|Lisa and Mum in Galicia|
Today, I have great pleasure in sharing the chat I recently had with a pal of mine, Lisa Rose Wright. As well as being a truly lovely lady, as you'll soon find out, Lisa is intrepid, a top cook and a wonderful author. As it happens, the timing for this blog couldn't be better as Lisa has just released the third book in her Writing Home series. I had the honour of beta reading the book and am convinced it'll be another winner for her.
Here's what Lisa has to say about her adventures with 'S' in Spain!
1. I love the intrigue surrounding ‘S’! Can you tell us how you met and what led you to move to Spain?
Thank you for inviting me here today, Beth. I’m delighted to be a guest on your lovely blog. I suppose I should start by explaining who ‘S’ is! When I first started writing down some of the stories which would eventually form part of my first travelogue memoir, Plum, Courgette & Green Bean Tart, all my characters just had initials. It’s how I write in my diary and in my letters to Mum. Then, I was told that people wouldn’t read something with no names in it. But my husband has always been ‘S’, plus our neighbours can’t pronounce his real name, so it seemed fitting to leave him as a slightly anonymous and enigmatic figure. There are actually clues to his real name throughout the first book if you look for them, and he is revealed in all his glory in Book two of the series, Tomato, Fig & Pumpkin Jelly.
So back to your question… I met S in a pond.
Imagine a very wet and cold day in the English Peak District, me just finishing my university degree (as a mature student, I have to add) and wanting to impress the company for which I’m hoping to work. There are six of us or so, all hanging around and waiting for the ‘boss’ to appear. That was my ‘S’. Turns out he wasn’t the boss at all, just the only person who knew how to set the traps for the great-crested newts we were surveying. Still, I’d already fallen for him by then! I like to say, given our first meeting, that if one kisses enough frogs, one finds a prince! And I guess I did 😊.
Our move to Galicia in the northwest corner of Spain was really quite serendipitous. Although we were both looking to move somewhere we could be more self-sufficient, even before we met in that pond, I had never even heard of Galicia the first time I set foot there; literally, as we were walking the Camino de Santiago at the time. I fell in love instantly and, as I happened to have a phone number for an estate agent in my bag, we started house hunting straight away.
2. Were there any difficulties you had to overcome in finding a property that suited you?
Oh yes, Beth, there certainly were. I’ve read (and loved) your Fat Dogs series, and know you will be able to relate when I say that our expectations of properties and those of the estate agents involved in finding a house did not always match up. The first house we actually fell in love with, high in the mountains in Ourense province, couldn’t even be sold as no one knew where the owner was! We saw houses no one had a key for, houses with no walls, and houses hanging off a precipitous cliff. But we did eventually find a ruinous property we loved with the amount of land we needed called A Casa do Campo, or the ‘country house’. All we needed to do was to renovate it.
|A Casa do Campo|
3. I know that one of your aspirations in moving to Spain was to become self-sufficient. Have you managed to achieve your goals? And if so, do you consider yourselves organic gardeners?
It was indeed, Beth. One of our prime motivations for house hunting outside the UK was the ability to buy something with a decent amount of land at an affordable price. Anyone who has tried that in Britain will understand the virtual impossibility. In Galicia, the land is far cheaper though this meant we started off looking at properties with way too much land for our needs. We eventually regrouped and now have a lovely piece of land remote from the house that I use as an allotment for growing my veggies. We also bought an extra piece of woodland below the allotment for the wildlife, with chestnut and fruit trees (and rather too much bracken!). We were also lucky enough to inherit a mature garden with apple, plum, fig, cherry and peach trees, plus sweet chestnuts and walnuts. We would certainly do well as fruitarians over the summer months.
With the addition of the many soft fruit bushes we planted, our home-grown vegetables, and judicious preserving, we can keep ourselves and Mum in fruit, nuts, and veg year-round. We also have our own chickens for eggs and rabbits for meat. Each winter, we buy a pig from our friend locally, so that pretty much keeps us in meat too.
We don’t grow grain, and our chicken and rabbit feed, which supplements their diet of greens and veggies, is not organic, so we are not truly self-sufficient, nor can we call ourselves ‘organic’. But we don’t use chemical sprays on the land, and we mulch with our own compost, made from our food waste. Also, we have ‘green’ hot water. From our wood-burning stove in winter – thanks to S cleverly installing a back boiler, and in summer from his patented homemade solar water heater. So, all in all, I’m pretty happy with what we have achieved.
|Our First Chickens|
4. I love learning why authors decided to begin writing. Can you tell us what your books are about and what inspired you to share your tales?
That’s a question that always floors me, Beth! Things just seemed to happen! I’ve always enjoyed scribbling, and when we first moved here, I wrote about our experiences daily just because I didn’t want to forget some of the things we had to go through. It’s so easy, once somewhere is comfortable, to forget the hours of hard work, and at times sheer agony, that went into our self-renovation.
I entered one of my stories in a competition, and it was selected to be published in an anthology of tales about Galicia. I then joined a writers’ group here, and with encouragement from other members, I started writing more and more. At first, I couldn’t imagine writing a full book’s worth of stories, but once I started, I found the words rolling out.
Then, I discovered that Mum had kept every one of my weekly letters home over the years. When I read them, they reminded me of other events that had happened to us, so I incorporated them into the stories of our life here in Galicia too. I’m really happy, and still a little awed that people have enjoyed my tales, and I love receiving emails from total strangers in all corners of the world saying they have felt enthused to try growing their own food or making some of my recipes.
|No key for this one, so a helping hand from our estate agent!|
5. Huge congratulations on completing the third episode in your Writing Home series, it's such a lovely book and wonderful addition to your series. Can you tell us about any challenges you faced while writing the books?
Thanks so much, Beth. Chestnut, Cherry & Kiwi Fruit Sponge; a final year to write home about – and Mother Makes 3 in Galicia will be published on October 1st, and the eBook can be ordered right now, so I'm pretty excited. The cover is, I think, my favourite of all!
I think my greatest challenges with all my books has been the internet. Really! Where we live is in a lovely peaceful valley. Unfortunately, the internet masts are at the top of another valley and the signals literally whizz over our heads! This means my connection is not only incredibly slow but only available in one room, which means a fair bit of toing and froing to sort out marketing and uploading files. I sometimes wish I had a better connection so I could spend more productive time online, but then I remember how lucky I am to live here at the end of the world, doing what I enjoy, and I realise it’s quite a minor irritation.
6. What do you enjoy most about writing memoirs, and what advice would you give to aspiring writers?
I love the immediacy of memoirs – both writing and reading. I’m lucky to have found the wonderful Facebook group, We Love Memoirs, which helps me satisfy my thirst for reading about other people’s lives. I love peeping in the window at others, so to speak, and that’s also what I especially love about writing memoirs – the chance to tell my own story and give reader’s a glimpse of a probably different world to their own. It’s quite a pure form of writing because you are constrained by reality. It’s a challenge to make the often mundane interesting to the reader and to still bring to life some of the challenges we faced in a way people can relate to. I’m lucky that living in Galicia provides me with plenty of material for my books, and as little-known area it is often new to my readers.
Advice! Mmm, I’m hopeless at giving advice really as I probably broke every rule in the book with Plum; I was told I shouldn’t have a title which didn’t reflect the book – after all, Plum, Courgette & Green Bean Tart sounds like a cookbook (albeit a weird one, haha), that photographs were ‘in’ for travel memoir covers at the time rather than artwork, and that I shouldn’t have both letters and diary entries in there as well as narrative. I did all those things, and both Plum and the sequel, Tomato, Fig & Pumpkin Jelly have been very well received. So, I guess my advice would be simply to go for it. Find something you want to write about, and do it. Then get someone you trust to read it critically. Oh, and there was a reason for sticking with those titles, as readers will discover.
|This house would have needed a bit of work!|
7. Back to your lives in Spain. What are the features you love most about your area?
Oh, what do I love about Galicia? Where to start, Beth! The minute we walked into Galicia on that Camino walk in 2004, I felt like I’d come home. It was green, beautiful, peaceful and friendly. The food, wine and housing were cheap, the people were welcoming, and the scenery was just stunning.
One of the very best things about our area, the Ribeira Sacra, or sacred rivers, is the landscape. It is an area of chestnut forests, deep valleys, mighty rivers, and heroic viticulture, so-called because of the steepness of the hillsides on which many of the grapes are grown. Galicia itself has such a varied landscape in such a relatively small area that one of our best-known poets, Vicente Risco, called Galicia ‘a world’ in his iconic poem. ‘Tú dices: Galicia es muy pequeña. Yo te digo: Galicia es un mundo…’. ‘You say: Galicia is very small. I say to you: Galicia is a world’. Galicia has so much variety in such a small area. It really is incredible.
Added to that are the peace of a place with far less traffic than anywhere I’ve lived previously and the welcoming friendliness of the local people. I couldn’t have wished for a more perfect spot to make our home. The food is plentiful and delicious, the wine is cheap and local, and there were none of the hordes of tourists found in the more popular areas of Spain.
|Shell church, La Toxa|
8. Do you have a favourite local wine and food/recipe?
Much of the red wine that is offered in our local bars is made by the owners themselves. Luis, at our favourite local, Bar Scala, has hectares of vines on the edge of the Miño valley, the biggest river in our region. The wine from these grapes, which are a mix of Mencía and Garnacha, is fruity and rich but heavy. It’s a perfect wine for enjoying with friends. We often help our local priest, Don Pepe, with his wine harvest in September. It is a lovely day of hard work and delicious food and a nice way to give something back to those who have been so welcoming.
Galicia is also a land of cheap, nourishing menús and unfancy but delicious food.
My favourite Galician meals are usually the simplest: pork, roasted long in the oven, or octopus, boiled and sprinkled with salt, paprika and lashings of olive oil; or a very simple fried dish of Padrón peppers (the Galician ‘Russian roulette peppers’ as every tenth one is said to be super spicy) sprinkled with sea salt. But I think my favourite recipe is probably the iconic Tarta de Santiago. A delicious almond tart made with just four ingredients; it can’t be bettered.
Recipe: (This makes an 8”/20cm flat cake. Simply double the mixture for a larger cake.)
6oz/150g caster sugar
6oz/150g ground almonds
Zest of a small orange and a lemon
2 drops almond extract (optional)
Whisk the sugar, almond extract and the eggs until thick, pale and mousse-like. As this cake has no raising agent, the whisking of the eggs creates the light texture, so don’t be tempted to skip the beating! Carefully fold in the orange and lemon zest and the ground almonds. Spoon into a round shallow cake tin and bake in a moderate oven, 170°c, for approximately 40 minutes or until just set. Allow to cool and dust with icing sugar.
Traditionally these cakes have the cross of St. James on them. If you wish, find a picture online of the cross, print it off and cut it out. Dust icing sugar around the cross, leaving a clear bit in the shape of the cross in the centre of the cake.
|Chestnut woods right outside our door|
9. Is there anything about living in Spain that maybe you weren’t expecting?
Oh, Beth! So much! I’m not sure what I was expecting from Spain really, as prior to our Camino, I’d only ever visited the Canary Islands, never the mainland. I didn’t know, for example, that there is not just one language in Spain, but many, and that they are all so very different. The Catalans speak Catalan, the Basques, Vasco, and the Galicians speak Galego, a mix of Portuguese and Spanish, and really quite different to Castilian Spanish.
In addition, the culture is totally different to the UK. It is much more laid back here in general, with none of the urgency to things that I was used to. It’s a delight now we are accustomed to it, but not so much in the early days when we had no windows, and the company were having another fiesta day or another ‘mañana’ moment.
The Galician day starts later too and carries on until the early hours. Fiestas normally get going as we are heading home, around 1.30am. Lunch is at 2pm, and dinner doesn’t start in restaurants until around 9 or even 9.30. I went to a Christmas lunch with my Pilates class one year, and by the time we were served, it was 11pm. My stomach didn’t appreciate that one bit, lol.
10. What advice would you give to others who want to up sticks and live in Spain?
Oh, I hate giving others advice! Everyone is different, aren’t they?
I’ve always said that you need to be open and willing to be flexible to do well in any country; we are, after all, ‘guests’. It’s no good being rigidly British (or American, German…whatever) as you won’t enjoy the place as much as if you adapt and become ‘local’ in your thinking and habits. Embrace the unusual!
Research is also important; know what you are looking for from an area before deciding where to move. Living somewhere is very different to holidaying there!
11. What is the most memorable experience you have had while living in Spain?
Oh, that’s easy! My most memorable experience in Galicia has to be our wedding day in our local town hall. It was memorable for many reasons: family and friends turned up with flowers and champagne, our local restaurant, Parillada Mencía, did us proud with a lunch to feed the 5,000, and locals all turned out to wish us well – and to pelt us with rice. We were even presented with a ceramic plaque from our local council! But it was memorable mainly because it actually happened – so many times over the course of the year I didn’t think it would!
|Our Wedding Day|
12. And finally, what’s next for you?
Our wedding adventures are the subject of my second book Tomato, Fig & Pumpkin Jelly. The final book of the writing home series, Chestnut, Cherry & Kiwi Fruit Sponge follows us renovating a second ruin for Mum, and Mum moving to Galicia to live at the age of 84 and eleven months. That was also the end of my letters home (which felt odd after some 32 years of weekly writing, I can tell you).
Although there are no more letters home, the three of us, known as Los Tres, continue to have plenty of adventures. When I was editing Cherry, I realised that there were many places we have discovered over the years which just didn’t make it into the books. Those stories form the basis of my next book. Pulpo, Pig & Peppers – travels around Galicia, and beyond. It is part travel guide, mainly a travelogue memoir, of places, fiestas and cities we have visited and enjoyed. Each place I wrote about elicited a memory, an anecdote, or a yarn that turned this book into a labour of love – for all the wonderful places in Beautiful Green Galicia. I do hope people will join us here at the end of the world.
Thank you so much for popping in for a chat, Lisa, I loved it and wish you great success with your latest publication. As a huge fan of your writing, I'm certain it's going to be another runaway success!
|The Writing Home series|