Hi Barbara, and welcome to A Literary Vacation! To start off with, please tell us a little about your book, Secrets of the Pomegranate.
Secrets of the Pomegranate is a contemporary novel set in Granada, Spain – my home for the last 17 years. The main characters are two English sisters: spirited, adventurous Deborah who has lived in Granada since 1985 and Alice, her more cautious and conventional sister. The novel opens dramatically in March 2004 with the terrorist train bombings in Madrid. When Alice hears that Deborah was travelling on one of the trains, she flies out to Spain with 9 year-old Timmy and learns that her sister is in a coma. At Deborah’s house in Granada, with her sister’s Spanish partner and 20 year-old son, Alice waits for more news. Meanwhile, she embarks on a desperate hunt for Deborah’s diary, terrified that the secret they’ve kept for ten years will be revealed.
The secret (with potentially life-changing consequences for Alice) is what keeps readers turning the pages but there are also deeper themes, some highly topical, for example, our tendency to make superficial judgments based on prejudice and cultural difference (especially in relation to Muslims), or the unpredictable repercussions of secrets and lies – both personal and political. Without giving too much away, I can just say that Deborah’s Moroccan ex-lover is another important character. It’s a novel about love and loss, a very human story about relationships – between lovers, between sisters and between mothers and sons – and it brings up some difficult moral dilemmas for both sisters. I like to think it’s a story that engages the brain as well as the emotions of the reader.
In my opinion, the conflicts in Granada’s past (it was the last city in Spain to fall to the Catholic monarchs after 800 years of Muslim rule) are still felt at some level by its inhabitants, and the relatively recent arrival of N. African immigrants as well as the March 2004 attacks brought these feelings to the surface from somewhere deep in the psyche. Of course Islamophobia was already rife in America, Europe and elsewhere after 9/11, but it seemed to me that the paranoia and prejudice I observed in Granada after the Madrid bombings had a particular quality that derived from its history.
The novel is set in contemporary Spain so I didn’t need to do much historical research – the broad knowledge I already had was enough. However, my protagonist Deborah develops a fascination for the Moorish civilisation of al-Andalus. Their society was highly advanced in many spheres but what interests her in particular is the surprisingly liberal attitude to women. This was an area that I did have to research – and I must say it hooked me as much as it did Deborah.
I see that you are an extensive traveler. How has traveling influenced your writing? Are there any other locations you’ve traveled to that you eventually hope to write about? Any key places left on your bucket list to travel to?
I still love travel and have many places left on my bucket list (Central and S. America in particular) as well as the desire to return to some I’ve already been to. India, for example, is a country I’m drawn back to repeatedly. I’m much choosier now about how I travel, preferring to stay with families where I have the opportunity to talk to people in depth and gain a better insight into their country. I’ve written a few short articles about other countries, including India, several published in The Guardian, but I wouldn’t presume to write a book or set a novel in a country without the depth of cultural awareness that comes from living there.
On the whole, I aim to avoid routine – every day and every week is different – but I’m more creative in the morning so I try to keep as many mornings as possible free of other commitments and sit down at my desk with the sun coming in through the window (inspiring view of hills and trees and part of the Alhambra!). Lunch is the main meal in Spain so around 2pm I take a break to cook and eat (usually out on the terrace), read and doze for an hour or so. I may return to writing later in the afternoon or evening.
Keeping a balance in my life isn’t easy but I do try to balance writing with other activities. If I didn’t, I’d become a complete hermit and slob. I live alone so socialising with friends is very important. I do a little English teaching and editing, which has to be fitted in too. And I need exercise so I make time to go for walks in the hills, swim, cycle and do pilates. I also go to the UK several times a year to see my children and grandchildren, who are very important to me. During that time, I’m a ‘granny’ rather than a ‘writer’.
The honest answer is that I was tired of rejections and the increasingly offhand attitude of some agents – understandable perhaps when you realise the volume of manuscripts they receive but frustrating nevertheless. The length of time waiting for replies that sometimes never came was dispiriting.
I had six completed novels I’d poured time and energy into over many years that were just sitting on my shelves or on my computer not being read by anyone. When a friend recommended the services of SilverWood Books, I visited them and was impressed. One of the attractions of going Indie was the speed of the process and the freedom to be in control of it all – design, price, how many to print, and so on.
I discovered IndieBRAG through SilverWood because several of their other authors have been awarded the medallion. Having my novel honoured in this way meant a lot to me. Self-published authors lack the automatic recognition given to those traditionally published. As an alternative seal of approval, it has given me the confidence to call myself a writer and be taken seriously.
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