Whenever I write a new book, I immerse myself in the history and culture of the country in which the story is set. Legends are among my favourite aspects to research, because they say so much about the people and their philosophies and beliefs, both now and in the past.
In my new novel Indiscretion, the heroine Alexandra is a romance novelist, like me, who is researching Andalusia for a forthcoming novel. So of course she is interested in the legends of the region. I had a wonderful time exploring these and weaving them into the narrative – my hero, Salvador, is well educated and passionate about his heritage, so he is only too happy to provide colourful background.
Often, I chose to use legends that relate to love, to either challenge or inspire Alexandra and Salvador. For example, he tells her the following story about La Pena de los Enamorados, Lover’s Leap:
‘Lover’s Leap is an enormous crag of limestone that overlooks the town and valley of Antequera. The rock provides the setting for the tragic finale to the lovers’ story. The legend goes that a young Christian man from Antequera and a beautiful Moorish girl from nearby Archidona were driven to the top of the cliff by Moorish soldiers. Rather than renounce their love, they chose to hurl themselves into the abyss. The rock remains a symbol of their eternal love.’
The point of including the legend is to incite a meaningful exchange:
Salvador went on: ‘A romantic novelist’s dream story, wouldn’t you say?’
‘Yes,’ Alexandra conceded, lifting her chin. ‘There’s nothing more romantic than eternal love.’
‘And nothing more foolish perhaps.’
‘Passion and fidelity are foolish?’ She shot him a fierce look. ‘Being prepared to die for love only makes it more powerful.’
‘It is the stuff of romantic fables. And even there, the obstacles of real life soon show themselves. Those soldiers of misfortune chase most poor unfortunates to ground in the end.’ He drained his glass and set it down abruptly without looking at her. ‘Passion can be an affliction.’
At another point in the story, Salvador takes Alexandra to visit the famous Alcázar palace, and he tells her the legend with which it is associated: that of Pedro the Cruel and María de Padilla.
The legend tells of how at first Pedro the Cruel fell in love with Doña María Coronel, but she was married to another. He condemned her husband to death, but promised to spare him if his wife was accommodating. She refused to yield to him and her husband was executed. She sought refuge in a convent, but Pedro the Cruel tracked her down. In despair, she burned her own face, thus putting an end to the accursed love that her beauty had inspired. Don Pedro then consoled himself with María de Padilla.
Alexandra, understandably, is horrified by this ‘love story’, and then unsettled by Salvador’s response:
‘Didn’t you know that in Andalucia, love is as inconstant as it is passionate and jealous?… If the preferred love is unavailable then what can you do but seek out another to soothe your soul?’
‘So much for your famous Andalucian fidelity and passion,’ Alexandra retorts. ‘Not my idea of romance, I’m afraid.’
Nor mine! But I thought it important to include such a story, to probe the true nature of romance in this fiery Spanish setting.
As a writer, Alexandra knows well that most legends are without factual basis; as Salvador explains, ‘Legends blossom spontaneously on our fertile Spanish soil, each one more fantastic than the other.’ And yet, should she pay some of the legends more credence? I will leave you in a costume shop, right at the start of the novel, when Alexandra is choosing an outfit for an upcoming ball. She wants to wear a beautiful sultana’s costume – but who will be the sultan?
The man’s eyes darted back to the heavy closed curtain behind him. ‘These costumes were sold to me about ten years ago by the descendant of a Moorish nobleman,’ he told her, earnestly. Lowering his voice a little, he added: ‘According to legend, the wearers of these costumes are destined to fall in love. It would be unlucky to sell the costumes separately.’
‘What nonsense,’ Alexandra exclaimed indignantly, dismissing his comment as the sales talk of a shrewd businessman. ‘I’m not superstitious.’
‘But I am,’ retorted the little bald man.
And perhaps Alexandra should have some faith in this legend too…