepts:
In all Luz’s visits back to her country she had never been to the Pamplona bull-running festival and although bullfighting was not to her taste, the renowned Encierro was the centre of an exciting celebration where the whole town took to the streets in a colourful riot of music, dancing, eating and drinking that enveloped the place in a joyous party atmosphere. It would do her soul good to be among such high spirits, she decided.
The Running of the Bulls is a very old tradition, in which six bulls are let loose in the old quarter of the town’s streets and people attempt to outrun them before they reach the bullring, a distance of 825 metres. In Masquerade, the gypsy Leandro is one of the runners.
The Encierro lasts only two and a half minutes or so, but so much occurs in that time. It is what Hemingway called a ‘wonderful nightmare’. Especially if, like Luz, you are foolish enough to slip through the safety barrier and get caught up in the action…
Las Ramblas, Barcelona: Legacy
In my latest book Legacy, the protagonists, Ruy and Luna, meet as strangers in the big, bustling, vibrant city of Barcelona. Luna happens upon Ruy playing flamenco music in a back-street bar while wandering down the street at the heart of the city, Las Ramblas. Why deviate onto that back street? A combination of being infused by the upbeat spirit of Las Ramblas and wishing to escape the clamour!
She stood, taking in the scene. The brightly lit promenade, adorned with plane trees, was seething with a river of people.
As she joined the cosmopolitan throng, it felt like all of the action – Barcelona’s entire nightlife – was centred on this wide, tree-lined street, from cosy traditional Spanish bars and restaurants to clubs lit up with neon. The hubbub was indescribable. Although seventies disco had become largely a thing of the past back home, it seemed to thrive in Barcelona and the pulsating music reverberated in the warm night air. Decaying movie houses, abandoned garages and long-closed vaudeville theatres had all been turned into colourful nightlife venues.
Luna could barely take in the staggering parade of diversions. There were booksellers, souvenir stands, flamenco dancers, clowns and acrobats. A dozen street performers, painted bronze or white like statues, wowed the crowds in a fantastic array of costumes, some standing or sitting, others moving in jerky mime. Luna found them somewhat eerie and, unlike other tourists, didn’t stop to take their photograph.
My next destination…?
Greece is next on the list for a literary visit, and I am also writing books set in Egypt and Ireland. Are there any other locations you’d love to see in my fiction? Where in the world inspires you?
I love the city of Cadiz, Andalucía, that ‘lively and luminous’ city known as ‘the Bride of the Sea’, so much so that I set not one but two of my romance novels there: Masquerade and Legacy.
Cadiz is the very oldest city in Spain, and one of the oldest in all of Western Europe; consequently, the city is steeped in history and legend, which of course is very appealing to a romance novelist!
Did you know that, according to mythology, Cadiz was founded by none other than Hercules himself, while on his journey to the end of the world to take on the monster Geryon (his tenth labour)? In addition, in ancient times a temple was erected there by the Phoenicians to honour Kronos, leader of the first generation of Titans, and father of Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Hestia, Demeter and Hera, and it is said to have been the site of the pillars of Hercules.
The temple stood on a little islet that juts out from the emblematic La Caleta beach in the city. The temple is long gone, but what has been constructed there since has an interesting history.
Cadiz is the city of watchtowers, and one such tower has stood on the little island for centuries, to be used for defence (over the years the Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Romans penetrated Spain at this point), and also for protection, wherein the light cast by the tower acted as a lighthouse to warn sailors of the islet’s presence.
In 1457, when the plague infected a boat from Venice, the crew were forced to quarantine themselves until they recovered, and while doing so the city of Cadiz permitted them to use the islet. There, the sailors built a chapel dedicated to Saint Sebastian, patron saint of the plague stricken.
In 1706, it was decided that a watchtower was insufficient defence for the city, and the San Sebastián Castle was built. The castle, which was further developed in 1860, is notable for its irregular shape, the outer walls following the lines of the island.
Nestled within the safety of the walls is the lighthouse, this iteration built on the site of the old Moorish watchtower back in 1908, when it was fabulously modern, being only the second lighthouse in the country to be run on electricity. It towers over the castle, some 41 metres above the sea.
Originally, the island was cut off from the mainland, but in the late nineteenth century a causeway was built. Today, visitors to Cadiz walk along the causeway, the Paseo Fernando Quiñones, out to the island and through the magnificent old archways into the fortress.
I did this walk while researching my Andalucían nights series, and was so inspired by the perspective I got of the city; the views really are worth the long and windy walk along the causeway. Because the fortress is not wholly restored and polished into a tourist attraction, I got such a strong sense of history and legend out on that little islet.
But it’s not just my imagination that’s been captured by this fortress on an island. If you’re wondering, having looked at the picture above, why San Sebastián Castle looks familiar, it may well be because you saw it in the James Bond film Die Another Day. Although the action is meant to be set in Havana, Cuba, that country has been off limits to film-makers since its revolution, and so Cadiz was chosen as a substitute. The iconic scene where Halle Berry walks out of the sea? That was filmed at La Caleta beach. The island with the clinic? That is the San Sebastián Castle.
Have you ever visited San Sebastián Castle? Would you like to? Do you enjoy exploring old castles – ruined or renovated? Do you find an air of romance within the old stone walls?