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)
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.
Image Credits: Karla Ingleton Darocas
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.
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.
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:
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
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.