Continuing our Sunday Series
of taking a look at some fabulous authors!
Hello Joan, welcome to our Discovering Diamonds Guest Spot. Along with my readers and visitors I love to hear from authors who write wonderful stories. There’s nothing better on these long, cold winter evenings, than curling up with a good book in front of a cosy fire, box of chocs and glass of wine to hand. (Unless you’re in the southern hemisphere, in which case it’s still the wine, but a platter of cheese, crackers and grapes to hand, while stretched out in a deckchair in the garden on a warm, sunny, evening...)
Q. Would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself...
A. Delighted to be asked. Well, I was born a long time ago, in Dumfries, near the Solway Firth and although I only lived there until I was three years old, I identify very much with my Scottish roots. I am a rather private person and as a child spent most of my time with my nose in a book. I grew up on the east coast of England, then moved to the Thames Valley, where I became a teacher. Teaching of a variety of sorts, primary, further education, and management training was my life until I decided to give it up and become a writer. That coincided with the plan to leave the UK and to live in Spain.
Q. Where do you live?
A. I live in a small fishing village a few miles east of Malaga. It’s a delightful place, quiet but not too quiet and in easy reach of the city centre. Having spent a large part of my early life living by the coast, I am happy to be living by the sea again.
Q. If you had a choice to live anywhere – where would it be?
A. I’m perfectly happy with where I am but if I were to win the lottery I’d buy an apartment in Malaga overlooking the port. It would be nice to be within walking distance of the theatres and museums.
Q. Modern house, old cottage, castle or something else?
A. Thirty years ago I would have said ‘old cottage’ but now I would go for a modern apartment with large terraces. I’m no longer interested in the extra work than invariably goes with older buildings and definitely don’t have time for a garden.
Q. Cat, dog or budgie?
A. Dog. I have had dogs since I stopped going out to work and stayed at home to write. Most have been abandoned dogs and six of them have been schnauzers, the latest of which is a white miniature schnauzer puppy. My favourite however, (if I dare to say such a thing) was a German Shepherd who had been found wandering in a dried up river bed when he was two years old. He was the most loving and obedient dog I ever had.
Q. Are you a ‘dining room for dinner’, or a ‘tray on your lap in front of the TV’ person?
A. Oh I have always liked eating at the table, preferably outside or, if the weather is bad, inside at the dining room table.
Q. TV preferences – documentary, drama, comedy, soap or thriller?
A. Dramas are my favourite TV viewing, followed by documentaries.
Q. What was your first published novel about?
A. My first novel, Spanish Lavender, was a love story set in the Spanish Civil War. It is was the story of Elizabeth, a young English woman who got caught up in the mass exodus from Málaga in 1937. As she tried to escape the beleaguered city she meets two men, Alex, an Englishman who had come to support the Republican cause and Juan, a Spaniard. She and Juan fall in love, but as they head along the coast, they are attacked and Juan is badly wounded. In the confusion they become separated, and believing he is dead, Elizabeth returns to England. But it doesn’t end there.
Q. What was your last novel about?
A. Again it is set in Málaga but it is a very different city; the year is 1042 and we are in Moorish Spain. My last novel was book three of The City of Dreams trilogy, and is called The Prisoner. The series is about two families, one is the royal family and the other is the family of an apothecary whose shop is just outside the walls of the palace. It is a turbulent time for Malaga; rulers change with increasing regularity and the city’s enemies are growing ever closer. In this, the final book, the caliph, fearful of betrayal from those around him, has thrown his brother into prison. Meanwhile the apothecary’s family have their own problems, one of which could mean exile or even death.
Q. Do you write in one genre or several?
A. I write in various genres, but mostly historical fiction, because I love the challenge of taking some event from history and turning into a novel. But I also write contemporary fiction, mainly about women.
Q. Have you ever considered exploring a totally different genre?
A. I have. In fact I have just finished the first draft of a new detective novel. Again it is set in Málaga but now it is a modern city. My detective is a woman called Jennifer Dunne, JD to her friends; she used to work for the Metropolitan police but moved to Spain and set up her own detective agency. If the first book goes well, then she will have many more cases to solve.
Q. If you could, which two of your characters would you like to invite to spend an afternoon with you?
A. I think I’d like to spend an afternoon with Elizabeth from Spanish Lavender and Bakr, the shipwright from The City of Dreams trilogy. Bakr is married to the apothecary’s daughter and is a wonderful character, strong, manly, loving and brave. Elizabeth is also brave and is a very enthusiastic and resilient character.
Q. Where would you go / what would you do?
A. I would take them on a tour of present day Málaga so they could see how the city had changed since their respective time there, and what has remained the same. We would visit the alcazaba, the Arab fortress, which was newly built when Bakr lived there, had been bombed to the ground in the Civil War and now has been reconstructed. I would take them into the central market where the Moorish arch at the entrance is the one that used to be in Bakr’s shipyard and where they can still buy the same spices and fruits that the Moorish markets sold. I would show Elizabeth the port, which now has cruise ships moored in it instead of war ships, and how the boarded up shops and bombed streets of the centre have been replaced by pedestrian paths and glitzy shopping areas. Bakr would be amazed to see how his city has grown in size in a thousand years, and we would walk through parks that in his time would have been beneath the sea.
Q. How do you prefer to travel? Plane, boat, car?
A. I dislike the hassle of airports, but obviously there are times when it is the only way to travel. However I prefer to travel by car because it gives me more freedom, I can take whatever luggage I want, and it also means I can enjoy the journey and the places I am passing through. Driving through Spain and France is much more fun than flying.
Q. You are out for a walk. You see a chap sitting on a wall, looking right fed up – but there’s something odd about him... What? And what do you do?
A. He has a dog lead but no dog. I stop and ask him if he’s lost his dog. If he has I offer to help him find it.
We have a long-running Radio programme here in the UK called Desert Island Discs on which celebrities talk about their life and select eight of their favourite discs... so changing that slightly...
Q. If you were shipwrecked on a desert island, what eight books would you want to find left in an abandoned hut? (There’s already a Bible, the Quran, and the complete works of Shakespeare)
1. The Grapes of Wrath, (John Steinbeck)
2. The Mirror and the Light, (Hilary Mantel)
3. Burial Rights, (Hannah Kent)
4. George Elliot, The Last Victorian, (Kathryn Hughes)
5. The Reckoning (Charles Nicholl)
6. The Prophet (Kahlil Gibran)
7. Penguin Book of First World War Poetry
8. A Star Called Henry (Roddy Doyle)
Q. What sort of island would you prefer, and why? (e.g. Desert Island... Hebridian Island...)
A. Hebridean island. It wouldn’t be too cold because of the Gulf Stream. There would be plenty of fish, seals and lots of wonderful bird life, and beautiful scenery.
Q. And you would be allowed one luxury item – what would you want it to be? (a boat or something to escape on isn’t allowed.)
A. A solar powered iPad
THE CITY OF DREAMS OMNIBUS