Deborah Fletcher is the author of the hilarious book Bitten by Spain a book that I reviewed in a previous post. I was thrilled when the she kindly agreed to an interview. You can follow her blog on http://bittenbyspain.wordpress.com/
How would you describe your book to someone who has not read it?
It is a chronological collection of my ramblings and rants arising from the move into our beautiful but savage mountain valley in southern Spain.
Generally, it relates the experiences, the bewilderment, the hilarity and the sheer petrefaction of landing ourselves in a totally alien and often unfathomable environment and culture. Specifically, it follows our progress as we tried (and, alas, failed) to create our home here within the confines of the law.
As a whole, it is liberally littered with tales of beasties – our own insane menagerie, the prolific and overly-familiar wildlife, and, of course, the natives.
Can you tell us why you wrote this book?
When I first arrived here, I stowed all my wordly goods and creatures in a large and smelly old barn with just a static caravan (a.k.a. the sardine tin) in which to lay my weary head.
John, my husband, has continued to work as a firefighter in the UK, and so I am quite frequently alone (well, alone as is possible with the current roll-call of five dogs, three cats and six parrots).
At the outset, I had no access to the normal channels of communication, like ‘phone and internet. I therefore started to talk to my laptop. It was entirely cathartic I would write things as they occurred to me, and then consign them to a disc to take to an internet café, to send out email bulletins to remote family and friends to remind them that I still existed.
I was surprised when I began to receive demands for the next episode; further, I was amazed that people were saying some very flattering things about my scribblings.
Thus evolved the rudiments of “Bitten by Spain”. That was the easy part.
What was the most interesting thing about writing this book?
A substantial part of the settling-in process involved the observation of behaviour and attitudes of my neighbours and the townsfolk. Of necessity, this also required some analysis of our own peculiar ways – something that is not required of any of us to a great degree when we are firmly inside the comfort zone of our country of origin.
I did find that interesting, and I enjoyed poking fun at ourselves as well as at our hosts.
Is there anything that you find particularly challenging in your writing?
I write as I talk, so I had to be very careful to break up my blocks of words into something palatable – something that would allow the reader to draw breath somewhere along the line. That meant an awful lot of re-writing and editing when the time came to reconstruct the emails into something more coherent and fluid.
Even when I was churning out the emails, I wrote to entertain (others as well as myself) and I wanted the whole tone to be one of comedy. Some of the events described have been downright scary and stressful, and sometimes it was difficult to strike a balance between the top-spin of humour that I tried to apply and the gravity of the situation.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I found, much to my surprise, that pretty much every experience is of interest to someone!
I discovered that most demons can be banished by revisiting challenging experiences and making light of them.
I learnt that there are a lot of people out there that like to live vicariously.
And I realised that some of my friends are sadists.
Did you write stories as a child?
No. I just told them. I didn’t have imaginary friends – I had imaginary alter-egos and had my younger sister convinced that I belonged to a coven of witches, any one of which could occupy my body.
I was, in fact, a horribly precocious child. I was very intelligent (time and alcohol have dulled that attribute) and found school work to be easy. Throughout my early school years I was almost permanently in trouble because I was utterly bored, and so fidgeted and played up. I didn’t have the application to sit and write.
I did, however, devour books. At seven years of age, I was drawing two or three books a day from the local library, using my father’s tickets to gain access to the grown-up section of the library, eschewing the children’s section entirely.
What was the first thing you did to promote your book?
Thinking that the only people that would want to read it (family and friends to one side) would be expats here in Spain, I contacted all of the English press outlets here offering them a copy to review. This proved to be quite a successful approach, and earned me some very pleasing coverage.
If you were to do it all over again would you change anything in the book?
I think the answer to that would have to be no – not because I believe that I have created a perfect product, but because I have created an honest one. It was written to describe spontaneously those occurrences and emotions that I was experiencing at the time – to change it would be to deconstruct that mood and would, I think, invalidate it.
Do you see writing as a career?
No. Definitely not.
I am an accidental and very casual writer, rather than someone who writes for a living.
I wrote, and thoroughly enjoyed writing, when I had time on my hands.
I am now, after encouragement from the wonderful Jo Parfitt, writing a blog, which picks up where the book left off (and goes under the same name www.bittenbyspain.com).
But even that gets written only when I can find enough time to sit and write a decent amount. Jo sent me her “Definite Articles” course, and I am afraid that I have let her down with that, sadly, since I have not found the time to attend to it.
I try to write once a week, but even that becomes a chore on occasion, so I know for a fact that I have too many time demands from all the other strings in my life to be able to sit down to write to deadlines.
I rarely sit down at all, as all my friends will attest.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Trying too hard doesn’t work. I’m sure everyone who aspires to write has at some time sat down with great intentions but no ideas.
I find it best just to be receptive to random ideas. Notice something – a view, a conversation, an action, anything – and play with it. Always make notes when things occur – and date them! Memories can be elusive.
And don’t take any notice of me. I am a terrible example.