• Debbie Howells

New book idea...

A whole new book idea, while driving through northern Spain #roadtriptoIbiza #withapianoandadog

In the last week of October 2017, with a fully laden car plus piano and Bernard, pictured here with us in Pradell, we set off on a road trip. Our route took us across the English Channel through France, where we lingered in the south, rays of sun appearing through the clouds as we reached Auch, where Martin’s father used to live.

John Henson was an artist and we spent the next day driving around French villages revisiting scenes he’d painted. It’s a story of its own, for another time. But from there, we headed across the border, southern France blending into the stunning mountains of northern Spain, driving further south to Denia to board the ferry late that afternoon, to Ibiza.

And so we crossed a millpond sea at sunset. It’s hard to define that crossing, how we felt - the sense of amazement, excitement, anticipation, achievement, too, that we’d done this.

After disembarking, it took another twenty minutes to drive from Ibiza Town to the house in Cala d’Hort which was to become home for the next three months. It was the start of a winter of sunshine and beautiful Spanish landscapes, wonderful people, peace and space. Change, too, all around us, in the sea air blown in from the Mediterranean, picking up salt, rosemary, pine, as it reached our house. The elements that were part of our days; the crystal-clear sea; the energy the wind carries; rain after which the landscape was flushed with green. We explored secret beaches. Friends and family visited. Es Vedra watched over us. It was magical. And in between all of the above, we wrote.

We’d gone there to work. What we weren’t prepared for was how productive we were. It was more than good, but change, beauty, peace, are all truly inspiring. New ideas started coming to us, including the one in particular I want to write about, which came to us on the way home, on our way to catch the ferry from Santander, as we drove through the mountains of northern Spain.

From Zaragoza to Santander is a breathtaking drive, across a landscape that from being overtly Spanish looks almost Swiss by the time you reach further north. The altitude was flagged up at the roadside – three thousand feet in places, across hundreds of miles of wine-growing country covered in gnarled vines, slowly giving way to pine woods.

Solar panels. Good idea or bad? Green energy? Or maybe not so green, when you consider the production of the panels, the materials they contain, the factories, transportation costs, the factory chimneys belching foul-smelling fumes into the mountain air; the arguable blight they are on the landscape. We passed vast fields of them – before reaching the pine-covered hills, when Martin said it. What if there was another way?

With our return to the UK looming after three months away, it set us thinking about another thread. In Ibiza, we met many people who’d moved themselves and their children to start a new life there. It’s quite something, when you’re surrounded by that level of drive and positivity. A move of that scale isn’t an easy thing to do. But if you want it enough, if you want a different life, only you can make it happen.

I admire people who do instead of finding reasons not to do. That’s my kind of philosophy and one that’s also found its way into this next book. By the time we reached Santander, we’d riffed a plot… Martin’s a musician, and riffing kind of sums up how it went. Then on the ferry, while an Atlantic storm kept us awake, more conventionally, from our bunks with a seasick dog on the floor between us, we wrote an outline. When we got home, Martin started researching, finding olive farmers in the area we wanted to base our story. They were wonderfully helpful, only they pointed out one or two reasons why we might want to set it somewhere else.

That exchange of emails led to us finding somewhere else, and with it, another olive farmer, Rob. More on him later, but he has described the landscape around his farm, his way of life, some of the realities of olive farming, all with a humbling generosity that’s made it possible to start writing.

Watch this space…

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