The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Barbara Lamplugh

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Barbara Lamplugh

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Summary: Rebecca thought that Secrets of the Pomegranate was a strong debut novel and she had quite a few questions for author Barbara Lamplugh when she popped into Bookbag Towers to chat to us.
Date: 20 May 2015
Interviewer: Rebecca Foster
Reviewed by Rebecca Foster

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Rebecca thought that Secrets of the Pomegranate was a strong debut novel and she had quite a few questions for author Barbara Lamplugh when she popped into Bookbag Towers to chat to us.

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

Barbara Lamplugh: I see readers of either sex who like books with an emotional pull, characters they care about and enough tension to keep them turning the pages but that also raise deeper issues which make them think. I imagine a reader who is interested in other cultures and the reality of living in a different country, probably someone who enjoys travel, whether real or vicarious.

  • BB: Granada means 'pomegranate'; what symbolic use have you made of the fruit here, in the title and in the text?

BL: Yes, the title would translate into Spanish as Secretos de la granada. As well as being a symbol of the city of Granada, the pomegranate figures in the myths and superstitions of many cultures and religions. It can signify fertility, abundance, blood, sex and resurrection, amongst other things. Some of these meanings – but I won’t say which – are highly relevant to the story. According to the Qu’ran, it grows in the gardens of paradise. It also grows in and around Granada; there is a pomegranate tree in Deborah’s garden.

  • BB: Here 9/11 functions like a prefiguring of the Madrid bombings, especially the scapegoating of Muslims that would follow. Did you take any inspiration from literature based around 9/11?

BL: No, at least not consciously.

  • BB: Did you write Deb's diary entries separately or alongside the central narrative? How did you decide on a way to work in her memories?

BL: In my first draft I wrote Deb’s diary entries separately and inserted them much more randomly into the main narrative. It came across as disjointed so when I discarded that draft and started afresh with a new plot, I wove in the diary in a much more considered way and also rewrote parts of it so that the extracts related to what was happening in the main narrative, complementing Alice’s and Mark’s points of view in a more fluid and integrated way.

  • BB: How did you discover Walladah bint al-Mustakfi (the chief subject of Deb's book), and what role do you see her playing in your novel?

BL: I first learnt about the role of women in al-Andalus, Islamic Spain when I went to a talk at the newly-built mezquita in the Albaicín soon after it opened. It was a revelation to me (as it was to Deb), to learn not just about women’s relative freedom but also about the other achievements of that civilisation – in medicine, astronomy, mathematics, agriculture and many other fields. I started researching on the internet and soon came across Walladah. Much of the current prejudice against Muslims focuses on their treatment of women. I wanted to show that Islam as a religion is no more sexist than other religions; that it is men who have subverted its original tenets to oppress women in some Muslim societies today. Reading about Walladah, Alice sees parallels with Deborah and they do indeed share some aspects of personality.

  • BB: How did you arrive at Mark's voice? Was it more of a challenge than Alice's or Deb's?

BL: Several people have asked me this and the truth is I don’t know where Mark came from. All I know is that I could hear his voice in my head; he felt very real to me as I wrote. So no, he was no more of a challenge than Alice or Deb.

  • BB: Did you draw on any autobiographical material when creating the character Deb, an Englishwoman who had lived in Granada for two decades?

BL: Certainly I used my ‘insider’ knowledge of life in Granada and drew on my own experience as an Englishwoman settling there. So to that extent there are autobiographical elements. But Deb’s character is different to mine and I’ve never had a relationship with a Moroccan!

  • BB: You wrote two travel books in the 1970s. What prompted your decision to turn to fiction?

BL: Having children put a stop to extensive travel. I wrote my first novel while I was pregnant and carried on writing fiction throughout the years of bringing up my children. After moving to Spain I turned to journalism and wrote travel pieces, mainly for Living Spain magazine (see my biog). I love creating characters and a story, which fiction allows me to do. It involves the imagination in a way that travel writing doesn’t yet I can still use my descriptive, travel writing skills to build a setting that is both vivid and authentic.

  • BB: Would you consider publishing a travel book about Granada, or a collection of your Living Spain magazine articles?

BL: I did actually write a non-fiction book about my impressions and experiences of life in Granada. Publishers praised my writing but pointed out the ‘crowded market’. Some wanted me to introduce more ‘quirky locals’ but I’d have felt very uncomfortable mocking the people I live amongst. I might consider a collection of my Living Spain articles now the magazine no longer exists. In the meantime I’m taking material from them for my blogposts on www.barbaralamplugh.com

  • BB: What's next for Barbara Lamplugh?

BL: I’ve been researching for a new novel, also set in Spain and spanning three generations of women. It starts with a British nurse who goes out to Spain at the beginning of the Civil War and falls in love with a Spanish Republican fighter. I’ve been reading widely and interviewing older Spanish people about life during the posguerra, the 1940s, 50s and 60s under Franco’s dictatorship. It’s proving fascinating and often heart-breaking. I’m raring to get started on the actual writing.

  • BB: That sounds fascinating, Barbara. Thank you for chatting to us.

You can read more about Barbara Lamplugh here.

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