Long and Short Reviews is pleased to welcome Jenny Twist, whose latest release is Domingo's Angel. I asked her to tell us a little bit about the story.
"It's about an English woman who travels to Franco’s Spain in the early 1950s. Tourism has barely touched the country yet and the people are only now beginning to recover from the deprivations of the civil war. She arrives in a remote mountain village and causes some consternation amongst the inhabitants, who have never met a foreigner before. But Domingo, the goatherd, falls in love with her. When she introduces herself, he believes she is saying she is an angel (‘Soy Ángela’ in Spanish can either mean ‘I am Angela’ or ‘I am an angel’).
"This is the story of their love affair. But it is also the story of the people of the tiny mountain village – the indomitable Rosalba - shopkeeper, doctor, midwife and wise woman, who makes it her business to know everything that goes on in the village; Guillermo, the mayor, whose delusions of grandeur are rooted in his impoverished childhood; and Salva the Baker, who risked his life and liberty to give bread to the starving children.
"The events in this story are based on the real experiences of the people of the White Villages in Southern Spain and their struggle to keep their communities alive through the years of war and the oppression of Franco’s rule.
"Some of these events are bloodthirsty and shocking, but there is a lot of love in the book too. I hope that I have succeeded in portraying for my readers the cheerfulness, humour and exuberance of the Andalusian people. And it would be nice to think that it might do something to dispel some of the ignorance about this fascinating period of Spanish history."
Jenny has had stories in her head for her whole life and even occasionally would write them down, but she didn't start writing seriously until she retired.
"Life continually got in the way," she explained. "I was the main breadwinner for my family for most of my life and I always had very demanding jobs. I used to wonder how on earth anyone found the time to write the first book, naively assuming that once you had written a book, the money would start pouring in and then you could afford to write full-time.
"We came to live in Spain in 2001 and I started writing then – all the stories that had been in my head all those years and a lot of new ones. I sent them to a local magazine for ex-pats living on the Costa del Sol and they commissioned me to write a piece every month; articles alternating with stories."
For Jenny, the most important thing about writing is the language. She wants it to flow, and she wants it to be right.
"Beautiful prose is such a joy to read. I hate it when poor grammar makes me lose the gist of the story, but I never mind pausing to appreciate a piece of superb prose," she assured me.
The next most important thing is characterization.
"I soon lose interest in a story if the characters are not well-drawn and I cannot empathise with them," she said. "The plot is less important for me, but I like it to be believable and hang together well. I particularly like thrillers, mysteries and ghost stories, but I read all genres except erotica."
Her favorite author is Stephen King.
"He uses language beautifully with no horrible grammatical errors. His characters live and breathe and I really care about them. He knows how to terrify without being gory and revolting. He knows how to portray human love without resorting to torrid, tasteless, explicit sex. And he knows how to take his readers into that other world where you lose all sense of self and surroundings and just live in the story," she explained. " He has also done something for me that no other author has done. Hundreds of authors have taught me to love stories, but only Stephen King taught me how to write my own. On Writing takes you through the process step by step. My story, "Waiting for Daddy" in Take One At Bedtime, was my first attempt at writing by the Stephen King method and I am still pleased with it, especially the twist at the end."
The title for Take One at Bedtime was suggested by her brother-in-law, along with the idea of putting: Warning: Do not exceed the stated dose in the blurb.
"I must say this was absolutely inspired," she said. "Virtually every reviewer has picked up on this and commented on failing to stick to the stated dose. Thank you, Nick."
For Jenny, the idea for a story comes first—she keeps thinking it over at odd moments, particularly during that time between sleeping and waking.
"Sometimes it doesn't go anywhere, but more often than not it starts to take shape almost of its own accord. I regularly wake up in the morning with the whole plot sorted out. The characters seem to come from nowhere," she said. "I suppose they must ultimately be based on people I have known but I have never in my life made a conscious attempt to develop a character. They just walk into the story apparently full-developed and then proceed to behave in their own way, Long before I start writing a story down I know exactly how each character will act in a given situation and from that point on they virtually write themselves. Maybe muses really exist and I've got one."
Jenny is currently doing the rewrites for another novel about an old woman who wakes up in a strange room inexplicably furnished in 1940s style. At first she thinks she has somehow slipped into the past, but it is even stranger than that. She is part of an experiment working on a cure for Alzheimer's disease. It seems to be succeeding, but it has a strange side effect. Tilly and her fellow experimental subjects appear to be getting younger.
She told me that researching, these days, was a piece of cake—with just about anything you can desire available on the web.
"I can usually find what I want by Googling it. Of course, some stuff just isn't on there," she admitted. "For example, when I was writing Domingo's Angel, much of which is set in the Spanish Civil War and Franco's subsequent dictatorship, I could find nothing about life in the mountain villages, although there was plenty about the major battles and life in the cities.
"I gleaned some information from my own neighbours, but it was very hard to get anyone to talk to me about what had been a very painful time for them. I subsequently discovered a definitive book on life in the white village of Frigiliana, Between Two Fires, by David Baird, which reassured me that I had substantially got the right picture. But I am still surprised at what I don't know. A couple of years ago there was a commemorative march between Málaga and Almería. Until then I had been unaware that thousands of Republican refugees, mainly women, children and old men, had walked the coast road from Málaga, trying to escape from the Fascist army. Some of them made it, but many were gunned down, strafed from the air by Franco's friends, the Luftwaffe, and bombarded from the sea by Spanish and Italian ships. How could such an earth-shattering event occur in a European country and go virtually unnoticed?"
For the full story about this episode, see this link: http://www.andalucia.com/history/civilwarandalucia.htm.
"What do you like to do when you are not writing?" I asked.
"I love going out for a drive with my husband and exploring places. We live in a very interesting area and there is always somewhere to new to visit. There are hundreds of little villages, each with its own personality and special history. An example is Acebuchal, which became a ghost town during Franco's rule. Franco decided the villagers were helping the freedom fighters in the mountains and he had the village evacuated. Since these people were peasant farmers who made their living from the land, this amounted to a death sentence for those who had no relatives in other villages to support them. It was still a ghost town when we first came to Spain, but it has been slowly repopulated, mostly by foreigners, and restored very tastefully to something resembling its original condition. Although I suspect it is now much cleaner and tidier than it was in the past."
"What is one thing readers would be most surprised to learn about you?"
"If they were new readers, they might be surprised to learn that I used to be an escapologist’s assistant. I was the lovely Tanya. All Tommy James' assistants were called the lovely Tanya, so he didn't have to change any of the advertising. The first time we rehearsed he hired a concert hall to set up the equipment, but the ceiling wasn't high enough to accommodate his full-size guillotine. Consequently, I felt very insecure on our first performance. After chopping a cabbage in half to demonstrate that it was a real guillotine, I hauled the blade back up to the top, using a rope on a pulley, secured it, locked him in the stocks, pulled a curtain in front of him to conceal him from the audience, and counted down thirty seconds on a stop-watch before letting go the blade. Unfortunately, the curtain also concealed him from me. I couldn't tell whether he had managed to escape in time! There was a sickening thud, then..... silence. I stood in front of several hundred people, still holding the end of the rope, convinced I had killed him. After an unconscionably long time, he threw the curtain aside and came out bowing and smiling, whilst saying between his teeth, 'Got you there, didn't I?' My reply, also between my teeth, whilst smiling at the audience, is unfortunately not fit for a mixed readership."
"What was the scariest moment of your life?"
"My sons and I used to live in a really creepy house near Oxford. The wardrobe door used to creak open of its own accord and you frequently felt as if there was a malign presence there. We used to fantasise that the last tenant had murdered his wife and put her body in the cesspit. The house was on top of a hill and very exposed, so damp that we had to rotate the clothes in the wardrobe or they would develop mould and so draughty that the carpet used to billow up in waves when the wind blew. One night there was a terrific storm and the big window in the kitchen began bowing in and out.We were terrified that it would smash, and up-ended the kitchen table against it. We weren't just afraid of the glass breaking, we were afraid of whatever was out there. The wind was making a noise like human screams and was rattling at the doors and windows like some manic nightmare figure trying to break in. We huddled together in abject terror in the living room, incapable of doing anything else, just waiting for whatever it was to come and get us. I hated that house. It was like living in Amityville Horror. Nothing actually came to get us. So it must have been just the wind. Mustn't it?"
She left school at fifteen and went to work in an asbestos factory. After working in various jobs, including bacon-packer and escapologist’s assistant, she returned to full-time education and did a BA in history at Manchester and post-graduate studies at Oxford.
She stayed in Oxford working as a recruitment consultant for many years and it was there that she met and married her husband, Vic.
In 2001 they retired and moved to Southern Spain where they live with their rather eccentric dog and cat.
Her first book, Take One at Bedtime, was published in April 2011 and the second, Domingo’s Angel, was published in July 2011. Her novella "Doppelganger" was published in the anthology Curious Hearts in July 2011, "Uncle Vernon" was published in Spellbound, in November 2011, "Jamey and the Alien" was published in Warm Christmas Wishes in December 2011 and "Mantequero" was published in the anthology Winter Wonders in December 2011.
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