Thursday, 28 March 2013


Notable episodes in life, changes in direction, major setbacks, minor triumphs, do not necessarily follow each other in sequence but often happen all at the same time, the dovetailing of events confusing the memory. 1972 proved to be such a year for me.  
 The publication of my novel, The Girl with a Peppermint Taste upset Eve and her parents who identified with some of the less likeable characters and were very miffed, they therefore no longer regarded me as very lovable.  I had been abroad a good deal so had also daily contact with my sons, while Maribel now became my main happy preoccupation. Though I had earned  more money from my writing than ever before, I saw it disappear remarkably quickly in the payments of rents, travel and the general financing of life for myself and others. 
 When the John Lindsay family returned to New York and the Frigiliana house was left empty, Eve thought we should sell it and buy something similar in Nerja. It was not an easy decision. I loved the place and had always imagined living there for ever, but for her it had unpleasant memories. An English couple, with whom I later became great friends, were keen to buy it, so Eve lost no time hunting for a new home and quickly found an old, but suitably renovated, three bedroomed terrace property in the middle of the town.  
 The sale of one and the purchase of the other took a few months to complete. When all was done. Eve moved in with the boys, Easy Rider and the dog, while I chose to remain in my bachelor flat thinking it wiser to wait for our frail relationship to become clearer. I sensed a legal separation was in the offing.
 Meanwhile, in London, Triton, my publishers were swallowed up by a larger company and the managing director swapped jobs and set herself up as a literary agent with most of her authors, including me, as clients. 
 'You have to follow up Peppermint with a similar novel as quickly as possible,' she informed me, 'so lets’s have an outline I can send to publishers from you soon.' 
 I had nothing in mind, having already used up all my domestic trauma experiences, but then I received a quite astonishing letter. It was from the Sun journalist with whom I had had a brief affair when we were adapting Peppermint for serialization together asking me if she could give my surname to a baby boy to which she had just given birth. She claimed I was his father. 
 My first reaction was that she had not given birth to a baby at all but was trying some lunatic tactic to get me back, for I had deliberately lost contact with her finding we were incompatible. She had initially told me she could not have children. I feared that if I was not very careful she could cause me endless trouble and therefore decided not to answer her letter but wait for developments, if any.
  Within a week I received another letter with a photograph of a baby and the threat that if I did not acknowledge being the father she would write unpleasant things about bastards to Eddy and my mother suggesting that inappropriate behaviour obviously ran in my family.  Unsettled, I rang a lawyer in London. 
 'I get six or seven cases like yours every month,' he said, a little bored. 'The lady in question has probably been sleeping around, got pregnant, has no idea who the father of the child might be and is writing to all her lovers hoping that one of them will bite. My advice to you is to do nothing, absolutely nothing, except pay the invoice my secretary will be sending you for this consultation.'  
 I therefore did nothing but worry the problem incessantly till Maribel, the only person I told, suggested I make use of the psychological stress as a conflict for my urgently awaited story.
  Time passed. I received no further letters and, thankfully, heard nothing more from the new mother, well..... not for twelve years.  
 In the weeks that followed, I worked on an outline.  
 What if this baby was really mine ? What  if, instead of a boy it was a girl ? What if, when she was eighteen,  I met her as I had met Maribel, not knowing she was my daughter.... and slept with her ? Innocent, incest ? 
 It was controversial, daring at the time. The idea grew. I gave it the title The Innocence Has Gone, Daddy, and sent the synopsis to my agent who got it contracted by Cassells, a then highly reputable publishers  and I started writing the book straight away.  

The summer proved comparatively peaceful. I joined the boys down on the beach as often as I could. Maribel continued to live with her mother but stayed with me on as many nights as possible. She  gradually filled the cupboards with her clothes and I lowered the bedroom mirror so that she could see more of herself than the top of her head.  
 As autumn approached and the cold Northern European winter loomed, the English speaking resident community seeking the sun doubled in Nerja and with it the complaints that the town offered little in way of cultural entertainment. 
 In storage, packed in cardboard boxes, I had two thousand books, a collection I had started when I was fourteen. When I was searching through them for a particular volume with Maribel one day she commented  'What a waste of knowledge. There are enough here to start an English language library.' 
It was a brilliant idea.
 With all her local connections, Maribel  found a cheap empty house on the main street to rent. We furnished it with unwanted chairs, sofas, and coffee tables from various well wishers, built countless shelves and started 'Libreria Nerja' where anyone could come and browse or borrow for a small donation to help cover the costs. 
  We opened it in the evenings. the place soon became a meeting place for what might be termed the 'foreign intellectuals', but Franco and his fascist regime were still in power and both Maribel and I were denounced and arrested for being communist sympathisers distributing left wing propaganda material..

Drew with Nicolas
Maribel and mirrow
Dictator Franco

Wednesday, 20 March 2013


It was a sleepless night, the one I spent after walking Little Miss Mexico home. I knew so little about her and wanted to know more. 
 She had told me she had studied medicine in Madrid to become a doctor but had abandoned that when her father died. She now worked as an auxiliary nurse in a Malaga hospital during the week and Nerja at week ends. I wrote little that made sense the following day and, that evening I went out on the town with the sole intention of looking for her. I knew she didn't  like the local Spanish places and, sure enough, found her in a more sophisticated bar frequented by foreigners. 
 She was alone, sitting on a high stool, talking to the barman, her jet black hair hung down in curls, she was wearing a blue blouse, white jeans, a thick leather belt round her tiny waist , a large leather handbag hanging from her shoulder on a strap. 
 When she saw me she jumped down from her perch and came to greet me with a kiss on both cheeks. 
 'Can we go to Torremolinos ?' she asked me straight away
 'When ?' 
 'Now ! To 'Barbarelas', it’s a disco. Fantastic music. I really want to go.' 
 I hesitated. It was a two hour drive, already ten o’clock, but we were in Spain where people never sleep and I didn’t want her to be reminded that I was over forty. I said yes. 
 She chatted all the way, about her work at the hospital which she didn’t like and her duties as the local practicante giving injections to all sorts of people. She had punctured the bums of nearly every high minded councillor at one time or another, even the very fat Mayor’s.
 At 'Barbarelas', she went straight on the dance floor and gyrated to the thumping music. I lamely followed, waved my arms about feeling completely out of place and uncomfortable. I had been good at the tango and pasa-doble back in the Pau Casino days, had loved holding my partners close during slow fox trots or even waltzes, but there was none of that now. Couples exercised in front of each other never touching, and I felt awkward and clumsy imitating them. When the music eventually slowed down and I was able to hold her by the waist, it became obvious we were a poor match. My chin rested on the top of her head.
 When the place closed at 6 am and we ambled back to the car I asked her if her mother would be angry at her being so late and she said she had told her she was staying with hospital friends in Malaga. So we went back to my flat and slept together. At mid day she brought me a cup of coffee, tidied up the kitchen, mopped the floor, and left her toothbrush ( which she always had in her bag ) next to mine in a mug. 
 Unforeseen and unplanned, Maribel and I became recognised as a unit. As in many small communities, individuals seen together more than once were automatically coupled, like Jack and Jill. Thus in Nerja there was Eve and Easy Rider, Joy and Al, Nancy and Jake, Chuck and Rosie and so on. Gossip would then be rife if one partner was seen with someone different , 'It’s Nancy and John now,' or 'It’s Chuck and Laura, hadn’t  you heard ?'
 'Maribel and Drew' were now invited out as partners to the surprise of many including myself. Though I was not always keen to go to American cocktail parties when one had to dress up, or Spanish beach parties when one had to dress down or English barbecues where one ended up with a headache due to drinking too much. I went along because my new energetic other half loved it all and would have gone without me if I had refused, possibly meeting a younger man, a risk I did not want to take because I had become very fond of her, though I was not admitting it to her, or even myself..     
 We fell into a fairly regular routine. Maribel went to her Malaga hospital every day leaving me to write in peace,  then she came to the flat around eight. Very soon her mother heard that she was having an affair with a married foreigner twice her age who had two children and whose wife was a hippy living in sin with an American drug addict. Understandably displeased, she made her objections known which only encouraged  Maribel to break more conventions. At weekends she blatantly stayed all night with me, causing added furore, till I decided to meet the mother in order to show her that I was not the devil incarnate. In her dark and depressing apartment decorated with pictures of the Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ , crucifixes and statuettes of saints, I handed this solidly built white haired widow the peace offering of a bunch of flowers and she politely offered me a peach liqueur. She rattled off a volume of sentences very loudly - the majority of local Spaniards shouted at the foreigners believing it made their language clearer - and I did not understand a word, but my visit worked wonders with the nosey woman next door who let it be known to the world that I was a very acceptable, well meaning 'caballero' in whose company innocent young Maribel would come to no harm. 

  It became clear to me, however, that I was not behaving very responsibly. The John Lindsays had returned to America, the Frigiliana house was empty, sooner rather than later we would have to return there and get our family life back on a normal footing which would make my situation with Maribel impossible. 
  I agonized over what to do, finally coming to the distressing conclusion that she and I should separate. We were heading towards a more permanent relationship which could not be. She was too young. I did not want to contemplate a divorce that would inevitably hurt the boys and the longer we stayed together the more hurtful the break would be. 
 One morning, gutted in advance, I suggested a walk to tell her of my decision. I prepared the ground as gently as I could, she sensed what was coming, we sat down on the beach in the bright morning sunlight and I explained that as a married man with two children I could not consider a future with her, we had to part and delaying the awful day would only increase the pain. 
 She gripped my arm tightly, desperately tried to hold back the tears but could not. I got up immediately, kissed her on the top of the head and walked quickly away before she could see that tears were also welling up in my eyes. 
 The depth of sadness I felt after only a few paces away from her was so unbearable that I stopped in my tracks, knew that if I turned round to look at her it would be fatal, but glanced over my shoulder all the same and saw this small vulnerable little girl curled up on herself, hugging her knees, rocking herself and sobbing with such grief, that I just could not bear it. 
 So I ran back to her. 
 If in the few minutes before we had both experienced a destructive heartbreak, the following few minutes were filled with ecstatic joy. 
 'I don’t know how it’s all going to work out,' I said, 'but I can’t leave you. It must be love'
  Which it was.

Maribel age 22

Friday, 15 March 2013


When I returned to Nerja from my London-Italian trip and opened the door of my bachelor flat, I found a note on the floor from a friend informing me that Eve was not at all well. Mobiles, in those days, did not exist and no one had been able to contact me while I was on the road. 
 I went straight to see her.  
Both boys were in their room building a puppet theatre which was original and creative, they were quite pleased to see me, but not as overwhelmed with joy as I expected. 
 'Mummy’s been ill in bed but Maribel has looked after her and she’s better.' I was told. 
 'Who’s Maribel ?' 
 'The ‘practicante', a sort of nurse . She gives injections to people in the bum,' they said in amused unison. 
 I found Eve in her studio attic lying on her mattress propped up by a quantity of cushions wheezing painfully. She managed a smile, raised the glass of wine she had in one hand and waved the cigarette she had in the other.. 
'It helps me relax and sleep,'  she said.
 Easy Rider was stretched out on the floor under the window dead to the world with several empty beer cans and a dog close by. 
 'I understand you’ve been having injections of something,' I said. 
 'Of something, yes. I’ve been close to getting pleurisy. A funny little Spanish nurse comes regularly twice a day to see how I am. She’s very good.'
We exchanged banalities, her news, my news, whispering so as not to disturb the corpse or dog and, when I turned to go, I came face to face with the girl in question - well, not quite face to face as she was small, the top of her head coming level with the bottom of my chin. 
 She was a tough little number and to my surprise got very angry with Eve for smoking and told her off in a mixture of Spanish and what she thought was English. She then turned on me, grabbed my arm, more or less pulled me down the stairs and,  in the hallway, accused me in quite good French of not looking after my family properly. 
'Your wife is fast becoming an alcoholic, her boy friend is on drugs, the dog has fleas and both your sons have lice which is why they continually scratch their long hair. It is time you did something about it.'
 She left, not quite slamming the front door.
 The next time I saw her was at a party where she was dancing by herself to the music of an African combo. I sat in the depths of a sofa and watched her, fascinated, never having really studied her before. 
 She was dressed in a simple t-shirt, long colourful skirt and sandals, had wild, curly, raven black hair, was dark enough to suggest an Arab origin, large brown eyes and, from her movements I guessed had a store of boundless energy. Petite, instantly lovable, I wanted to put her in my pocket and take her home.
When the party ended,  I offered to walk her back to wherever she lived and she shrugged her shoulders,  indifferent to whether I did so or not. 
 We started off down the street at a great pace. 
 'You know,' she said, 'I am Spanish and not like your English girls who go to bed with you immediately. In fact, I am half Mexican and you are old enough to be my father.'
 I wasn’t sure what to say to that, so remained silent as I followed her down various alleys till she stopped in front of a church unsure, it seemed, why we were there. 
 'Is this where you live ?' I asked lightheartedly.
 'No, but it’s only two o’clock in the morning and I don’t want to go home yet.'
  I had been in Spain long enough to know that any fiesta that finished before 6 a.m was regarded as a failure, and that going to bed before dawn was considered sacrilegious.
 'What do you suggest ?' I asked. 
  'Why don’t we go down to the beach ?'
 So we went to one of the beaches, sat down on the warm sand and stared at the sea and the stars and she told me her life story. 
 Her full name was Maria Isabel Martin Lagos Rodriguez, but was known to everyone as ‘Maribel’. She was the daughter of the local doctor who was from a wealthy conservative family in Granada. He  had served as a medical officer in the Nationalist army during the civil war though he was a Republican sympathiser.. Some twenty years ago he had gone to Mexico where he had had a clandestine relationship resulting in her unwanted birth. To avoid  problems he had returned to Spain with her,  a babe in arms, and had married a woman who had brought her up with indifference. . 
 She fell silent at this point and, when I looked at her saw that she was in tears. Unsure why, I reached for her hand, she leaned her head on my shoulder then hugged me. I hugged her back, surprised by her emotional need for comfort .
 'My father died a year ago' she managed, 'and I miss him terribly, and I don’t get on with my supposed mother who does not understand how I feel....'
 'Have you ever tried to contact your real mother in Mexico ?' I tried. 
 'I don’t know who she is,' she said and pushed herself away, laughing off her behaviour. 'Can we go to your flat now ?' she asked. 
 To my surprise she knew where I lived and had heard that I had been successful with a book about a middle aged man who falls in love with a very young girl. She had also been told  that I had had a number of extra marital affairs which is why I was separated from my wife. 
 Once inside the flat she went straight to the bathroom, the reason why she had wanted to come up. I waited, unsure what she might want to do next, and when she reappeared, all smiles, refreshed, her sadness forgotten, she went  to the bookshelves and examined the titles. 
 'Droo Launay, is that you ?' she asked, pulling out one of my early detective novels. 
 'It was the name I used for my first books. I’m a little more serious now and call myself AndrĂ©, my real name.'
 She flicked through the pages and replaced it with a shrug. 'I will have to learn English. My father used to read me a lot of Agatha Christie and Dickens but in Spanish translations.'
 For a moment I thought she was going to cry again, but she turned, smiling and just said 'I must go now.'
 I walked her home to an unprepossessing apartment block. She unlocked the entrance door and turned to say goodnight. 
 Was it too soon to give her a kiss ? Did she regard me as too old perhaps ? 
 I leaned down a little to peck her on both cheeks. She pecked me back, and disappeared into the building.
 On my way back to the flat I calculated, from what she had told me, that she could not be more than eighteen. I was perturbed by this as I felt a warm affection for little Miss Mexico and unsure whether it was a fatherly, protective feeling or, simply, wanton attraction. Her energetic dancing to the African music earlier had certainly aroused something in me. 
    The following morning it became clear that I would have to see her again. I needed to satisfy myself that my interest was just a passing fancy. 

Maribel age 22

Wednesday, 6 March 2013


When I went to England for The Sun’s launch and promotion of The Girl with a Peppermint Taste serialization, I should have stayed with Major Bill and Doris in London, but they didn’t know that Eve and I were living separately and I couldn’t face pretending that all was well when it wasn’t, so I gratefully accepted an invitation to be the guest of old friends in Somerset.
 After a rainy weekend walking in gumboots across soggy fields,  I travelled to the big city to be interviewed at the publishers as arranged. The moment I met the tabloid journalist she informed me that we would have to work together on adapting the text of the book. This would take at least a week and I saw myself spending a ridiculous amount of time on train journeys. However, the lady in question had other things in mind. 
  'I think it best if I interview him away from here if you don’t mind,' she told the publisher, 'Otherwise he might feel inhibited about telling me his innermost secrets in front of you.'
 'Good idea,' was the reply, and I was whisked away feeling a little like a newly acquired puppy. 
 As soon as we were out of the building she suggested we should go to her place where it was guaranteed there would be no interruptions. I could hardly refuse, though I sensed I might be like a lamb being led to slaughter. 
 Her car was conveniently parked round the corner, she opened the passenger door for me, a minor detail which told me she was in charge.   
 We drove up to Hampstead where she had a flat. Up the entrance stairs it smelt of cats. Inside her flat it smelt of cats and dogs. There was only one of the latter, a small, long haired terrier of some kind that barked and snapped at me. The cats, several of them, were all asleep. 
 We sat in her sitting room. The setting was pleasant, the interview personal. I was served tea and biscuits, stayed for a snack supper worrying about catching the last train to Taunton, so she suggested that, considering the amount of work we had to do on the adaptation, it would be sensible for me to stay with her a few nights. She had a guest room if I insisted on being alone. It was a forthright invitation hinting that she found me as attractive as I found her. I did not refuse. 
 I cannot deny that I was intrigued by this young woman. I liked her no-nonsense attitude to the relationship that grew between us very quickly. It was certainly not love on my part, more a feeling of gratitude at being wanted but, as I got to know her better, it became clear that we had absolutely nothing in common. She was English to the core and seemed to think that anyone living on the continent rather unfortunate. She was also a political animal with close connections to the Labour Party. I had no interest in politics whatsoever.    
 The adaptation was completed in time, it was a question of agreeing on the cuts that were necessary to keep the length down. A few days before the publication of the serialization, my self esteem rose a good number of notches when I saw the title of my book and my name in large green letters splashed across the sides of several double decker buses and, in the evening, the 60-second spots on television with dramatized passages of the book sandwiched between commercials for fish fingers and a deodorant.
 The following week The Sun came out with a double page pull out spread which guaranteed that it would never be reviewed by the Times Literary Supplement or any other culture prone paper, but it generated a surprising amount of interest, resulting in my receiving a call from Carter De Haven ( the film producer I had recently met in Nerja ) inviting me to dinner. He and his wife were in London on their way back to the States. Over coffee and brandies he told me he had read the serialization of Peppermint, liked it and intended taking an option on the film rights if I would write the screenplay.    
 The essential action of the novel was set in London with an English upper class executive falling in love with a cockney girl who takes him on CND marches to the atomic weapons establishment at Aldermaston and other left wing demonstrations. 
 Carter did not want the anti nuclear element in the film, it was too politically risky. He had Steve McQueen in mind for the executive, so the character would have to be American, and a young Scandinavian actress was already lined up for the girl in his mind, so she wouldn’t be cockney. Also, he did not want the story set in London but in Florence.
 I was about to point out that these ludicrous ideas changed the story so completely that I might as well write another book, but instead swallowed my author’s pride and diplomatically asked him the reason for his baffling requests.
 'I’m buying a property in Tuscany,' was the simple explanation. 
  I told him I had never been to Florence and didn’t know Tuscany.
  'Go,' he said. 'Do Italy. Drink in the atmosphere. All expenses paid.' 
  So his production company booked me on a flight to Rome, a hire car was put at my disposal and off I went to do Italy.
 I did not return to the Sun journalist in London after criss crossing Tuscany and staying a few days in Florence, but drove back to Nerja via the Cote d’Azur, dropping in to see my parents and ageing  grandmother on the way.  
 Once home and settled in my bachelor flat, I wrote the screenplay, which of course had remarkably little to do with the original story, and sent it to Carter in Hollywood. 
 The book itself was published as a hardback and paperback in the UK and the States with more good reviews than expected, but the film was never made.  The whole business, however, proved pleasantly beneficial financially - which should have given me peace of mind - but the domestic front became more traumatic than ever.