After all the excitement of publishing Secrets of the Pomegranate and the investment of time and energy in promoting it, I’m now trying to turn my mind to the next novel, sadly neglected these last few months. The plot has been in my mind for two or three years and I’ve been researching, reading and talking to people for some time. The Red Gene (provisional title) is also set in Spain. I don’t want to give away too much at this stage but it spans three generations of women from 1936 to the present day and starts with a British nurse who goes out to Spain with the International Brigades at the beginning of the Civil War.
The historical setting means a lot more research is required than for my other novels. My pile of books (and there is no shortage of books on the subject of the Civil War) is multiplying at an alarming rate while time for reading is not. Meanwhile, the number of people with memories of the war is diminishing and even for the next generation it can be a sensitive topic in Spain. In my interviews with older people I am concentrating more on the details of everyday life: what they ate, the games they played as children, schooling, family life and what part religion played in their lives. I am fascinated by what I hear, though some of the stories reduce me to tears.
The Red Gene will have as backdrop some of the darker chapters of Spanish history: the brutality of war, the disappearances and executions by firing squad in the years that followed; stolen babies, mass graves, the slave labour of prisoners, the ‘starvation years’ of the posguerra and the atmosphere of fear that hung over ordinary people during the years of dictatorship, repression and widespread poverty. You only have to pass through some of Spain’s villages with their massive churches towering over a huddle of small houses to get an idea of the power of the Catholic Church in people’s lives during those years.
If all this sounds depressing, I hope my novel will not be. The spirit of the three main (female) characters in dealing with the – in some cases tragic – situations they face and overcoming difficulties, the solidarity of those fighting for their ideals and fighting against fascism, the courage and resilience of ordinary people will, I hope, shine through. The Red Gene will be a love story, a historical novel and a family saga. Central to the plot will be what can only be described as a crime. But it will have a resolution that is – like that of Secrets of the Pomegranate – positive to an extent.