Behind the Story: A Prison in the Sun (Canary Islands Mysteries Book 3)

When I was first told that a prison incarcerating gay men during General Franco’s regime in Spain, I was a foolish twenty-seven year old with aspirations of becoming a writer and not a clue how to go about it. The year was 1989. Back then, the true story of the prison was a dark secret whispered among locals and no one else. The Canary Islands government was silent.

It took me almost thirty years to feel equipped to tell this story. By then I was living in Australia, I had three novels set in the Canary Islands and I knew I needed to write a fourth. I felt torn as I also wanted to produce something literary, a work set entirely in the Canary Islands in the 1950s. Trouble for me was I no longer lived there, I was not born there, my Spanish was adequate but by no means sufficient to chat with locals, and above all, I am not male and I am not gay. I am also not rich! The research needed for such a literary approach would have cost many thousands in travel and accommodation. Twice I applied for funding but was unsuccessful. So I resigned myself to the notion of positioning the novel alongside the two mysteries I had already written, knowing that approach would constrain the way A Prison in the Sun could be told.

The prison cells at La Colonia Agrícola Penitenciaria de Tefía, Fuerteventura, Canary Islands, Spain

I felt apprehensive. I had a lot of conversations with numerous respected authors and publishers. There was talk of the inappropriateness or lack of my fitness for the task, being neither male, gay nor from the islands. Lionel Shriver was mentioned along with political correctness. Most encouraged me, championing my efforts and bravery. I took this very idea of appropriateness and also of contemporary conversations around sexual preference and created a conflicted character, millennial ghostwriter Trevor Moore. I decided I would have him tell the story of the prison. After all, he wants to write a novel with his name on the cover for once, and there is the small matter of his ghostwriting gigs winning prizes for other writers. I had so much fun being Trevor. Best of all, I popped him in a holiday let which was a house I was poised to buy back in 2017. The only reason I didn’t was the owners took it off the market. I think they did me a favour, as you will find out if you read the book.

Screenshot taken from documentary La Memoria Silenciada Tefía – Twelve men crammed in a barn.

As for the prison in Tefía, Fuerteventura – or rather concentration camp for that is what it was – I spent many many hours brushing up my Spanish so that I could read newspaper articles, blog posts, doctoral theses and academic books. I read James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room. I took copious notes on the economic, political and social history of the Canary Islands from the 1920s. I watched YouTube videos. I read everything I could find on the prison. I am indebted to former prisoner Octavio García, whose testimony and activism helped raise awareness, in Spain at least, of this ignominy. Also to Professor of History Miguel Ángel Sosa Machín who interviewed Octavio and produced a novella, Viaje al centro de la infamia (which I read). His efforts gained much publicity in the noughties. It would have been impossible for me to write this novel prior to efforts of these two men.  I read up on what it was like to be gay in Spain. I recalled my closest friends of that time, who were both local to the islands and gay. The result is as authentic as I, a humble female author in her fifties, could make it. I did not shy away from the brutal truth of prison life. I put myself there. I lay down in the prisoners’ cots. I trudged up the hill in the searing sun and the raging wind to assemble in the quadrangle. I imagined what it would be like to break rocks all day. To be starving.

Not wanting to give Trevor an easy time of it, I put him through his paces. And what he goes through provides relief from the harsh reality of Fuerteventura in the 1950s. To say more would spoil the novel. Here is what one reviewer has to say:

“The author has used her deep knowledge of landscape, politics and history on the Canary Islands to give us a page-turning juxtaposition of savage past events with present-day drama, mystery and murder.

The book weaves two stories together over decades: a present-day author uncovering revelations of sadistic and gut-wrenching homophobia in the past while anguishing over his own sexual orientation. Matters heat up as he finds himself battling for his life, caught in the crosshairs of a murderous drug deal.

The result is a tapestry of events that will keep you reading to the last page.” – Veronica Schwarz.

You can find A Prison in the Sun here : http://mybook.to/prisonsun

 

Kindle special discount of The Drago Tree

I’m delighted to announce that the Kindle edition of The Drago Tree is discounted to only $0.99 cents for a limited time only.

 

“Haunted by demons past and present, geologist Ann Salter seeks sanctuary on the exotic island of Lanzarote. There she meets charismatic author Richard Parry and indigenous potter Domingo and together they explore the island.

Ann’s encounters with the island’s hidden treasures becomes a journey deep inside herself as she struggles to understand who she was, who she is, and who she wants to be.

Set against a panoramic backdrop of dramatic island landscapes and Spanish colonial history, The Drago Tree is an intriguing tale of betrayal, conquest and love, in all its forms.”

“Set on Lanzarote this is a wonderful wonderful book. I honestly do not know why I have left it so long to read but now I have I am glad I did. The relationships of the three main characters will forever stay with me and the descriptive writing is just perfect. I love love loved it and will re-read again again. Stunning” – NetGalley reviewer

https://isobelblackthorn.com/the-drago-tree/

Buy your copy here on Amazon https://amzn.to/2LTA596

The fire mountains

What can be said about driving down a narrow road carved through a lava plain, a road that goes on and on and on? The basalt that covers the land in every direction, thick, crusty, alive with lichen. Volcanoes or calderas 500 metres high and about 1 or 2 kilometres in diameter, rising up like cone-shaped boils, some black, others brown or red. Then there are those calderas burst open, serrated at the rim, splayed where their lava spilled to scour the land.

Timanfaya

Everywhere you look on the island, there they are, some ancient, some young, the roads on Lanzarote coursing paths between.

Lanzarote volcano

The eruptions of Timanfaya that took place in the mid 1700s and lasted for 6 years, have resulted in a landscape not of this world. A spreading mass of impenetrable rock, about 15 kilometres wide and long.

Lanzarote lava

These volcanoes emerged in fissures in the land, once a wide plain perfect for grazing. Fissures bleeding rock, cleaving open as the pressure of the volcanoes beneath forced their way above ground. This is what I have read and imagine, a primordial groaning, perhaps deafening, definitely terrifying, apocalyptic. Livestock asphyxiated, fish boiled alive, the ocean steaming, the island showered with volcanic ash and smoke. You have to know all this, to appreciate the place as it is now. But it is still impossible to take in.

The speed limit of 50 kmh is too fast. We crawled along, fascinated, not wanting to reach the end of the road.

We went to where the lava met the ocean. The road snaking along, embedded in the lava, right beside the water’s edge.

Los Helechos

We parked at Los Hervidores, a site of extraordinary beauty, where narrow basalt paths have been created to allow tourists to get close and see that meeting of rock and water. The basalt is many metres thick, chunky, descending in a vertical cliff. The ocean swells and surges, blue on black, sending forth its spume. There are holes in the lava, like wells, places to get soaked when the ocean is angry.

No one speaks. The wind, that other element, blows and blows. You either get used to it, or you leave Lanzarote behind for another clime. I love this meeting of the elements, all of them present, in the wind, the ocean, the rock born of fire. Lanzarote is a powerful place, unspoiled, a place to be revered. And as Ann found in The Drago Tree, every tourist slips into reverence in the face of such a setting.