INTERVIEW: JENNY TWIST

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Long and Short Reviews welcomes back Jenny Twist, who has a new book scheduled for release this fall—so be on the lookout for it! The title is All in the Mind, and I asked Jenny to tell us a little about it.

Tilly wakes up in the dark, alone and very frightened. She finds she is in a strange room inexplicably furnished in 1940s style. However did she get here? Has she somehow slipped into the past? Has she been kidnapped? Of one thing she is absolutely certain, she has never seen this place in her life before.

All in the Mind is a fascinating tale exploring the human capacity to overcome any obstacle, no matter how great, as long as you believe you can.

Tilly is part of an experiment working on a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. She and most of the other patients taking part in the experiment seem to make a full recovery, but there is a strange side effect.

Tilly and her fellow experimental subjects appear to be getting younger.

Can the same experiment be repeated for Tilly’s beloved husband so that he can recover from a stroke? Tilly thinks it can and she will move heaven and earth to make sure it happens.

A charming and thought-provoking story full of reminiscences of a bygone age, All in the Mind also deals with the dilemmas posed by new developments in a society whose culture is geared to the idea that the natural span of a human life is three-score years and ten.

Jenny’s favorite author is Stephen King.

“He uses language beautifully with no horrible grammatical errors. His characters live and breathe and I really care about them. He knows how to terrify without being gory and revolting. He knows how to portray human love without resorting to torrid, tasteless, explicit sex. And he knows how to take his readers into that other world where you lose all sense of self and surroundings and just live in the story,” she explained. “He has also done something for me that no other author has done. Hundreds of authors have taught me to love stories, but only Stephen King taught me how to write my own. On Writing takes you through the process step by step. My story, “Waiting for Daddy”, in Take One At Bedtime, was my first attempt at writing by the Stephen King method and I am still pleased with it, especially the twist at the end.”

Before she came across Stephen King, her favorite author was John Wyndham.

“I have all his books and have read them over and over again. My son, incidentally, thinks this is really weird. He asked me how I could keep reading the same thing again when there are so many books in the world to read. I don’t see how that is any different from listening to the same music over and over again. If it is beautiful and satisfying, why shouldn’t you enjoy it more than once?” she asked.

With other authors, such as John Steinbeck, Robert B Parker, Louis de Bernières, have also influenced her own writing (“if we’re talking individual books rather than authors, I think I might vote Captain Corelli’s Mandolin the best of all time,” she told me) and just recently she discovered Kate Atkinson and loves everything she’s written.

For Jenny, the most important part of good writing is the language. She wants it to flow; she wants it to be right.

“Beautiful prose is such a joy to read,” she told me. “I hate it when poor grammar makes me lose the gist of the story, but I never mind pausing to appreciate a piece of superb prose.”

The second most important thing is the characterization. If the characters are not well drawn or if she cannot empathise with them, she soon loses interest in a story. She likes the plot to be believable and hang together well, but it’s less important than the characterization and the language.

In her own writing, the idea for a story comes first and she keeps thinking it over at odd moments in the day, especially during that period between sleeping and waking.

“Sometimes it doesn’t go anywhere, but more often than not it starts to take shape almost of its own accord. I regularly wake up in the morning with the whole plot sorted out,” she said. “The characters seem to come from nowhere. I suppose they must ultimately be based on people I have known but I have never in my life made a conscious attempt to develop a character. They just walk into the story apparently full-developed and then proceed to behave in their own way, Long before I start writing a story down I know exactly how each character will act in a given situation and from that point on they virtually write themselves. Maybe muses really exist and I’ve got one.”

Jenny shared with me that she often thinks of good titles and keeps a record of them, but have never used any of them. The stories she writes never seem to correspond to the titles she’s saved, so she always has to think of a new title. Take One at Bedtime was suggested by her brother-in-law, along with the idea of putting: Warning: Do not exceed the stated dose in the blurb.

“I must say this was absolutely inspired,” she told me. “Virtually every reviewer has picked up on this and commented on failing to stick to the stated dose. Thank you, Nick.”

When Jenny’s not writing, she and her husband enjoy going for a drive and exploring places—they live in a very interesting area, and there is always somewhere new for them to visit.

“There are hundreds of little villages, each with its own personality and special history. An example is Acebuchal, which became a ghost town during Franco’s rule. Franco decided the villagers were helping the freedom fighters in the mountains and he had the village evacuated. Since these people were peasant farmers who made their living from the land, this amounted to a death sentence for those who had no relatives in other villages to support them. It was still a ghost town when we first came to Spain, but it has been slowly repopulated, mostly by foreigners, and restored very tastefully to something resembling its original condition. Although I suspect it is now much cleaner and tidier than it was in the past.”

“What did you want to be when you grew up?” I asked.

“I’m not convinced I have grown up. I know as a small child I wanted to be Doris Day and I used to practice singing and dancing for hours, using a hairbrush as a substitute for a microphone. But I think I also expected to be a writer. I did work as a professional singer for many years but the dancing never really took off. I don’t really have the physique for it. And now, of course, I have at last achieved the other ambition of writing. I am having such a good time. Like Terry Pratchett, I can’t help feeling that somebody will find out how much I’m enjoying myself and stop me.”

Jenny admitted to me that she’s become addicted to her Kindle, because for day-to-day reading it’s so convenient. However, she did admit there’s nothing like the feel and smell of a real book.

“I used to work for a recruitment agency and I once went on a client visit to a printers. I almost fainted with delight at the smell of new books – paper, ink and glue. And old books smell just as wonderful. I can rarely pass a second-hand bookshop. All those rows of dusty books, maybe containing some gem that I have never read, or an old friend I thought I would never see again. And, of course, if you have written a book yourself, an e book is no substitute for holding your own baby in your hand. Also, you can give an e book away, but you can’t sign it. Oh, and something else. I don’t think e books can ever replace print books entirely because some types of books just won’t work as e books Maps, for instance. A map needs to be huge, so you can spread it out on the table and trace the route for the benefit of your friends. No atlas or guide book will be half as satisfactory in e form. And what about children’s books? They have to be big and bright with pictures and pop-ups and tabs to pull through. How could you reproduce that in an e book?”

“What is one thing your readers would be most surprised to learn about you?” I wondered.

“If they were new readers, they might be surprised to learn that I used to be an escapologist’s assistant. I was the lovely Tanya. All Tommy James’ assistants were called the lovely Tanya, so he didn’t have to change any of the advertising. The first time we rehearsed he hired a concert hall to set up the equipment, but the ceiling wasn’t high enough to accommodate his full-size guillotine. Consequently, I felt very insecure on our first performance. After chopping a cabbage in half to demonstrate that it was a real guillotine, I hauled the blade back up to the top, using a rope on a pulley, secured it, locked him in the stocks, pulled a curtain in front of him to conceal him from the audience, and counted down thirty seconds on a stop-watch before letting go the blade. Unfortunately, the curtain also concealed him from me. I couldn’t tell whether he had managed to escape in time! There was a sickening thud, then….. silence. I stood in front of several hundred people, still holding the end of the rope, convinced I had killed him. After an unconscionably long time, he threw the curtain aside and came out bowing and smiling, whilst saying between his teeth, ‘Got you there, didn’t I?’ My reply, also between my teeth, whilst smiling at the audience, is unfortunately not fit for a mixed readership.”

Finally, I asked, “What advice would you give a new writer just starting out?”

She had a list:

  • Read Stephen King’s On Writing.
  • Write about what you know.
  • Keep your paragraphs short and don’t get carried away with purple prose.
  • DO write in grammatically correct English. Spell check everything and get other people to proof-read/edit your work before you send it anywhere.
  • DON’T listen to anyone who tells you you should: A) Stick to only one point of view. The whole point of writing in the third person is so that you can tell the story from more that one viewpoint or B) The story should be told through the thoughts/speech of the characters. This advice has resulted in some dreadful passages where the author either makes the character talk to himself incessantly or writes reams of conversations where the characters tell each other vast chunks of information that they must already know. For example, a character telling his best friend whom he has known for years that he has a daughter.
  • Before you even begin to send your story to publishers and agents, join author groups on the web. Other authors are incredibly supportive and helpful. They will tell you who the good publishers are, how to set up a website, how to promote. Some will even give you a critique or review.
  • A lot of publishers put out submission calls on these sites and when you submit in response to these, the chances are your story will actually be read. If I had known about them before I got published, I would have joined the sites before I even began to approach publishers and agents.
  • And finally, don’t give up. Most publishers and agents don’t even read your stories, so getting rejected doesn’t say anything about how good they are. Stephen King, who is surely one of the best-selling authors of all time, papered his wall with rejection slips when he was just starting. I’ve just used all mine for scrap paper for my grandchildren to scribble on.

About the Author:

Jenny Twist was born in York and brought up in the West Yorkshire mill town of Heckmondwike, the eldest grandchild of a huge extended family. She left school at fifteen and went to work in an asbestos factory. After working in various jobs, including bacon-packer and escapologist’s assistant, she returned to full-time education and did a BA in history at Manchester and post-graduate studies at Oxford.

She stayed in Oxford working as a recruitment consultant for many years and it was there that she met and married her husband, Vic. In 2001 they retired and moved to Southern Spain where they live with their rather eccentric dog and cat.

Her first book, Take One At Bedtime, was published in April 2011 and the second, Domingo’s Angel, was published in July 2011. Her novella, Doppelganger, was published in the anthology Curious Hearts in July 2011, Uncle Vernon, was published in Spellbound, in November 2011, Jamey and the Alien was published in Warm Christmas Wishes in December 2011 and Mantequero was published in the anthology Winter Wonders in December 2011.

Find Jenny online at:

Website: https://sites.google.com/site/jennytwistauthor/home

Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jenny-Twist-Author/291166404240446

Goodreads Blog: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4848320.Jenny_Twist/blog

Amazon Author Page: http://amazon.com/author/jennytwist

Melange: http://www.melange-books.com/authors/jennytwist/jennytwist.html

Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/JennyTwist1

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.

INTERVIEW: JENNY TWIST

Long and Short Reviews welcomes Jenny Twist, whose latest release is Domingo’s Angel. I asked her to tell us about it.

“It’s about an English woman who travels to Franco’s Spain in the early 1950s. Tourism has barely touched the country yet and the people are only now beginning to recover from the deprivations of the civil war. She arrives in a remote mountain village and causes some consternation amongst the inhabitants, who have never met a foreigner before. But Domingo, the goatherd, falls in love with her. When she introduces herself, he believes she is saying she is an angel (‘Soy Ángela’ in Spanish can either mean ‘I am Angela’ or ‘I am an angel’),” she explained. “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. Some of these events are bloodthirsty and shocking, but there is a lot of love in the book too. I hope that I have 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.”

When she was researching Domingo’s Angel, Jenny couldn’t find anything about life in the mountain villages during the time of the Spanish Civil War and Franco’s subsequent dictatorship, although there was a lot of information about the major battles and life in the cities. She was able to glean some information from her neighbours (she and her husband moved to the area when they retired), but this wasn’t easy.

“It was very hard to get anyone to talk to me about what had been a very painful time for them,” she explained. “I subsequently discovered a definitive book on life in the white village of Frigiliana, Between Two Fires, by David Baird, which reassured me that I had substantially got the right picture. But I am still surprised at what I don’t know. A couple of years ago there was a commemorative march between Málaga and Almería. Until then I had been unaware that thousands of Republican refugees, mainly women, children and old men, had walked the coast road from Málaga, trying to escape from the Fascist army. Some of them made it, but many were gunned down, strafed from the air by Franco’s friends, the Luftwaffe, and bombarded from the sea by Spanish and Italian ships. How could such an earth-shattering event occur in a European country and go virtually unnoticed? See this link for the full story: http://www.andalucia.com/history/civilwarandalucia.htm.

Jenny has had stories in her head her whole life and, occasionally, would write them down, but she didn’t start writing seriously until she retired.

“Life continually got in the way. I was the main breadwinner for my family for most of my life and I always had very demanding jobs. I used to wonder how on earth anyone found the time to write the first book, naively assuming that once you had written a book, the money would start pouring in and then you could afford to write full-time,” she told me. “We came to live in Spain in 2001 and I started writing then – all the stories that had been in my head all those years and a lot of new ones. I sent them to a local magazine for ex-pats living on the Costa del Sol and they commissioned me to write a piece every month; articles alternating with stories.”

Jenny is currently doing the rewrites for another novel—this one about an old woman who wakes up in a strange room inexplicably furnished in 1940s style. At first she thinks she has somehow slipped into the past, but it is even stranger than that. She is part of an experiment working on a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. It seems to be succeeding, but it has a strange side effect. Tilly and her fellow experimental subjects appear to be getting younger.

She has, of course always enjoyed reading, but Jenny told me that there was one book in particular that changed her life—The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey.

“It is a story within a story where the protagonist, a police detective, is having to spend time in hospital. He is slowly going mad with boredom and his girlfriend devises an entertainment for him. She brings him a whole series of portraits with the name of the subject on the back and he has to guess who they are. He prides himself on his ability to read faces and is amazed when one man he identifies as a saint turns out to be Richard III, the hump-backed monster who murdered his nephews. Unable to believe he could be so wrong he sets about investigating this ancient crime, employing his long-suffering girlfriend to find and bring him the evidence,” she described. “It was this book that made me realise that history is not fixed and finished. You can’t learn it like you can learn maths or geography because it all depends on how you interpret the evidence and how representative that evidence is. Realising that history was in fact detective work made me choose it as my subject when I eventually went to university and set me on a career that took me to Oxford, resulted in me meeting the love of my life and eventually stood me in very good stead for writing historical fiction.”

While she was in Oxford, she and her sons lived in what she describes as “a really creepy house.”

“The wardrobe door used to creak open of its own accord and you frequently felt as if there was a malign presence there. We used to fantasise that the last tenant had murdered his wife and put her body in the cesspit. The house was on top of a hill and very exposed, so damp that we had to rotate the clothes in the wardrobe or they would develop mould and so draughty that the carpet used to billow up in waves when the wind blew,” she told me. “One night there was a terrific storm and the big window in the kitchen began bowing in and out. We were terrified that it would smash, and up-ended the kitchen table against it. We weren’t just afraid of the glass breaking, we were afraid of whatever was out there. The wind was making a noise like human screams and was rattling at the doors and windows like some manic nightmare figure trying to break in. We huddled together in abject terror in the living room, incapable of doing anything else, just waiting for whatever it was to come and get us. I hated that house. It was like living in Amityville Horror. Nothing actually came to get us. So it must have been just the wind. Mustn’t it?”
About the Author:

Jenny Twist was born in York and brought up in the West Yorkshire mill town of Heckmondwike, the eldest grandchild of a huge extended family. She left school at fifteen and went to work in an asbestos factory. After working in various jobs, including bacon-packer and escapologist’s assistant, she returned to full-time education and did a BA in history at Manchester and post-graduate studies at Oxford.

She stayed in Oxford working as a recruitment consultant for many years and it was there that she met and married her husband, Vic. In 2001 they retired and moved to Southern Spain where they live with their rather eccentric dog and cat.

Her first book, Take One At Bedtime, was published in April 2011 and the second, Domingo’s Angel, was published in July 2011. Her novella, Doppelganger, was published in the anthology Curious Hearts in July 2011, Uncle Vernon, was published in Spellbound, in November 2011, Jamey and the Alien was published in Warm Christmas Wishes in December 2011 and Mantequero was published in the anthology Winter Wonders in December 2011.

Find Jenny online at:

Website: https://sites.google.com/site/jennytwistauthor/home

Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jenny-Twist-Author/291166404240446

Goodreads Blog: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4848320.Jenny_Twist/blog

Amazon Author Page: http://amazon.com/author/jennytwist

Melange: http://www.melange-books.com/authors/jennytwist/jennytwist.html

Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/JennyTwist1

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.

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INTERVIEW: JENNY TWIST

Long and Short Reviews is pleased to welcome Jenny Twist, whose latest release is Domingo’s Angel. I asked her to tell us a little bit about the story.

“It’s about an English woman who travels to Franco’s Spain in the early 1950s. Tourism has barely touched the country yet and the people are only now beginning to recover from the deprivations of the civil war. She arrives in a remote mountain village and causes some consternation amongst the inhabitants, who have never met a foreigner before. But Domingo, the goatherd, falls in love with her. When she introduces herself, he believes she is saying she is an angel (‘Soy Ángela’ in Spanish can either mean ‘I am Angela’ or ‘I am an 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.

“Some of these events are bloodthirsty and shocking, but there is a lot of love in the book too. I hope that I have 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.”

Jenny has had stories in her head for her whole life and even occasionally would write them down, but she didn’t start writing seriously until she retired.

“Life continually got in the way,” she explained. “I was the main breadwinner for my family for most of my life and I always had very demanding jobs. I used to wonder how on earth anyone found the time to write the first book, naively assuming that once you had written a book, the money would start pouring in and then you could afford to write full-time.

“We came to live in Spain in 2001 and I started writing then – all the stories that had been in my head all those years and a lot of new ones. I sent them to a local magazine for ex-pats living on the Costa del Sol and they commissioned me to write a piece every month; articles alternating with stories.”

For Jenny, the most important thing about writing is the language. She wants it to flow, and she wants it to be right.

“Beautiful prose is such a joy to read. I hate it when poor grammar makes me lose the gist of the story, but I never mind pausing to appreciate a piece of superb prose,” she assured me.

The next most important thing is characterization.

“I soon lose interest in a story if the characters are not well-drawn and I cannot empathise with them,” she said. “The plot is less important for me, but I like it to be believable and hang together well. I particularly like thrillers, mysteries and ghost stories, but I read all genres except erotica.”

Her favorite author is Stephen King.

“He uses language beautifully with no horrible grammatical errors. His characters live and breathe and I really care about them. He knows how to terrify without being gory and revolting. He knows how to portray human love without resorting to torrid, tasteless, explicit sex. And he knows how to take his readers into that other world where you lose all sense of self and surroundings and just live in the story,” she explained. ” He has also done something for me that no other author has done. Hundreds of authors have taught me to love stories, but only Stephen King taught me how to write my own. On Writing takes you through the process step by step. My story, “Waiting for Daddy” in Take One At Bedtime, was my first attempt at writing by the Stephen King method and I am still pleased with it, especially the twist at the end.”

The title for Take One at Bedtime was suggested by her brother-in-law, along with the idea of putting: Warning: Do not exceed the stated dose in the blurb.

“I must say this was absolutely inspired,” she said. “Virtually every reviewer has picked up on this and commented on failing to stick to the stated dose. Thank you, Nick.”

For Jenny, the idea for a story comes first—she keeps thinking it over at odd moments, particularly during that time between sleeping and waking.

“Sometimes it doesn’t go anywhere, but more often than not it starts to take shape almost of its own accord. I regularly wake up in the morning with the whole plot sorted out. The characters seem to come from nowhere,” she said. “I suppose they must ultimately be based on people I have known but I have never in my life made a conscious attempt to develop a character. They just walk into the story apparently full-developed and then proceed to behave in their own way, Long before I start writing a story down I know exactly how each character will act in a given situation and from that point on they virtually write themselves. Maybe muses really exist and I’ve got one.”

Jenny is currently doing the rewrites for another novel about an old woman who wakes up in a strange room inexplicably furnished in 1940s style. At first she thinks she has somehow slipped into the past, but it is even stranger than that. She is part of an experiment working on a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. It seems to be succeeding, but it has a strange side effect. Tilly and her fellow experimental subjects appear to be getting younger.

She told me that researching, these days, was a piece of cake—with just about anything you can desire available on the web.

“I can usually find what I want by Googling it. Of course, some stuff just isn’t on there,” she admitted. “For example, when I was writing Domingo’s Angel, much of which is set in the Spanish Civil War and Franco’s subsequent dictatorship, I could find nothing about life in the mountain villages, although there was plenty about the major battles and life in the cities.

“I gleaned some information from my own neighbours, but it was very hard to get anyone to talk to me about what had been a very painful time for them. I subsequently discovered a definitive book on life in the white village of Frigiliana, Between Two Fires, by David Baird, which reassured me that I had substantially got the right picture. But I am still surprised at what I don’t know. A couple of years ago there was a commemorative march between Málaga and Almería. Until then I had been unaware that thousands of Republican refugees, mainly women, children and old men, had walked the coast road from Málaga, trying to escape from the Fascist army. Some of them made it, but many were gunned down, strafed from the air by Franco’s friends, the Luftwaffe, and bombarded from the sea by Spanish and Italian ships. How could such an earth-shattering event occur in a European country and go virtually unnoticed?”

For the full story about this episode, see this link: http://www.andalucia.com/history/civilwarandalucia.htm.

“What do you like to do when you are not writing?” I asked.

“I love going out for a drive with my husband and exploring places. We live in a very interesting area and there is always somewhere to new to visit. There are hundreds of little villages, each with its own personality and special history. An example is Acebuchal, which became a ghost town during Franco’s rule. Franco decided the villagers were helping the freedom fighters in the mountains and he had the village evacuated. Since these people were peasant farmers who made their living from the land, this amounted to a death sentence for those who had no relatives in other villages to support them. It was still a ghost town when we first came to Spain, but it has been slowly repopulated, mostly by foreigners, and restored very tastefully to something resembling its original condition. Although I suspect it is now much cleaner and tidier than it was in the past.”

“What is one thing readers would be most surprised to learn about you?”

“If they were new readers, they might be surprised to learn that I used to be an escapologist’s assistant. I was the lovely Tanya. All Tommy James’ assistants were called the lovely Tanya, so he didn’t have to change any of the advertising. The first time we rehearsed he hired a concert hall to set up the equipment, but the ceiling wasn’t high enough to accommodate his full-size guillotine. Consequently, I felt very insecure on our first performance. After chopping a cabbage in half to demonstrate that it was a real guillotine, I hauled the blade back up to the top, using a rope on a pulley, secured it, locked him in the stocks, pulled a curtain in front of him to conceal him from the audience, and counted down thirty seconds on a stop-watch before letting go the blade. Unfortunately, the curtain also concealed him from me. I couldn’t tell whether he had managed to escape in time! There was a sickening thud, then….. silence. I stood in front of several hundred people, still holding the end of the rope, convinced I had killed him. After an unconscionably long time, he threw the curtain aside and came out bowing and smiling, whilst saying between his teeth, ‘Got you there, didn’t I?’ My reply, also between my teeth, whilst smiling at the audience, is unfortunately not fit for a mixed readership.”

“What was the scariest moment of your life?”

“My sons and I used to live in a really creepy house near Oxford. The wardrobe door used to creak open of its own accord and you frequently felt as if there was a malign presence there. We used to fantasise that the last tenant had murdered his wife and put her body in the cesspit. The house was on top of a hill and very exposed, so damp that we had to rotate the clothes in the wardrobe or they would develop mould and so draughty that the carpet used to billow up in waves when the wind blew. One night there was a terrific storm and the big window in the kitchen began bowing in and out.We were terrified that it would smash, and up-ended the kitchen table against it. We weren’t just afraid of the glass breaking, we were afraid of whatever was out there. The wind was making a noise like human screams and was rattling at the doors and windows like some manic nightmare figure trying to break in. We huddled together in abject terror in the living room, incapable of doing anything else, just waiting for whatever it was to come and get us. I hated that house. It was like living in Amityville Horror. Nothing actually came to get us. So it must have been just the wind. Mustn’t it?”

About the Author: Jenny Twist was born in York and brought up in the West Yorkshire mill town of Heckmondwike, the eldest grandchild of a huge extended family.

She left school at fifteen and went to work in an asbestos factory. After working in various jobs, including bacon-packer and escapologist’s assistant, she returned to full-time education and did a BA in history at Manchester and post-graduate studies at Oxford.

She stayed in Oxford working as a recruitment consultant for many years and it was there that she met and married her husband, Vic.

In 2001 they retired and moved to Southern Spain where they live with their rather eccentric dog and cat.

Her first book, Take One at Bedtime, was published in April 2011 and the second, Domingo’s Angel, was published in July 2011. Her novella “Doppelganger” was published in the anthology Curious Hearts in July 2011, “Uncle Vernon” was published in Spellbound, in November 2011, “Jamey and the Alien” was published in Warm Christmas Wishes in December 2011 and “Mantequero” was published in the anthology Winter Wonders in December 2011.

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Stuff Your Stocking Blogfest: Jenny Twist

Christmas in Spain
I moved to Spain ten years ago. I don’t know quite what I expected. Sunshine, of course, mountains, sea, beautiful views and wonderful fresh fruit and vegetables. I had learnt Spanish in England before I came out here and thought I was pretty fluent until I realised I couldn’t understand a word any of my new neighbours said. This was because they speak with a regional accent which is impenetrable to most other Spanish speakers, never mind poor foreigners like me. And then there is the culture…

Here in the mountain villages little has changed since medieval times. Oh yes, we have televisions and cars and mobile phones, but they have been sort of added on to the existing way of life, a thin veneer, disguising the old ways. It is not unusual to see a young peasant farmer talking into his phone as he rides his donkey, laden with vine cuttings, along the winding tracks.

Spain is a Catholic country. We are not talking about modern, erudite Catholicism here. This is the Catholicism of the Middle Ages, closely linked to the agricultural cycle. Colourful, exuberant, full of life.

Christmas here, until very recently, had nothing to do with Santa Claus. Here it is the three kings who bring the presents, and they don’t bring them on Christmas Eve, they bring them on 5th January, the eve of epiphany, traditionally the day when the three kings brought the gifts to the baby Jesus.

Our Christmas season begins with a wonderful nativity play in the village of Almayate.

Every year the entire village takes part in this event which is held in the school sports field. An entire scene of ancient Israel is re-created, with live cattle, sheep, goats, hens, etc.

The evening performance is particularly spectacular as the scene is lit with bonfires and one by one little cameo scenes are lit up with spotlights to reveal the angel announcing the coming birth to Mary, or Herod interviewing the three kings.

The story goes that there is tremendous competition in the village to produce a baby at the right time to play the infant Jesus.

Christmas day itself is not particularly exciting. There are, of course, no presents yet. And the family generally goes out for lunch in one of the numerous county inns which seem to exist solely for the purpose of providing enormous Sunday and holiday meals. We are talking about the whole family here, mother, father, children, grandparents, uncles, aunties, cousins. Traditionally, there is a lot of fish in the Christmas lunch menu. Not a turkey, Christmas pudding or mince pie in sight.

New Year is far more important. The whole village gathers in the village square in front of the church and everyone is given a glass of sparkling wine and a party bag with a hat, streamers, squeakers, sweets (candy) and, most importantly, twelve grapes. As the church bells chime midnight, you have to eat a grape for each chime. It is surprisingly difficult to manage this. You end up with a mouthful of unchewed grapes and often still la couple left in the bag. It’s supposed to be lucky for the year ahead if you can eat them all in time. Last year was the first time I managed it and in March my first book was accepted for publication. So there you are. I’m getting into practice right now to get it right again this year. It would be really nice to sell some books. Sorry, I digress.

The climax for the children is Los Reyes – The Kings. In the early evening of 5th January, the three kings come riding into the village on their donkeys, each accompanied by a servant. Sometimes Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus and an assortment of angels come too. It rather depends how many people are available. The procession winds its way up and down all the village streets and as it goes the kings throw sweets into the crowd. Eventually it arrives at the village square and the kings dismount and sit on the steps ready to give out presents to the waiting children. Every child has a present with his or her name written on it and the kings’ servants read out the names one by one.

Later in the night when everybody is in bed, the kings visit every house and leave even more presents. In the olden days each child would leave a shoe outside the bedroom door and the kings would put the present in the shoe. Now, I suspect nobody would have shoes large enough to contain the dozens of gifts each child receives.

The children don’t have much time to play with their presents before they have to go back to school, but at least they don’t have long to wait for the next holiday – San Anton and the blessing of the animals. But that is a story for another day.

About the Author: Jenny Twist was born in York and brought up in the West Yorkshire mill town of Heckmondwike, the eldest grandchild of a huge extended family.

She left school at fifteen and went to work in an asbestos factory. After working in various jobs, including bacon-packer and escapologist’s assistant, she returned to full-time education and did a BA in history at Manchester and post-graduate studies at Oxford.

She stayed in Oxford working as a recruitment consultant for many years and it was there that she met and married her husband, Vic.

In 2001 they retired and moved to Southern Spain where they live with their rather eccentric dog and cat.

Her first book, Take One At Bedtime, was published in April 2011 and the second, Domingo’s Angel, was published in July 2011. Her novella, “Doppelganger”, was published in the anthology Curious Hearts in July 2011, “Uncle Vernon” was published in Spellbound in September 2011, “Jamey and the Alien” and “Uncle Albert’s Christmas” was published in Warm Christmas Wishes in November 2011 and “Mantequero” will be published in December 2011 in the anthology Winter Wonders.

Visit Jenny at her website.

Leave a comment to be entered into a drawing for a pdf or Kindle copy of the winner’s choice from Jenny’s books: Curious Hearts, Domingo’s Angel, Spellbound 2011, Take One At Bedtime and Warm Christmas Wishes.

Guest Blog: Jenny Twist

I moved to Spain ten years ago and was fascinated by the difference in culture. Life in the White Villages of Southern Spain hardly changed in 50 years. The people in the villages are very old-fashioned. They still call each other ‘Sir’ & ‘Madam,’ even when they’ve known each other all their lives. The way of life here has only changed superficially. These people are still basically peasant farmers. Each one has his land and is to a greater or lesser extent self-sufficient. Many keep goats and chickens. Modern technology is just a thin veneer over the ancient way of life. It is not unusual to see a typical Andalusian farmer riding his mule and speaking into his mobile phone as he goes along.

I retired and moved to Spain ten 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 enormous 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 have 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:

DOMINGO’S ANGEL
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.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jenny Twist was born in York and brought up in the West Yorkshire mill town of Heckmondwike, the eldest grandchild of a huge extended family.

She left school at fifteen and went to work in an asbestos factory. After working in various jobs, including bacon-packer and escapologist’s assistant, she returned to full-time education and did a BA in history at Manchester and post-graduate studies at Oxford.

She stayed in Oxford working as a recruitment consultant for many years and it was there that she met and married her husband, Vic.
In 2001 they retired and moved to Southern Spain where they live with their rather eccentric dog and cat.

Her first book, Take One At Bedtime, was published in April 2011 and the second, Domingo’s Angel, was published in July 2011. Her novella, Doppelganger, was published in the anthology Curious Hearts in July 2011, Uncle Vernon, will be published in Halloween Treats, in October 2011 and Jamey and the Alien will be published in Warm Christmas Wishes in November 2011.

For more information on my books, go to my website.
https://sites.google.com/site/jennytwistauthor/
Jenny Twist