Book Excerpt: Meet the Sister

To celebrate selling over 3,000 copies of my book Teaching English in a Foreign Land, I’ve decided to run a free kindle book promotion this weekend. I wrote this book to inspire people to travel the world and teach English, which is exactly what I did a few years back. To get an idea of the style of the book have a look at this excerpt from Chapter 15, when I met one of the most influential people on my adventure.

Teaching in Bangkok
Amazing place to live, Bangkok. Photo by Stuck in Customs

“Now you have interview with sister,” said Siriluck, the hamster faced Thai woman I’d been liaising with from Australia. Siriluck was an agent who found teachers for schools. I know, I thought she was a man, but that was just the first surprise when I arrived in Bangkok.

“What, your sister works in the school?” I asked. Siriluck giggled as she drove on. For 10am the traffic was horrendous. A gang of motorbikes whizzed past my open window and petrol fumes shot up my nose. Continue reading “Book Excerpt: Meet the Sister”

In Search of a Better Spain, Travel

In Search of a Better Spain: Santander, a perfect place to live?

“So are you going to el Palacio de Magdalena today?” the hostel owner asked as I went to sneak out the front door; I was still half asleep and not quiet in the mood for a morning chat. He was shaking his head in excitement, as if he’d designed the palace himself.

“I’m not sure.”

He stopped still, frowned and scrunched his eyes slightly. “But why? You must, it is the most prolific attraction in Santander.”

“I don’t know, it sounds a bit boring, any way it can’t be anything like Buckingham Palace.” I tried to keep a straight face, but he’d already cottoned on.

“I see, that is a British joke again, very funny,” he said, wagging his finger at me.

Sunset from Palacio de la Magdalena. Photo by Jose Miguel Martinez
Sunset from Palacio de la Magdalena.
Photo by Jose Miguel Martinez

Of course I was going to see el Palacio de Magdalena. Any place where Spanish Royalty stayed had to be worth a ganders. Besides, I’m a ‘view man’ and the palace was situated on a hill right on the edge of the city and the views across the Bay of Biscay had to be amazing.

I went on a wander round the centre first though. The sun was shining and the weather was perfect for a stroll. I popped into the Modern art museum, which was a mistake because I’m not a fan of modern art, nor museums really. Continue reading “In Search of a Better Spain: Santander, a perfect place to live?”

In Search of a Better Spain, Travel

In Search of a Better Spain: Santander

As I sat on a wooden bench along Paseo Pereda in Santander’s harbour looking out over the slightly rocky sea, I breathed with a sigh of relief; I was finally travelling again. I’d been cooped up in Sevilla for too long, almost two years since arriving, and I’d barely seen the country I’d set out to explore.

Santander - paseo pereda
Breathe in…ahh…travelling again! Paseo Pereda – Santander. Photo by Jose Miguel Martinez

I’d chosen Sevilla because I’d been told the lifestyle was chilled, the weather was superb, and it was a great hub for touring Andalucía. All that was true, but I was unsure it was for me; there had to be more exciting places to live in Spain than Sevilla. Since arriving I’d done nothing but reminisce about my adventure round the world through South America, Australia, and Asia. It had been such fun, roaming the world as a free spirit.

But something drastic had changed. I was no longer a free spirit; I had a girlfriend, a Sevillana. I’d completely fallen for her; there was no doubting that, but Sevilla? I constantly battled with myself about whether or not I should stay there, in such a traditional, tedious, blisteringly hot place. There was only one thing for it, to travel again, and see what else Spain could offer. Continue reading “In Search of a Better Spain: Santander”

Book Reviews, Flamenco, Spain, Travel

Book Review: Duende, a Journey in Search of Flamenco

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.

Not the official cover, but a damn good photo.
By alfanui

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.

Duende in Madrid
Duende in Madrid.
Photo by nclawler

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.

Jason has also written AndalusGuerra, and Sacred Sierra, which are all on my to-read-list.

If you want to buy the book then you can get a hard copy here, or download it on your kindle here.

Have you read Duende, by Jason Webster? What did you think? Do you know any other decent books about flamenco?