In the late 1970’s, I seriously decided write a first novel. Previous attempts had routinely been diverted by a small child, an attentive wife and steady calls for social affairs from friends with a plan. To complicate matters I was a resident of Madrid, Spain and the friends dated back to 1963-1964 when we were all students at Complutense University in Argüelles, with little money and an overbearing desire to have as much fun as curriculum and pesetas allowed. Only now, most of us were married with children, and the Madrid friendships included their extensive families that resulted in unending social demands. Also disruptive were requests from our dear child who continually needed attention to play cars on the floor and to appraise his art renditions.
I was becoming frustrated with the writing attempts. Soon I had transformed into an ill-mannered grouch, when my wife insisted that I disappear for as long as necessary to finish the first draft of the novel. My first reaction was that my pretty wife had a boyfriend, which she denied and retorted with the absolute truth: I was becoming a miserable person to live with, and it would be best for the family if I left A.S.A.P and wrote the expletive-deleted book!
I did the math. I had written 30,000 words, and 50,000 words would complete the task, which amounted to 34-days at 1,500 words-per-day. The month was June, and Javea the seacoast village between Valencia and Alicante (also named Xabía) was selected for the writing retreat. This was my favorite favorite seaside resort in Spain, and I soon reserved a chalet in the urbanization El Tosalet with views of the Mediterranean for five weeks of goal-achieving results.
Javea was an idyllic, then mostly unknown, village paradise with fishermen coming ashore daily with their catch and a central produce market with the most delicious vegetables imaginable. Javea’s summer residents were Spanish, French and English. It was the perfect laid-back escape with an active marina replete with a few sailboats. The sea was so important to the village that the architecturally impressive church’s ceiling, as viewed from inside, resembled the hull of a fishing boat as might be seen from below the sea.
Other amenities included a picturesque beach, and an enchanting ambience with the fragrance of flowers, pine-scents and Mediterranean sea. The days and the nights were warm and glorious.
I should tell you the awful truth: I have the ability to strictly regiment my life. Dad’s ancestry is Greek and German, while Mother’s is Dutch and Irish (albeit the Irish heritage threatens to resist control). In the end, the crux of motivation was the obligation to home return with a completed manuscript.
It is important to consider how the technology to read this blog post was unavailable at the time. Advances in computer technology in the 1970’s were limited to mainframes, and literary production originated via legal pad and pen until being finalized on an Underwood typewriter. That also means word count was achieved by one-two-three.
The writing was a reward vs punishment contract. Failure to reach the 1,500 daily-word-goal meant the shortfall accumulated into the next day’s effort and continued to accrue until the shortfall was fully eliminated. This meant no trip to my favorite Bar El Clavo, nor to the beach. With shortfalls in production, I only ventured forth for more coffee and for staple foods.
Sometimes I was blocked with no idea of how to proceed. At such times, I would rely on a proven trick. I would pick a color. Perhaps blue. Blue what? Flowers. Where? On a hillside. Then I would describe the hillside until the relation with hillside and my story became apparent. Wow! Extemporaneous detours always snared a place in the story’s progression (perhaps to be deleted later but I was on my way upward and onward).
Temptation occurred nightly with music drifting downward from the boite Riau-Riau, and there were repeated flirtatious glances from a brown-eyed French lady on a sailboat, and also from a blue-eyed English single mother with her young daughter. In each case obligation overcame desire. Believe me, I’m not insensitive to flirtatious overtures. The temptation was exciting, but if truth be known, infidelity was spared by a remarkable event: I had already fallen in love with my heroine. What started as an exercise on a literary treadmill ended up becoming an infatuation that clutched my heart and haunted my dreams each night.
The concept for Javea’s story originated in 1963, during Christmas break from Complutense when my best friend and I vacationed in Las Palmas, Grand Canary Island. Ironically, the idea came about because I helped an attractive young lady from Liverpool to heist bananas out of a Swedish smorgasbord.
The friendship continued afterward in Madrid and New York, although the idea for the novel occurred during a relaxing evening in Madrid when we were comparing growing up in Liverpool with my background in Lincoln, Illinois. That was the night when she became solemn and related how one of her friends visited a fortune teller in Liverpool when she was seventeen. Her future would not be disclosed. Later, she paid to learn what fortune tellers had vowed never to disclose: The young woman was destined to die a horrible death in her 24th year.
Several years had passed since the friend visited the fortune teller. The friend’s life became miserable. She would now be several years from the prophesy, and my friend, who related the story, had lost contact with her fated friend. All I could learn was once the young woman’s life was emotionally troubled by the fateful prophesy.
This was the theme of the story I had come to Javea to write. Only, I invented a twist in the fated prophesy: Prior to death she would meet the love of her life, and at hat moment, I had the story as suddenly as the sun rises from the Mediterranean each dawn in Javea.
I completed the book with continual goals, the main one being Sepia a la plancha with olive oil and garlic. Once, I went to the small local cinema to see Vicente Fernandez star in the Mexican hit ‘Volver.’ Frequently, I drove through the village in my Mehari 2 CV, and daily I walked about the port, but all the time my mind was elsewhere. I even gave up going to the beach.
The most incredible day of the summer occurred when I finished the novel. It was stuffed with elation for having finished and the expectant joy of returning to my wife and child. It was also the very saddest day of the summer when I began the long drive back to Madrid. The heroine perished in the novel’s first draft. On that day, The Signs of Destiny was competed, but I would have to go back and save Alison. Somehow…