How I Got Here

In 2020, I had a fabulous first Covid lockdown in my beautiful little house in a quiet corner of coastal Almería. Well, not actually in my little house there, that for five years I’d been visiting whenever I could, but a similar house in a nearby village. Okay, I wasn’t actually in the house, bodily, but mentally escaping to it at every opportunity; I was writing a novel set there. In reality, I was cooped up in my Blighty home, taking the daily opportunity to stroll over the deserted local golf course, like everyone else.

It wasn’t my first novel; a small independent had taken on my women’s fiction – but they’d recently stopped trading. I’d lost heart with the writing, to be honest. Then along came lockdown, and pining for my Spanish village so re-inspired me that in just three months I’d written The Spanish House, with more love and lack of stress than any I’d ever written before. Also, writing it made me realise how much happier I was in Spain – that, ideally, I should be living there and visiting England, rather than the other way round.

At about the same time, one of my piano pupils, missing the lessons we were no longer able to have, encouraged me try teaching on Zoom using keyboard cameras. Half of my piano pupils were up for this, and it was soon going well. Then I was taken on by my wonderful literary agent, who was sure she would be able to find a publisher for The Spanish House, and asked me to get on with writing more ‘Destination Romances’ set in this unusual and gorgeous location. It was then I thought, hang on: I could now make a living writing and teaching piano in Spain.

I talked it over with my husband. Before lockdown, we were already spending nearly five months a year in Spain; I had my teaching holidays, and as a music producer, my husband had set up a mini studio and loved working there. Without Spanish, however, he wasn’t keen to make Spain his main home, so much to the horror of some family and friends, we made the decision to officially live in different countries. (It might sound weird, but I’ve since met or heard about several couples who’ve also done this successfully). As soon as flights became available again, I went over to Spain and started working with a Spanish lawyer on my Residencia. The card was finally in my hand in December, just weeks before Brexit would have made it impossible for me.

The following month, my agent secured me a three-book deal with Aria Fiction (Head of Zeus). All three books – The Spanish House, The Spanish Garden and The Spanish Cove – have been published in 2022, and I’m working on more, still feeling I’ll never stop being inspired by this beautiful region and the way of life here.  

My Spanish Working Day

I tend to write in the mornings – which here means until lunch at no earlier than three – because my rubbish filter works best then and, in Summer, the heat in the house hasn’t yet reached soporific level. Out of season, I might use a notebook on my patio, balcony, or roof terrace, but when it’s hot I retreat to my study at the cooler side of the house, where I have a desk and a chaise longue (aka the guest room’s single bed) with a view of the eucalyptus park. 

After lunch, both my husband and I tend to get ideas while going for a walk, paddle or swim – unless the heat has forced a siesta. Then, three days a week, I have two or three piano pupils, before returning to look at what I wrote in the morning. The days end with watching the sun setting, either from the roof terrace or while walking round the village.

My Spanish Village

San José is a village of about a thousand residents although, the area being a bit of a Spanish Cornwall, this doubles or triples in the height of the Summer. You’ll hear the odd French voice and a very occasional English one, but the vast majority of visitors and second homers are Spanish.

Temporary residents tend to live in the hills surrounding the village to get their sea view, but we prefer living with the locals in the centre of the village, next to the park, near shops, doctor, village square and – most importantly – three minutes’ flat walk to the soft-sand village beach. The other benefit of living with the locals is that you don’t spend most of the year in a deserted street – and it’s been wonderful for my Spanish. Or rather, my Andalusian; having been brought up by a half-Spanish mother, mine was already intermediate when I arrived, but I needed to get used to all the missing ‘s’s! You really do need a good level of Spanish to live here – or at least to live here in a meaningful, integrated way. Otherwise, you’re better off an hour down the dual carriageway in English-colonised Mojácar. In my case, my Spanish has made it possible to develop two really wonderful friendships; my living here wouldn’t be the same without our long Spanish chats while we go for walks, and our shared enjoyment of classical and flamenco concerts.

Is this Paradise?

Well, there’s nowhere else I’d rather live, but here’s a little list of pros and a few cons.


No more Winter. ‘Winter’ here is like an English September – but with a riot of flowers. It’s usually T-shirt weather during the day, with trackies and a sweat top going on in the evening. The locals, of course, are all wrapped up in jackets and scarves; they have no idea what cold is! ‘Winter’ is the time for long drives on near-empty roads, exploring new hill walks, sunbathing with books on the roof terrace. Love it. Roll on ‘Winter’!

No more craving beach holidays. The natural park area I live in has all the unspoilt sandy coves I could want.

Outdoor living. We have the clearest skies in Europe.

Free parking and easy driving. For most of the year, going anywhere in the car feels like it might have done over fifty years ago in the UK.

The excellent Spanish National Health System. Much shorter waiting times – for appointments, and when you’re there at A&E or a clinic. They are also renowned for being very thorough. Mind you, we do pay a lot of Seguridad Social for it (the equivalent to National Insurance).

Lower fuel bills (sorry). Cheap butane gas bottles, and for two months of the year, we don’t need any hot water anyway. You can get fixed monthly electricity rates, based on previous usage, with a month free each year – mine is 62 euros.

The Almeríans. Friendly, laid back – almost without exception.



Distance from family and friends. Although I manage to spend as much time with many of them – such as our adult sons who both live a few hours away from us in England – as I did when I was living in the UK.

Just occasionally we get high winds that trap us (or timid ones like me) indoors.

The nearest Thai restaurant is an hour away, and there’s a lack of other foods which, once denied you, become an obsession: new potatoes, vegetarian sausages, scones, Battenberg cake, custard, Liquorice Allsorts…

All in all, for my writing and general well-being, I just wish I’d come out here sooner!

My novels give further realistic insights into embracing life in rural Almería, and are available from online stores such as Amazon or to order from book shops. Here they are plonked on my favourite local beach:


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?


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?


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) 💻


Childbirth, Ikea, and submitting a novel to literary agents for representation: things I swore I’d never do again. Particularly the latter; if you’ve read MY POTHOLED PATH TO PUBLICATION, or ONE TO ONES, I’VE HAD A FEW, you know why. And those posts haven’t aged well; dear God, how smug I was, thinking I’d never need to run the agent gauntlet again!  But that was before my small friendly publisher decided to stop publishing fiction; unless I could somehow make my new novel into non-fiction – a bit of an ask, for a seventy-year family saga – I was back to square one. Un-agented, un-published and back in the muddier-than-ever submission trenches.

Out came the Writers’ Yearbook, the laptop and the sickening realisation that I was about to lose a sizeable chunk of writing time. Come back faffy postal submissions, all is forgiven. These days, most agents expect you to have Googled their client list, favourite novels, festival interviews, whacky Wish List (airport romance, anyone?) and their submission requirements designed to be just that bit different to that of whoever you last subbed. Honestly, it’s time to bring in some kind of UCAS-like process, rather than this fawning agent-fan fiasco; if they want new clients, how about they open a website and look for us, eh?!

Anyway. The new novel was the thing. I loved it, and wanted to give it the best possible start in life – which unfortunately meant going to the ‘publishing gatekeepers’.  Even though, after having gone through this process three times before, I felt a default loathing for these people. Once again, I rejigged the Submissions Spreadsheet of Shame, with its colour code highlighting of yellow for Submitted, orange for Full MS Requested, and a disgusting dark brown for Rejections. And once again, the spreadsheet soon started to look like a pile of poo.

But then the jolly orange Full MS Requests started to arrive. I got cocky and started subbing some of the Big Cheese agents I hadn’t bothered with – and a couple of them also turned (Red Leicester) orange. After a few months, I had 9 (NINE) Full MS requests; writing friends said I had it made, and I began to believe them. But the months started to pass, several agents asked for more time… and Doubt set in.

It was torture trying to get through more than half an hour without tapping the email button on my phone. I unsubscribed from nearly everything – even my darling White Stuff Clothing – to cut down on annoying non-agent-news notifications. There was that time I heard the whang of an email and was convinced, felt it in my bones, that it was going to be good news – only to find it was my son’s phone with a match on Bumble. Then a London number flashed up and I got The Agent Call – except it was an agent chasing up because their full MS request email had somehow bypassed my scrutiny and gone straight to junk mail.

Then the first rejections started to arrive. They were kindly and helpful, and I highlighted the agents in a sad but respectful grey. Maybe I should have coloured them a dawning-on-me pink, because what started to emerge is that I’d written a book they really liked but couldn’t sell. Eventually there was just one agent left on the wall, riddled with indecision, and I put her out of her misery with a little nudge. I submitted the novel to a few independent publishers, but they were similarly nonplussed.

It was very painful, this book bereavement, this need to put a whole world I’d created and lived in for two years in a digital drawer. I literally went through denial, anger and then acceptance – that it didn’t obey the insane but irrefutable marketing laws of genre. There was only one possible cure for me, and here in a nutshell is how I got my agent: I decided to write something new that did.

This coincided with the first lockdown and, missing my Spanish home, I got an idea for an escapist holiday read. But before I flew off with my usual obsessions, I spent a month reading similar books, to get the hang of what interested people who read this genre. The Spanish House was less literary than The Pier, but my heart was soon just as invested in it. With minimal wing-clipping, I soon had a new novel I loved and really believed in.

No Yearbook this time. I only sent ‘invitations to look’ to fifteen agents; anybody who hadn’t shown any interest at all in my beloved The Pier could go hang. Several weren’t looking for this genre or already had too much of it, but there were soon three Full MS requests, including a Big Cheese. Quite quickly this time, I got my answers: Big Cheese saw the novel going in a different direction; the second agent was overburdened, and once she asked about and approved of the agent who’d made me an offer, conceded. The third… was Kiran Kataria at Keane Kataria.

We didn’t have The Call, we had The Zoom – because it was August and I’d moved out to my own Spanish house and, going through the Spanish residency process, wouldn’t be in the UK for a while. Obviously, I’d already Twitter DM’d some of her authors – all of whom were ecstatic about her. But to finally hear somebody talk about the characters of your book as if they’re as real as they are to you, to have someone so believe in your writing that they’re happy and looking forward to working on the story and finding it a home… I’m still pinching myself, to be honest.

Six months on, and Kiran’s been everything I dreamt of in an agent: an insightful and painstaking editor; a calm but no-nonsense soother of my angsty author moments; and then a superb negotiator – of my three-book deal with Aria Fiction (Head of Zeus)! My only worry is she’ll see this and find too many I-don’t-think-this-is-the-word words.


lockdown blog pic

Book sales have soared as people jump into books to escape the pandemic. Love in the Time of Corona. The Non-Traveler’s Wife. A Tale of Two Metres. Even my Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter, initially self-isolating in a lighthouse as it happens, has had an increase in fans. But how are writers coping, now we’re figuring out how to Zoom our day job, helping offspring yanked out of uni, dealing with a series of stress-related ailments we thought we’d grown out of, and worrying about loved ones, finances and loo rolls?

Twitter shows a full spectrum, from writers who now can’t write at all, to those who see little difference between this and the usual authorial lockdown as you try to meet a deadline. I’m closer to the latter extreme, probably helped by the fact that my work-in-progress features another protagonist coming from a state of isolation. If that sounds bleak, I should point out that it’s set in a quiet corner of sunny Andalucía, taking me and the protagonist somewhere no flight other than that of imagination can currently go. I’m never in a rush to return.

Today, however, is the second birthday of The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter, so I’ll be celebrating with a walk down to the sea, some cake, the instagram of my dry-throated interview at the book launch

and a listen to the novel’s Spotify song playlist, with Contigo en La Distancia (With You in the Distance) :-/ 

Keep distant (but friendly) and well!

If you’d like to lockdown with The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter, you can get hold of it online or you could get a copy from matthew@urbanepublications (charging via paypal) or CBS at / 44 (0) 1892 837171.




Celebrating my book birthday today by er… making myself watch my book launch video 😬🤪🙈

If you like the sound of The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter, you can get it from any good bookshop or online e.g.



The transitional stage of labour has nothing on the final stages of writing a novel. 😫 I’m having my fourth (novel), but it’s no easier – or should I say, I’m no easier. I constantly shush my family; you’d think I was writing straight to Audio book. News of visitors coming  is met with screams of horror and finger counting of missed writing hours (including those needed to make the home and myself look non-deranged). At least I haven’t been as bad as during the final days of my first novel, when the family had me committed into the hotel down the road. 

So, what’s my problem? It’s taken more than a year to get here; I should be thrilled. But:

  1. The last five chapters always take five times as long as any others 😤
  2. I often have a favourite character dying at this point, and I’d rather not be seen crying about people in my invented world! 😥
  3. It’s scary that I soon won’t be able to keep this baby to myself. 🤰🏼 Not that I completely have: my partner has been dragged on and under piers, round the RNLI College, through a fifties penny arcade and seen all the photos of my paddle steamer trip. He’s also, over time, been told exactly when sherbet fountains, ‘99’ ice creams, answerphones, Sony Walkmans, pocket calculators, trolley bags and heaven knows what else became available (dates below, fyi 🤓). 

So, how does one finish a novel considerately? I’ve no idea. But you should probably atone somehow, when it’s all over. Unfortunately, I can’t promise it won’t happen again; most unfeasibly, I’ve already been implanted with an idea for the next novel. 🙄

My previous tantrums produced The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter, published by Urbane Publications,  and you can get it from good bookshops or online e.g.  💡🌊📘

  • Sherbet Fountains – 1925
  • ‘99’ ice creams – 1930
  • Answerphones – 1960
  • Pocket calculators – 1971
  • Sony Walkmans – 1979
  • Trolley bags – 1991 



“A novel is like hacking at the rock face, working away to get the characters, the plot. It takes ages,” the wonderful Penelope Lively wrote. I love this – and the end results of her hacking – but recently I’ve felt there’s something missing from the comparison. Sculptors can see what they’ve done and what’s still to do at a glance; the novelist’s accumulating efforts are hidden among a weighty or scroll-marathon number of pages. If you’re not careful, you’ll have a lad on a 1965 pier in a shooting gallery that you converted into an amusement arcade back in 1959. A jolly boat trip on the day that was also that of the 1987 Great Storm. An uncle with a big nose he didn’t have ten years ago. Three women called Joan. How in hell do you keep track of it all? By having simultaneous hackings at supporting files, that’s how. Seat-of-your-pantsers will be horrifed, but I thought I’d share mine in case they help anybody.

(Note: I’m currently writing a multi-generational saga. People dealing with two characters over 24 hours – like I should be doing – may want to skip this).


The Three-Act Plan divvied into chapters – constantly changing, but there. I like to believe I know where I’m going. But as I do each chapter, I summarise it so I know where I’ve been. There’s the family tree, then 3 columns: Chapter number and month/year, Cast list with ages, and What Happens (colour-coded by character viewpoint). It’s a monumental drag, but so is flicking through when you can’t remember exactly when A last saw B. 📆🤔


Those character questionnaires novel-writing books tell you to do before you start – but I keep adding to mine, and think of them like scrap books. I copy-and-paste important dialogue from the novel, adding links to articles about his/her  beloved paddle steamer, moon landing, ladybirds etc.🚢🔭🐞


A spreadsheet of names I’ve used – including those of boats, bands etc. Bit nerdy about an even spreading over the alphabet 🔡🤓


Highlighted calendars of current events, films and pop music to check for each year. Doubles as writing block black hole 🚀 🎥 🎸…🕳


A spreadsheet with a running total, but to keep words down. I measure progress in terms of chapters. Speaking of which, I better get back to hacking one out! 🗻⛏📃

My last period of hacking at the rock face resulted in The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter (Urbane Publications), available from Waterstones and other good bookshops, as well as online e.g. at


Screen Shot 2018-08-14 at 13.00.20

Unfaithful friends, unresponsive companies, unbelievable bureaucracy, undelivered fridges… Sometimes the only way to not completely unravel it is to put the right music on.

I’m not going to add to the numerous lists of music to get furious to; songs like ‘I hate everything about you’ do nothing for me on any level.  I like to be positively pissed off, come out the better for it – but not without enjoying a bit of musical f**k-you in the process.

The Spotify playlist is here: and first up is…


1. YOU GET WHAT YOU GIVE (New Radicals)  

Favourite lyric:

You’ve got the music in you,

Don’t let go…


Absolutely my go-to stompickmeup. Basically: I’ve got the music in me, so I’m immune to your crap – and anyway, karma is going to get you! Shopaphobes will enjoy the video.


2.  ALL RISE (Blue)

Favourite lyric:

And if you thought you had me fooled

I’m telling you now, objection overruled!


Oh yes: put that bastard in the witness box and see him go down! With the lovely Blue boys singing their hearts out in support.


3. THAT’S ALRIGHT (Laura Mvula)

Favourite lyric:

I will never be what you want and that’s alright


A musically delicious war dance against those people who want to control you. Go Laura.


4. GET IN LINE (Ron Sexsmith)

Favourite lyric:

If you intend on making me feel bad

You best get in line

Oh, it’s a long line

It’s a long line

It’s going out the door…


A bit obscure this one, a country ditty really, but perfect for those days of soul-sapping, life-eating, multi-source nagging, whinges, wind-ups and pointless tasks.


5. I LOVE YOU (Woodkid)

Favourite lyric:

Is there anything I could do  

Just to get some attention from you?


So, what’s positive about that, you ask; despite the thwacking rhythm, the lyrics are pure self-pity. But sometimes you’ve got to let yourself sink into that a bit before you move on – and talking about sinking, you have to watch the award-nominated video (Icelandic scenery, whales, sweetly suffering Russian chap… This one might just be about welcome distraction).


6. FEEL GOOD Inc (Gorillaz)

Favourite (and only comprehensible) lyric:

Feel good


Bit surreal and manic, but nearly does what it says on the label. For me, comes with bonus memory of a small son wearing out the living room carpet dancing to it.


7. GOODBYE MR A (The Hoosiers) 

Favourite lyric:

You had all the answers but no human touch

If life is subtraction, your number is up

Your love is a fraction, it’s not adding up


Musically emphatic sod-off for teacher, boss or the company not delivering your replacement fridge. Sing along with all the oh-oh, oh-ohs for extra relief.


8. COMO LA CORRIENTE (Estrella Morente) 

Favourite (and only makeoutable) lyric:



Great bit of self-affirming, clacking flamenco from this wonderful diva and her band of Ole-ing hombres hanging on her every word.




What’s your favourite song to get positively pissed off to?


My novel The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter – which comes with its own Spotify playlist and, according to one reviewer, ‘very good swearing’ – is available from bookshops or online from various sources, including this exasperating bunch:






‘What made you set your story in a lighthouse?’ I’m often asked. The truth is, it wasn’t intentional. The story was inspired by my unexpected, Twitter-initiated friendship with a well-known flamenco guitarist – and I just found myself exaggerating our true-life locations: his comfortable house in outer Madrid became a penthouse apartment in the vibrant city centre, and my (then) near-coastal bungalow became my local lighthouse… at Beachy Head.

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter follows Imogen, borrowing her Aunt’s renovated lighthouse while recovering from the break-up of her marriage, and, thirty years earlier, her lighthouse keeper father on the nearby Beachy Head lighthouse – until he mysteriously drowned there in 1982. She discovers that he was intensely corresponding with a young female penfriend – just as she is, with (you’ve guessed it) an actor-musician Twitter friend in Madrid. They learn that these unexpected, irresistible connections can have wonderful – but also possibly tragic – consequences.



I think it’s common to want to run away to the coast; there’s something energising about it, as if reaching the edge of the land makes you face up to things. But Beachy Head is no ordinary edge: towering 530 feet above the sea, it’s the highest of the series of chalk cliffs undulating between Seaford and Eastbourne in the South Downs National Park. It takes Imogen a while to get used to the ‘the earth dropping and swaying beneath her’. Many years ago, as a heart-broken twenty-something, I escaped to Beachy Head myself – not to go anywhere near the edge, but just to stand there like some French Lieutenant’s Woman and feel sorry for myself. I didn’t know then that the area has always been a renowned suicide spot. Although numbers have been much reduced by the Beachy Head Chaplaincy team patrolling the cliffs to help despondent people, about twenty to twenty-five poor souls each year still lose their lives here – some unintentionally (the chalk cliff edges are notoriously unstable). Although there’s an awareness of this sadness, and danger at the cliff inevitably finds its way into the story, The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter mostly celebrates the invigorating beauty of the area, just as local people and a million or so visitors do each year.

One of the reasons I chose the Beachy Head area for Imogen’s coastal escape was because it has not one but two lighthouses. The squat little Belle Tout was built in 1832, but the cliff top was often so foggy that its light flashes couldn’t be seen from the sea. It was decommissioned in 1902, a few days before the new lighthouse in the sea below Beachy Head was ready to take over. The Belle Tout has passed through the hands of a number of private owners, including two physicians, so it didn’t seem unreasonable for Imogen’s aunt and physician uncle to have bought it. It’s now a beautiful little B&B, and it was wonderful to be able to stay in the original keeper’s bunk room that became Imogen’s in the story.

I never got to see inside the Beachy Head lighthouse, but I was lucky to be able to spend a magical afternoon with lighthouse expert Rob Wassell (author of The Story of… books about the two lighthouses and Birling Gap) on a boulder-strewn low-tide walk to it. As Imogen says, ‘from the cliff top, it was an endearing, little red and white striped ornament; on the beach it is shockingly tall, its colours majestic, a sad and mysterious presence.’ Like many lighthouses at the time it became automated in 1982, making the keepers – and their profession – redundant; this impending change, which must have been very distressing for many of them, is an important element in her father’s story.



Given the novel’s theme of communication, I wanted to include the viewpoint of Imogen’s Twitter friend Santi in Madrid. His setting is as contrasting as possible from hers; the land-locked capital city and the seaside cliff top initially make them feel like they might just as well be on different planets. My research in Madrid included the delightful but Spanish-taxing company of flamenco musicians, many weeks walking around the city, observation (and being asked to take over) a community English class, and a nerve-wracking audition for a television drama!

For someone with a fear of heights and a frequent dislike of capital cities, researching my two main settings for The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter could have been a challenge, but I surprised myself by quickly falling in love with both places. I still visit my friends in Madrid whenever I can, and particularly enjoy all the flamenco venues, the Sorolla Museum, the Retiro, Jardines de Sabatini and numerous other glorious parks. As for Beachy Head – well, I now live five minutes from the lighthouse.

You can get a copy of The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter from any good book shop, or online from various sites e.g.


Spotify life soundtrack

How do you pick 5 songs for the soundtrack to your life? This was one of five questions in my most taxing but favourite online interview so far.

(Many thanks to @JillBookCafe. Check out FIVE ON FRIDAY in to see others put through it).



  1. Which 5 pieces of music would you include in the soundtrack to your life, and why?

Blimey, are all the questions going to be this hard? Having put myself through these agonising decisions, I thought I’d make a Spotify playlist of them: ENJOY!

Life on Mars? (David Bowie)

My big brother bought this LP, and I remember sitting on the carpet, legs all anyhow, poring over the album sleeve. Who was this strange, wonderful man? Until then, music had meant my parents’ Light Classics, used by my friend and me for hilarious made-up ballets in the living room. This was something else; Bowie took me somewhere I’d never been.

Étude Opus 10, No. 3 for Piano (Chopin)

Fast forward to Music College, where my Polish piano teacher had me playing plenty of Chopin. So beautiful, so emotional… so bloody difficult! Chopin will also remind me of my love of the piano, even if that love is not fully requited (I have pathetically small hands). This is just one of my favourites – and probably one of Jerome Kerns’ too, because Smoke Gets in Your Eyessounds just like it. [Listens as adds it to Spotify Playlist]. Hm. Bit teary.

Shining (Steel Pulse)

Let’s cheer up a bit with this irresistible bit of reggae. There’s so much going on in this track – busy bass line, percussion bitty-bobs and delicious vocal harmony asides everywhere – one play is never enough. And oh, the lyrics – including a classic line for a late developer like me: You took your time trying to find out what life, what life, what life has in store for you… You’ve guessed it: my wedding video music.

Como Me Duele Perderte / How it Hurts to Lose You (Gloria Estefan)

I came across this when I started Salsa dancing as part of research for my first novel, Men Dancing. Its bitter-sweet sadness matches both the novel and what was happening in my life at the time, but the song also reminds me of those early exciting but scary days of being a writer.

Dos Puñales / Two Daggers (Josemi Carmona, Paco de Lucía)

I’ve done well to limit the flamenco here to 20%, when it’s probably taking up 80% of my iPod. This is a wondrous example of flamenco fusion; it’s earthy but accessible, and beautifully produced. I love the way the music seems to have a narrative – whatever you want. A tweet asking where I could get hold of the album (Las Pequeñas Cosas), followed by a later one asking about this track, eventually led to a  friendship with the artist. This chance connection was one of the inspirations for  The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter.


  1. Highlight 5 things (apart from family and friends) you’d find it hard to live without.

My Piano

I don’t play as much as I like or should, but when I need it (because I’m bored / fed up / nervous / happy / miserable, waiting for something), I have to have it, now. One of the reasons I enjoy teaching piano is that I want my darlings (adults and children) to have this wonderful support and delight in their lives.

The Sea

I’m generally uncomfortable in locations that aren’t near the sea; there’s a sort of a background feeling of if I’m not near the edge, where the hell am I. Exceptions like Madrid and… (can’t actually think of any others right now) have to have a lot going for them. My current distances from the sea (by foot, door to wet toe) are 10 (Eastbourne) and 3.5 (Almería) minutes.

Why do I love it? The salty smell, its ever-changing colours and moods, and (most) of the beautiful creatures in it. I’m susceptible to flour-soft sand, but I also love beaches where I can collect stones and shells. I’m a keen (if three-limbed – see later!) swimmer, and during Summer and Autumn I’ll check the flag, put on my beach shoes and be in whenever I can (in both countries). It’s also the best place (along with the bath) for getting writing and plot ideas.

Home in Spain

I’ve only had this little town house in San José (near Almería) for a couple of years, but now don’t know how I coped without it. My half-Spanish mother brought me up to be a hispanophile, so for as long as I can remember I’ve been drawn to the country and its people. I also get very miserable and lethargic when starved of bright natural light and warmth, so escaping there lets me recharge my batteries. Although my Spanish is at a high level, I can still zone out of conversations around me – perfect for writing under a beach umbrella.

Thai Food

I’m not a foodie, but I’m insanely excited about these fragrant and spicy flavours and the flowery presentation. Spain needs to discover it; its absence there is one of the few reasons I ever want to come back to Blighty.

My mobile

It would probably do me good to live without my mobile for a while, I’m on it far too much, but the pain of being separated from my WhatsApping friends (including Spanish ones I can’t see as much as I’d like), Twittermates and Instagram would be considerable.


  1. Can you offer 5 pieces of advice you’d give to your younger self?

Put more face, hand and sun cream on

I thought I’d be young forever. But if I’m still not listening now, I certainly wouldn’t have listened then. Sticky, messy stuff.

Label and date your photos

Uh, those boxes of loose photos with vaguely recalled faces and scenery…

Don’t lose contact with people you care about

Petty arguments or laziness caused me to lose contact with some friends.

Lighten up!

I was such an intense young person, playing melancholy piano and sitting around reading Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. Can’t think how anyone put up with me. A year abroad (with light and warmth!) would have done me good.

Yes, you can write a book!

I should have taken the course, bought one of those elasticated leather notebooks, stopped making excuses, and started writing much earlier.


  1. Tell us 5 things that most people don’t know about you.

I used to be a keyboard player in a band

For some years, I was a piano teacher doing the day and played in a band a few nights a week. The second band I joined even had a single out; I’ll be in trouble for not including it in my five soundtracks, but you’d be glad I didn’t!

I used to be a post-doctoral scientist

I re-trained, and worked for Moorfields Eye Hospital for many years as an optometrist and post-doctoral researcher.

I used to be a ballerina

…at the Royal Ballet. No, just kidding! But I did teach piano at the Royal Ballet Junior School for some years – and got free tickets. Maybe in my next life.

I have limited use of my right arm

I have a congenital problem with my shoulder that makes it painful for me to open a door or lift anything as heavy as a hardback book with it. An operation didn’t help. But I can somehow do reasonable flamenco arms, and swim without going around in circles!

I almost died of pneumonia over the millennium

The last eighteen years – including the publication of my three novels – have been a bonus.


  1. What are the first 5 things you’d have on your bucket list?

Having my book out in Spanish

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter has equal male and female, English and Spanish viewpoints – Bicultural People Fiction! I’d love to see it in Spanish, and give it to some of my Spanish friends whose English isn’t good enough to read it in its present form.

Tour South America

I’d like to visit the places where my half-Spanish mother grew up, and more. My cousin and I have talked about it, but… This is what I should have been doing in my maudlin early twenties!

Learn how to high dive

Researching high diving for my next novel, this has become my new ballet. Ah, and I’d like Greg Louganis to teach me (check out the documentary film Back on Board and you’ll see why – what a lovely man).

Learn how to cook Thai food

Family over shoulder: ‘What? Learn how to cook anyfood!’

Have a grandchild

But not too soon, boys!

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughteris available – currently only in English 😦 – from good bookshops, or online at Foyles, Books etc, Waterstones or this place: