Welcome everyone Sandra in Spain - FlamencoI’m Sandra Piddock, and I’m a freelance writer, dividing my time between Spain and the UK. I’ll write about anything that interests and/or challenges me, and I like to focus on the lighter side of life whenever possible.. Read more
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Writers On Spain

My writing career started when I moved to Spain, because I got fed up of hearing different opinions from the Bar Stool Experts, and started finding things out for myself.  Lots of other writers said the same, and there are lots of talented writers and journalists who have made their homes in Spain. This is their showcase. If you write about Spain, and you’d like to be featured here, get in touch and we’ll talk some more.

Book Review: The Guide to Buying Property in Spain by Joanna Styles

The Guide to Buying a Property in Spain

Can a property guide actually be interesting as well as informative? Especially when the strapline is ‘Literally Everything You Need to Know?’ The answer to that is a resounding Yes, because that’s what Joanna Styles has achieved in her comprehensive new book, The Guide to Buying Property in Spain. The book is well researched and well written, in an easy to read, original style that makes you want to read on, even through the sections that aren’t particularly relevant to you.

While Joanna’s love of her adopted homeland shines through every page, this is also an honest, warts-and-all read that pulls no punches. If you get carried away and end up buying a property that doesn’t tick all your boxes, then you clearly haven’t been paying attention. An important point that Joanna makes early in the book on page 14 is to consider who you are buying for. That might seem obvious – you’re buying yourself, aren’t you? However, if you intend to cover your costs by renting out your property, bear in mind that while you might enjoy a two or three hour scenic drive from the airport, holidaymakers want to get stuck in to sun time ASAP, so consider that when you choose your location.

Speaking of location, the book contains a comprehensive run down of every area of Spain, with pros and cons, population, transport links, weather, and even an average price per square metre. This small but vital detail helps take some of the confusion out of property pricing, and helps you to get the most bang for your buck – or rather your Euro!

While the Atlantic coast of Galicia might furnish you with a bargain bolthole and stunning scenery, connections out of season leave a lot to be desired, and Galicia is green because it gets a lot of rain. And if your dream is to buy on the party island of Ibiza, you’re going to need down-to-earth dosh for it, because property there averages out at more than €5,000 per square metre. If all this is making your brain cells hurt, Joanna has provided a map showing the best deals. The cheapest coastal properties are on the Murcian coast of the Mediterranean, if that’s what you want, but maybe thought was out of your range. And there are some real bargains inland away from the cities, as long as you’re not looking for a big expat population nearby.

The Guide to Buying a Property in Spain manages to be encouraging, optimistic and realistic at the same time. Armed with cold hard facts and thought-provoking suggestions based on Joanna’s more than 30 years of living and running businesses in Spain, you will be able to find exactly what you are looking for in your Spanish property. And if you’d rather build your own dream – literally – there’s a section on that too.

This book should be compulsory reading for anyone seriously considering buying property in Spain, for whatever reason. At just €7.95, it’s a real steal, and if you use the discount code WEB you’ll get 25% of this already remarkably low price if you buy as an e-book. The Guide to Buying a Property in Spain could turn out to be your most important investment in your Spanish property search.

About Joanna:

Joanna Styles has lived in Spain since 1989, with her Spanish husband, who is a lawyer specialising in conveyancing. Not only has she renovated and sold various properties over the years, she’s a freelance copywriter and author who has written extensively about property investment and life in Spain. Based on the Costa del Sol, her website Guide to Malaga has lots of information about all aspects of life in Spain.

Image credits: Joanna Styles @ Guide to Malaga

Book Review: Spanish Dogs by Karla Ingleton Darocas

Spanish Dogs

Karla Ingleton Darocas is based in Benitachell on Spain’s Costa Blanca. On her website, spainlifestyle.com, she describes herself as:

An educator with a passion to inspire and facilitate a lust to learn.

Karla has a BA Hons, and is also a photographer, author and Spanish Fine Arts Historian. She’s also a self-confessed dog lover, with two rescue dogs, Venus and Mars. Her latest book, Spanish Dogs: The Story of Dogs in Spanish History, Culture and the Arts, is a testament to Karla’s love of dogs, the arts, and all things connected to her adopted homeland, Spain.

From the first sentence, I was hooked, because I share Karla’s passion for dogs and Spanish culture. I also firmly believe that once you stop learning, you stop living, and there’s a lot of learning packed into the 70 pages of this book.

Don’t let that put you off though – Karla has a wonderful way with words that makes absorbing knowledge a pleasure, and she also has a great sense of humour.

Describing how court painters Velazquez and Goya painted their royal sponsors, she points out that Velazquez was very keen to underplay the facial deformities resulting from the interbreeding of the Habsburg monarchs. Spanish kings loved to be painted in full hunting dress, with their faithful – and generally subservient – hounds by their sides. It subtly emphasised the idea, first verbalised in the Bible, that Man has dominion over the beasts. (Genesis 1: 26, 27)

Karla Ingleton Darocas

Goya, on the other hand, preferred to focus on the real beauty of his subjects, or as Karla puts it:

Velazquez used his admirable inventiveness to hide the protruding lower lip and pronounced chin … Goya didn’t modify the royals … On the contrary, we see the monarch, (Carlos III) with his strange small face, beady eyes, and a great big honker of a nose.

Goya was certainly an artist after Karla’s own heart, using his skills to represent the true narrative and true worth of the subjects of his portraits. In his art, there is no doubt where his allegiances lie. Discussing the hunting portrait of Carlos IV and his hound, Karla notes:

Looking up at his master with adoration and fidelity, this dog is the most regal thing in this painting.

This fabulous book gives some great insights into the origins of the dog breeds in Spain. The ubiquitous Podencos arrived in Spain as a result of conquests and explorations over the centuries. It’s most likely that the Podencos came across from Algeria, while the distinctive Water Dogs came over with the Berbers during the first Muslim conquest of Spain. Today, there are still 49 different Water Dogs in Spain.

Another typically Spanish dog, the Galgo, or Greyhound, is believed to have landed on the Iberian Peninsula with the Celts. There’s plenty of contemporary artwork, in the shape of cave paintings, engravings and pottery, to support these theories, and it’s uncanny to see the resemblance between these ancient canine ancestors and the Spanish dogs we are so familiar with today.

Fast forward to the Middle Ages, and the Catholic Spanish found another use for dogs, but it’s not one of their proudest moments. The inventors of the Inquisition had a favourite torture method which involved chaining prisoners, then allowing them to be savaged by Mastiffs. Today, these gentle giants are more noted for their loving, faithful nature, which is typical of Man’s Best Friend.

Overall though, this is an upbeat book, and Karla soon lifts the mood by informing the reader of the term that was used for this barbaric practice. It was called – wait for it – dogging! That’s quite a juxtaposition for modern audiences to deal with, since ‘dogging’ has come to mean having sex with strangers in the open air. In fact, in the popular television sitcom Benidorm, the eponymous resort is said to have a designated ‘Dogging Beach!’

Karla wraps up the book with the tale – or should that be tail? – of Pablo Picasso’s beloved Dachsund, Lump. Lump arrived in 1957 with photographer David Douglas Duncan, who was doing a feature on Picasso, and never left the artist’s side until his death in March 1973. Picasso followed Lump across the Rainbow Bridge just 10 days later. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not, but it’s a suitably emotional ending for a book about the creatures that inspire so many emotions in their human guardians.

There are so many interesting anecdotes, culture connections and light moments that describing Spanish Dogs as just a book about dogs is a bit like saying Jose Carreras, one third of the Three Tenors, is ‘just a singer.’ If you love dogs, art and Spain, or any combination of these, you really need to read this. Get your copy here, and settle down for a rattling good read.

Karla Ingleton Darocas with Venus on the beach

Image Credits: Karla Ingleton Darocas

Book Review: Son of Secrets by N. J. Simmonds

Son of Secrets by N. J. Simmonds

Just over three years ago, I reviewed N. J. Simmonds’s debut novel, The Path Keeper. I ended the review by looking forward to the second novel in the trilogy and, finally, here it is. It’s the second of three parts of The indigo Chronicles trilogy, and it was already written. Just as in The Path Keeper, fate made a mockery of the plans, so it’s taken until now to publish Son of Secrets by N. J. Simmonds.

About the book

In this book, Zac and Ella are three years on from the cataclysmic climax of The Path Keeper, and they are still traumatised. Ella is back in her beloved Spain, running a converted monastery as a hotel. She calls the hotel Torre de los Angeles, (Tower of Angels). The hotel is in Tarifa, on the Costa de La Luz, and it’s the southernmost tip of Europe From there you can take a 35 minute ferry to Tangier, in north-west Morocco, Africa.

The setting is no coincidence – Tarifa is on the cusp of two continents – Europe and Africa – and the characters in Son of Secrets are on either side of the window between two worlds. The veil is lifted on the back story of Zac and Ella too, so we get to understand more of the powerful thread that connects them.

There are a number of interesting new characters, and we become more familiar with those from the first book too. The most impactful one is Luci, a combination of Devil Woman and Earth Mother. She’s beautiful, she’s powerful, she’s brutal, she’s vengeful – and she’s suffering intolerably as she single-mindedly pursues a quest which seems to be in vain, as time and again, she’s just that bit too late.

What ties the trilogy together?

The cruelty of timing is a theme that runs through Son of Secrets, for Zac, for Ella, for Luci, and for Josh – the spoiled rich boy who incurs Zac’s wrath in The Path Keeper. Josh has his own secrets, and as we learn of them, he becomes a much more sympathetic character. Simmonds’s natural wit and her capacity for cutting right to the chase as quickly as possible are illustrated admirably in this short but telling thought sequence from Ella:

All she kept thinking was that Josh da Silva was upstairs, in her hotel. And that he was an idiot. An arrogant, handsome, and really sexy idiot – the worst kind. Was her destiny on the top floor of her hotel, acting like an arrogant dick?

We all have to learn lessons in this life, and Josh certainly learns his. So does the other spoiled rich boy, Sebastian, Ella’s step-brother. Even Luci’s edges are softened, but I am sure – indeed I insist – that we haven’t heard the last of her. It’s a testament to Simmonds’s clever characterisation that she knows just how far to take Luci to both astound the readers and also to draw their empathy for Luci’s situation. Who’s to say what anyone would do in her situation, with her resources?

By the end of Son of Secrets, all the main characters are in different places, physically and spiritually. There is no judgement on Simmonds’s part, just clever observation and uncanny understanding of what makes people tick – whatever and whoever they are!

Whereas in The Path Keeper, the main action centred around London and Spain, Son of Secrets takes us on a journey through time and space. We experience Italy and the Netherlands, where Simmonds is now based, although her soul is forever in Spain. She’s also very spiritual, and you’ll see from the Author’s Note at the end that some of the fiction is informed and enhanced by her own metaphysical experiences. Of her latest creation, Simmonds says:

Why should you read it?

Son of Secrets is more than a story, it’s a tribute to women; the hunted and hurt, the misunderstood and misrepresented. And the ones who love so fiercely they lose themselves along the way. Don’t wait for rescue, because none of us are princesses, we are queens. Act like one.

Son of Secrets is a worthy successor to The Path Keeper. Here, Simmonds has flexed her creative muscles and weaved a multi-layer story. It is fast-paced, original, and satisfying on all levels, whatever your personal beliefs or opinions. I shall end this review in the same way I ended the previous one. I can’t wait to read Book 3, Children of Shadows, which is due for release in 2021.

Image credit: N. J. Simmonds

Book Review: Ghostly Echoes by Mai Griffin

Ghostly Echoes

As well as being a rattling good yarn, Ghostly Echoes gives interesting insights into the world of spiritualism, and debunks many of the myths perpetrated in other novels and on screen. Sarah and Clarrie are ordinary people with extraordinary talents. Life hasn’t been kind to them – they are both widows – but they’ve found inner peace and fulfillment in their new lives.

Mai Griffin is an artist and author who is based in Javea, on the northern coast of Spain’s Costa Blanca with her daughter, Gaile Griffin Peers, also a writer. The ladies are also involved in publishing. I met them for the first time in 2017 at a writing conference in Velez Blanco, Andalusia. That’s where Mai gave me a copy of her novel, Ghostly Echoes, to read and review.

Life got in the way, so it was just a few days ago that I finally picked up the book to read. The main characters in the novel are Sarah Grey and her daughter, Clarinda – Clarrie for short. Sarah is a gifted psychic, but doesn’t like to brag about it. Clarrie is also blessed with the gift, but sees it as more of a curse and tries to ignore it. However, as experienced psychics and mediums know only too well, if Spirit want to work through you, they won’t be ignored.

Sarah sometimes works with Alec, a Police inspector and good friend, giving him insights into difficult cases. In this book, the first in the series of ‘Grey’ books, a child is kidnapped, another child and a young boy die. In the course of the investigation, a trio of unrelated murders are solved as a bonus.

Mai Griffin is a master of storytelling, elegantly weaving a multi-faceted tale spread over a number of years and locations, including Wales and Spain. There’s just the right level of suspense as the story unfolds, and the reader is quickly drawn in. It’s an overworked phrase, but I really couldn’t put this book down. All the characters – on this side of life or the afterlife – are well crafted and engaging, with a couple of notable exceptions. The reader just knows these men have ‘dunnit,’ just not how or why, and that’s just a small part of the overall picture.

There’s a nice balance between fast-paced action and reflection. What really sets this book above other ghostly tales is the way the spiritual angle of the story is presented. As a psychic herself, Mai has excellent insight into the way Spirit work, and how mediums bring messages to the living. She cleverly illustrates how those who try to use this special gift for personal ends can come unstuck when ego comes into the equation. She demonstrates beautifully that not everything is always as it seems, on both sides of life.

Mai Griffin writes with an authority and humour gleaned from almost 90 years of experience of life and its idiosyncracies and synchronicities. As a bonus, even the book blurb is hilarious. Ghostly Echoes actually started life as Deadly Shades of Grey, long before the last three words were preceded by a number and given an altogether different meaning.

There may be no spurious sex or sado-masochism within its covers – Javea’s not that sort of place, and Mai’s not that sort of lady. Ghostly Echoes has much more going for it. It’s a well crafted tale, with just the right balance of humour, action, authenticity and reflection. It satisfies the most discerning readers of crime fiction. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series.

Book Review: The Path Keeper by N. J. Simmonds

The second edition of N. J. Simmonds’s first novel The Path Keeper is due for re-release on 28May, 2019. The novel first came out two years ago, under a different imprint, and was a great success. However, The Path Keeper was the first book in a trilogy, and the publishers were dragging their heels over book two, so Ms Simmonds negotiated another deal for all three books. The official launch is in London on 13 June. Here’s a review to whet your appetite.

Poor Little Rich Girl Ella – Arabella Imaculada Santiago De Los Rios to give her her full name – is torn between two lovers, mysterious poor boy Zac and decorative rich boy Josh. She’s full of angst, having been dragged from her childhood spiritual home in southern Spain to London, where she’s expected to play happy families with her mother Felicity and her stepfather Richard. To Ella, London is a ‘Shitty city,’ and she doesn’t care if she loses friends with her attitude. As she wryly observes:

The fewer people there are in her life, the less chance there is of it being fucked up further.

Her mood isn’t helped when Richard – who she loves as much as she loves her Mum and respects a lot more – insists on adopting her, so that she can take his surname. The combination of Ella with Richard’s surname Fantz results in her being ridiculed and called Dumbo (Ella Fantz, geddit?). The name-calling follows her from Spain to London, and she’s like a fish out of water until she meets Zac.

Ella is foul mouthed and feisty – Zac describes her as having:

The face of an angel and the mouth of a sailor.

She’s also vulnerable and troubled, and it would be so easy for her to become a caricature of a stroppy teenager, but Simmonds’s  characterisation is far too subtle and clever to allow that to happen.

This isn’t just a simple love story either – although it is powerful, poignant and very different to the usual ‘boy meets girl’ stuff. Zac and Ella indulge in some deep and meaningful discussions on life and religion, as Ella learns more about her mysterious lover, who seems to appear out of nowhere every time she thinks of him. The discussions never get too serious though, because Simmonds’s wicked sense of humour shines through when you least expect it. When Zac tells Convent-educated  Ella that God doesn’t exist, she replies:

How come some guys wrote about God and Jesus and millions have worshipped it for 2,000 years if it’s all a load of bollocks?

Under her cynical carapace though, Ella is a lost, lonely, frightened young girl, and Zac realises this only too well. In fact, he knows everything about her, because he is special as well as mysterious. When they flee to Spain to try to resolve their situation, he sums up the swearing and shouting by telling her:

I realise your words are a carriage for your fear.

Zac and Ella discuss life, religion and love, and Simmonds uses these discussions as a vehicle for her sharp wit, as this conversation shows:

Ella: We’ve done nothing wrong. We love each other, and doesn’t that mean anything?

Zac: Apparently not.

Ella: But you said all you need is love.

Zac: No, you’re mistaking me for the Beatles. I said all there is is love, and sometimes even that isn’t enough.

So there is laughter, love, happiness and profanity in The Path Keeper. There is also loss, tragedy, mistakes and mayhem. There is no happy ending – once we know Zac’s secret, that’s not an option, even in a fantasy novel such as this. However, there is hope – hope for a future where love is enough, and where families can be happy, once the secrets are known.

N. J. Simmonds’s first novel is a gripping read which will make you laugh and make you sad. It will also make you question what you have always believed about life, love and faith. I couldn’t put it down – and I doubt if you will be able to either.

The new edition has been slightly revised, with extra scenes and new cover designs. It’s available in paperback, e-book and hardback, and the hardback edition includes a bonus short story. Find out more about The Path Keeper here. There’s a synopsis of the book, and a link to the author’s website.

N. J. Simmonds is a talented author with a great future ahead of her. The book is classed as young adult fiction, but there’s something for everyone in here. I can’t wait for the next novel in the series.

Image credits: N. J. Simmonds

When Writers On Spain get together, the result is Tails of the Alpujarras!

Tails of the Alpujarras, with cover artwork by Charlotte Moore

Tails of the Alpujarras, with cover artwork by Charlotte Moore

One thing I love about being a Writer On Spain is that I meet and mix with so many many talented writers who are genuinely nice people too. In our Facebook Group, we have a lot of fun, but we also pass on helpful tips, share each other’s work to spread the love, and occasionally, we collaborate on a project. So when David Luddington asked for our help in writing an anthology to raise funds for Valle Verde Animal Rescue on the Costa Tropical, in Southern Spain, several of us signed up.

Like Writers On Spain, Valle Verde started out on Facebook, when Freya offered to foster a dog rescued by Linda. Now, the centre has been going for just over a year, during which time more than 200 animals have been rescued, treated and rehomed. The  centre receives no government aid and survives purely on public donations. The idea for the book came from David, who writes comedy fiction, and his publishers, Mirador Publishing, agreed to sponsor it.

Now – in the summer of 2015 – the book is in the shops, on Amazon, and available for download. There are 35 stories in all, and all have an animal at the heart of the tale – or maybe that should be tail? It’s a surprising and satisfying mix, with fiction, true life stories to melt and break your heart in equal measure, and even a few poems. There’s a mix of bestselling writers, published authors, bloggers and just people with a passion for animals who can write and want to help.

Chris Stewart, of Driving Over Lemons fame kicks of the proceedings with The Near Death of Bumble, a funny-but-almost-tragic tale of a dog who braved a raging river rather than be parted from his humans for even a few minutes. It’s a sort of doggy version of the old song Running Bear, and it resonated with me, because I could imagine Paddy doing that too. I can’t even go to the loo without him, so he couldn’t bear for us to be separated by water. Then it’s the turn of Costa Blanca radio station owner, writer and patron of Samaritans in Spain Dave Bull. He’s made several contributions to the book, and it seems his dogs are just as mad as he is.

One person who knows all about rescue animals in Spain and the work that goes into it behind the scenes is Jane Walters. While living in Northern Spain, she volunteered to help at an animal shelter. In between shovelling – well, you know what – and cleaning kennels, she gradually fell in love with Buddy, a big, black, hairy hound who went home with her at the end of her volunteer stint. He accompanied her back to England when she left Spain, and is about to come back home when Jane moves to the Costa Blanca soon. It’s a heartwarming story, told from two points of view.

Saxon, by David Luddington, is a doggy reincarnation tale, and  It’s a Dog’s Life by Fran Scott is a real tearjerker, although both stories are timely reminders that dogs, like us, have feelings and crossing the Rainbow Bridge isn’t the end, but a new beginning. Quirky Medium Alison Wynn-Ryder makes that clear in her contribution. Sarah Luddington makes a typical off-the-wall contribution with Dog’s Angel, the story of how a supposedly dangerous dog brought two lovers together against the odds. The book is full of such gems, and it’s a real treat for all animal lovers, as well as people who appreciate good writing. There’s one from Yours Truly too, about when Paddy came home.

I’m proud to be part of such an excellent collaboration to help the animals who find their way to Valle Verde. You can help these deserving creatures, and help Linda and Freya to continue with their inspiring work, by buying and reviewing Tails of the Alpujarras. Why not start your Christmas shopping early and buy the book for an animal-loving friend?


Writers On Spain: Inka Piegsa-quischotte – The globe-trotting Glamour Granny from Germany!

Glamour Granny Inka, looking very much at home in Torrevieja's Casino

Glamour Granny Inka, looking very much at home in Torrevieja’s Casino

I love the interaction in our Facebook Writers On Spain Group, and I get on so well with my fellow writers in there, I often wish some of them lived closer to me, so we could meet up for real. So when I found out that relatively new member Inka Piegsa-quischotte was based just 10 miles away in Torrevieja, I was delighted.

Inka didn’t have transport, and in any case, she didn’t have a clue where Algorfa was. Most people don’t until they arrive here, and then they wish they’d known about it before. So we scheduled a meeting in the Casino in Torrevieja. In my six years in Spain, I’d never been to the Casino, so I was blown away when I entered the beautiful salon, to be greeted by Inka’s beaming smile.

Being a blogger, I never pass up the chance of new material, and Inka kindly agreed to be interviewed for my Writers On Spain series. Once we’d got the gossip and the laughter out of the way – don’t know the last time I had so much fun without intimate body contact – I settled down to find out more about this very glamorous granny, who looks anything but granny-like.

Born in Berlin, Germany, Inka has travelled so much since her teens she doesn’t consider any country is exclusively home. She describes herself as a ‘Born nomad,’ and home is wherever she is now. By that yardstick, Inka has had more homes than most. She’s lived and worked in Turkey, Miami, Beirut, Oman, Spain and London.

Until recently, Inka was a lawyer with her own law firm. After studying law in Switzerland, she obtained law degrees in Germany, London and Granada, Spain. She spent 15 years in Marbella during the 1990s, practicing law there and also in London.
Travel has always been Inka’s main love though. After obtaining her first degree, she took a year out to travel Africa with her then boyfriend. It wasn’t very glamorous, and when they returned, the boyfriend vowed he never wanted to travel again. Inka, though, was well and truly bitten by the travel bug.

She’s not your typical foreign tourist either – she loves to immerse herself in the language and culture of her favourite places, and she has a particular affinity with Arabs. She told me she speaks four and a quarter languages, and I wondered how that worked.

‘Well, I’m pretty fluent in English, German, French and Spanish, but the Turkish is a work in progress!’

Inka’s last ‘home’ before landing in Torrevieja a year ago was Turkey, with winters spent in Miami. And Turkey is responsible for getting Inka into writing. Around five years ago, Inka was strolling with a friend along the waterfront in Kusadasi, and she met two American women in a state of panic. They were passengers from a cruise ship, and while they had answered a call of nature, they’d misplaced their husbands. Such was their distraction, they couldn’t see the cruise ship that was towering over them, and asked Inka and her friend to direct them to it!

‘They were typical helpless travellers, lost without their men, and I wanted to do something about it. I couldn’t believe anybody could be so useless they couldn’t find a ship on a waterfront – and it was the only one in the port!’

Once she got over her disbelief, Inka made it her mission to tell people to ‘Get off their backsides and see the world,’ and she does it beautifully through her Glamour Granny Travels blog. The blogs are witty, entertaining and informative in equal measure, because Inka doesn’t do Regurgitated Guide Book stuff. She’s been there, done it and got the t-shirt – even though the t-shirt is likely to be a designer one rather than one with ‘I Love Benidorm’ across the front!

If you’re looking for backpacking, roughing-it travel guides, Inka’s blog is probably not what you’re after, but although Inka is a Glamour Granny, she writes about places that are within almost everybody’s budget, as well as giving insights into the luxury resorts. So the blog is for anybody who loves to travel, as long as they travel with more than a rolled up one man tent and a spare pair of knickers.

So, are Inka’s travels over? Has the Glamour Granny finally settled down? Sadly for me – for I really got to know and like Inka during our meeting – the answer is a definite No.

‘Torrevieja is home for now, but I haven’t finished travelling yet. It may be a cliché, but I really am a true citizen of the world.’
She’s also an excellent Writer On Spain – and other countries – so check out Inka’s blog and travel guides soon. Who knows, maybe one day she’ll be your neighbour – she hasn’t yet decided where her next ‘home’ will be!

Ladies Who Write soaking up the ambience in Torrevieja Casino!

[slideshow_deploy id=’310′]

I love being a writer. It takes me to beautiful  places to meet interesting people. Yesterday, it took me to the Casino in Torrevieja to meet Inka Piegsa-quischhotte, a travel blogger from Germany who has lived in Turkey, Miami, London, Beirut and Malaga, and is now based in Torrevieja. I’ll be profiling Inka in my Writers On Spain series, but I thought you’d like to know a bit more about the Casino, and see some of the fabulous photos we took yesterday.

I’d never been inside the casino before, although I have sat with a glass of wine on a table at the rear of the building, and people watched the customers using the nearby indoor market. I was totally unprepared for the assault on my senses when I walked up the steps and entered the main salon, with its big, comfortable, elegant chairs.

We’re talking Victorian opulence here, although strictly speaking, since we’re in Spain, it’s not actually Victorian, but you get the picture. Think fin de siecle instead. Lavish, elegant drapes, oil paintings the size of Algorfa, crystal chandeliers, giant mirrors and an ornately coffered Andalusian ceiling dating back to 1901 make for for a wonderful setting in which to conduct an interview.

The bar is pure Moorish, with its beautiful tiles and intricate arches. Imagine the Alhambra converted to a tapas bar and you get the idea. And the rear vestibule, with its stained glass skylight, sweeping staircase, gallery and tiled walls is Art Deco meets Moorish Magnificence. You wouldn’t think two such different styles could exist in harmony, but they do, and beautifully.

The Casino is the headquarters of the Torrevieja Cultural Society, which was founded in 1867. The building was completed in 1896, and was used as an army barracks during the Spanish Civil War. Today, it hosts a number of exhibitions and cultural programmes, and you can enjoy a drink, tapas or an excellent meal in these wonderful surroundings.

As the Casino is situated on the Paseo Maritimo, you can also sit on the terrace and look out over the Marina, and in the summer, you can enjoy the sea views from the Casino’s balcony. In England, you have to pay for your surroundings, so you expect to pay a premium on food and drinks, but it’s different here in Spain. My agua con gas was a very reasonable €1.30, and if we’d have been eating, we  could have enjoyed a delicious paella for just €9.95. Inka tells me that, unusually, you can order a single racion of paella at the Casino. Usually, unless the paella features on the Menu del Dia, it has to be a minimum of two people, so that’s another plus to chalk up to the Casino.

Why not check out the Casino next time you are in Torrevieja? Remember to take your camera along though! You can find out more about the Casino’s events and browse the photo gallery at the Cultural Society website. And my friend Jane Cronin has also written about the Casino and its activities.

Photo credit: All slideshow photos are my own, except for the first photo, which comes from the Cultural Society website.


Writers On Spain: Debs Jenkins – The Boy Mad Brummie Cook From La Murta!

Debs, doing what she does best - providing hospitality

Debs, doing what she does best – providing hospitality

How to begin to describe my latest Writer On Spain, Debs Jenkins? The title of the post only scratches the surface, because Debs has done so much in her 44 years, I should probably be doing a biography here.

Born and raised in Birmingham, Debs always knew she wanted to be a writer, but her Career Advisor at school said she needed to train for a proper job. The teenage Debs was only interested in writing and boys, so she decided to become an electronics engineer after studying for a degree at Birmingham University. As Debs freely admits, she only did it to meet men – and it worked!

‘I met my two husbands through electronics, so it served a purpose. I got made redundant after a few years, which was probably just as well, as I’m not in the market for Husband Number Three!’

After being made redundant, Debs took any work she could find, but didn’t really enjoy it, so she set up a marketing company at the grand old age of 24. It was a home based start-up, but within a year or so, it was a big concern with several staff. And this was when Debs really got her teeth into the writing, and along with her brother she co- wrote ‘The best-ever book on marketing in the world.’

It might well have been the best in its niche, but nobody wanted to publish it. Not to be deterred, Debs and her brother set up their own publishing company, and published it themselves. At the time, it wasn’t easy to self publish, but Debs is a ‘Can Do’ person, and she did it. Again, the business went from strength to strength, and when Debs moved to Spain in 2005, her brother came with her and they ran the publishing business from La Murta in Murcia. However, after a year, her brother decided Spain wasn’t for him, so he returned to England and took over the running of the publishing company.

When we looked at properties in Spain, the apartment that’s now our home was the first place we saw, but Debs’ finca at La Murta in the Sierra del Carrascoy was the last place she viewed. Debs and her husband Marcus had almost given up hope of finding their dream home in Spain, but when she arrived in La Murta, she knew she was home. La Murta is a small village with a population of just over 100, and the Jenkins family are the only Brits there.

So, did the villagers take them to their hearts? Absolutely! Even though the children who have learned English from Debs are now talking with a broad Brummie accent!

In fact, living in La Murta is directly responsible for Debs’ two Spanish cookery books. The first one, Spanish Cooking Uncovered: Farmhouse Favourites has a fascinating back story. A Spanish friend showed Debs 2,600 hand written recipes he’d discovered in his finca, and asked if anything could be done with them. The recipes belonged to his grandmother Maria Luisa, and they dated back to the time of the Spanish Civil War. The book features more than 80 recipes, accompanied by stunning photos.

Debs is justly proud of this book, but her favourite is a book that came to life as a village fundraising initiative. La Murta may be small, but like all Spanish villages and towns, the fiesta is its life blood. Debs and her husband are honoured to have been chosen to serve on the fiesta committee on more than one occasion, and in 2013, they had the idea of producing a cookery book to raise funds for fiestas.

Debs asked in the local panaderia (bakery – of which there are three in La Murta) if anyone would be interested in contributing recipes to the book. The answer was a resounding ‘Si,’ and within two weeks, 40 local chefs had cooked over 150 recipes. Debs had the arduous task of photographing – and tasting – every single one. She remembers the experience well:

‘I love my food, and I loved the research for the book, but I put on a pile of weight. The Mediterranean Diet is a healthy one – but not when you’re eating on the scale I was. I mean, I had to try all the recipes, didn’t I?’

The book – Spanish Village Cooking – Recetas Del Campo – raised €2,000 for the 2014 fiesta, and has already raised around the same amount towards the 2015 celebrations. It’s written in both Spanish and English, and it’s clearly very close to Debs’ heart. Although she has written a number of books, including the best-selling Going Native In Murcia, she’s loving her role as a cookery ambassador for La Murta, and there are more cookery and travel books in the pipeline.

I was born within about 10 miles of Debs, in Walsall, West Midlands, and I discovered a real affinity with this warm hearted, generous Midlander who has slotted so seamlessly into life in a Spanish pueblo. She truly is one of the great Writers On Spain.

Photo Credit: Debs Jenkins

Meet and greet my favourite Writers On Spain

Sandra in Spain

Since moving to Spain in 2008, I must have written hundreds, if not thousands, of blog posts and articles about life in Spain. And I’ve also come across some excellent bloggers and authors about all things Spanish. Many of  them have become good friends along the way, and in May 2014 I set up a Facebook group called Writers On Spain. It’s a meeting place for writers who live in Spain, or who live elsewhere but write about Spain.

It’s also a place where they can promote their own work, share the work of others and pass on tips and information that may be of interest or help to other writers. But above all it’s a friendly, supportive and welcoming community where we can network, vent our frustrations to people who understand where we’re coming from and take a break when we need to. After just 5 months, we have over 150 active members, and I’m continually amazed by how many people – mainly expats – can write so knowledgeably and engagingly about the wonderful country that is now our home.

The Writers On Spain are the antithesis of the Bar Stool Experts we all know and hate and the so-called travel bloggers who regurgitate the guide book stuff without having ever set foot in Spain. Our writers have been there and done it, and they can take you there with their words in ways you would never believe possible.

The group is a closed group, so although if you click on the link you can see the group and its members, you won’t be able to read any of the posts. However, I’ll be bringing the writers to you by way of short profiles and blog links, so you can be guaranteed great reading on all things Spain related. and since this is my blog, bags I’m first in the queue!

I’ve been writing online for about 12 years now. Why the late start? Well, in my previous existence I was a catering manager, but when I was diagnosed with Lupus back in 1996, I was medically retired. It took almost two years to stabilise my condition, and then I decided to do what I’d always wanted to do – go to University and get me a degree. I always go over the top with everything I do, and my First Class BA in Literature and History wasn’t enough for me, so I did an MA in Anglo-American Literary Relations. The plan was to do a little part time lecturing – after all, Tony says I’m very good at lecturing – but it didn’t work out that way.

As I’ve always loved writing, I decided to see if I could get into it as a way of passing the time and even – dare I hope – earning a few quid. At first it was slow going. I joined a couple of content creation sites, and earned about $15 in my first 6 months as an online writer. Then some of the stuff I’d written for Helium started attracting attention.

I sold a few articles as stock content, and got commissioned to write stuff for other sites. All of a sudden I was earning three figures a month. Okay, it was in dollars, which meant it was still in two figures in GB pounds, but it was a start, and if you’re just writing for the money, you’ll never make it. First you write for the love, then the money will follow if you’re good enough.