Back in 1968 my literary agent, a fervently ambitious man, told me it was time I produced a worthwhile novel. Up till then I had been responsible for a series of cartoons, written a number of humorous thrillers, published several non fiction books, worked in television and compiled a serious dictionary of dates. He couldn’t pigeon-hole me as a specialized author and agents like to pigeon-hole their authors because it makes their life easier - he’s into science fiction, history, romance, haute cuisine, eroticism - that type of thing.
'Id have to find at least a year of no worries,' I pointed out. 'I have a wife, two young sons and a mortgage to maintain.'
'Give them all up,' he said. 'Uproot! Go abroad somewhere cheap and write about the resulting domestic trauma. That’ll be a good subject. You’re not getting any younger.'
I was thirty eight.
I did what I was told. I sold the house in Somerset where we were all then living and went to Spain taking the family with me.
It was adventurous, brave and foolhardy.
We settled in Frigiliana, a remote Andalusian village up in the mountains six kilometres from the coastal town of Nerja, east of Malaga, the sort of place creative people dream about, no telephones, no television, the post delivered once a week by the fishmonger on a mule.
The pueblo was a maze of narrow streets flanked by ancient whitewashed houses with balconies hung heavy with geraniums in multicoloured pots, every doorway open and nearly every threshold occupied by an elderly widow who would wear black till her own death and young girls squinting at their lacework. It was peasant from the dung between the cobblestones to the earthy smell of heated olive oil and chorizo sausage coming from the primitive kitchens.
I loved it all because the geography of the area and the blue Mediterranean reminded me of the Côte d’Azur, Malaga not unlike Nice, Frigiliana and Nerja not unlike Cagnes and Cagnes-sur-Mer where I had enjoyed early childhood days, added to which I had perhaps inherited a deep affection for Spain through my mother’s genes, for when she returned from a visit there before I was born she had surrounded herself with Spanish furniture, named our London house 'Alba' (dawn) had gone over the top with wrought iron entrance gates and made me up as a bullfighter for my first fancy dress party.
To start with we rented a place, then bought a ruin and renovated that. It took more than a year during which time I did not put pen to paper and when I finally did, demanding peace and solitude, my wife and sons got bored, moved down to more lively Nerja and the marriage broke up.
We had been married fifteen years, had never argued, so that the inevitable disagreements had been swept under the carpet for too long and all burst out spiritedly with the help of wine at 9 pesetas a bottle leading to a reasonably amicable divorce - fantastic material for a domestic trauma best seller.
Wandering the streets and bars of other local towns alone in search of inspiration, I later chanced upon a fiery foot-stamping mad-as-a-sombrero señorita from Granada. She was seventeen years younger than me, I fell in love and eventually married her.
I produced not one but seven worthwhile novels after that and, with her help, a daughter, Melissa, who is responsible for starting this Blog.
André as a bullfighter aged 8.