Trans-Iberian

Trans-Iberian

Covering everything from the major news of the week and burning social issues, to expat living and la vida local, EL PAÍS’ team of English-language bloggers offers its opinions, observations and analysis on Spain and beyond.

Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of Andalucia.com and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at korenhelbig.com.

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area perelloplus.com. @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Spain-Holiday.com. Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check: www.lookingfordrama.com.

Crime pays, eventually

Por: | 30 de septiembre de 2013

How do you imagine a best-selling author of crime fiction? If you have a discreet, shadowy, Agatha Christie-like individual in your mind, think again. Val McDermid, whose suspense novels have sold 10 million copies worldwide, bucks the trend. She brings a burst of colour to the Hay Festival in Segovia, striding on stage for an interview wearing a dynamic Hawaiian-style blouse, knee-length orange shorts, and open-toed sandals. The look suggests sand and sunshine rather than the murder and morgues of her books, but contrasts welcomingly with the grey sky outside the Caja Segovia venue.

McDermid is just one of a contingent of British writers at this year’s Festival, held from 26-29 September. Others include Fflur Dafydd, the current Hay Festival International Fellow, Nell Leyshon, the dramatist and author whose latest novel, ‘The Colour of Milk’, has just been translated into Spanish, and Craig Russell, author of the Jan Fabel series of thrillers set in Germany. McDermid’s interview is hosted by fellow writer Tiffany Murray.

Having been raised and schooled in Kirkcaldy on the east coast of Scotland, McDermid was accepted to read English at St Hilda’s College, Oxford, when only 17 years old. She became one of the youngest undergraduates the college had ever taken on, as well as being the first from a Scottish state school. A significant part of the audience in Segovia is made up of pupils from the British Council School in Madrid, and prompted by Murray, McDermid casts her mind back to her education. “I had one teacher who was particularly supportive and coached me for the University exam,” she explains, still maintaining a sense of gratitude. She credits her extensive reading when a teenager as helping in her admission. “I used to devour everything in the library, but was keen on a series of books that were set in a Chalet School in Switzerland. All of the characters went on to the Sorbonne, Oxford or Kensington School of Needlework. So I chose Oxford!”

Despite the dark nature of her novels, McDermid has a warm yet sometimes wicked humour, evident in her comments about her arrival at the prestigious university. “It was strange at first. There was a culture shock. Everyone was very posh and I had a broad Scottish accent that nobody understood. There were new discoveries too – red peppers, water cress and salads!” she laughs, before adding a truly Scottish aside, “Is it not deep-fried?”

Her writing career began as a journalist, working for national newspapers for two years in Glasgow, followed by twelve years in Manchester. “It was tabloid journalism,” she confesses, but emphasizes the importance of the work for training and discipline. “One lesson I learned from journalism is that writing is a job. If you don’t start off with the determination to put something on the page, you can never make it better.” Another benefit from the newspaper background was the chance to meet people from all walks of life, enabling her to cannibalize characters for her books. “That’s what writers do,” she grins, relishing the thought, “Cannibalize our own lives, then the lives of others – to suck dry like a vampire!"

McDermid1
Val McDermid: Ready to cannibalize                                     Photo by Jeff Wiseman

Whilst on the journalism path, McDermid wrote three books, but it was her fourth novel that she sold to a publisher. With that success, she worked out that if she could write and sell two books per year, she could survive, frugally, on the income, and so at 32 years old she left her job. “Everyone thought I was mad,” she admits, “but it was the only thing I could do to be true to myself.” She highlights three necessary factors that she believes are required to achieve a literary career: to have some talent, to work hard, and to have a little luck by creating the right book at the right time. She now aims for one new novel per year, which has to be ready for 1st January, “although it’s usually 3rd January after recovering from the Scottish New Year.” Her output is diverse, handling series, such as those with her most famous character, clinical psychologist Dr Tony Hill, or stand alone novels, and even a recent children’s book, ‘My Granny is a Pirate’.

She also has a strong reputation for helping new writers, chairing a ‘New Blood’ showcase each year at the Harrogate International Festival, the biggest crime fiction festival in Europe. The showcase introduces four writers and their debut novels to the public. “Every year there’s one that’s really exciting,” smiles McDermid enthusiastically. The smile breaks into a laugh when she adds, “and I think that’s the person I should push under a bus because I don’t need the competition.” With that thought put aside for perhaps a plot for her next book, the advice for future novelists continues. “Go through life with open eyes and an open mind. Spend a lot of time with people who are not in the media bubble, keeping interest in the world around you. Don’t let yourself be discouraged. Have patience. Ideas take a long time to come to fruition. ‘What if’ are the two most important words in a writer’s vocabulary. It’s important to have dreams, to have the passion to find something you love doing, and to grab things by the throat and take them.”

Heeding her own advice, she’s recently found it impossible to say ‘no’ to two projects. She is re-working Jane Austen’s ‘Northanger Abbey’ in a contemporary world. “We now have facebook, whereas letters in Austen’s day used to take two weeks to arrive. But even when you strip that away, human nature is still the same. I had to find a different prose rhythm, a different cadence, in the sentences.” There’s also a non-fiction work in progress, looking at the history of forensic science from the crime scene to the court room, a project in connection with the Wellcome Trust to coincide with the expansion of the Wellcome Collection’s galleries in London in 2014.

To close her case, McDermid has fun recalling a quote from Theodore Sturgeon, now often applied to life in general: ‘Ninety percent of everything is crap’. “I will continue to strive to keep myself out of the crap,” she declares.

First Day of School In Spain

Por: | 25 de septiembre de 2013

Hackett One

Photo Credit: Bon Voyage Magazine


FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL IN SPAIN  

By Sheridan Becker
 
Barcelona, SPAIN -- The first school day of any academic year is always a keeper for the memory banks. Yet I never had a first-day-of-school experience quite as memorable as the one I had last week with my children in a rather exotic locale. Our host country Spain has many similarities to my home state in the U.S., Florida -- for instance, sunshine, oranges and, well, the Spanish language. But the differences are evident, starting with the educational system.

Beyond its obvious attributes, Spain has an abundance to offer expatriates like myself, with enough services to inspire accolade after accolade. This American was amazed by the bounty of international schools that are on hand in Barcelona alone. According to the International School Consultancy Group (a British-owned-and-operated consulting firm), there are 6,717 international schools operating worldwide with a total enrollment of 3.4 million students ranging from 3 to 18 years of age. It seems like more than half of these schools must be located in Barcelona. All kidding aside, one can choose from an astounding number of them, regardless of any economic hardships that people are facing in this day and age.

In the end, I fell hard for St. Paul’s School, a private establishment that follows the Spanish curriculum with classes taught in English -- and a heap load of extracurricular activities that might inspire any parent to consider re-enrolling in school today. It's strikes me as a far cry from the standard public-school educational environment in the United States. I felt even better about selecting St. Paul's when I learned that each student receives a personalized Apple iPad –- the latest edition. “Oh, wow. Do we get to keep it?” asked my 11-year old son. “Of course," said his homeroom teacher.

If I had to assess school life in Barcelona so far, I'd have to report  that I never had it as good as my kids do -- and I went to boarding school during my high school years. Consider the St. Paul's difference: Exquisite school uniforms from Spain’s most exclusive department store; skilled, highly-accredited teachers from all around the world; gourmet 3-course lunches where drinks are served to students in glass goblets; and monogrammed everything, from school uniforms right down to the napkins. And where else in the world can a student simultaneously be immersed in four languages over the course of one academic calendar year –- English, Spanish, Catalan and French? That's school in Barcelona for you.

According to my 11-year old son, Spain produces the best football players on the planet. That might have been enough to excite him about living here, but when he received his iPad at the start of classes, it put him over the top. Now, he believes that schools in Spain are as awesome as the country's football stars.

When I came to Barcelona to expand on an American-based start-up enterprise, I knew the city would be magnificent and enriching. But I'm even more delighted by how inspiring it's turning out to be for my children, starting with that first day of school. When classes were over, I noticed the kids actively playing around with their iPads. In a typically maternal way, I asked the children if they were doing their first assignments from school. My son looked up at me and said, "Mom, I am trying to figure out a way to create an app, so I know how many Spanish football players will playing in the next World Cup. Then, I have my French homework to do."

It had been the first day of school in a new country. My son was reaping the benefits, and I would be, too. As my fellow American (and the man behind the development of the iPad) Steve Jobs said, "Think different.”

El País

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