Welcome to Jon Stein, my first guest blogger! Jon and I go to the same writing group where he read us a version of this post and told us about his novel. He’s got some great ideas. It’s an interesting and ambitious project and I look forward to hearing more about its progression.
What would you do on your last night in Seville? I was waiting for a bus near the Barqueta, not far from the river, wondering if I should I go and hear flamenco or meet my friend Nino for a drink in the Bohemia. I had spent the last three months in Andalucía, escaping the British winter and researching my novel. Now, after happy stays in Malaga, Granada and Córdoba, I had just one evening left in my favourite city of all: proud, sensuous Seville.
Each city I visited had inspired me in its own way, suggesting new ideas for stories or characters as well as providing a bit of blog-fodder. But I hadn’t lost sight of my main work-in-progress and had even come up with a title: ‘The Sarcophagus of Seville’. These last three months, for a couple of hours nearly every morning, I’d been reading and writing. I’d amassed a file of papers, articles, maps and flyers and very soon I’d be home in Totnes, needing to make sense of it all.
The Coffin in the Carpark
The background of my book is the Jewish history of Spain – a dramatic two thousand year old story culminating in the Expulsion of 1492 when Jews were given the choice of converting to Catholicism or leaving the country. Today, Spain is reclaiming its Jewish past – perhaps in an effort to attract investment and talent into a country in crisis. But while many towns and cities are promoting Sephardic (Jewish Spanish) culture, Seville struggles to come to terms with its role as a flashpoint for anti-Jewish activity in medieval Spain. Now the only visible reminder of the city’s once vibrant community is an unmarked sarcophagus, displayed incongruously in an underground car park.
This curious artefact, unearthed in the 1990s when the medieval Jewish cemetery was excavated during a nearby development, has been the catalyst for my research into the history of Seville. It has provided a symbol for the fate of the Spanish Jews as well as a mystery for the novel to explore: who does the sarcophagus belong to, and why is it there? In the same line as various successful books in recent years, I want to combine two stories: a historical plot following the disintegration of a Jewish family through the upheaval of the late 14th century, with a contemporary story focusing on my character’s discovery of the sarcophagus and subsequent search for its meaning. The setting for both strands is the barrio Santa Cruz, the picturesque tourist area which preserves the narrow winding streets of the former juderia.
The Troubadour’s Tale
After several years of reading, writing and research (much of it happily conducted in Spanish libraries, cafes and bookshops), I’ve finally reached the ‘pre-draft’ stage. I’m simply letting myself write; following a number of threads and themes, hoping to clarify my ideas and distil the story from a mass of possibilities. I’m giving myself about four months to get a first draft completed and I’m looking to support my effort through reading books on the craft of writing, as well perhaps as doing some online study or attending a residential retreat.
Of course there’s other work to do in planning a new book: most of us these days also have to market and promote ourselves. Last year I devised a performance piece based on the material I’ve gathered – playing the part of a medieval troubadour who tells the story (albeit with the assistance of a guitar and a PowerPoint presentation). I imagine I’ll be getting involved with social media, as well as attending reading and writing groups and, of course I’m always available to contribute a guest blog!
If you’re curious to hear how ‘The Sarcophagus of Seville’ is developing, or want to have a look at what else I’ve written, please visit www.jonstein.co.uk. Perhaps you’ve written a book yourself, have a Spanish story to share, or even some advice for an aspiring author. If so, do get in touch.
Oh, and what did I do on my last night in Seville? Met Nino for a drink and heard some flamenco!
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