Exactly six years ago I set up this website and wrote my initial blog, posted with a photo, taken from my terrace, of a fiery sunrise. I chose that picture to signify hope and new beginnings. My first novel was on schedule to be published in April of that year, 2015. The launch of Secrets of the Pomegranate, set in my adopted city of Granada, marked the start of a new career as a novelist. I’d been published before (travel books, journalism) and I’d written novels (six of them) but this was my first novel to reach the wider world. The launch was celebrated in various locations in both the UK and Spain. To say I was excited would be an understatement. Years of work were finally bringing some reward. By this time I was already well into writing a second and more ambitious novel. Four years later, The Red Gene was published and once again launches and presentations were held in both countries. I felt proud of my books, as feedback and reviews started to come in, the vast majority highly favourable.
For me, however, the value of writing is measured not only in critical success – and certainly not in earnings (or I’d be hopelessly depressed). The creative satisfaction is at least as important. Never has this been clearer to me than now when the pandemic has meant confinement at home for long periods and a life of relative isolation. With all my usual social activities stopped, being able to focus on writing has made all the difference. It has kept me sane, given me a purpose, enabled me to get through the day – the endless days that roll on one after another, each indistinguishable from the preceding one. When the first lockdown started, I was already engaged in writing a memoir, which I completed in late spring. I don’t think it’s destined for publication but it absorbed me and gave me inspiration for the novel I’m currently working on with great enthusiasm – a novel based on the extraordinary life of my grandmother.
Looking back on the seventy posts I’ve published (an average of almost one a month over the six years) and accompanying photos reads a bit like a running account of my life during those years and particularly of my writing life. But some of my posts focus on experiences much further back in my life: my travels in the 1970s, subject of Kathmandu by Truck and Trans-Siberia by Rail; on my early days in Spain around the millennium. I’ve written about places and people and events, good and bad times. I’ve also used some of the research for my books to write about topics such as the legacy of the Moors or censorship under Franco, and addressed more general issues like the way fiction is categorised.
When I skim through previous posts, captive as I am (as we all are) in the stagnation of lockdown, I’m amazed by how much has happened in my life since I moved to Spain. Setbacks like the sudden onset of deafness, the robbery, the fire in my house; but also the joy of grandchildren, new enthusiasms like biodanza and tango, travels to Mali, India, Cuba, cycling trips in Portugal and Italy as well as other regions of Spain. I’ve seen the changes in Granada over time: the massive increase in tourism and now its almost total (if temporary) disappearance.
For the first time in 22 years, I’ve passed a full twelve months without leaving Granada. I’ve experienced it in all its seasons – and more intensely thanks to the limitations imposed by the pandemic. As for almost everyone – and I’ve escaped far more lightly than many – there has been a cost. The loss of freedom, the long separation from my family, the absence of touch (a whole year when the only people to have touched me are the hairdresser and the dentist – how sad is that!), the reduction in social life as contact is largely reduced to email, phone or Zoom, the submission to routine – all these have been difficult at times.
We’re not out of it yet and the vaccine is still some months away but I’m grateful to have come through up to now in good health and reasonable spirits. Without writing, I know I would have been in a much worse place.