Five Novels Set in Spain

Because despite our best efforts, just doing books set in Mallorca was very hard. So here are our five favourite novels set in Spain, inspired by one of our May book group picks, The Rocks by Peter Nichols. As ever, tweet us with books you think we’ve missed – @CBBookGroup. Let’s dive in…

1. The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh

Okay, this one is set in Mallorca, and is one of our favourite intelligent beach reads. The Lemon Grove is a novel replete with lust and tension – Jenn, a woman approaching middle age, is on holiday with her husband, step-daughter and step-daughter’s boyfriend, Nathan. So begins an illicit longing on Jenn’s part, as she struggles to navigate the volatile set of relationships that have suddenly arisen in their tight family group: her step-daughter’s burgeoning sexuality, her husband’s secret, causing stress on his part, combined with Nathan’s ripe masculinity cause Jenn to act in a way you know is going to end in disaster, but feels somehow inevitable. It’s a satisfying and finely observed novel set against the backdrop of a sweltering summer.

 2. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

Though it’s not entirely set in Spain, the bull fighting in this iconic novel, which established Hemingway as one of the greats, makes it one that we simply couldn’t miss off.  Protagonist Jake Barnes, an ex-pat living in Paris, is a journalist who’s been wounded in WW1. However, what we’re most interested in is his travel to Spain where he and his  friends go to Pamplona to watch the bull fighting in some of the most recognisable passages in American literature (we think, anyway). Yes, Hemingway isn’t the easiest writer of all  time, but this straight talking American novel is filled with some wonderful quotes, and scenes which will make you want to jump on a plane and head to the nearest Spanish bar.

3. Winter in Madrid by C. J. Sansom

We feel like it’s fitting to put this book after Hemingway, as Sansom’s writing seems to channel an earlier style, akin to Hemingway, Greene or even, in places, Maugham. Set in 1940’s (you guessed it) Madrid, it’s a thriller with heart – a tense, supremely well written novel that charts the fates of a tangle of characters: Harry Brett, a British spy; Sandy Forsyth, an old school friend of Harry upon whom Harry is sent to spy, due to his involvement with the Fascists; Bernie Piper, presumed dead by everyone but Sandy’s ‘wife’, Barbara, who insists he is alive; and Sofia, Harry’s Spanish lover. Leading to a climactic ending, this is a clever and quietly compelling read.

 4. The Return by Victoria Hislop

A classic time slip novel, a genre in which Hislop excels, this romantic but fiercely researched novel is set in Granada, Spain, both in the present day and during the Spanish Civil  War. Sonia Cameron, a middle aged woman from England, has travelled to Granada to pursue her new found love of salsa, following the discovery of old pictures of her mother in  Spain. A parallel story emerges once Sonia reaches Spain – that of the Ramirez family during the 1930’s. Love stories, passionate flamenco dancing, the trials of bull fighting: it’s  all here in a novel of family and war which asks nothing more of the reader than to enjoy it.

5. The White Goddess: An Encounter by Simon GoughThe cover of 'The White Goddess: An Encounter' by Simon Gough.

Is this a novel? Is it a memoir? Is it something else altogether? These are questions you’ll ask yourself repeatedly as you read – perhaps ‘experience’ is a better word – The White Goddess. The book is predominantly a telling of Gough’s interactions with his great uncle (or rather, grand uncle: ‘Great is for steamships and railway lines, don’t you think? Grand is for fathers and uncles, and Russian dukes, of course!’), Robert Graves, from whom’s book this one takes its title. A young Simon’s experiences in Deia, Mallorca, echo those of characters Luca and Aegina in The Rocks, as he encounters Graves for the first time aged 11 in the bohemian paradise. You can almost see Lulu there…

 

The Rocks by Peter Nichols is published by Quercus Books in hardback, and will be available in paperback on July 2nd.

Advertisements

The Rocky Road of The Rocks by Peter Nichols

Some time ago, I felt washed up as a writer. I’d published five books: a memoir, a Peter Nichols imagenovel, three other books of non-fiction, all on maritime subjects—washed up, get it? I once lived aboard a small wooden sailboat, cruising between the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, England, the USA, making my living as a yacht captain, and I was steeped—marinated— in boats and the sea. But I felt I’d exhausted this material. I wanted to write something, preferably fiction, in a way that I never had, but always wanted to, without knowing exactly what that was.

I made many false starts. Bits of novels that inevitably seemed to veer toward water, like reverse evolution, before I abandoned them. I got very depressed about my writing career. I got very broke too.

After several years, I had six pages that I liked. They were unlike anything I’d ever written. It was a scene that happened—yes, on a rocky shore—in Mallorca, where I spent many summers when I was young, but I knew it really had nothing to do with the sea. It was about two very angry octogenarians, a man and a woman, Gerald and Lulu,  who met on a dirt road beside the sea, quarrelled, and had an accident so definitive that it seemed to be the end of the story. But it wasn’t even a story, it went nowhere. It only posed a big question: who were these two and why were they so pissed off at each other, after all this time?

I couldn’t go forward with it, so I decided to look backwards into their lives to see what had happened to them. Gradually, things filled in about Gerald and Lulu: they’d once been married, but long ago. They’d had children (by later marriages to other people), Luc and Aegina, and they seemed pretty pissed off with each other too. I saw distant episodes in all these earlier lives, as if from a long way off.

So I started writing backwards, in reverse chronology. I wrote towards those distant views —1995, 1983, 1970, and so on. I stopped and looked around when I got to each place. The episodes were each just a few weeks long at most. There was a compelling dynamic to this retroactive unfolding: the characters all grew younger, more innocent, more hopeful—they didn’t know what was coming. It was fascinating to see them ineluctably moving toward missed opportunities, heartbreak, the seemingly small mistakes that would resound through a lifetime.

Most of all, I wanted to see what had happened to Gerald and Lulu. What had engendered such bitterness that lasted more than half a century? I didn’t know for the longest time; only that it was something sad and awful that had rent and scarred their lives, and impacted everything and everyone around them until their deaths. I had to write all the way back to 1948 to see it unfold.

Eventually, I had a 500-page manuscript. I still wasn’t sure what it was—“a novel of manners,” one reader friend told me, “an emotional thriller,” someone else said. I sent it to my longtime agent, who had sold my all previous books—he’d represented me for 17 years. It was an unusually long time before he got back to me. This is what he said:

‘There is so much wrong with this book I don’t begin to know how to tell you to fix it.’

We had a short conversation in which he listed all the things that didn’t work for him. It sounded as if he was talking about some other book. It was devastating.

And he cut me loose.

Evidently I had succeeded—grandly—in my goal to write something different. I was no longer recognizable (or of interest) to my agent who had sold my books about maritime misadventure, sailors going mad in a boat race, whaleship disasters, and such manly fare. I had either reinvented—or destroyed—myself as a writer.

I was now in the position of many desperate writers: a manuscript and no agent. It didn’t help that I had published other books; these were looked at almost as liabilities. I was not new and unknown and therefore possibly exciting. I was like many writers with a stalled career, dropped by their agents, the gloss off, trying something different.

A friend in London, Kate Griffin, a partner at Profile Books, who had published all my books in England, sent my orphaned manuscript to Patrick Walsh, of the literary agency Conville and Walsh. He agreed to look at it.

Weeks went by. I had the gloomiest thoughts.

Finally, I heard from Conville and Walsh: “We’ve had a very good report on your novel from our reader. Patrick’s going to read it now.”

More weeks. Another email from Conville and Walsh: “We’ve had a second very good report about your novel. We’re printing it out now for Patrick to read.”

Very soon afterwards, I got a call from Patrick Walsh. We had a conversation about all the things that he liked so much about the book—a sort of point by point rebuttal of the call I’d had with my former agent. Patrick wanted to send it to a freelance editor he knew, Gillian Stern. Then he sent me Gillian’s email reply, which read, in part:

‘I haven’t enjoyed – derived so much pleasure – from a novel in a long while…what zest, what dialoge, what conviction, what a cast of characters, what an affirmation of all that a novel should be… How often do I send emails like this??!’

The rest happened fast, mostly through the skill and devotion of Patrick Walsh. He took the manuscript with him to Kenya and while there—on holiday—did a speedy and masterful line-by-line edit in hastily scrawled pencil. He asked me to come to London (I live in the USA) for 5 days to meet editors. When I got there, we had several offers, and he sold the book to Susan Watt and her own imprint, Heron Books, at Quercus Books. Patrick then submitted it to publishers in New York. Several offers there too, and it sold to the visionary Sarah McGrath, editor-in-chief (and editor of Khaled Hosseini) at Riverhead Books.

The Rocks—a novel about love, heartbreak and relationships—has been handsomely embraced on both sides of the Atlantic, especially by women. It has been featured in a chicklit blog. It is reviewed in the coming June editions of Cosmopolitan, Elle, O, The Oprah Magazine, and others. I have happily left harpoons astern and seem— for the moment, things can change fast—to have a new career as a novelist writing about the ineffable affairs of the human heart.

I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but I was lucky my manuscript was rejected by my former agent. I was luckier still that The Rocks found its way to Patrick Walsh, and now, to the Curtis Brown Book Group.

 

The Rocks by Peter Nichols will be published in paperback  by Heron Books on July 2nd 2015.  It’s already available in hardback and ebook. Follow Peter on Twitter at @NicholsRocks.

Our May Books of the Month

Welcome all to the fifth month of our book group! This month we’ve picked two family dramas, spanning East Germany, the island of Mallorca and Tamworth. The first is a darkly comic love story with a twist, the other a mother-daughter tale of belief, doubt and loss of innocence – both guaranteed to get you thinking.

Look out for more exclusive blogs about both books over the coming weeks – not only from us but from the authors, editors and agents.

 

The Rocks by Peter Nichols

Set on the idyllic island of Mallorca, this is a double love story told in reverse.

Opening in 2005 with a dramatic event that appears to seal the mystery of two lives, the story moves backwards in time, unravelling over sixty years, amid the olive groves and bars, the boats and poolside parties, the lives and relationships of two intertwined families within an expat community of endearing and flawed characters.

As one story is revealed, another, sweeter one – a love story of a couple from the younger generation – arises in the wake of their elder’s failures.

The Rocks is a darkly comic, bittersweet, ultimately heart-breaking novel that slips back in time to reveal a shocking incident that marked and altered these lives for ever.

Follow Peter on Twitter @NicholsRocksThe Rocks will be published in the US by Riverhead Books on 26th May 2015, and will be published in paperback in the UK by Quercus on 2nd July 2015 (we love the hardback cover, but check out that paperback jacket!).

 

Motherland by Jo McMillan

It is 1978, Jess is thirteen and she already has a reputation – as the daughter of the only communist in town. But then, it’s in the blood. The Mitchells have been in the Party since the Party began.

Jess and her mother Eleanor struggle to sell socialism to Tamworth – a sleepy Midlands town that just doesn’t want to know. So when Eleanor is invited to spend a summer teaching in East Germany, she and Jess leap at the chance to see what the future looks like. On the other side of the Iron Curtain they turn from villains into heroes. And when Eleanor meets widower Peter and his daughter, a new, more peaceful life seems possible.

But the Cold War has no time for love and soon the trouble begins. Peter is dispatched for two years of solidarity work in Laos. Friends become enemies, and Jess discovers how easy it is to switch sides, and how sides can be switched for you, sometimes without you even knowing.

Motherland is a tragi-comic portrait of a childhood overcome with belief. It’s about loss of faith and loss of innocence, and what it’s like to grow up on the losing side of history.

Follow Jo on Twitter at @JoMcmillan, and check out her website, www.jomcmillan.comMotherland will be published in the UK by John Murray on 2nd July 2015.