Some more answers…

So, two more questions I was asked. “What made you interested in writing about turn-of-the-century Portugal?” and “What draws you to sea stories and sailors?”

I’ll answer the second question first. I think most kids in England were brought up on sea stories, from the Odyssey to Treasure Island. But I have the sea in my blood! My father was in the Navy, and I learnt to sail at the age of about 15 on Lake Vyrnwy in North Wales. That was quite a long way from home: there wasn’t a body of water nearby that I could sail on. The nearest was a long bus ride away. Now I live in London, and the same can be said of that. I would love to live near the sea, and sail every day. That would be perfect. The most I can manage nowadays is to seek out islands…

Above is a picture from an old book which shows the seafront of Lisbon as it was in the early years of the 20th century. As for the other question, it was more a case of “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” I have liked Portugal since my first visit to Lisbon more than 20 years ago; it instantly felt like home. But I hadn’t set any stories there until Captain da Silva came barging into a tale I was writing (set in Venice). This is how he came into my mind and went straight down on paper, in “Cats & Architecture” (first published in Supernatural Tales):

“Leaning against the wall, Captain da Silva watched, a frown on his face, as della Quercia inscribed an elaborate figure on the floor with chalk. He was an unremarkable man, not tall, his only memorable feature a pair of blue eyes— legacy of an English grandmother— but he had a competent, reliable look. Right now he was a little nervous, a little sceptical, a little annoyed; and more than a little sickened, knowing what his employer intended to do with the white cat in the cage which stared out between the bars with golden-green eyes. And he badly needed a smoke. Most of all, though, he wished very heartily that he had never got involved in this at all, but that would have been impossible anyway. He shook his head irritably, annoyed at wasting time on pointless speculation: della Quercia owned him, more or less. Owned Isabella, his ship, anyway, even if she was mortgaged to the gunnels— like everything else the Venetian had left of his forefathers’ empire. This house included. Da Silva had spent most of his life at sea, and had thought he had seen and endured enough to be pretty much hardened to anything life could throw at him. Until Arturo della Quercia had flung him into a world far removed from the mundane dangers of Cape Horn and the Roaring Forties; though he would’ve preferred a hundred-foot sea or a screaming hurricane any day, given the choice. Which, of course, he wasn’t.”


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