Valerie, did Spain choose you, or did you choose Spain?
Six of one, half a dozen of the other. Italy was my first love but when I was 15 we had a family holiday in Benidorm and I started to learn Spanish. I always felt the urge to come back, and spent part of what they now call the gap year in Valencia. And then all the time I wanted to come back. After university, I came to Barcelona to teach English and fell in love with a Catalan. And so I chose to stay.
Tell us about “creating worlds”?
Creative writing is about creating an experience in the reader’s imagination: a world that feels real, whether Hogwarts, an alien planet , a historical time and place, whatever. Or re-creating it in travel writing, for example. And in advertising copy. There are simple but powerful tools that writers use to do this, and I share them in workshops and courses. What could be more awesome than creating a world?
Why did you start writing?
As a child, I loved writing, but it got buried in academic prowess and teen angst. Much later, during a very tough time, I did the Course In Miracles prayer to ‘see things in another way’: and suddenly I saw my life as a hilarious sit-com! I was moved to sign up for a writing course, and then to write the sit-com as a novel. And then that love came back and I understood why I’d always felt there’d been something missing.
Who is your favourite author?
J K Rowling! Seriously. But it’s impossible to choose just one. Shakespeare. Bill Bryson – very very funny, endlessly curious, and never ever nasty or snide. Jhumpa Lahiri for sheer intensity. Hemingway. Khaled Hosseini. There are so many authors I admire and enjoy.
In the Garlic is your latest book, what is the story behind that Book coming into being?
I wrote it with Theresa O’Shea who lives east of Málaga, and we hit on the A-Z formula as a way of bringing together our writings and sharing our experience in a fun and accessible way, celebrating Spain’s quirks and its incredible diversity. Back then there was a lot of pretty bad material on Spain – patronising, dull and inaccurate – and we felt we could do something much better and above all more fun.
There seem to be a lot of expat writers living in Spain; any thoughts as to why this country is good for writing?
First, I think the number of writers is proportional to the number of expats, which is huge! Also there are many different kinds of writers, so it’s difficult to generalise. Many people choose to write when they retire. In the last decade Internet and budget airlines have made it possible for many writers to relocate here. It used to be cheaper to live here so you could ‘give up the day job’ but not really true now. And the lifestyle and café society figure largely in ‘being a writer’ – at least in the popular imagination.
What has been your greatest challenge, whether personal or business?
Keeping myself and my family afloat during my husband’s long illness and after he died. Despite all, holding out for doing what I love and trying to empower my sons to do the same. The ongoing challenge for me is to overcome my addictive tendencies and focus on my writing or whatever other task is in hand. Mastering anxiety is a major challenge. If you’re not freaking out with fear, then you can handle anything.
To relax would we find you on a beach, mountains, city or shed?
Ideally you would find me in the mountains, but now, more likely, by the sea, or in my room (cave) surrounded by books and papers. Or walking in the city at a relatively quiet time.
Best piece of advice you’ve ever been given
Always be intellectually honest with yourself. Said by my classics teacher and mentor at grammar school.
A Favourite memory?
Waking up in the house we used to have in the Catalan pre-Pyrenees and pushing the shutters open: cool air, blue sky, squirrels in the oak trees, the leaves glimmering and sparkling in the sun, fragrance of pines, sound of dogs, children, chainsaws across the valley… bliss after the summer heat in Barcelona.
Something you would like to promote?
Creative Writing Magic. I’m planning fascinating new workshops for 2012. If you live far from Barcelona, I can troubleshoot your writing and help you by email and Skype. And there are still copies of In The Garlic available: it makes a great Christmas gift. Check out both the websites for details. http://www.valeriecollinswriter.com
If you were to be one woman for a day – who would she be?
No idea: It’s taken me a lifetime to learn to accept myself rather than want to be someone else But if you push me – J K Rowling – again, seriously. It would be a whole day of that NLP exercise where you model someone by putting their head on your shoulders! Nigella Lawson maybe too.
If you could achieve one spectacular thing in one day what would it be?
Finish my novel!
Your business or personal epitaph – what would it say?
‘She always did the best she could.’ A friend once said that my catchphrase was ‘We’ll figure something out’. I’d never realised how often I said it!
What gift are you most hoping Santa brings you?
A Kindle. But I’m happy to pass on that. I’d really like Santa to bring enough true compassion and caring and connectedness to the world so we can turn around this huge mess we’re in.
Where do you see yourself living in the next 10 years?
Barcelona and/or some country place in Catalunya.
Thank you Valerie; good to meet you!