Don’t Let Them Fall! – a desert island protest

The ancient ruins of one desert island paradise

Cofete
Photo by JF Olivares

Don’t Let Them Fall!

I wasn’t planning on writing a novel set on the desert island idyll of Fuerteventura, the Canary Islands’ largest and driest island, with some of the world’s best beaches. Situated some 60 miles off the coast of southern Morocco, Fuerteventura really is an island of beaches. Then I met a photographer native to the island, a man with a grand passion. JF Olivares runs a Facebook group in which he posts his beautiful photos and also educates all who cross his path on the special heritage of Fuerteventura. He posts on the flora and fauna, the geology and archaeology, the landscapes and the changing seasons, and shares his photo-documentary of the many buildings in ruins.

Fuerteventura ruins
Photo by JF Olivares

Old farmhouses dot the landscape throughout the island, especially in and around the inland villages. Some have been restored, and of course at vast expense, but too many have been left in ruins while new buildings are constructed, sometimes right next door. What is being lost is not only rock and mortar but a whole heritage, a story of a way of life of a people who lived in one of the planet’s harsher climates. These buildings are an integral part of Fuerteventura’s cultural identity.

Fuerteventura ruins
Photo by JF Olivares

It was images like these that prompted me to brush up on my Spanish and engage with Jf Olivares’ posts. He decries what is happening to the Canary Islands as a result of unregulated tourism. We soon became good friends as I told him I shared his passion. I had a hand in restoring an ancient ruin on Lanzarote back in 1988, purported to be 300 years old, a ruin I partly owned at the time. It was my dream home in my dream village on my dream island and I had to let it go. Little wonder I was drawn to these old ruins of Fuerteventura!

Fuerteventura ruins
Photo by JF Olivares

My own connection to Fuerteventura goes back to 1989, when I visited, staying in Corralejo and Tetir. I was taken there by my local friends from Lanzarote, where I was living. The first time I went, it was for a festival. Corralejo was so vibrant and alive and I met a man, Pedro, a local artist. The attraction was strong, so strong that he wanted me to live with him in a little village called El Time. But I was already being swept up by another man, the highly charismatic Miguel Medina Rodriguez. I was back then like a feather on the wind. I often wonder what my life would have been like if I had stayed, with Pedro, with Miguel, or alone on the islands that had embedded themselves in my heart. They were heady, Bohemian days.

I have dearly wanted to move back to the Canary Islands. Last year I came close to buying an old farmhouse in a tiny village but the sale fell through. So, I did the next best thing and wrote a novel set there, a novel about a woman who wins a lottery jackpot and restores a ruin in a village called Tiscamanita. I love it that my characters can live my dreams!

Clarissa’s Warning was written to help raise awareness of these lovely old buildings slowly falling back to earth. I am indebted to JF Olivares for inspiring me to write this book, and for letting me use his photos. I am now at work on another novel set on Fuerteventura, again thanks to JF!

You can read more about Clarissa’s Warning here

Here is a link to Clarissa’s Warning on Amazon viewbook.at/ClarissaWarning

Clarissa's Warning

Clarissa’s Warning is the third novel in my Canary Islands’ series, which began with The Drago Tree

Here is the link to The Drago Tree on Amazon viewbook.at/TheDragoTree

 

 

Advertisements

Three books signed to Creativia!

I am thrilled to announce I have just signed a three-book contract with Creativia!

Creativia will be releasing A Matter of Latitude – a gripping mystery/thriller set on Lanzarote (Canary Islands, Spain) and featuring one of the characters from The Drago Tree; The Partition – a delightful gothic mystery set on Fuerteventura (Canary Islands, Spain); and A Point of Principle – a work of biographical fiction based on the life of occultist Alice A Bailey.

A Point of Principle is special; Alice Bailey has been a part of my life for twenty-five years. I have read and studied her texts, applied her principles, written a PhD on her work and I have researched her life to the very best of my ability. I am not an adherent of her work, but I hold her in the highest regard as an important historical figure, a woman who led an exceptionally hard life, and a writer unjustly maligned.

To stay in touch, please subscribe to my mailing list and receive my occasional (4-6 times a year) emails.

That just about clears my desk of book projects so I better get stuck into my next work!

Tourism and Literature: The role of authors in protecting local culture

Since I write novels set on the Canary Islands, here are my thoughts on the role of the author when it comes to travel fiction:

When an author chooses to write unreflectively about a foreign country, one not their own, aren’t they just another kind of tourist?

Tourists arrive at their destination with their suitcases and their sunscreen, wanting warm sunny weather, sandy beaches and a small taste of local culture. They come, they stay, they take, and they rarely understand the land they are visiting, or its people. They are happy to view local culture not as lived reality, but as artefacts incarcerated in museums. The tourism industry doesn’t care about preserving local cultures. Its only care is profit. This toxic combination of indifference has devastated communities and fragile environments the world over. The Canary Islands are just one example of local cultures overridden by this hedonistic juggernaut.

When tourism means constructing vast hotel complexes built on protected land, when tourism means more oil-fired power stations to fuel desalination plants to fill private swimming pools and water golf courses, when tourism means allowing off-road vehicles to churn up fragile soils and destroy local habitats, when tourism turns its back on local people, their culture and traditions, their ancient buildings, their basic needs for good housing and secure employment, then tourism has no conscience. It’s amoral.

Literature, at its best, is not.

Literature has always had an educational part to play in raising awareness, albeit in a limited audience, of critically important issues. At the heart of all good fiction is a deeper morality.  Literature can be a tool for change, affecting the outlook and attitudes of tourists, at the very least, fostering a shift away from shallow consumptions towards a deeper empathy for visited cultures and environments.

Each country produces its own literature. Much of it will celebrate and criticise, in overt or covert ways, the various strengths and weaknesses of its own land. Some works will be translated into other languages. Most will remain obscure, as most writing fails to reach large numbers of readers. From Gabriel García Márquez to Isabel Allende, authors strive to portray insight into the human condition, or in the Canary Islands, Carlos Guillermo Domínguez, Luis León Barreto  and Alberto Vázquez-Figueroa, to name only three.

Resisting the voracious appetite of the tourism industry and trying to instil in holiday makers and tourist operators good ethical habits is difficult, multifaceted and enduring. Local governments may impose restrictions. Activists may campaign to save local sites. Whole communities may rise up in protest, as was seen when the Spanish government awarded oil giant Repsol drilling rights off the coast of Lanzarote. Almost all of these campaigns and policies take place internally, driven by local people, along with a few environmentally aware individuals from other countries, those who have chosen the Canary Islands as their home.

Is it the role of the local author alone to compose works that inform readers, including tourists from other countries, of the issues faced by their community? Can activism ever be that exclusive?

All fiction writers can and must add their weight to the campaign. The foreign author has a moral duty to alert their audience to the complexities of context, not least the setting of their story. Otherwise, the author is appropriating that setting and giving nothing back. They become a kind of literary thief, fulfilling the appetites of the literary marketplace for more crime fiction, more thrillers, more romance, more escapism.

There is a distinct opportunity for fiction writers, whether they are from, or writing about the Canary Islands. Stories set in exotic locations are popular. Readers enjoy stories set where they are spending their holiday. Travel fiction is fast becoming a genre all of its own, ill-defined, a catch all for books with interesting settings. Most of that fiction is pure page-turning fun, but it needn’t be.

It cannot be denied that no matter how much empathy the foreign author may have, their works, inevitably based on limited understandings of local conditions, will always miss the deeper essence and the nuances, the sensibilities of a culture acquired over lifetimes of knowing. For this reason, novels set on the Canary Islands written by foreign authors might be seen as intrusive, appropriating, even insulting, and received with derision over appreciation, rejected as another form of cultural imperialism.

Yet literary activism in the form of raising readers’ awareness has no geographical limits. Works produced in this spirit are driven by passion. Passion is the fire that blazes in the heart of the writer and makes their works vibrant and alive. Passion has no fixed abode.

Literature, like all art, should contribute in raising cultural and environmental awareness in whatever way it can. It has a moral duty to inform and provide insights, challenging stereotypes, educating as it entertains. Otherwise, the author of fiction, even if she is an interloper from another land, is reduced to being an entertainer alone, there to satisfy the same desire for escapism that drives tourists to foreign climes.