On the hottest weekend of the year so far, the ‘Reconquista‘ launch party took place in the garden of Clapham Books. Friends of the author and fellow writers gathered, as well as a few members of the festival going public, to celebrate the publication of the first novel in the Al Andalus series.
The garden was decorated, courtesy of Nikki, the book shop owner, with Arabian Nights style lantern lights beneath the large gazebo and ‘Reconquista‘ themed ‘bunting’ was strung through the trellises. Photographs of Jerez, particularly of the locations which feature in the book, like the Alcazar and Plaza Plateros, attracted much attention as did the reproductions of the original line drawings for the very first iteration of the book.
Flamenco guitar music sounded beneath a low hum of conversation, as folk sipped chilled fino and amontillado ( or wine for the non-sherry drinkers ) and tucked in to Andalucian tapas, like delicias arabes, or ‘Arab delight’ – dates stuffed with goat’s cheese and rosemary and wrapped in jamon. Luscious pastel de santiago was tempting and particularly appropriate, with the traditional decoration, of the sword of St James, on its surface reflecting the sword on the cover of ‘Reconquista‘.
The author was introduced by novelist Elizabeth Buchan, who asked questions about the novel’s genesis and the writing of it. Then it was over to the audience for questions from the floor, of which there were far more than had been anticipated. People were interested in the history and drew parallels with today – refugees fleeing wars which were driven, ostensibly, by religion and religious differences.
The pitfalls of writing historical novels provided some light relief ( see The Wrong Saint? ) as did the author’s trepidation when she discovered that the President of the American Academy of Research Historians of Medieval Spain, Professor Simon Doubleday, was currently reading it. He has written a well received, recently published book on King Alfonso X entitled ‘The Wise King‘ and he and the author have corresponded.
There followed a reading – from chapter four, when Nathan and Atta visit Plaza Mercado, after having rescued the birds from the aviary. This prompted yet more questions and discussions. Fellow author, John Taylor and playwright, David Armstrong, were in the audience.
The flamenco music resumed and the general merriment continued, with recourse back to the tapas and sherry, while the author signed copies of her books and dusk gradually fell. The book shop had, most thoughtfully, displayed not only ‘Reconquista‘ but also ‘The Village’, so that publication also attracted interest ( and sales ).
Folk drifted away, some going on to see Julie Myerson at the Arts Theatre – the next item on the Festival Programme – others going off to eat or meet friends on a warm Saturday night and then, perhaps, take part in the Literary Pub Quiz. The author and her party repaired to a local restaurant where the conversation continued. ‘Reconquista‘ was well and truly launched.
This article first appeared on The Story Bazaar web-site on Saturday 14th May.