PART 2: Vengeance in the Valencian Water Q+A

To read part one, click here – PART 1: VENGEANCE IN THE VALENCIAN WATER Q+A

Here we go, part two of the Q+A, time for some of the more specific questions –

6 ) Did you base the characters on real-life people, like with Blood in the Valencian Soil? 

Rather than look at the situations of specific individuals and make a fictional tale based on their lives, this book takes a different vein. This book follows real events (like BITVS) but has all fictional characters. This book is a snapshot of Valencia in 1957 and the characters live in what was reality at the time. I spent countless hours studying photographs and recollections of the city and its way of life at the time. I also studied the 1957 flood over the period of about a year, so I knew all the details I needed. I got to point where I knew the water level of individual streets around the city. I also walked those streets in Valencia, to visualise the scenarios for myself. All of the characters are entirely fictional, and would not want to meet these people in person!

As for the 2010 characters, they are all also fictional, but live in Spain as it was that year. One chapter sees Luna caught up in a protests in Madrid, and I made sure there was a protest in Puerta del Sol in that month, and checked what they protested against and what their signs said. The timeline is accurate, but no one is based on a real person.

Graham Hunt was kind enough to capture this, so it had to go in the book

7 ) What did you research for the book? You talk about research a lot of twitter.

Jaja, my twitter rambling coming back to bite me. Following on my from the last question – I researched a lot. For me, when I sit down to write, I need to be able to envisage the whole scene in my mind before a word can be written. When it’s based in Valencia, imagining somewhere is a piece of cake. But still, I need to know the details are in place before I can start. For example, when writing José in 1957, I needed to know what his Guardia Civil uniform looked like, or what the fashion of the time looked like in Valencia. That meant tracking down photographs in 1957. There is one scene were José has to wear what I imagine as the most ugly brown suit ever, but then in another, the smoothest grey suit you can imagine. I know both of these were on sale because I checked. I don’t spend a great deal of time on clothing unless it’s relevant to the scene, so you don’t feel bombarded with inane tidbits. But when they buy 1957 swimsuits, I checked to see what you could get at Malvarrosa at the time. Beach umbrellas are the right colour, restaurant decor is correct, street names are correct, even the flowers bought at the market are the right type. When Franco arrives, his car is the right kind, the positions are correct, the aides are dressed properly. When it comes to bullfighting, the clothes are correct, the details of a fight are correct, the feeling from the crowd is correct ( I know this because I sat there to get it right). Valencia is the perfect place to use as a location because there is just so much to see, and how much the city has changed is incredible. I have studied the detail of the city from the mid-1800’s until now and the changes are amazing, yet the core, the heart of the city remains the same.

Calle Miguelete at Plaza de la Virgen, both Jose’s 1957 and Luna’s 2010 reality 

8) Are there any storyline pieces you are worried about? Does reaction to the book worry you?

Does it worry me? Only all the time. Writing a book is like walking around naked, you are fully exposed to embarrassment and ridicule. I feel like a running joke – an author with an anxiety disorder. I dream about being teased about typos. After writing a  chapter, I put on a cynical hat and question its believability. With the Luna Montgomery series, I want things to be as realistic as possible. Fortunately, by following real-life scenarios, the possibility of the storyline being over-the-top is nigh impossible. With the flood, it’s all real, as is the babies stolen by the church. None of that needed to be made up. The 2010 storyline gave me more worries. The medical details were something I was careful with – there’s nothing worse than reading/watching something and a character is sick and makes an instant miracle recovery. Anyone who suffered or nursed someone with a serious illness or injury will see right through it. I had to check the detail very carefully. I fight constantly with Luna and Cayetano, to make sure they are believable and full of flaws. Perfection doesn’t exist and neither of them can appear to have the upper hand over the other. They both make mistakes, they both say stupid things, like any couple. I worried, about halfway through, that Luna was being too needy, and then wasn’t being strong enough. At the end, I did worry if all the feminists out there will be disappointed with her life choices, but to me, she does all she needs to do for all around her. She doesn’t have the luxury of making decisions to suit herself. I also worry if Cayetano comes off as arrogant or selfish at times, but have tried to suitably redeem him. You aren’t supposed to like every character all the time anyway.

9 )Why give Luna two children? What’s the point?

There is plenty of point. From the very beginning, I imagined Luna with two sons. Luna is the very first character I ever created, back in 2009 when I was still finding my feet. (You can’t accuse me of not taking my time with the characters. I took 18 months off these characters to work on Canna Medici while I got this series together.) Luna meets Cayetano and their lives are a mess. They meet to uncover murdered relatives, so it’s not a love story. From the very beginning, Cayetano always had María, his wife. That in itself is a nightmare, but to have Luna as a single woman would be too easy, and make her too perfect. I made her a parent because it suits her, she’s the type to cope well with sons. I had to also make her a widow, because that was the only way to make her solo mother, no other scenario worked on Luna and Fabrizio as a couple. I’ve been the child of a solo mother, and know just how amazing they are. To have a male and female lead character makes it easy for them to fall into a relationship, or at least an affair, and by making Luna a widowed solo mother, and Cayetano already married, it gave me far more scope to develop the characters and their interactions. They come from totally different perspectives, and not just because their families sit on opposite sides of the political and religious divide. They cannot understand each other’s situations because they are so bogged down in their own realities. Just when the path seems smooth for a quiet life, I have something to throw in the mix. This isn’t a romance novel (but if you like romance, I have one in the pipeline to come out after my next civil war book, so bear with me!)

10 ) Which of the two books (Blood in the Valencian Soil and Vengeance in the Valencian Water) have you enjoyed writing the most….and why?

That is a really hard choice. BITVS was my baby, I nursed her for quite some before I got the book I wanted. It is centred in the civil war, something that gives me enough inspiration to write 100 books. It is set around a murdered grandfather, something very close to home for me. The issue of relative killed in the civil war and hidden away also hits close to home for me. The story of a kiwi nurse in Spain is something I took the time to understand, follow and genuinely care about. It was great to meet the family of Renee Shadbolt, the real Scarlett Montgomery, and how proud they were of her. Real people in real scenarios flourishing and despairing was what I wanted to create. I will always love BITVS.

one place – three periods in the series

VITVW is totally different. Writing one book and making it my baby seems easy compared to following it up with a suitable sequel. I wanted to continue the series, but at the same time, make a story that can stand on its own. It needed to pack all the punch of the first book, without going over old detail. I can’t remember when I decided to write a Valencia flood novel, but I don’t think it’s been done before (feel free to correct me). It would have been easy to have Luna and Cayetano go back through another civil war story and it probably would have worked, too. But going back to the 1950’s instead of the 1930’s gave the series new life. The third book goes to the 1970’s, so the state of Spain under Franco through the years can be seen in long form. From war in the 30’s, to the heavy-handed rule of the 50’s, to the unstable 70’s, the story of the Beltrán and Morales families can tell a huge story. The present day storyline also gives that chance. BITVS is set in 2009, VITVW in 2010 and then Death in the Valencian Dust in 2013, and Spain changes in this tiny time frame, giving me plenty to work with. As long as Rajoy is in power, enough things will be screwed up, providing plenty of ideas.

I would have to say BITVS is my favourite to write because it was the first in this big project, but VITVW gave me huge satisfaction too, as I feel I have done a really good job with it. I wouldn’t change a thing, and feel my writing style is much better now.

Click here to read the Part 1 with the free book offer Q+A. Part 3 will have all remaining questions, Part 4 is Valencia in photos, and Part 5 is the first chapter, available January 24, the same day as the book release.

Thanks to Graham Hunt for the video, and Juan Antonio Soler Aces for the historical Valencia photos
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Part 1: Vengeance in the Valencian Water Q+A (plus a FREE book)

Valencia, Spain: October 1957 – After a long hot summer, Guardia Civil officers José Morales Ruiz and Fermín Belasco Ibarra have had enough of their lives. Sick of dealing with lowlifes and those left powerless under Franco’s ruthless dictatorship, the friends devise a  complex system of stealing babies, to be sent away to paying families. But as the October rains fall, the dry Valencian streets fill with muddy water, and only greed and self-preservation will survive…

It’s 2010, and Luna Montgomery is busier than ever. With the mystery of her murdered grandfather solved, she reluctantly prepares to be the bride in Spain’s ‘wedding of the year’. But four more bodies lie hidden at Escondrijo, Luna’s farm in the Valencian mountains. Her fiancé, bullfighter Cayetano Beltrán Morales, is not eager to have his name brought up in a post-civil war burial excavation. When Cayetano’s grandfather José, an evil Franco supporter, starts to push his ideals on Luna, her decision to join the Beltrán family comes under scrutiny.

The Tour de France is fast approaching, and Luna’s position as a bike mechanic on Valencia’s new cycling team begins to come under pressure. When an ‘accident’ occurs at Escondrijo, lives hang in the balance as more of Spain’s ghosts come to life and tell the story of a flood in 1957…

It’s that time again. With time ticking away until Vengeance in the Valencian Water is released on January 24, it’s time I got onto answering some of your questions! I have merged some questions together, to answer as many as possible, but will post in a few parts. Let’s jump right in.

book covers

1 ) What is Vengeance in the Valencian Water all about?

VITVW is the second in the Luna Montgomery ‘Secrets of Spain’ series, which continues right where Blood in the Valencian Soil left off. VITVW follows the same vein – two different time periods, with their own themes that are bound together by similar circumstances. VITVW is centred in Valencia 1957, with a Guardia Civil officer, José Morales and his battle against the struggles of Franco Spain. Common in this time period was the horrendous baby-stealing practices in hospitals, where the church would steal babies from mothers at birth and sell them, with the law on their side. José gets caught up in this vicious circle, only to find his real adversary is the Valencia flood of October 14 the same year. The story runs alongside the 2010 storyline of Cayetano Beltrán, José’s grandson, and his life with Luna Montgomery, which is under pressure. With the financial crisis weighing down Cayetano’s career as a bullfighter and the impending bankruptcy of his grandfather’s huge business, life is increasingly difficult. Luna is still struggling after the recession claimed her job in the first novel, and just as she finds some stability, her late husband’s alleged drug cheating as a professional cyclist rears its head. The long-awaited trial of a Spanish doctor caught doping Tour de France riders leaves Luna to face a legacy she never wanted to be part of. Luna continues pushing to dig up unidentified Spanish civil war bodies, the common clash in Luna and Cayetano’s relationship in BITVS. All the themes in both 1957 and 2010 interlink as ‘coincidence versus fate’ is again explored.

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Pretending to be researching in Segovia

2 ) How long did it take to write Vengeance in the Valencian Water?

I started writing in February ’13, with the intention of having the bulk of the storyline completed before my research trip in May. That failed dismally but while in Spain, I learned so many things. Once back from Spain I was busy with Violent Daylight‘s August release and the story went on hold. I didn’t get back to VITVW until October and finished at the end of November. The book dragged out longer than ever planned, and many ‘real-life’ things got in the way. I had the background for the book, with the research on the Valencian flood, the baby black market and the drugs in cycling done a year in advance, so when it came time to flesh out the book, there was no delay. Going to Spain to learn more about bullfighting and the reality of the recession in Spain really helped with the final touches. Because this book had swirled in my mind for so long, the writing was the final piece of the puzzle, rather than just writing and seeing where the book led, as I have done in the past.

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wonderful photo by @v_puerto

3 ) How can you justify being a fan of bullfighting? Bullfighting is grotesque, so why do you condone animal cruelty? 

I have heard it all. I have three things that attract internet trolls – bullfighting, supporting cycling (in NZ) and being a feminist. Bullfighting tends to bring out the animal in people themselves. I have been told I am vile, I am cruel, I don’t deserve to be a parent, I am disgusting, my family deserves to be hurt… the list goes on. Are all these people interesting in the way their meat was raised and processed? Bulls raised on ganaderías and sent to bull fights are treated like kings. Quality healthcare, exercise regimes, carefully controlled diets… none of those things are taken into consideration for the chicken or pork in your fridge. Yes, bulls are taunted and exhausted in the ring, surrounded by the real beast of bullfighting – the crowd – who hungers for the animal to die. Is that degrading? Yes – that is without question. Do I feel sorry for the bulls while they stand disoriented and weakened as they get stabbed to death? Absolutely! The combination of watching the animal die, combined with sitting beside people who love to watch the event is not a nice feeling at all. Am I trying to promote bullfighting? I’m not sure if that is even possible – people can make up their minds about the corrida long before they get there. Many argue on the side of tradition, and I can identify with that. Bullfighting is more than killing an animal. The toreros are fascinating men and their dance with death is something I could write about forever. They are brave, proud and skilled. They have a talent that is frowned upon in the modern age, and stand in the ring to cheat death of its right to claim them, and are both reviled and revered every time they do so. (Numbers of men wanting to be toreros is up, not down as expected). I have great respect for these men, but I have no desire to promote cruelty to animals. I don’t plan on opening minds to both sides of the argument – many minds cannot be opened. The bull is the orchestra, the torero is the conductor. The crowd chants for a kill. I don’t write to glamourise the event – in fact, if you read, you’ll find the books regularly grapple with the subject, and show there is more to a torero than his sword.

4 ) Do you need to read Blood in the Valencian Soil before you read Vengeance in the Valencian Water?

A tricky one. Yes and no. Book one tells the story of a lonely bullfighter and a grieving bike mechanic teaming up to unearth a civil war grave, running parallel to the 1939 storyline of their grandparents trying to flee Valencia at the end of the civil war. The story tells of how Luna and Cayetano meet and how unorthodox they are as a team. However, book two tells the story of them battling through the trials of 2010 Spain, alongside unearthing an all-new grave. The story does stand alone, and the book should give you enough of background that you don’t feel like you’ve been denied any detail. But they are designed to run together, with VITVW starting off just a month after BITVS ended.

5 ) Why have alternate storylines? Isn’t that complicated?

I’ve never had anyone tell me that alternate storylines is complicated. I personally feel that VITVW is even easier to follow than BITVS with the different time periods. The series tells the story of Spanish families throughout the civil war and Franco time period. BITVS is a snapshot of life in 1939, VITVW tells of 1957 Valencian life, and the third book (out 2015) tells the story of 1976 Spain, as the country comes to terms with Franco’s recent death. These times are pitted alongside modern Spain and the very real struggles that the nation is facing. Given the laws that the current Spanish government passes, there is no need to imagine fantastical fiction; reality continues to inspire in depressing ways.

Portal de la Valldigna ’57/’13 – Different and yet the same (photo courtesy of Juan Antonio Soler Aces)

I will be back with part two of the book Q+A in a few days, so if your question hasn’t been answered, have no fear! In the meantime –

For 48 hours only – Blood in the Valencian Soil is free on Kindle/Kindle App. Catch up for free before Vengeance in the Valencian Water is released!

(promotion runs from midnight January 9 until midnight January 11 PST)

Happy Birthday To (Writing) Me!

Hold the candles – it’s not my actual birthday (that’s November 5, you still have time to lovingly wrap my gifts).  Today is a birthday of another kind. Backtrack four years, and I was completing my Diploma of Business, which bored me to the back teeth. As much as I enjoy the aspect of running a business, a job most likely in an office was never going to make me happy. Ever. Everyone thought me mad to want to work in a sail loft, but the practical element spoke to me.

Four years ago, I met a Spanish man here in Auckland, and naturally the subject turned to his country that I love so much. I had already learned much about Spain’s 20th century (and earlier) history, and his story inspired me. I logged the info away, along with the info of my missing great-grandfather, and the story of a New Zealand nurse I had been reading up on around the same time. Then I discovered the ultimate time-suck for any woman at home with babies – online fiction. A few reads and I thought (in a fit of self-righteousness) ‘I could do a better job than this. Writing is a piece of cake. I’ll just write a story about Spanish Civil War graves.’ And ta-da, on October 25, 2009, I started posting online fiction. Luna Montgomery was born.

Oh, it’s that easy to be a writer? Yes and no. Any hack can write. Anyone can post online. Boom – writer. Doing it well is another story. I started writing creatively twenty years ago, but with teen years filled with dreams of sailing and then fending for myself at 17 trying to make it as a sailmaker, writing never got much of a chance. Enter adulthood, marriage, children – the storylines were still going around, but no outlet until late 2009. 

While I plodded along with blog posting for several years, it wasn’t until October 2012 that the book inspired by a kiwi nurse, my missing great-grandfather, a civil war grave and the story of a random Spanish guy was published, Blood in the Valencian Soil. Until then, around 4,000 people followed my In the Hands of Love blog (the prelude to the books) and I love each and every one of you for all the support. My three-part Secrets of Spain book series Blood in the Valencian Soil, Vengeance in the Valencian Water, and Death in the Valencian Dust was made easier with your support.

In 2010 I started on a different project, to encapsulate and destroy all the things about storylines that I don’t like. Females characters so often get a bad run in books and films. They are often (but not always!) the victims, sidekicks, sex objects, weaklings, gold-diggers. There aren’t many good quality female villains, and too many stories end with everyone happy and evil defeated. So I set out to online post Canna Medici in Nights Wants to Forget, which got 100,000 reads in 10 months. Nothing angers people faster than drugs, abortion and euthanasia. I quickly adapted it and published the book in late 2011 and is still my best selling book of my published works. With the sequel Violent Daylight out a few months ago, things are looking better than ever. I wrote that book in record time, and the Canna series has no weight of expectation on me. My Secrets of Spain has a huge weight of expectation on it. No one has tried to point out anything in terms of historical accuracy yet, so I’m taking that as a sign Blood in the Valencian Soil is all it needs to be.

So, after four years of full-time dedication and three, soon to be four, books released, I finally feel like I can legitimately say I’m an author for the first time. I wrote it on my departure card at an Australian airport last week and the guy asked ‘what do you write?’ ‘I write historical fiction based on the Spanish civil war and following Spanish dictatorship.’ The guy went a bit bug-eyed for a moment. Let’s just say I have a niche going in this part of the world.

What am I doing to celebrate?

Excellent question – by giving more to you out there. I have not posted any online fiction in a year, and I miss it. Giving out work in that form gives me instant feedback from readers in the comments section/twitter. Plus, it gives me time to flex my writing muscle (as it were) when I want to write but feel a bit stuck. Rather than my In the Hands of Love style of writing (which ended up at 300 chapters!), I will write stand-alone short pieces of fiction to enjoy. There will be a theme that runs through them, but you can stop by and read any time without getting lost.

More?

Indeed there is. Each week I will be reviewing one Hemingway book of my choosing. Many people know the man but not the work and I will be digging in and giving you a review of his writing. We will start the next week with one of my personal favourites Death in the Afternoon. The fact I fell asleep while re-reading it on a train from Barcelona to Valencia was not the book’s fault, I swear. It was the porrón from the night before that did it.

I also have some other book reviews to post – Jeremy Treglown’s Franco’s Crypt, and Henry Buckley’s The Life and Death of the Spanish Republic (which took me forever to finish). I have read a lot of books on Spain, fiction and non-fiction. I assumed many people interested in the subject have also read them (think Paul Preston or Gerald Brenan’s backlist for example), but I am beginning to find I am ahead of others. If there is a book you are interested in reading, or don’t have time for and want a synopsis posted, let me know I will add it to my book review posts. My bookshelf crying under its own weight will be happy to share.

One more thing, purely out of interest, I would like to know what (if any) of my writing that you read. Multiple answers are an option. Help out your Spain obsessed blogger and leave your feedback.

Thanks to everyone who takes the time to read my work in any form

(and thanks random Spanish guy, you know who you are)

If you haven’t already, here is an interview with me talking about coming up with Luna Montgomery on Talk Radio Europe. (I’m surprised how many people have listened to be honest!)

A LITTLE JAUNT TO SPAIN – REVIEW PART 2: The top ten things I rediscovered about Valencia

VALENCIA

If any city deserved to be announced in capitals, it’s Valencia. I lived in Valencia for roughly three years and I had a whirlwind of a time. I moved away in 2007, on the premise that I would return in three months. However, court cases, immigration and several cases of terminal cancer got in the way and my life once again took shape in New Zealand. Valencia has remained the place I love the most, and I joked that I left my heart there when I moved, so I would need to return. After a long absence, it was time to put that to the test.

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Time to get my Valencia on

I arrived in Valencia by train. The trip from Barcelona felt days long. Despite a successful trip to the Catalonian capital, I wasn’t in a great mood. The three-hour trip was punctuated with stops in forgettable locations, and the rigours of the night before threatened my resolve to stay positive. I arrived my apartment on Calle San Vicente Martir, and met a lovely woman named Inés, whose English was much appreciated, I felt keen to be on holiday again.

When I joked and said I left my heart in Valencia, perhaps I wasn’t joking. I dumped my bags and set off along the streets of the city’s old town, and realised that I absolutely belong in this city. That began six nights and days of enjoying as much Valencia as possible. Who needs sleep? Not me, a few hours after I arrived in V-Town, I found myself in a club deep in the El Carmen district, lost and loving it.

Rather than bore you with a diary of my events, here are the top ten things I rediscovered about Valencia. I knew all of these things, but they stood out to me again on this trip.

In no particular order, and without photos of the same spots as every other site –

1 – PDA’s (Public Displays of Affection) are everywhere

When I started writing the modern day storyline of Blood in the Valencian Soil (BITVS), I set out to write in little details of life in Valencia city. Now, I have seen this in many Spanish cities and towns, but in Valencia it seems to stand out to me. Everywhere, but particularly in the Turia park, they are people kissing. Not just kissing, attempting to suck each other’s faces off. To their credit, the Spanish don’t look like two virgins at their church wedding when they kiss, they have largely sorted the art of good kissing. I have a love/hate relationship with this level of public affection. I love the fact that people feel free enough to sit around kissing (very unlike where I live), and I hate it because I’m not the one doing the kissing! I remember on a number of occasions, when living in Valencia, when asked what I would like to do on an evening out, I replied, “Let’s go and make out in the park. That’s what all the kids are doing these days”. If you have a companion while in Valencia, or happen upon one, I recommend kissing in the park. The other week, I saw a couple farewelling one another. I was lying in the grass, listening to some Pablo Alborán, when I heard a bang nearby. This couple, in their lust for one another, had both dropped their bikes in a heap while he swept her into his arms for a very long smooch. I screwed my face up – with jealousy. I think kissing is highly underrated, but Valencia’s Turia celebrates this somewhat lost art.

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Anyone fancy a kiss near my favourite part of the park?

2 – It’s so easy to get around the city

Pull out your map of Valencia. You feel mind-blown by the amount of things to do. There’s the old town, the El Carmen, Ruzafa, the Turia (which has the Bioparc zoo and the Arts and Sciences at opposite ends of each other!), and you can’t miss a chance to go to Malvarrosa. Sure, if you want to explore Plaza de la Virgen and Plaza de la Reina, they are nearby each other, but you may feel like you are going to have to miss out the further flung attractions.

Oh, no you don’t! The beauty of Valencia is that everything is within walking distance, and you don’t have to enjoy marathons to sight-see on foot. Even if you don’t want to walk, there is the excellent bus and Metro services. Valencia is beautifully packed. Want to try the markets ofMercado Central, Mercado Colón and Mercado Ruzafa in the same day? Of course you can! Want to eat paella at the beach, but also visit the Arts and Sciences complex? Do both! Want to wander all the historical sights of the old town? You can do all of that in a day, and enjoy plenty of meals, beverages and ambiance. It’s nigh impossible to get lost in Valencia, despite it’s narrow intricate streets of the inner area. If all else fails, you will eventually pop out on what got nicknamed ‘the ring road’, the road that winds along the edge of the park, and around Carrer Guillem de Castro/Xativa/Colón. This circle of roads encompasses the oldest part of the city, and what could be considered the most complicated area to navigate, but also home to the largest concentration of sights. No matter where you get lost, you’ll pop out on the main road and can dive back in somewhere for more fun. In six days, I did every sight in the whole city, plus day trips outside the city, and multiple afternoons of mucking around relaxing. You will never want to leave Valencia, but if you are time-poor, you can still be attraction-rich.

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There is a lot to see, so get out there!

3 – Valencia has its very own vibe

“It’s the vibe of the thing”. Classic line from an excellent Australian film. It’s relevant here in Valencia. The city definitely has its own vibe. Valencia is like Spain’s youngest child. Madrid has the feeling of being the oldest child – there is a reserved obligation, a feeling of needing to be in charge, needing to set an example. Barcelona is the middle-child, too flamboyant to be forgotten, but feels the need to show off for attention. Valencia is the baby of the family, and while the other cities came of age, Valencia was still running between the adults in search of fun. Now, Valencia doesn’t need guidance, or to try to measure up to its counterparts. It may be Spain’s third largest city, but there is no conformity in its way of life. Valencia is alive with its own traditions, language, food and attitude. Valencia feels like its inhabitants are on regular alert for a good time. The city, like the nation, may be in times of hardship, however, the joy of life remains.

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You would never know an anti-austerity protest in directly beneath me, would you?

4 – You don’t need to know Valencia’s history – you’re living in it

When Valencia sighs, it doesn’t just let out the stress of the day. It heaves with the weight of all that has gone on. This is a great thing! Granted, most who visit the city don’t know the great detail of this spirited city. For a history nerd like me, I jump up and down with excitement. The interesting thing about Spain is (and I spent many an evening talking about this over drinks) that the country is how it is for a number of reasons. The people are the way they are for specific reasons. This all relates to Spain recent (ie. 20th century) past. Spain is a deeply complex country, and history’s events have plunged in a knife into each city and town differently. For example, the horrors many cities suffered in the civil war are very different. Valencia was never at the front line of the war (aerial bombings aside), but when the city fell at the end of the war, the last point to be captured by Franco’s rebel troops, it fell hard. (BITVS can give you a easy-to-digest concept of this if you are interested. My fiction doesn’t get to stuck on little details, so as not to weigh down the narrative. Good if you don’t want to be a history buff) Also, for me, the disastrous story of Valencia’s 1957 flood still has hints around the city. While researching the subject for my next novel, the locations in the book are largely the same as they are today. I can walk around corners, my hand on the stone buildings, and be able to visualise the flood water level, which is marked in some locations. Valencia has a soul, and if you wander off the cruise-ship tourist trail, you can hear it speak.

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The Portal de Valldigna, the old entrance to the Arab quarter of the city in 1400. My next novel, Vengeance in the Valencian Water, has a scene here. Standing there with the place to myself, gave me a chance to finalise details for a gruesome scene.

5 – The city knows who it is, but the future is still wide open

In my eagerness to celebrate San Isidro in Madrid, I forgot to check the fiesta timetable for Valencia. What do you know? Second Sunday of May is the procession Virgen de los Desamparados. The Virgin of the helpless/forsaken, who is much-loved in V-Town, is pulled out of the Basilica, where she lives, and carried to the city’s cathedral. It’s around 200 metres. Piece of cake. Not. The original statue dates from around the 15th century, so she stays at home, and a replica is paraded through the thousands of people who want to see her. Touching the statue is a big deal, you get a year of grace if you touch her. People hurl their babies at this thing, who cry in panic. I stood in attendance and watched with amusement as people cheered “Long live the mother of God” (Correct me if I’m wrong there).  Was this the end? Lord no. The night before had been full of processions and prayer, and the rest of the day followed suit. Valencia has many such days in its calendar, and they are regularly attended, despite being hundreds of years old, and surely enlightenment has opened people’s minds to the world. No matter, from rugby-throwing your baby at a replica statue, to burning down the city at Fallas, and everything else the year holds, Valencia loves its traditions.

In saying that, Valencia, like its Spanish counterparts elsewhere, has suffered upheaval. Apart from anti-austerity, Valencia’s current main beef with the scum-filled right-wing government is the cuts to education. Indeed, what becomes of the generation of children in school right now? Those a decade older than them are suffering at the beginning of their lives. Everyone is hurting. Valencia has a difficult future ahead. I realise this is irrelevant information for your average tourist, but not to me.

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Valencia’s ghastly mayor, Rita Barberá, throws petals at the Virgen while people toss forth their kids. It’s all smiles on the balcony for the rich, not so much for people on the ground

6 – It’s all about the people

Yes – Valencia has it all – the abundant good weather, the first-class food, the luxury of the Turia, history, language, shopping, sexy policemen in tight pants (note – may be limited to the guy I saw in Plaza de la Reina), but the people make the city. I feel this way about any place. Something can be beautiful, but if the people are assholes, the trip is ruined. There are a few assholes in V-Town, like anywhere, but for me, the moments where I met with people in the city, old friends and new, they were the best parts of the trip. Who would have thought I would have watched a group of ex-pats try to lay out a portable cricket pitch in the baseball diamond in the Turia? It’s the more out-of-the-way things that make a trip for me. You can only take so much sightseeing and tapas. People make the difference.

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Graham Hunt and myself pose for a shameless selfie to post on the WABAS FB page. Nicest guy in Valencia, no question. 

7 – It’s possible to be a local and a tourist at the same time

How? I will tell you. Shoes. You can tell a tourist by their shoes. They are wearing comfortable walking shoes. Please, go and buy something pretty and inappropriate, and you will blend in.

I’m kidding. The number of tourists has remarkably increased since I last visited Valencia. It’s a double-edged sword; the city needs to survive and cruise-ships pouring in mostly middle-aged punters, or hordes of Japanese tourists boosts the economy. They follow marked routes through Valencia’s main points, and in theory, spend their money. This is new to me, and I wondered what the city will look like in another five years. Perhaps like Barcelona, who seems to have sold itself to tourism? I hope not. The risk is there in Valencia right now. You can follow the main sights of the city, and they should be seen. They are popular for a reason.

However, wander a few streets away and you can feel the buzz of Valencia life again. Tourism hasn’t swallowed up Valencia’s spirit. You can sit and eat like a local, talk like a local (or at least try) and get a feel for the place. Cast off the oversized lens, the guidebook and the comfortable shoes, and get to know the place. You will be glad you did. My happiest moments were found in total solitude, just living life, and not sightseeing in Valencia.

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Valencia bullring. As a woman aged 32, with no male companion, it was impossible to blend in. I needed to be male, over 60 and smoke a stinking great cigar to fit in. The guy next to me kept calling me Nueva Zelanda and every time a bull got stabbed/killed, he would remark “Nueva Zelanda sigue siendo tranquila. New Zealand remains calm.” He seemed rather surprised. Dude, I know my shit.

8 – You don’t suffer cathedral fatigue

Cathedral fatigue – I suffer it. I have long lost count of the number of Spanish cathedrals/churches/basilicas I have visited. I am not religious, so the places don’t hold significance (though the one I entered with Nick Lloyd in Barcelona was amazing – another post). I have seen some big churches – Valencia, Madrid, Barcelona, Segovia, Cuenca, Toledo, Seville, Granada, Cordoba, Xativa, Avila, Burgos to name a few locations. Valencia Cathedral is still the best of them all. Not for anything in particular, though it houses THE Holy Grail and the views from the bell tower are eye-watering. I guess it’s just the Valencia vibe that makes it special. Between the cathedral and the Basilica (home to the above Virgin statue), you will be left feeling like you’ve seen a great sight, not trudged through another church that reeks of the church’s former power over the population.

There are plenty of old-world attractions that aren’t churches, like the La Lonja, the Torres de Serranos and Torres de Quart, the streets of the El Carmen area, the town hall and the post office in Plaza Ayuntamiento, and the train station and bullring. Valencia has unique sights to see.

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Museo de Bellas Artes de Valencia, the Valencia Art Museum just over the Pont de la Trinitat, is a great spot to visit, and gorgeous. Go for the art, but stay for the beauty.

9 – Something new is always available to try

Whether it’s a tall glass of Horchata, a taller glass of Agua de Valencia, or a pincho (whose ingredients you can’t quite decipher, but it tastes good, so roll with it), the menus in Valencia will always have something for a new visitor, or someone who has been to the city before. Warning, they are plenty of bad paellas around, as with anything, but there are many fine ones as well. There is no need to find some upmarket place, because you need to make your way to many places in order to decide for yourself what is best.

I have been pretty much everywhere in Valencia (I have a propensity to wander), however fun sights can crop up anywhere. The streets of Valencia still have sights to behold, whether you are new to them or not. When in Valencia, whether it’s food, sights or ambiance, you can make your own fun. There isn’t a set list in order to find enjoyment. The city allows freedom to enjoy Spain.

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The rabbit catches the chicken… now get in that paella. I’ve seen photos of this particular random street art, but never in the flesh. I found it by accident. Just one of the fun things about wandering Valencia

10 – It’s a great place to stage a novel trilogy about Spain’s past

Valencia is a terrific backdrop for novels about Spain. I’m certainly not the first to use the city as the central location, but you will find far more books based in bigger cities, or in the south of the country. In terms of novels, Valencia is like an untapped resource. I get many readers who know absolutely nothing about the city, but that’s okay, it’s an easy city to bring to life. It has enough unique features to quickly distinguish it from other locations.

Everything I have written already seems accurate with what I saw on my trip, and all the locations used in the next novel look/feel as I have already conjured up. Just as the city felt desperate in BITVS, it can lend itself being a place of fear in 1957 with a mixture of natural disasters and human greed.

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Placa de L’Angel 1 is a location in both 1939 and 2009 in BITVS. I was pleased walk down the little plaza to find they are trying to save this building!

Did I learn anything new in Valencia?

Absolutely. I moved to Valencia with a one-year-old and a newborn. They have fire-red hair, and never could blend in as a local. I learned the city as a mother, as a family. The city is great for families, so much so that I had two more children. However, this trip was solo, and I saw the city differently. I could go out for longer, stay out later, climb more stairs, take more time to read, reflect and absorb. The city is great for the single traveler, but I will always want to enjoy it as a family. The choice is yours.

Up next… Part 3 – The civil war history of Barcelona with Nick Lloyd

Click here for the other parts of this series – Spain 2013 in Review