Phil Rowlands, whose last book Siena was set partly in Italy, moves to Spain as a location for a new novel.
I wanted to set my next book in Spain. I’ve spent the last 10 years of summer holidays there, in our family apartment situated in a working class barrio of Alicante within walking distance of the old town and the beach. I love the buzz and bustle that is the heartbeat of this part of town.
Whilst here last year I read a wonderful book about the Spanish civil war and started to develop an idea for a story, the Mouse of Bernarda Alba, that begins during the conflict but would live in the contemporary world and still remain rooted in the past.
It begins in Alicante in 1937 with the theft of a precious stone set into a large brooch by a well known jewellery designer, its disappearance, the flight of the perceived thief, and his brutal murder in 1950s London. The story then moves to contemporary Spain as the dead man’s great grandson, Samuel Pepe (nicknamed Mouse after the Disney animation) Bernardo Lorca Evans moves there to run a bar in Alicante – left to his grandmother and passed on to him so he can find some purpose in his life. Once there and after the renovation and reopening of the bar, a young woman, Isabella de la Vega, from a wealthy and aristocratic dynasty, comes into his life and sets him on a journey to avenge his great grandfather’s death and return the brooch to its rightful owner. It leads to an insane, frightening, wild and dangerous adventure as Samuel digs into the criminal underbellies of Alicante, San Sebastian and Madrid, chasing memories and murders through an elite and shadowy world, that also involves Opus Dei and Papal power, and putting his life and those of his friends at risk to redeem his family’s good name.
Now to the point – location. A place to position the story but also to colour as character and focus. So first I looked for my bar. Not difficult as I used the situation and actuality of our apartment and the people, streets, shops, beach and culture that I have got to know over the years.
That is the bar with the apartment above before Mouse renovated and called it Pepe’s.
Now a quick shadow of the people who will help or hinder his journey.
Alicia Morenz, 26 and beautiful, a singer/songwriter who used to manage another bar and could run Pepe’s with her eyes shut.
The barflys include, Ricardo, Rici the cop, forty, a policia locale; Matias, twenty three, a creative writing student, in love with Alicia who, sadly, only cares for him like a brother; Maria, still beautiful at fifty, who drinks and smokes too much, and uses the men in her life for her amusement: she secretly hopes to meet a man who can stand next to her dead husband but it hasn’t happened yet; Catalan Toni, thirty and married to Camila; they have twin six years old girls, Julietta and Olivia; he’s an artisan baker who supplies diverse breads and pastry concoctions to the bar and Camila is a painter who did the murals on the walls of the bar. Toni and Sam have become good friends, get into mischief, and are known as Cat and Mouse; Remi, who runs a busy bar on the next block, is constantly trying to steal Alicia away to work for him. He finds Pepe’s a retreat from the noise and business of his much bigger place. He has a couple of other bars in Alicante too and might have an eye on Pepe’s but knows Sam isn’t selling.
Then there is Big Mama, Mariana Fernandez, seventy eight years old and wife of Diego, who is eighty three and plays wonderful Spanish guitar, usually across from Pepe’s, on the seats under the trees, where the old and not so old gather to gossip and hide from the heat. Mariana who remembers the bar when it first opened, has taken on the role of mother and protector to Sam and wants him to marry her granddaughter, Rita, who unknown to her, is very happy with her footballer girlfriend, Valentina.
These are the characters that so far people Sam’s quietly contented life. But all that is about to change.
A snapshot of the poor and the rich areas of Alicante, Spain.
The Basque country: San Sebastián was next and through visits to family who live there I was able to explore its glorious, rich and vivid history with its connections to the aristocracy, Spanish royals and their protective worlds of past and present Spain.
Madrid, I know slightly but will touch more as I develop the story as I will the mysteries of monastics and church. So with my place and root tied in I can work at creating my psychological thriller. This last part is the challenge.
Not only do I have to devise an intricate and devious web of cause and effect but search for that psychological string of DNA that realises the research and structure gathered to find the truth of my story. I will though have time and space to explore and suggest an initial pathway for my characters and then follow where they lead, perhaps occasionally guiding the sliding doors of choice to suit my purpose. Tapping into deep and raw emotions has never been that hard for me, so I will be able to go where there is little light and experience the reality in the lives of my living and breathing created world. As always, it will be a journey that gives me a better understanding of who I am and why I had made or not made the decisions in life that I had. Looking deeply into a dangerous and burning world, albeit one you have created, is a painful privilege. But it can also be an insight into the resilient spirit that gives us strength to find hope and a way to get through adversity, perhaps changed and with a lost innocence, but still able to live fully and not just exist from day to day.
Still that is all for the future. First I have to finish my present book, Time Slip, which will continue on my return from Spain.
Hope you all have a great summer.
Adios. Hasta la Huego!