OUT OF THE ARCHIVES…(2)

How well do you know the history of where you live?

Laguna-Salada-de-Torrevieja sml

A willing victim of the writing bug – there really is no cure – and having retired to Spain, I viewed the alphabet with positive eyes I’ll have you working your butts off shortly, I threatened, as any self-respecting writer would.

Recently roped in with other members of The Torrevieja Writing Group, I soon felt at home and enjoyed the company of like-minded people. Open to what was happening locally, I was aware of a writing competition announced by Torrevieja’s Ayuntamiento – great word – Town Hall. It was to be the First International Short Story Competition ever held, so I read the history of the town and wrote a story about its past and the precious commodity for which it is widely known: namely that white substance we can’t do without, Salt.


Excerpts from my entry Worth its Salt:

“…As for me, being older than the infamous Methuselah, and a time traveller to boot (invisible though we may be, there are – surprisingly – still a few of us around.), I daily count my lucky stars. The drawbacks are unimportant here and don’t affect my present quest, which is to take you on a journey backwards and forwards in time…So, gird your loins, or fasten your seat-belts, and come back with me to the year 218 B.C.

Roman soldier“…A column of foot-weary and dusty soldiers and their pack horses approach. At their head is Centurion Marcus (I’d clean forgotten how handsome he is…) See how his body armour reflects the fiery sun-rays as he rides his Barbary horse towards the Salinas: scarlet and gold cloak a vivid gash against the cobalt blue of the sky, billowing behind him. He is off to claim his salary of salt: Sal, a common if precious payment for work well done, and conquerors… Before they leave, one of the Romans will fall in love with a Spanish girl and, until now, only she knew that the child she bore had Roman blood in his veins.”

I noted: ”… Men seemed to have a penchant for war. And, although the colour red dominates time, I choose to look at the sky. More centuries than I care to remember, pass. I even hibernated through one! And then Spain attains her most triumphant success – that of expelling the Moors at the end of the 15th century.” Though… “the Moors left behind them an admirable legacy of some wonderful architecture, intricate wood carvings, colourful textile designs, outstanding tiles and other objet d’art.” Time moves ever on.

“At the end of the 18th century, King Carlos IV decrees that the Salinas salt works offices move from La Mata to Torrevieja, and plans are later drawn up for the building of a new town next to the existing one.” The town’s population swells to 1,500, industry is buzzing and the first commercial wharf is constructed. Pungent aromas of exotic spices drift up from the holds of numerous vessels, and many of the town’s citizens find work building over 250 ships. You may find it interesting to know that two of the ships are to be used in forthcoming films: ‘The Onedin Line’ and ‘Treasure Island.’ There is much optimism in the air.” Sadly, Mother Nature has something else in mind.

“…now it is March 21, 1829 – the beginning of the Spring Equinox. Earlier, the sky was calm, the atmosphere clear. However, around lunch-time there is a slight tremor and I again feel a great sense of foreboding, for there have beenFerdinand sml 70 worrying days and nights of seismic activity in the area of late. Suddenly, the wind drops, the sky becomes overcast and there is an uneasy calm over all. My palms are damp, my throat dry. I do not want to re-experience the inevitable…I am fearful as the earth begins to tremble and inside Carlos`’villa, plates fall and smash on the tiled floor. Then, a huge tremor wreaks havoc where it strikes in Torrevieja and all the towns and villages in the Vega Baja. In a little over five seconds, 32 people perish. Along with 36 animals, and 67 people are injured. As in many other households. tragedy descends on the Rodriguez family, for Carlos’ wife Maria,is making paella in her kitchen when the roof collapses on her. Fortunately, Carlos in out in the open with his two sons. All three survive. Uncle Jose – by now a bent old gentleman – is still asleep when the earthquake strikes, a sleep from which he will never awake. I am again overcome with sadness, especially for Maria, who was so full of life. As most of the survivors are now homeless, the reconstruction of the decimated town is ordered by King Ferdinand VII.

King JuanHold tight…forward we go, to the year 1975. So many flags and bunting? And the sound of trumpets? Is my memory failing me? Oh, of course… General Franco has died and Juan Carlos is proclaimed King. I again feel cautious optimism- with countless others. I am sure a Democratic State will succeed.”

“And now, back in 2004. after hovering over ’pineapple palms,’ admiring the colourful Lantana and Oleander: the ubiquitous Bougainvillea… we are in La Plaza de la Constitucion, a delightful, verdant oasis of calm (well, at present). Think I’ll linger awhile. There’s a Welsh choir due to sing at The Palacio de la Musica (excellent acoustics) not to mention an ‘Habaneras’ – a melodious song competition to look forward to. I must haves some ancient Welsh blood mingling with the Spanish and Portuguese in my veins, for I adore Welsh choirs!”

“Unfortunately, I am unable to enlighten you as to the mysteries of being a time traveller, for they are strictly secret. Sufficient to say that, one moment, oh so long ago, I was bathing my feet in the warm Mediterranean sea, while my husband Fernando Rodriguez and young son were picnicking nearby, and the next I was spirited away. They mourned me as drowned. They shed many tears, as did I. However, I was blessed to see my husband and son prosper”plaza

“And now? I am putting in a fervent request – in triplicate – for retirement, for I feel the strong heart-beat of Torrevieja here in the Plaza. It augurs well for the future. A future filled with imaginative plans, hope and optimism. Yes, I think Torrevieja is well worth its Sal.”

The complete story Worth its Salt was published in Torrevieja Another Look, on the festive day of Saint Valentin, 14th February, 2005. My story won First Prize!

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2021

An interview with author Beryl Kingston

Beryl_resizedToday, I have great pleasure in interviewing someone very familiar with the writing craft. Not many of us can claim to have sold ONE MILLION BOOKS, but Beryl Kingston can. I can’t begin to imagine how that feels … Hugely proud and gratifying, I’m sure, and she must have worked so hard to have achieved that figure.

I’ll tell you more about Beryl later on, but first I’ve invited her to answer a few questions to give you some insight into what makes this amazing lady tick.

Hi Beryl, a warm welcome to the ‘writer’s hot seat.’ It’s great having you as my guest today. I promise it won’t be a bumpy ride!

Where were you born and what is your earliest memory?

image1To start at the beginning, I was born in Tooting in South London 88 years ago and my first memory is probably singing and dancing on a stage somewhere feeling completely happy with spotlights shining on my head and foot-lights warming my feet and people clapping and cheering in the darkness below me. I was probably about five.


Were your early years marked by an outstanding/unusual or particularly disturbing/amusing incident?

I’m afraid I can’t tell you amusing stories about my childhood because I was an abused child and spent most of my time in a state of twitchy anxiety and fear. The abuser was my mother who beat me with a cane from the time I was five, when my younger sister was born, until I was seventeen and finally took action to stop her. Not a pretty story. I wrote about it in some detail in ‘A Family at War’ so anyone who is interested can find it there. But there’s one fact that might interest other writers. In a roundabout way, being beaten made a writer of me. My mother enjoyed her brutality and was buoyed up by it, but she also had an image to protect, which meant that she had to take steps to ensure that her neighbours knew nothing about it. I had strict instructions to hide the marks she left on my legs and arms by wearing a thick cardigan and black stockings – she never hit my face, only my back, legs and arms. She used to say ‘Cover yourself up. You don’t want people to know what a wicked child you are.’ And I did as I was told because I agreed with her then and thought she was right. But I needed to talk about it and I needed it desperately. It didn’t seem right to me, that she could be so cruel and get away with it. And in the end I decided to keep a diary. I nicked and exercise book from school, kept it well hidden and wrote in it freely and honestly from the time I was seven and for the next twelve years until I married my darling. I never considered that anything I wrote or did could ever be any good or of any value. My mother made sure of that. She told me so often that I was a nasty wicked child, that I should never have been born, that I was useless and would never amount to a ‘row of beans’ and that my ‘dear little sister Pat’ would ‘make ten of me’. Naturally I believed her. So when I started to write poems and stories and plays I threw them away like the trash I thought they were.

Did evacuation in World War II have a lasting – good or bad – effect on you?

blitz_smlI don’t think being evacuated made a lot of difference to me. It was just something that happened. The London Blitz, on the other hand, was another matter altogether. That had a profound effect. My mother evacuated us all to Felpham on the day before war was declared, but having decided that we were going to make peace with Germany and that the Germans were going to fight the Russians, she brought us back to London in August 1940. We were just in time for me to watch the bombing of Croydon from the flat roof at the top of an apartment block, and, not long after that, the Blitz began. From then on we spent our nights in the cellar, listening to the ack-ack and the dreadful laboured droning of the German bombers, until November, when we were bombed out and she evacuated us again. But I was back in London in 1944 – on my own this time – so that I could attend the local Grammar School. And that meant I saw the terrible casualties and the widespread devastation that was caused by the doodle-bugs and Werner Braun’s obscene rockets. All of which I’ve written about in ‘London Pride’ and ‘Citizen Armies’ which is my latest book.

During your teaching years, did you nurture a growing desire to write?

It rather tickled me to be asked whether I ‘nurtured a growing desire to write during my teaching career’, because the question is so wonderfully inapplicable. I didn’t ‘nurture a desire’ to write, I just wrote and enjoyed it, even though I was still sure it wasn’t any good. It was as simple as that. Most of the time I wrote plays. I taught in a variety of schools and the bulk of my time was taken up with encouraging my pupils to enjoy learning, but whenever I found a drama club or a group of kids who wanted to act in a play, I wrote one for them. Very cumbersome things they were because anyone who wanted a part had to have one, so the casts were enormous – on several occasions over a hundred strong. It was great fun. The last five or six were musicals which I wrote in conjunction with a talented teacher from the music department. I learnt a lot from doing that.

What advice would I give to a young writer just starting out?

queen of sagas smlI don’t think I would give them any advice at all. We all have to discover our own writing methods and we are all different. I expect what a newbie would most like to know would be how to persuade one of the big publishers to take their manuscript and publish it and sell it in millions. But another writer can’t tell him/her that. What they need is a good agent. I can tell them how to set about looking for one but that’s the limit. I feel very sorry for newbies in these pushy times. There are thousands of wannabees out there all pushing their work as hard as they can and the competition must be soul destroying. I feel very fortunate to have had a Fairy Godmother around at the two big turning points of my life. One saw to it that the man I was going to marry should turn up on my doorstep at just the right time. The other arranged for an agent to be at the Frankfurt Book Fair and to pick up a rather esoteric book on the next stall on how to cope with period pain that had been published by Ebury and to be interested enough to read it. With his help and support – offered out of the blue and doggedly – I ended up having my first novel published by Century/Futura – no less – and became a best seller. But that’s the stuff of fairy tales. When I tell people the story I also tell them that when I’ve finished they’re at perfect liberty to chant, ‘Liar, liar, pants on fire’ because I don’t believe it either.

Separate from your writing, how would you like to be remembered?

I’m going to answer that with a – suitable when slightly adapted – quotation from Hilaire Belloc.

‘‘When I am dead,’’ he wrote, ‘‘I hope it may be said

His sins were scarlet, but his books were read.’’

***

More about Beryl and her books:

She was evacuated to a place called Felpham, during World War II, igniting an interest in poet William Blake, and went on to become a teacher until 1985 when she became a full-time writer.

Her debut novel “Gates of Paradise” was her 20th novel on Google Books. She admits to writing VERY BAD poems, aged seven but, hey, give a little girl a break! She redeemed herself when her first novel became an instant best seller years later. Beryl is an eclectic writer, publishing family sagas, modern stories and historical novels, including books about the first and second world wars. She reached the pinnacle of one million books with No. 12, and has also written plays for children, stories for magazines and a novella about a conceited cat!

Our celebrated author won The Blake Society Tithe Grant Award, and has been married for 54 years, has three children, five grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren – all apples of her eye… Another distinction, is for receiving the top level for public library lending with her 4th book.

Beryl’s books, include:

“Hearts and Farthings”

And the sequel “Kisses and Ha’pennies”

Modern: “Laura’s Way” and “Maggie’s Boy”

Historical: 18th/19th/20th centuries, WWI & II – “A Time to Love” and “Avalanche of Daisies.”

Beryl’s 30th book, ‘Citizen Armies’, will be published this year on 2nd September.


Her books can be purchased from Amazon UK / Amazon.com and from bookstores

You can find Beryl on Twitter and her Website

© Joy Lennick 2019

Pictures © copyright Beryl Kingston & Imperial War Museum