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Historical novel set in the Spanish speaking world. Plus QA with Maria Dueñas

20th November 2017

A Vineyard in Andalusia by Maria Dueñas, historical novel set in the Spanish speaking world – Mexico, Cuba and Andalusia.

A sweeping historical novel that takes the reader from Mexico to Cuba and on to Andalusia in the 1860s…Historical novel set in the Spanish speaking world

The novel is set against the period of the American Civil War which impacted on life and trade in Mexico and Cuba, and against the last years of the slave trade, officially abolished earlier in the century, but still very much part of the fabric of society – sugar plantations in Cuba, for example, relied on slave labour from Africa, but the owners supported the abolition in the main because they feared revolt, not out of principle.

A tumultuous time, then, forms the backdrop to the story of Mauro Larrero who, as the book opens, is still successfully mining silver in Mexico. That is, until he invests in a pump, due to come from America. But the promised investment does not bring the rewards he is promised and he soon on his uppers. Ventures in Cuba beckon. Larrero is, at heart, a chancer, he plays a shrewd game of billiards which take his fortune in quite another direction, to wit to Valencia, where he has acquired a vineyard estate.

Intrigue and family are woven into the narrative as he traverses the Spanish-speaking world, facing new dilemmas and challenges on each leg of his journey.

It is clear that a huge amount of research has gone into the story for both social, locational and political setting. How the old colonial world is starting to make way for fresh ideas. The text is peppered with little nuggets of interesting information – the servants in Valencia were mainly British, and at that time wine made up 20% of Spain’s total exports (increasing so much so that by 2014 Spain was the world’s biggest wine exporter!).

This is a novel that will take you to the Spanish speaking world of the second half of the 19th Century. It plots a convincing story set against a colourful backdrop.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

Now, enjoy our chat with Maria!

TF: Mauro Larrera is a determined and bold man to survive in business. He is also a bit of a chancer. How did you develop his interesting and multi faceted character and did any historical character inspire you, I wonder?

MD: Mauro Larrea is a 19th century silver mining tycoon in the newly independent Mexican Republic, a handsome, charismatic Spaniard whose young wife died while giving birth to her second child, forcing Mauro to migrate to Mexico in search of opportunities along with his young daughter and son. He works tenaciously and manages to become a successful businessman, until some wrong investments swallow his fortune and he has to comfront his own reconstruction. In order to find information about this type of man, I read a lot about the lives of those who migrated from Europe to the New World in the 19th century; some of them were highly inspirational.

TF: You have spread the storyline across several Spanish speaking  countries, each of which feels very different – the politics, culture, the architecture – you capture each individuality very well. The research for this must have been phenomenal. How did you go about understanding each culture, and how long was the research process?

MD: I certainly do a lot of research, but that’s something I really enjoy. The documentation process is always essential in all my novels: I want my stories to be have a background framework of accuracy, even when my books are not purely historical ones. In order to achieve this, I use many different sources: academic articles, fiction books of those times, old newpapers, magazines and catalogues, travel books, memoirs and biographies… I’m usually very fond of the places I’m going to settle my stories on but, additionally, I always travel to them while I’m writing. I love to see the scenery once again, I revisit places and talk to the people, check distances and architecture, eat the local food…

TF:  The women in the novel are often ‘clever and tenacious’. Was it important for you to feature some strong women, at a time when a woman’s role was to blend in rather than stand out, I imagine?

MD: Yes, that was very important; in fact, it’s always important for me to create that sort of inspirational feminine characters. Even when the protagonist in this novel is a man, the feminine component – as you well point out – is not disregarded at all, and I have struggled to create courageous and charming women like Soledad, or intriguing, complex characters like Carola Gorostiza.

I like characters who resemble us human beings. I don’t want to create super heroes or super heroines, nor wicked, incorrigible villains. I like men and women with strengths and weaknesses, with a luminous side and a less bright one, with contradictions, insecurities and mistakes hand in hand with dignity, values and personal charm.

TF: Where will your next book take you in terms of storyline and setting?

MD: It’ll be set in New York in the 1930s, and it’ll be about three Spanish sisters who are forced to migrate and start a new life in a turbulent Manhattan. At that time, most Spanish emigrants used to have Latin America as their destination, but a few thousand chose the US, and that’s a very little known circumstance, even in Spain.

TF: When you first have the idea for a story, do you structure the plot, or do you let the story unfold as your write?

MD: I usually start by choosing the location. In my first novel (The Seamstress), it was Northern Morocco in the 1930s during the times of the Spanish Protectorate, because my mother was born there and I have a close connection with that world. For my second book (Misión Olvido) I opted for Northern California because I was fascinated by the chain of missions that the Spanish Franciscan Fathers established in the area. For the third one (A Vineyard in Andalusia), I was strongly attracted by the sherry wine production and trade that was taking place at that time in southern Andalusia.

Once I have chosen the place, I start making decisions about the main characters, plot, etc. It’s usually a structured process the one I use, starting with a research stage, following with the design of the main lines to follow, and finishing with the lineal writing of the text.

TF: I am sure our readers would love to hear how you came to be a writer and what a typical day might hold for you?

MD: I’m a Spanish novelist who for most of her life didn’t have the ambition of becoming a writer. I was a professor of Applied Linguistics/English Studies in a Spanish University; at a point when I was around 40 I decided to start writing my first novel El tiempo entre costuras/The Seamstress, which was eventually published in 2009 with a print run of 3,500 copies. But thanks to the enthusiastic reaction of anonymous readers, it became a word of mouth phenomenon which spread initially in the Spanish-speaking world and soon throughout a good number of additional countries. Eight years after its publication, the book has been translated into over 30 languages, sold several millions of copies, entered the list of The New York Times bestsellers and was made into a popular TV series. This unexpected success allowed me to leave my former profession to continue a career as a full-time writer. In 2012 I published Misión Olvido/The Heart has Its Reasons, in 2015 La Templanza/A Vineyard in Andalusia, and next year we will have my fourth novel in the bookstores.

Thank you so much to Maria for the wonderful insights. You can follow her on Facebook

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Enter the 2021TripFiction 'Sense of Place' Creative Writing Competition!

A story in which the location plays as important a role as the rest of your words.

2,500 word maximum, 750 word minimum

Judges include Victoria Hislop and Rosanna Ley

First Prize of £1,000 / US$1,350

Prizes total £1,750 / US$2,362 

Winning entry published on TripFiction site and publicised on Social Media

Entries close 6th November 2021