The making of The Olive Groves of Belchite
I always wanted to write a book, but it wasn't until I was in the middle of the Andes, at 4,000m altitude, in the long hours climbing the numerous steps of the Inca trail towards Machu Picchu, that I felt the need to write it. By then, I had already lived outside Spain for a number of years and witnessed the difference between a democracy that is 30 years old and those that have a tradition of hundreds of years.
I enrolled in and completed the Creative Writing Diploma at Birkbeck College in London the following two years, during which I mulled a few ideas. But it was the 70th anniversary of the start of the Spanish Civil War in 2006 that sparked a new debate in Spain, especially when a new government proposed a law aimed at bringing the Republican side back into history, after it had vanished completely under Franco. I spent the next three years reseearching and talking to numerous Spanish and British fighters, and discovering Belchite after my friend Sol sent me some photographs from her parents' recent trip. Along with a very patient Maria, I made a few trips to the isolated town, talked to the locals, and got the inspiration to carry on and finish the story. In the meantime, trips to the Hay Festival, Wales and Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, allowed me to listen to and talk to well-known writers, and to get invaluable encouragement. Month after month, I also met with a writers' group where we workshopped with each other mercilessly, which helped improve everybody's work.
The four years spent on The Olive Groves of Belchite have been marvellous, full of challenges, growth and learning. They have helped me understand many things better, including Spain, and people in general. I hope that this trip that has turned into one of the richest experiences of my life can bring some food for thought to others.
In an antique bookshop in Buenos Aires - searching for books by
Losada, which published Spanish authors in exile, e.g. Leon Felipe