It hit me one freezing February morning in 1990 or thereabouts. I was shivering on the platform at Weybridge Railway Station at the time. As I looked around at the same old miserable commuters suffering the damp, polluted air while staunchly defending their regular patch of concrete, I began to question my sanity. Did I appear the same to them? Was this all I had to look forward to for the next twenty-five years? Then came the dreaded announcement. Leaves on the line. It was that day’s original excuse for a twenty-minute delay. Once again, the 07.41 to Waterloo would be packed and I’d be jammed outside the toilet with someone’s newspaper rustling in my ear. Great. Super. I thought, as the completion of the day’s tedious tasks ahead would now slip further behind due to no fault of mine. That was enough. I was done. Beam me up, Scotty.
Not having any desire to strip naked on a pebble beach feigning my disappearance to a distant pig farm, I chose the next best escape route. Thankfully, my parents had retired to Nerja, Spain many years previously. I would join them and work out what to do after my arrival. I was forty-odd years of age, almost divorced but still way too poor and young to retire or do nothing. Surely, there was still time to reinvent myself, but as what? Fate would soon intervene.
That weekend, I took my daughter to the Trocadero at Piccadilly Circus when it used to be an amusement center. One of the side stalls was offering to put your photo on a mug. I’d never seen such ingenious use of technology and was much impressed. Then it twigged, the water park in Torre del Mar, would be the perfect place to provide such a service. I sourced the machines and mugs from the factory in Staffordshire, loaded everything into my recently acquired beaten-up van, and headed south.
I broke down just outside Calais and then again north of Barcelona but eventually arrived at my parent’s place in Nerja where I would stay until I’d sorted myself out.
My Spanish at the time was basic, to say the least. And I had little understanding of how things worked for business or self-employment. It was baptism by fire. Learning by doing.
With the help of a dear friend, I rented an apartment in the mountains near Periana where nobody spoke English. Three months later, I could at least have a conversation. By then, the water park was ready to open.
The Galvez family who owned Aqua Velez at the time loved the idea. I was in business, although we won’t mention the paperwork.
And so, began the reinvention process.
Mug seller, or as marketing persons might describe, capturing in perpetuity, those heartfelt moments of the kids having fun on their Spanish Holiday on ceramic drinking vessels. That is until the image faded after three cycles in the dishwasher. What did they expect for a fiver, or mil pesetas as it was then?
The mugs sold like hot cakes, but all good things come to an end, and as expected the park closed in mid-September. New ventures were needed. By now, I was much better informed about what worked here and had made some useful contacts. That’s when ironed squid and many other terrible translations came in handy.
I sorted my NIE, autonomo, and residencia then rented a tiny office in a back street in Torre del Mar where I started a marketing agency to help restaurants and Spanish businesses present themselves more professionally to the growing number of foreigners. I sold the mug equipment to the man who ran the street train and bought the computer gear and software needed to run a graphics studio. Having no idea how to use any of it, I sat down, booted up what was then Windows 3.1, and clicked.
And clicked a million times more until I’d learned how Photoshop and CorelDRAW worked.
But what was I to do with this newfound creativity?
Then a man called Roy walked into my office. He’d just retired from being a page layout designer for the Daily Mail and was already bored with gazing at the amazing views while his wife went shopping. Sadly, I had no need for him, but it stirred something in the back of my mind.
At the time, the British were recovering from yet another cyclical recession and were noticeable as property purchasers in Spain by their absence. Whereas the Germans were buying like crazy. I came to the conclusion that what would help them make better-informed purchasing decisions was a monthly property magazine with information, not just adverts. The minor matter of not speaking any German and knowing nothing about property or magazine publishing didn’t deter me. As a business, I instinctively knew it had to be the timely thing to do. More learning was required.
Then I met Peter, a young German guy with his own Program on Radio Algarrobo. He told me that he needed more writing work as the German magazine that he also worked for had just printed its final issue. The former owner had committed suicide and his partner no longer wished to continue.
To cut a long story short. I bought the magazine from her.
Then called Roy to come help redesign it, and teach me how to do page layouts.
We never missed an issue.
Die Postille kept me, Peter, and my colleagues busy for the next decade. Along with the obligatory pages for News, Gardening, Astrology, and finding homes for Pets, I traveled extensively around the ancient cities of Spain writing about what I saw. Then a large supermarket chain paid me to visit their wine and food suppliers and proffer my opinions on their produce. It opened my eyes to the beauty and rich history of my adopted country including numerous Bodegas and tastings. Someone had to do it. I loved it. People would pay to have a job like this. It certainly beat the hell out of Weybridge Railway Station. Then, when the Germans stopped buying a property in 2003, I closed it down and reinvented myself yet again.
It wasn’t a conscious decision. More like another example of destiny stepping in to open another door when the publishing one closed. I was enjoying my coffee in a café on the Balcon when the owner inquired if I knew anyone that spoke Spanish and English who would be interested in escorting North American Alumni Groups around Spain. Apparently, another client worked for this expanding Chicago Company as a Travel Director and had asked for their help in finding another suitable candidate to join their team.
By now my German and Spanish were passably competent and my knowledge of Spain was well-grounded, so I put myself forward.
And have never looked back.
Over the last decade, I’ve escorted small groups of mainly retired Alumni from most of America’s and Canada’s finest universities. I’ve organized countless tastings of wines, hams, olives oils, and cheeses, and given lectures on aspects of Spain such as bullfighting and Flamenco.
The week to ten-day trips covered one country at a time and included Scotland, England, Wales, Holland, Belgium, France, Germany, and all over Spain. I was also privileged enough to cruise most European rivers including the Danube down to Vidin in Bulgaria. Pandemic permitting, it’s something I can do until no longer physically capable.
The diverse range of characters I met on the plane, bus, taxi, train, and ship spurred me to write something. But what?
Then an actual murder in Nerja and a long conversation with an old writer friend, Drew Launay, inspired me to crime novels set in the area I knew best. Which gave birth to my fictional Detective Inspector Leon Prado and his volunteer interpreters, Phillip, and Amanda. They evolved from my own experiences translating in hospitals and police stations.
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Darkness in Malaga is the first book in the Andalusian Mystery Series