I miss watching live flamenco. Only this morning I was chatting with a couple of students, one of them is a real, true fan of flamenco, and he was telling me about all the best places to see authentic flamenco. “Not any of this guiri rubbish,” he said, laughing.
Now that I live out in the sticks, the only live flamenco I can see is on youtube. Here’s my favourite compilation of Spanish guitar, which has inspired my writing a lot.
I miss those nights when my wife and I used to go out for tapas in the centre, then go to watch a free show.
I miss the sweaty vibe, the cheeky glasses of sweet sherry, seeing familiar faces of the flamenco dancers and guitarists, and staying up late watching live shows.
I miss seeing the dancers faces express their emotions, scrunching their eyes as if in pain, twisting their bodies, making slamming sounds on the floor, and showing their passion to the crowd.
I miss the wailing, the stomping, and the plucking.
Flamenco has been a huge influence on my life here in Seville. Not only the inspiration for my first novel, which is festering away on my hard drive, waiting for me to read again soon, but also a great influence on my Spanish knowledge.
Being out in the suburbs, maybe my neighbours won’t complain if I picked up my guitar again, something I haven’t done for a few years since I realised I was just pants at playing. Maybe I’ll try again in the New Year, play a song or two for my kids, and watch them dance.
If you are thinking of coming to Seville to see flamenco, then check out this article I wrote a while ago about the best tablaos to see flamenco. These are more touristy places though, perhaps I’ll get more names from my student tomorrow and do some research into newer ones. But for now, have a look at this article on Simon Seeks, called Feel the Duende from flamenco shows in Seville…
It’s been a long time coming, but finally my fingers were taken over by the characters of my novel. There I was, bashing away at the last chapter, heading for the ending that I’d planned, when something totally unexpected happened.
It was something I’d read about on a writing course, and also from self-help books about writing. The characters started to choose their own paths, their own destiny, right as I was coming to the end. It was a weirdly powerful moment, curious to both my mind and soul, but a new end just sprung up out of nowhere.
Of course, I had an idea what was going to happen. While I wrote my first draft I knew from the start how it was going to end. During the second, a lot of changes took place randomly, and the whole act of writing was so much more emotional. Not only because I could see what the characters wanted to do, but also because all those hours of writing, editing, thinking, changing, were finally coming towards the end product. My first novel is almost ready to be published. Continue reading “Finally the writing magic has come”→
This is the second time that I’ve read The Return by Victoria Hislop. I really enjoyed this historical fiction novel and would recommend it to anyone interested in the Spainish Civil War or flamenco.
Just like ‘Winter in Madrid,’ the book left me asking questions about the Civil War and how people of the same country were capable of doing such horrid acts. For me, it’s beyond comprehension how family members grassed on each other and sent their own blood to their death.
It’s also barbaric how Franco went about becoming such a power in Spain and killing innocent people for having different views to him. I can’t get my head round how his dictatorship led to so much violence and death. Anyway, rant over, here’s more about the book.
As usual with my book reviews I tend not to go into much detail for fear of giving too much away, but it’s about a woman called Sonia who goes on a flamenco holiday to Granada with a friend to escape her drunk husband. While there she becomes more involved in the world of flamenco and meets an elderly waiter who begins to tell her about life during the Civil War.
Victoria switches from the viewpoint of Sonia and also becomes a narrator back in the Civil War, as if told by the voice of the waiter, explaining the emotional lives of a Spanish family.
There are a number of sub plots and twists, which makes for excellent reading.
Why would I recommend it?
Generally I enjoyed how Victoria wrote. I loved the twisting plot and detailed character descriptions. I really felt for Sonia, and also several characters in the Spanish family, especially the mother and daughter. Victoria must have done a lot of research to find out about certain events and she tied in the story splendidly.
I also enjoyed the way she added a sense of romance to the novel, both with Sonia and the family in the war. I find these days that romance always seems to be in the air, which is one reason why I’m writing my novel at the moment. It shows how important love is in the world and the affect it can have on people, in both good and bad ways.
Flamenco is an exciting aspect of the book as well and Victoria shows how this world is of great influence in Spain. She gives some detailed descriptions of flamenco performances and really shows you how it gave hope to people back during the war.
What to watch out for
One thing that did sway me from time to time was the way she used certain vocabulary of a higher level when she could have said it much simpler. It was as if she was showing off at times by using more intellectual words when she could have kept it down a tad. Nothing major though.
Victoria Hislop lives in Kent with her two children and has written several other books. Her first novel, The Island, has sold over one million copies and was number one in the Sunday Times charts for eight weeks. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s about a Greek family’s life in the 2nd World War.
Her more recent book, The Thread, is also set in Greece but is more of a saga set over a hundred years.
Victoria has also written several short stories, one of which, Aflame in Athens, she donated to Oxfam’s “Ox-Tales” project. She also writes travel articles. You can check out her official website here.
Have you read The Return, or any of her novels? What did you think?
It’s hard to live in Seville and not be influenced by flamenco. While working on my novel I’ve been doing some research and these are the websites I’ve found most useful, informative and entertaining. Hope they come in handy to you as well.
This is my first review of books set in Spain: Duende, a journey in search of flamenco by Jason Webster. For me, reading a book is not only about being entertained, or inspired, but also about the memories around the book itself.
I first came across this excellent travelogue biography when I entered a second-hand book shop in Vejer de la Frontera while on a short holiday with my wife. It was a cosy little shop, full of books stacked in handmade pine bookcases and scattered over various tables. The red cover with a drawing of a flamenco dancer stuck out, so I picked it up and scanned the back.
“I found his descriptions of the flamenco underworld irresistible…I couldn’t put it down” Chris Stewart, author of Driving Over Lemons.
As a fan of Chris, I was drawn in immediately.
“A great account of a man’s attempt to learn flamenco,” said the bookshop owner. I turned and smiled as he peered down his nose over his glasses.
“Yeah? I’m looking for some books about flamenco, I’m thinking of writing a novel,” I replied.
“Well, that’s as good as any. I’m not entirely sure that everything happened, but it’s a great story and full of information about flamenco, if that’s what you’re after.”
I didn’t actually buy the book that day, but I kept a mental note of it and put it at the top of my Christmas book list.
What’s the book about?
Duende is about Jason’s mental adventure in Spain to discover the world of flamenco. He originally sets off to learn the flamenco guitar but gets a whole lot more than he bargained for (I know the feeling, my plan was to come to Seville for a year, that was nine years ago).
Jason admits in his prologue that for years he lived in Italy because he wanted to be in Spain. After his Italian girlfriend dumps him, a drunken busker makes him see the uselessness of his degree, and his university lecturer suggests looking into a life as an academic, he realises he should follow his dream, head to Spain and learn the flamenco guitar.
I was surprised that his adventure starts in Alicante, not the most popular destination for flamenco, but he knows Pedro, a friend of a friend, who takes him out for his first live flamenco performance where he first feels duende. That’s when he sees Lola, a flamenco dancer, who he bumps into again once he gets a job teaching English. Through Lola he meets various musicians and also finds Juan, who becomes his first flamenco guitar teacher. Over time his relationship with Lola becomes passionate and they have a steamy affair. The problem is that Lola’s husband, Vincente, is Jason’s boss. When Jason feels that Vincente might have a sneaky suspicion about the affair he escapes to Madrid, where he meets Jesús, a crazy gypsy, and the real flamenco adventure begins. I’ll let you find out what happens next.
Apart from the fact that Jason is a witty and descriptive writer, I love his enthusiasm for life. The way he takes risks by going abroad on his own in search of a better life and curiosity for learning about the flamenco world is inspiring. I can relate to his desire to explore and learn about Spain and respect the way he manages to emerge himself deep into the world of flamenco. His passion for learning a difficult instrument is also uplifting. One of the reasons I came to Spain was to learn the guitar, but I never really had the skill, so his passion impressed me.
I also like the characters he meets, especially Pedro, his witty first friend, and the mental Jesús who gets up to all sorts of madness. Lola is just how I imagine passionate flamenco dancers to be as well.
I also learnt a lot about flamenco. The different types of palos guitarist’s play, interesting historical facts about the origins of flamenco, lots of references to the big names in flamenco, and also how difficult it is to become a half-decent flamenco guitarist.
Would I recommend it?
Definitely! If you have a slight interest in flamenco, or even in what it’s like to live in Spain, then this is a great choice. Jason adds interesting snippets of history and facts about flamenco and Spain. His descriptions of the people he meets along the way are excellent and you really feel as if you are on the adventure with him.
It’s impossible to live in Andalucía and not be affected by the power of flamenco. Before I came here I knew that flamenco existed, but never realised its real beauty. Over time it has become an important part of my life here.
The first time I saw live flamenco was at La Carboneria with my wife (girlfriend at the time) on our first date. I guess it was a strange place to go for a first date, especially as it was Halloween and I was wearing a monster mask (she made me take it off before we entered). I felt the power of flamenco immediately though and soon became a fan.
“Are you ready to see flamenco?” she asked as we sat on the long white wooden benches near the front of the stage.
“I guess so,” I said, taking a sip of manzanilla, sweet sherry. Two men wearing all black entered, one carrying a guitar, and they sat on the red chairs on the wooden stage.
I looked up for the dancer, expecting a slender pretty lady to glide towards the stage, but a chunky aggressive woman barged through the crowd and clonked over instead. I turned to my wife, raised my eyebrows, and smirked. She put her finger to her lips and hushed.
“Respect,” she whispered, smiling. The guitarist began to strum. I was immediately mesmerized by the beauty of the sound that emerged. Drawn in by how quickly he moved his nimble fingers. He was fantastic to watch and made playing look so easy, so natural, and so perfect.
The dancer was equally as impressive. The speed she moved her feet and slammed on the floor was outstanding. The emotion in her face seemed so real. She actually looked as though she was suffering about something. If only I could have understood the lyrics, but it wasn’t essential to appreciate that flamenco was a powerful, emotional, and romantic art. I’d been touched by its beauty.
Over the years I’ve seen a few flamenco shows. A great place is Los Gallos. I only went because my parents treated me. The venue was a lot more upmarket than the free Carboneria. The carpets were cleaner, the spectators were dressed up, and the performers were better groomed (still no slender pretty dancers though). For €25 (now €35) I thought it was a tad expensive, but if you want to splash out then it’s worth it. My parents also went to Auditorio Alvarez Quintero recently and had a great time. I prefer La Carboneria though as it’s more underground and rugged, like real flamenco should be.
The flamenco guitarists around Plaza de Truinfo have also had a big impact on me. I love sitting on the benches and listening to them play while I write my novel, read, or just sit and people watch. It’s a romantic setting and the guitar music provides inspiration. There are a couple of guitarists who normally perform at about mid day and also in the evenings. It can get quite busy with tourists and guiris walking about, but it’s still one of my favourite things to do when I get a chance in Seville.
Flamenco nights out remind me of a lot of great moments: nights out with my wife as we were getting to know each other, fun times with mates and family, who always insist on seeing flamenco while they are here, and even our wedding because we hired a guitarist for the reception.
I miss seeing live flamenco dancing at times, especially now as we can’t go out that much. But living in Seville will always provide opportunities for seeing flamenco. Instead I listen to it a lot at home, when I’m walking about Seville, or writing. I’d still like to learn how to play the guitar, but that’s one for the future.
Are you a flamenco fan or maybe a musician? Where’s your favourite place to go and watch a live flamenco show?
Author of From Something Old, The Road to Zoe, You Then Me Now, Things We Never Said, The Bottle of Tears, The Other Son, The Photographer's Wife, The Half-Life of Hannah, the 50 Reasons Series. And more...