10 BOOK CLUB QUESTIONS FOR ‘THE SPANISH HOUSE’

Juliana makes a modest living as an ‘ethnic’ TV/film extra – even though the only connections with her Spanish heritage are her cacti, Spanish classes, and some confused memories of a Spanish mother she hasn’t seen since she was seven.

When her beloved Uncle Arturo offers her the chance to discover her roots while housesitting his coastal home in a quiet corner of Andalusia, Juliana can’t believe her luck. Especially when he reveals that the house will be hers if she fulfils ten life-enhancing ‘Conditions’ within 90 days.

Redecoration of the house and a visit to the old film studio where her mother used to sew costumes seem ridiculously simple tasks for such a wonderful reward. But little does Juliana realise that there are family secrets and inherited rivalries awaiting her in sunny Spain, and the condition that she has to ‘get on with the neighbours’ – who include a ruggedly handsome and moody artist – may be harder than she thinks. 

1. Cultural Identity 🇪🇸🇬🇧

When the genes were handed down to her, they somehow managed to create a totally English woman trapped in a dark and incongruous Spanishness. A Spanishness that came from nowhere – or so it felt, having not seen Mama since the age of seven.  (Chapter 1)

‘I’m English and Spanish,’ Juliana replied, not thinking, but decided to adopt this from now on, in preference to the usual half this and half that description that made her sound both conflicted and cobbled together. (Chapter 27)

How does Juliana become so much more comfortable with her cultural identity? Did you sympathise with her feelings about this?

2. Arturo and the tomato 🍅

‘You are not an “extra” here in Spain. It’s not enough to just turn up; you have to start involving yourself – ripen from the inside out like the Raf. Only then will your time here be truly special – and the house become yours.’

As one reviewer remarked, Juliana goes from being an ‘extra’ – in both her working and personal life – to being the star of her own show. How did you feel about eccentric Uncle Arturo’s influence in her development? Would you like an Uncle Arturo in your life?

3. Mama in the cemetery 💐

Condition No. 4: Make a weekly visit to your mother Antoñita’s nicho in the cemetery. Talk to her.

I’ve read that Spaniards tend to believe that their deceased loved ones continue to live on in spirit and are still very much a part of the family. Certainly some of my Spanish friends in the village feel this way.

Did you feel Juliana’s growing ‘closeness’ with the memory of her mother helped her? Should the English have an annual ‘All Saints Day’ to visit family graves, like the Spanish and other countries do?

4. JOSEMI 🐻

Early on, Josemi is rather unfairly described as a bit of a grumpy, bear-like creature. Would you have liked to hear his side of the story?

5. Almería 🏜

The sort of hills a child would pat into shape with their hands on a beach, or draw with a crayon and then cover with tufts of grass. That’s what these hills had – clumps of tough grass dotted over them, making distant and larger hills delightfully fuzzy in appearance.

I’d worried that my adored but barren, semi-desert Cabo de Gata Natural Park area of Almería wouldn’t go down well with readers, so I’ve been delighted to see how often reviewers have said how much they enjoyed ‘being here’. 

Did you feel the unusual setting contributed to the story? What place in the novel would you most like to visit (Níjar with its ceramics, rugs and Cactus Nursery; the arty ex-mining village of San Rafael (Rodalquilar, in real life); The Tabernas spaghetti-western film set; the wild volcanic beaches near San José?)

6. Spotify Music Playlist 🎵

Josemi started to play. A simple three-note tune, but developing, and achingly sad… it was ‘The Summer Knows’, theme to an old film she couldn’t remember. His eyes were almost closed, he was totally inside the music, swaying, fingers twitching sensitively.

Music is so important in the story, I couldn’t resist putting a Spotify list together so that readers could listen to the tracks during the chapters in which they occurred. Do you think all novels should have one?

7. More or less? 👍👎

Who – or what – would you like to have seen more (or less!) of in the story?

8. THE ENDING 🤗

Were you happy with the ending? If not, what would you have liked to have happened?

9. Who would play the film roles? 🎬

If The Spanish House became a film, who could you imagine playing the roles? I’d suggest Javier Bardem and Pénelope Cruz in the lead roles, if we could timeslip them back 15 years.

10. Return to Almería! ☀️🌵🍅🦎🏖😌

Which minor characters in The Spanish House would you like to see appearing in my next two novels set in this unspoilt corner of Almería? Sign up to the website for news of these!

If you have enjoyed The Spanish House,  please let others know by leaving an online review on Amazon 🙏😊  

(See my ‘Write an Amazon Book Review – in 5 Minutes’ post, March 2018) 💻

WRITE AN AMAZON BOOK REVIEW – IN 5 MINUTES

 

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Compared to a play or concert, a novel can give us three times as many hours of entertainment, at a third or less of the cost. At the end of a show, we spend 5 minutes either clapping politely or stamping and cheering; shouldn’t we do at least as much for a novel we’ve just enjoyed? We can. It’s called writing an Amazon review. 

We can, but only a tiny percentage of us ever do – and even these wonderful people (ahem) let good books go by un-applauded. Why?

  • “I’ve left it too long, and now can’t think what to write.” (Uh, this is me)

So write less! It’s better than nothing. Guilt: how could I not leave a review for Tony Parker’s Lighthouse? Invaluable research, and I adored it.  [Spends 5 minutes giving it a short but heartfelt 5-star review]

  • “It was only OK. Nothing wrong with it, just not my thing.”

But it might be someone else’s; they need to know about it. Give 3 stars and get on with it. The writer won’t mind; Amazon works in weird ways, giving a book with fifty 3-star reviews more visibility than one with ten 5-star reviews.

I usually save 1 or 2 star reviews for electric blankets, but once in a while I feel the need to share that a hyped-up novel was a massive disappointment. 

  • “I didn’t buy the book from Amazon.”

It doesn’t matter, you just need to have spent at least £40 through your Amazon account. Nice try.

  • “I don’t know how.” 

Meaning, “I don’t want to look thick among the blogger/author/pro reviewers.

Do a refreshingly minimalist one then, or see REVIEW PLAN below.

  • “NO, I REALLY DON’T KNOW HOW.

Good grief. OK, here goes:

Click: the book -> Customer Reviews -> Write a Review. 

Click on the stars. Careful – it’s amazing how many people dither here and end up writing a glowing but ONE star review. 

In Write Your Review, say what you liked / didn’t like in anything between 1 sentence or a mini essay (see below). The Headline for Your Review can be a phrase you’ve just used. Press SUBMIT. DONE!

PLAN for the perfect Amazon/Waterstones/Goodreads review (IMHO):

  • 1-2 sentence intro. Perhaps what attracted you to the book, and your overall gut reaction. 
  • A brief summary of what it’s about, without spoilers (I once had a reviewer give a detailed account of my entire plot AND subplot). Crib from blurb.
  • What you liked and didn’t like – rather than how you ‘just couldn’t put it down’, or – my pet hate – found it ‘a really good read’ (like a bed is a really good sleep). How about the writing? Story? Characters? Setting? You’re not writing a bloody English essay, so not all of these, just whatever sticks out.
  • Try to remember that the review isn’t about you (so what if you usually read dystopia?) or the author (and how she taught you GCSE English in a decade that she’s now claiming to have been born in). It’s about helping your fellow readers decide whether it’s the book for them. Hopefully widening the readership for the author – who has spent a year or more writing the novel when not at work, mopping up pet/adolescent spillages or doing her multi-profession tax accounts. 
  • I like to add little quotes from the book to give people a flavour. For example, reviewing Avril Joy’s Sometimes a River Song, I put ‘Despite the ever-present sense of danger, there are plenty of moments in which ‘my heart felt warm as a new laid chicken egg.’’
  • A final comment, perhaps saying who might enjoy it. For example,  ‘even those with just a passing interest in lighthouse keepers – or human beings in general – will find this fascinating, entertaining and moving.’

OK, this kind of review takes a little longer. But sometimes you want to do a standing ovation.