‘A pile of rocks ceases to be a rock when somebody contemplates it with the idea of a cathedral in mind.’ So said one of my favourite French writers, Antoine de Saint-Exupery.
I love architecture, and of course as a writer and a romantic I love places that are alive with symbolism and spiritualism and soul. It is hardly surprising, then, that whenever I travel to a new city, I find myself drawn to its beautiful cathedral.
When I first visited Cadiz, setting for my new novel Legacy, I was absolutely astonished by the grandeur of its cathedral, the Catedral de Santa Cruz. It dates back to the eighteenth century (but houses an older church, the Baroque Santiago church, built back in the early seventeenth century).
The cathedral that is so prominent in the Cadiz cityscape was built to impress. At the time of its construction Cadiz was enjoying a golden age, thanks to the growth of trade from the port to the Americas; indeed, it was called the Cathedral of the Americas. The cathedral was painstakingly built over more than a century to exemplify all that is great about Cadiz, and to put it on the spiritual map.
Visitors to the cathedral feast their eyes on the ornate, detailed architecture, which is a mix of Baroque and Neoclassical in style. There are various artworks and sculptures within, but for visitors the most interesting part is the Torre de Poniente, the bell tower, which is open to the public. The views from on high are breath-taking; you can see all the city laid out below, and you get a good view of the cathedral’s iconic gold-timed dome roof, which gives it an exotic Moorish look.
Personally, while I enjoyed the panoramic views (if not so much the vertigo), I thought that the real beauty was to be found in simply sitting on a pew and soaking in the reverent, peaceful spirit of the place. I was so affected by this quiet time I spent, I was inspired to take my heroine for Legacy, Luna, and the hero, Ruy, to the cathedral. Here are Luna’s first impressions when she arrives for an evening concert:
The cathedral’s vaulted ceiling rose above them in a tessellation of rounded arches, reaching up to the famous dome itself, which was suspended like the pale insides of some magnificent giant sea urchin. Below it, wall lights and tall candles offered a warm, sacred glow; the air smelt of cool marble, roses and incense. Luna’s gaze travelled over the heads of the audience finding their seats, and around the vast stone hull of the interior. History and piety, suffering and bliss were etched into every piece of wood and stone that surrounded them, and it was hard not to feel awed by it all. Yet, added to this, an unexpected feeling of comfort struck her; she was not immune to the profound spiritual atmosphere here.
For the next hour, Luna is swept away by the concert in this inspirational setting. One of the songs performed by the choir most perfectly encapsulates the mood in the cathedral:
The dramatic, sweeping sound of Barber’s Agnus Dei started up from the choir stalls and Luna’s every nerve ending was aware of Ruy as they sat together listening to the exquisite voices climbing and falling.
Afterwards, Luna is moved to describe her surroundings as ‘a ship of souls’. ‘Did you know,’ she tells Ruy, ‘that “nave” comes from the Latin word “navis”, meaning ship? Symbolically speaking, the cathedral is the ship bearing God’s people through the stormy seas of life, buoyed up by their faith and worship, I suppose.’
Luna has come to the cathedral this night purely to enjoy good music in a beautiful building. But in this space, sitting alongside Ruy and feeling so much for him, can she find more? Can she develop faith in herself, in Ruy, in what it means to love and be loved? Perhaps – if she can move beyond, as Antoine de Saint-Exupery suggests, seeing the cathedral as a pile of rocks and contemplate it with the idea of a cathedral, a ship of souls, in mind.
In my new book, Legacy, the male protagonist Ruy is of mixed heritage – he is part gentleman, part gypsy. His gypsy roots are very important to him, and one of the ways in which he connects to these roots and participates in the gypsy community is through music: he is a flamenco musician.
Here is the heroine’s first glimpse of Ruy:
The gypsy stood up, came forward and murmured an announcement of the next song, making a fresh thrill ripple up Luna’s spine at the husky, masculine sound of his voice. He started the rhythmic clapping of a toca de mano, and the waiter went round refilling glasses while the audience joined in, working up to a crescendo of hand-claps until the whole tavern shook with cries of ‘olé’ and ‘anda’.
The muscles of his arms flexed as this time he picked up a guitar and strummed a rapid cascade of chords. He gazed down into her eyes. The dazzling white smile he gave her almost stopped her heart and she lowered her head to hide her confusion.
As the rhythmic clapping subsided, he began to sing. His voice was rich and mellow, warm with vibrant tones and tingling with emotion, beguiling and beckoning like a filtre d’amour that scram-bled her thoughts and stirred primitive and alarming desires within her. The music was plaintive and feverish, and as Luna watched his long fingers alternately strum and flick across the strings of his guitar, first lightly and then harder at lightning speed, she found herself wondering how those hands would feel on her skin. His songs were in Caló so she could not understand the words, but she could sense the intensity of feeling that went into the full, vigorous notes and although he sang to the audience, she knew from the sensuous intimacy in his eyes that he was singing for her alone.
Ruy’s instrument here is a guitar, but not just any guitar: he is a flamenco musician. Today, I thought I would share with you what is so special about that emblem of passionate, fiery Spain: the flamenco guitar.
Flamenco dates back around two hundred years in Andalucía. Originally, flamenco was song – the distinctive raw and primal cry – and rhythm created by pounding on the floor (the palo seco or dry style). Over the years, as the art form gained popularity, it evolved to include four parts: the voice, the dance, the guitar and the jaleo (clapping, stamping, shouting – it translates to raising hell).
During the café cantante period, from 1850 to 1910, flamenco clubs were opened in major cities, and out of this was born the solo flamenco guitarist.
Traditionally, the flamenco guitar is crafted from Spanish woods: spruce or cedar on top and cypress, sycamore or rosewood on the back. It is a lot like the classical guitar (indeed, luthiers – those who make guitars – did not always differentiate between the two), but it is lighter with a thinner top, which makes the sound produced bright and punchy and percussive, and loud enough to be heard over stamping feet and clapping. It also has a golpeador, a laminated plate that protects the instrument from the tapping fingers (called golpes) that are part of flamenco guitar playing.
A flamenco guitarist (a tocaor) plays differently to a classical guitarist:
* He plays in the apoyando style, which means striking, rather than pulling, the strings (apoyar is the verb for support, and the next string supports the finger that strikes, causing vibrations to the fret and a percussive tone).
* Often, he holds the guitar parallel to the floor, giving him a wide range of motion in his arms.
* He uses a capo, which attaches to the neck, to sharpen the sound and heighten the pitch.
* He employs a range of flamenco-specific playing techniques. My favourite is the rasgueado, which is strumming with outward flicks of the fingers that is meant to echo the sound of the dancer’s feet and her castanets.
Flamenco is a style of music that comes from the heart. Improvisation is common, and traditional music is rarely transposed into music books and learned by rote, but is passed from player to player. In this way, a piece can alter subtly with each passing, so that it is always changing, growing; a work in progress. Toque gitano o flamenco is a soulful, expressive style of Spanish music; it is incredibly stirring.
I will leave you with this video of one the greatest and most influential flamenco guitarists, Paco de Lucia, and the hope that you can find time to watch even just a minute of this and be transported to the world of my characters in the Andalucían Nights trilogy.
No doubt you’re familiar with the movie screenwriting term ‘meet cute’. It originated in the 1940s, when romantic comedies incorporated attention-grabbing and amusing scenes for the leads’ first meeting. Here is an explanation from the 1955 play Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?:
[T]he beginning of a movie is childishly simple. The boy and girl meet. The only important thing to remember is that—in a movie—the boy and the girl must meet in some cute way. They cannot […] meet like normal people at, perhaps, a cocktail party or some other social function. No. It is terribly important that they meet cute.
The meet cute in a story – visual or written – has such impact that life will never be the same for either of the characters; it creates the spark of interest and attraction that will grow to be a fire. Take this meet cute from the iconic movie Gone with the Wind:
Perfection, don’t you think? It beautifully sets the tone for Rhett and Scarlett’s relationship, and I love Rhett’s dry humour and Scarlett’s pretence at being scandalised at his eavesdropping on her intimate moment with Ashley.
The meet cute does not have to be humorous; it can be poignant and passionate, as in my own writing. What really matters is the connection that is forged in those first seconds and minutes.
In my new novel Legacy, Luna first sets eyes on Ruy in a city far from home, Barcelona, in a bar she has stumbled upon while exploring. Drawn in by the flamenco music, she stands in the busy tavern, feeling uncertain and out of place, and is about to leave when:
And then it happened … their eyes met across the room and held for a long moment. The effect was electric and hit Luna like a bolt of lightning. His gaze, fringed by long black lashes, burned with a fire that scorched her as it moved slowly and deliberately over her face, then her body, with frank admiration, as if drinking in her every feature. Though she could not see the exact colour of his eyes at this distance, she knew they were paler than his tanned complexion – brilliant and alive with passion.
The man before her was mesmerizing in his perfect male beauty. His bold, open stare should have made her want to turn and run but something more powerful than she had ever experienced, a shot of pure adrenaline in her blood, had her rooted to the spot.
In that split second of silent meeting, Luna’s heart seemed to turn over in her breast and her pulse accelerated to a wild beat.
From there, Luna is compelled to find a seat and watch the gypsy perform. She is in the unusual position of being able to look at this attractive man openly as a member of his audience. He, too, seems captivated by her, so much so that ‘although he sang to the audience, she knew from the sensuous intimacy in his eyes that he was singing for her alone’.
At this first meeting, not a single word is exchanged between the two. Luna gives the waiter a tip to pass to the guitarist, who has stirred her to the depths of her soul. Across the room, Ruy receives the waiter’s tip and raises two glasses of fino to Luna: an invitation to drink with him. But as much as Luna wants to succumb to the heady atmosphere and be like the Spaniards dancing around her – sensual, passionate, uninhibited – she is frightened to step into this unfamiliar and dangerous territory, and so she shakes her head in apology and leaves.
The next time Luna and Ruy meet, it will be in a professional capacity, and the atmosphere will be very different. But for this first meeting, impassioned intensity is essential. The two are at a distance, and yet undeniably drawn to each other; the meeting will be memorable for both, and yet neither could say much happened at all – they could dismiss the connection as mere fantasy or a passing fancy, or they could admit that something very powerful passed between them in that tavern.
Why set Luna and Ruy’s meet cute in a back-street bar of Barcelona when their love story unfolds far away in Cadiz, Andalucía? Legacy is the answer. In the big, bustling city of Barcelona Luna and Ruy are just two anonymous strangers whose paths have crossed. I wanted to give them this chance to connect, to be individuals displaced from their pasts and their families, before bringing them to Andalucía, where they become entangled by tortuous family legacies that thwart and complicate their love.
Of course, though, neither Luna nor Ruy is entirely cut off from their legacy in Barcelona. After all, it is a shared love for flamenco music that brings about the meet cute: Ruy is the musician descended from Andalucían gypsies, Luna is the half-Spanish woman who is drawn to the music of her mother’s heritage. Ultimately, neither can deny the blood that runs in their veins. But can the powerful and soulful connection they forge across that crowded bar hold firm in the face of their family legacies?
I will leave you with one of my inspirations for the Legacy meet cute, from the classic Rogers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific:
Some enchanted evening, when you find your true love
When you feel her call you across a crowded room
Then fly to her side and make her your own
Or all through your life you may dream all alone
Recently, I have been packing up my British home to move to my renovated mas in the south of France, where I summer each year. I have a confession to make: of the many cases stacked ready for transportation, more than oneis devoted to shoes.
High heels: beautiful, artistic, show-stopping heels… Is there anything more indulgent and glamourising? Slipping on a pair of heels gives an instant boost. You walk taller and straighter; you walk with intent and a tangible sense of mastery. For indeed, you are mistress of the heel, having conquered, as a young girl, the knack of balance, of negotiating a paved street without stumbling, of walking as though your feet are as comfortable as on a soft white cloud.
Heels are empowering. Take the following excerpt from my novel Masquerade:
Luz looked sophisticated and business-like in a slick, figure-hugging Givenchy dark suit she had bought in London and a pair of Gucci high-heeled shoes which she matched with a Gucci bag. Her beautiful raven hair was not worn loose as usual; this morning she had it in a braided chignon at the base of her neck. Her eyes, though bright, were tinged with the steely grey that denoted her frame of mind: she was going out there today with the firm resolution of winning.
That resolution of winning? Its foundation is the heels! In a sense, balancing all the weight on those tiny points focuses the mind: you are more purposeful; you mean business. As Marilyn Monroe put it, ‘Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world.’
Of course, those shoes could be flat. In a recent Vogue interview, designer Manolo Blahnik revealed he had told singer Rihanna, with whom he was collaborating, ‘You can be sexy and beautiful with a flat shoe.’ But she wanted high heels. ‘I loved that,’ he told Vogue,‘and I respect that. I like a woman who knows what she wants.’
And what a woman wants often is beautiful shoes! Of course, I’m not alone in my altocalciphilia (the love of high-heeled shoes). I have no doubt that a key reason for the success of the television show Sex and the City was the heroine Carrie Bradshaw’s passion for heels. Here is one of my favourite scenes, in which it finally dawns on Carrie that her shoe-buying habit, while fabulous, is costly:
Where do you think the love for beautiful shoes originates? For me, I cast my mind back to childhood, when my governess would tell me fairy stories, and I remember so well being enchanted by the romanticism of the Cinderella story and, in particular, these shoes:
The glass shoes, enchanted into existence by a fairy godmother, empower Cinders to stand as an equal with her stepsisters, and in doing so she wins the heart of the prince – who subsequently uses the shoe to find her, and then places it reverentlyon her foot. Swoon!
Amy Adams, who played the lead in the recent Disney live-action remake of Cinderella, said, ‘I like Cinderella, I really do. She has a good work ethic. And she likes shoes. The fairy tale is all about the shoe at the end.’
Sometimes, though, the true fairy tale commences when the heels are removed. In Masquerade, for example, Luz must remove her shoes in order to take a moonlit walk on the beach:
They walked along the beach in tranquil silence, moving gently beneath a navy-blue canopy patterned with merry stars that winked in the night as though they shared a private joke. The night here was tender. Most of the fishing boats, which had dotted the blue ocean so picturesquely with pinprick lights, had gone. Luz glanced up at him as she carried her shoes, enjoying the sensation of the cool sand between her toes. She was aware of the aggressively male muscled body an inch away from hers. It gave her a sense of security that she had never experienced before.
If heels make a woman feel strong, indomitable, then their removal introduces vulnerability. But to be in love, to be intimate, requires vulnerability. My advice? Wear stunning high heels on a date – but choose a pair your partner can slowly and reverently remove for you.
Find out all about the audiobook recording of my latest book Masquerade in this interview with the narrator, Matt.