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Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Genesis of a Book - Domingo's Angel by Jenny Twist

DOMINGO'S ANGEL – by Jenny Twist
a novel about the Spanish Civil War

 I retired and moved to Spain eleven years ago and I am ashamed to say that before I came to live here I knew nothing of Spanish history other than than the stuff we were taught at school. I knew that it was the Spanish Ferdinand and Isabella who financed Christopher Colombus and so conquered the Americas. I knew about the Spanish Inquisition and I knew about the Spanish Armada.

But I had no idea, for example, that Spain was under Moorish rule for hundreds of years and had a rich heritage of Moorish architecture and culture. I had not realised that the same Ferdinand and Isabella finally drove the last of the Moors from Spain and instituted a harsh and repressive regime which kept the Spanish people in fuedal  poverty right up to the twentieth century.

And nobody told me about the war.

I was horrified to find out about the dreadful atrocities committed by both sides during the Spanish Civil War and the appalling cruelty perpetrated against the Spanish people under Franco's fascist dictatorship – which lasted from 1939 till his death in 1975. I had actually been to Spain on holiday while he was still in power!

I didn’t actually set out initially to write a novel about it.

What happened was I wrote a short story and it grew. But as it grew I realized I had a lot to say.

The first chapter is essentially the original short story and tells of an English woman who came to Southern Spain in the early 1950s. Tourism had barely touched the country at that time and the people were only just beginning to recover from the deprivations of the war. She arrived in a remote mountain village and caused some consternation amongst the inhabitants, who had never met a foreigner before. But Domingo, the goatherd, fell in love with her. When she introduced herself, he believed she was saying she was an angel (‘Soy Ángela’ in Spanish can either mean ‘I am Angela’ or ‘I am an angel’). Hence the title of the story.

I entered the story for a competition and it was short-listed, which was encouraging, but didn't win.

In the meantime, I had become more and more intrigued by one of the characters, Rosalba, the shopkeeper, and I found myself writing a sequel and then another, and before long it came home to me that I what I had here was an embryo novel.

Because it was initially a series of short stories, the first few chapters, to a large extent, stand as individual stories; and I did, indeed, publish them as such in a local magazine.

But it wasn't too difficult to go over them later and make them into a more homogeneous whole. And as I learnt more and more about the history of my adopted country, I incorporated it into the novel, introducing past events through the memories of the major characters.

I had huge difficulty researching the history because there is so little written about it. You can find out a great deal in the way of historical background from books like 'The Spanish Civil War' by Anthony Beever, which has a lot of (some might say rather too much)  information about what went on in the major cities. But there is virtually nothing written about what went on in the little villages, and the people are very reluctant to talk about it. It was a nightmare for them. Brother fought against brother, and in Spain the family is everything.

I relied on what I knew about my own friends – the story of Salva the Baker, for example, who was imprisoned for years for giving bread to the starving children, is true. I also transposed some of the real events from the history books to my own imaginary village.

But then, after I had finished the novel, I discovered a wonderful book by David Baird – ‘Between Two Fires,' which is the history of his own white village of Frigiliana. It contains the actual testimony of those who survived. Most of these witnesses were already old men and women when they told their stories and many of them had died before the book was published. If I had known about it when I was writing Domingo's Angel, it would have saved me months of work. As it was, it proved invaluable to me as a way of checking that I had got it right.

I wrote to David when my own book was about to be published and asked whether he would mind me referring to him in my acknowledgements. He was, as I expected, very approachable and courteous. I hope a lot of people read his book. It is unique.

Some of the events in this story are bloodthirsty and shocking, but there is a lot of love in it too. I hope that I succeeded in portraying for my readers the cheerfulness, humour and exuberance of the Andalusian people. And it would be nice to think that it might do something to dispel some of the ignorance about this fascinating period of Spanish history.

If you would like to know a little bit more about Domingo's Angel, here is the blurb: 

When Angela turns up in a remote Spanish mountain village, she is so tall and so thin and so pale that everyone thinks she is a ghost or a fairy or the dreadful mantequero that comes in the night and sucks the fat from your bones.

But Domingo knows better. “Soy Angela,” she said to him when they met – “I am an angel.” Only later did he realise that she was telling him her name and by then it was too late and everyone knew her as Domingo’s Angel.

This is the story of their love affair. But it is also the story of the people of the tiny mountain village – the indomitable Rosalba - shopkeeper, doctor, midwife and wise woman, who makes it her business to know everything that goes on in the village; Guillermo, the mayor, whose delusions of grandeur are rooted in his impoverished childhood; and Salva the Baker, who risked his life and liberty to give bread to the starving children.

The events in this story are based on the real experiences of the people of the White Villages in Southern Spain and their struggle to keep their communities alive through the years of war and the oppression of Franco’s rule.

Published  by Melange Books 10th July 2011

Available on Amazon and Kindle

ISBN: 978-1-61235-202-2

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Gemma Juliana said...

Hi Jenny,

What an incredibly interesting background to your novel. I love how you discovered so much about Spain's journey and were able to help others learn about it as well through your story. It's a fascinating country, and not one we often come across in romance novels. Thanks for sharing the story behind the story with us, and I wish you every success with your book.

Jane Leopold Quinn said...

I echo Gemma's comments. When you do so much research in a book, it becomes so much more meaningful and beloved. Thanks for sharing!

Rose Anderson said...

I loved reading this story. You never disappoint, Jenny. Best luck!

Anonymous said...


Doing the research is my favorite part of being a writer, but it's all too easy for me to lose track of precious writing time when I follow a topic down a rabbit hole.;-) I love the 'what if' part of writing historical romance/fiction: "What if there was a heroine who..." "What if the hero..."

Your genesis of Domingo's Angel is fascinating.

Jenny Twist said...

Hi Gemma. What a lovely thing to say. I'm so pleased to meet you.

Jenny Twist said...

And thank you so much for hosting me on your lovely site, Jane. Sorry I didn't reply straight away, I was away on a short trip.
Love, Jenny

Jenny Twist said...

Thank you, Rose. You are SUCH a good friend.


Jenny Twist said...

I sometimes think reading about how the author got the idea and created the book is nearly as interesting as reading the book itself. I did actually spend months researching nad a considerable time creating spreadsheets cross.referencing the events in my book to the real historical events, dates of birth of characters (so I wouldn't have impossible age differences between parents and children) and notes on place names and their relationship to real places. And I STILL had a reviewer tell me I got it wrong. (She later apologised - it turns out there is more than one set of White Villages and things happened differently in the one in Cadiiz.)
So nice to meet you, Kaye.

Tara Fox Hall said...

I loved this book. :) It was my first novel of Mrs. Twists, and I became an ever after fan. I am also a huge fan of her All in the Mind novel, about another lovely couple. :)

Tara Fox Hall said...

Wonderful book! :) I loved it

Jenny Twist said...

Thank you so much, Tara. I'm SO glad xxx