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Wednesday, 10 July 2013

A Voyage to VALENCIA

If you love Spain and all things Spanish, then this is definitely a novel for you! We were enchanted by the style that pulls the reader in and the wonderful evocations of Valencia both during and post Spanish Civil War and in the modern day.

Emma has just lost her Mother, Liberty, the founder of Liberty Temple perfumes. Emma has taken over the enterprise with now ex Joe, who has been ensnared by the third business partner Lila.  A novel with depth, that explores relationships, life and family both present day and issues of legacy from past generations. It also brings the horrors of the Spanish Civil War to life. The chapters alternate between The Civil War Years and the early 2000s as Emma abandons her life as a perfumer, and settles in Valencia to search out her roots and her history.

Valencia is the "land of flowers, light and love" which is a perfect backdrop for a character like Emma to explore her story. The novel is very sensory, you can feel the flowery notes as she dabbles and combines natural fragrances... neroli.... orange blossom.. and more....

If you know the city well, this novel will transport you right back there, as the plot moves from Emma's newly restored finca, to the Torres de Quart or across the Plaza Mayor or the Plaza del Ayuntamento. Enjoy a  chocolate con churrosroscón de reyes cake or let your taste buds savour the full flavours of paella as the characters enjoy the cripsy layer of socarrat at the bottom of the pan; perhaps go on to enjoy a natillas pudding.

The ending was perhaps the weakest part of the novel - a fireworks ending that somehow jarred with the thoughtful writing in the rest of the book.

See the city beautifully captured through the author's eyes as Emma begins to explore: "There was a voluptuousness to the city, a softness in the light that had entranced her immediately. A little further up the street she saw a young  woman sluicing the pavement with a tin bucket outside a café as a man set out tables and chairs ready for the morning rush. Emma  wandered  along the square, taking  in the baroque architecture and the virile bushy palms. She paused outside a religious icons shop. Serried ranks of identical madonnas gazed out at her, eyes full of melancholy understanding." As a reader you can almost visualise this in your mind's eye.

The art of perfumery features fairly prominently in this novel, and this has inspired us to bring together several novels that are strong on perfume - look out for the post in the coming weeks.

And if you would like to read more books set in your chosen part of Spain, click here for the full list and drill down by town or area. We will now hand over to author Kate Lord Brown, who has agreed to answer our questions. Enjoy!

TF How did you first come to writing?

KLB Like a lot of writers, I've always written - diaries, short stories and plays as a child, and then a lot of editorial and travel writing as an adult. I started writing novels over ten years ago, and my debut was published in 2011. I've just finished a MA in Creative Writing, which has been a great experience, and now 'The Perfume Garden' is being published in eight countries this year.

TF How did the idea of combining a love triangle, perfume and a great location come about?

KLB The book was inspired by living in Valencia for three years. I was so curious about Spanish history, and fragrance is tied up with my memories of living there (orange blossom in the groves where we lived, incense in the churches, saffron and sea food cooking over open fires ...). We were living there, and I was expecting my first child, when 9/11 happened so that side of the story has personal resonance too. All the elements of the story - and the idea of creating something redemptive from such sadness - came together organically.

TF You clearly know Valencia really well and the city just comes to life in your writing. We understand that your family moved there - what lay behind that choice of destination for the family and how did it pan out for you?

KLB Well, I was living happily in London, helping to run an art gallery in Chelsea - we'd just got married, and had renovated our dream home ourselves. Then one day my husband announced he wanted to leave his job in the city, and follow his dream of being a pilot. Much soul searching followed, but let's face it - you want the person you love to be happy! We sold up, travelled around the world for several months, and then he learnt to fly in Spain. They were three very happy years - our daughter was born there, and I did a lot of writing (there were few distractions living in the orange groves with no TV or internet and a radio phone!).

TF Do you have any top tips for visitors to Valencia?

KLB If you love drama and fireworks, go during the March Fallas festival. If you love contemporary architecture, head out to Calatrava's futuristic City of Arts and Sciences. One of the most beautiful parts of the city is El Carmen - and don't miss the great IVAM contemporary art museum there, a real treat. For paella, take a drive out to the Albufera - the little coastal villages sell the absolute best (and try the black Arroz Negro - delicious). In town, don't miss seeing the Holy Grail in the cathedral - and the Mercado Central is an absolute must. One of my favourite parks is the tucked away Monforte Gardens - the perfect place to take a picnic from the market. Valencia is still seen as Spain's third city, but it's the perfect destination for a city break.

TF The character of Emma is that of a particularly feisty and independent minded woman. Where did you find your inspiration for her?

KLB I like strong independent female characters! (My debut novel 'The Beauty Chorus' was about the Spitfire girls - women pilots in WW2). When you're writing a lead character, it's like gradually bringing a camera into focus. To begin with, you have a vague idea about them - how they look, talk, their goals. Then all the details come together. My heart just went out to all the families involved with 9/11 - and Emma's character was really inspired by that feeling of empathy. I knew Emma was having a tough time at the start of the book - she's just lost her Mum, her partner's having an affair, and she's pregnant, and working hard ... but as her character defined itself, she showed her strength and warmth. I like her - and hope other people will too.

TF How does your typical writing day pan out?

KLB We live in the Middle East, so I'm up at 5.30am each day for the school run. I'm normally back at my desk by 7.30am and write until 12.00. Then the afternoon is taken up with family, and I'll work again in the evening, reading through the morning's work.

TF What are you working on at the moment and will location feature heavily?

KLB I'm working on a new story, about a forgotten American hero - it's set in Flying Point (my favourite beach in the Hamptons), and the South of France. Again, I've chosen locations I love and I hope that really brings the story to life.

TF What do you do to celebrate completion of a book?

It depends - finishing the first draft is all 'woohoo', so exhilarating that you've finally pinned down the story. I always liked Annie Dillard's comment that walking into a room with a raw manuscript is a bit like being a lion tamer - you go in waving a chair in front of you saying 'Down Simba!' After all that adrenalin, I usually take a couple of weeks just catching up on real life, and reading, or take a trip somewhere (I'm married to an airline pilot, and we travel a lot). The second, third and other drafts are different - editing is when you put your creative head aside and get tough with the manuscript. When you send back the final copy edited version to your publisher ready for printing, that's always a champagne moment - it's a huge relief. Then of course you are satisfied for - oh - about a day, and you find yourself thinking about the next story ...

Thanks for having me on Trip Fiction!

And thank you to Kate for appearing on the TripFiction blog! We are already looking forward to reading her next book! 

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