Thursday 22 September 2016

Sunset seascape

As soon as I saw this gorgeous picture, I recognised it as the scene in my mind when I wrote the opening of 300 Days of Sun. Taken, with no filter, by my friend Sara Barraud at Zambujeira do Mar in southern Portugal, it captures the other worldly light at a certain point in the evening when reality seems to recede. Sara is a garden designer by profession, and a brilliant nature photographer. If you are on Instagram you can find her stream here.
Here is the extract from the novel's prologue, when a mother stands transfixed:
A few careless minutes, and the boy was gone. 

    Violet shadows stretched from the rocks, clock hands over the sand. She shouldn’t have allowed herself to linger, but the sea and sky had merged into a shimmering mirror of copper and red; it was hard to tell if she was floating above the water, or standing on air. Waves beat time on the shore then reached out to caress her feet.

   She could hear the children shrieking with pleasure. A short distance away, the path threaded up through the rocks to the garden of pine trees and gold coin daisies: Horta das Rochas, the “garden of rocks” near the edge of the world, where famous explorers and navigators once set sail for unknown continents.

   Her eyes were still on the dissolving horizon when she called the children. A scampering on the wet sand brought a small hand to her leg. She glanced down.

   ‘Look!’ said the girl.

   Her daughter pointed to a flock of birds flying in silhouette against a blood-orange cloud. They watched for a moment.
   ‘Time to go back,’ she said.
   The boy, older by a year, spent hours by the rock pool, staring at the stirrings of sea life in miniature. It was no more than a few steps from where she was standing. ‘Tico!’ she called, using his baby name.

   No answer.

   The rock pool was deserted. 

    ‘Where’s Tico?’ 

    ‘Gone,’ said the girl.

    ‘He’s hiding! Come on.’ 

    She took the girl’s hand and they ran to the wind-carved cave. ‘Tico!’

    ‘Tico!’ echoed the girl.

    The opening in the rocks was in deep shadow, cold and dark. The girl clutched tighter. They both called again. No answer. They felt along the damp creased walls, for a warm, giggling mass balled up on the ground. The cave was empty. Outside the sunset deepened. They were alone on the beach.

    All the way up the path, they called to him. No answer.
A reminder to UK readers - if that has intrigued you, 300 Days of Sun is on promo for the next week or so only as a Kindle Monthly Deal for only 99p.


Monday 5 September 2016

Portugal through foreign eyes

I confess, I was quite worried about what Portuguese readers would make of 300 Days of Sun when it was translated and published by Editorial Presenca over the summer. I hoped I had captured the essence of the country as the backdrop to my story but was well aware that the shadows lurking under the sunny surface might prove controversial. Had I gone too far, or simply got too much wrong?
For all that the British enjoy reading about themselves through foreign eyes - think how Bill Bryson has endeared himself to the nation with his mercilessly hilarious observations - I wondered how the proud Portuguese would react to a tale involving present day economic woes, wartime intrigue and several  real-life child disappearances on the Algarve coast.

To be fair, the two intertwined stories, past and present, concern the situations that foreigners in Portugal find themselves involved in, so their insights into the country are designed to be those of outsiders. First impressions are a key part of the narrative.
Well, apart from an opinion piece in the august Diario de Noticias, the Lisbon equivalent of The Times, in which Icelandic writer Yrsa Sigurdardóttir and I were the subject of a bit of a rant about foreign writers stereotyping the country's characters, possibly humorous, possibly not, hard to tell using Google translate and rudimentary word recognition - but great publicity for our books, so thanks for that - the reaction has been incredibly positive.

There was a lovely mention in SAPO's online summer crime reading round-up and here is a rough translation of a review from The Styland blog:

"The use of the town of Faro almost as a character is intense to the point of giving us details about our country which we probably never noticed but that the author somehow found them relevant to put in her book. And she does a fantastic job sending us mentally to all the scenarios with absolutely phenomenal descriptions. I confess that I had tears at times: but because the descriptions of our traditions are beyond reproach. It seemed as if the author lived here, but no. She just spent two weeks in Faro with her daughter, fell in love with our culture and managed to convey our story in a touching way."

In fact, many Portuguese reviewers and bloggers have loved the fact that the novel holds a mirror up to their country, with the reflection filtered through fresh eyes. I just adored this blog post by Fernanda on As Leituras da Fernanda (again, a very rough translation using Google):

"This book caught my attention for a simple reason: the fact that the author was not Portuguese. It seemed interesting to read about Portugal at the hands of a foreigner. Perceiving a little of what they see in this our little garden by the sea. And really, it did not disappoint me. I liked the author's voice very much. Very lyrical, but without pretentiousness, for the viewpoint of a simple tourist, not making value judgments, which is sometimes difficult for those who write. Although she never lived in Portugal she gives with enough consistency the Portuguese way of life, our traditions and our history." Though she does go on to write: "I'm just not sure she has understood what is missing." Now there's an intriguing suggestion - I want to know!

There was also a great review in the English language site Portugalist.

In the UK, 300 Days of Sun is available this month on the Kindle Monthly Deal promotion for only 99p. 
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