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Talking Location With author Kathryn Hughes – Central Spain

19th August 2019

#TalkingLocationWith… Kathryn Hughes, author of Her Last Promise as she explores Central Spain.

“Family Cycling Holiday Peddles Inspiration”

The question I’ve been asked countless times is ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ as though there is some secret shop or website that only authors know about. To paraphrase Leonard Cohen ‘If I knew where the good ideas came from, I’d go there more often.’

The truth is authors find inspiration everywhere. They keep their eyes and ears open, never switching off, always on the look-out for an angle for a story.  I wrote my third book, The Key, after I read about the true story of the Willard Asylum in New York. Years after the asylum had closed its doors for the last time, a collection of suitcases belonging to former patients was found behind a locked attic door. The contents of those cases were a poignant reminder that those patients were human beings with a past, present but sadly, no future. The Key came about as a direct result of reading that article.

The inspiration for my latest book, Her Last Promise, came from a visit to Central Spain in 2017. Our family cycling holiday began in the historic city of Segovia, about an hour’s drive from Madrid. To wander around the tiny streets of this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a truly awe-inspiring experience. Arriving by bus, we were greeted by the sight of the staggering aqueduct.  Built by the Romans to bring water from the River Acebeda to the upper districts of the city, it measures 813 metres long and has 167 arches.

Kathryn Hughes

Just off the lively Plaza Mayor, lies the Gothic Cathedral. Construction began on this splendid building in 1525 and it houses countless treasures inside its eighteen interior chapels. Our hotel room’s balcony looked out over the square and after dark we were treated to the sight of the spectacularly illuminated cathedral. The perimeter of the square is lined with restaurants serving local delicacies such as Cochinillo, (roast suckling pig) and paella. A table outside is the perfect place for everybody’s favourite pastime – people watching.

Just when we thought Segovia could not get any better, we discovered the Alcazar, an ancient fortress which has stood on the hill in some form since Roman times. It projects its majesty over the eleventh century ramparts and the hills beyond.  Indeed, it is so magical that Walt Disney is said to have used it as his inspiration for Cinderella’s Castle.  With its fairy tale proportions, it’s not too difficult to imagine Rapunzel casting out her long tresses from one of the lofty turrets.  It is well worth paying the extra few euros to climb the tower and drink in the stunning views of the surrounding countryside.

We were quite sorry to leave Segovia the next morning but our bikes had been delivered and our cycling tour began.  Hilly terrain and thirty-five degree temperatures elicited much moaning from our two kids who enquired why we couldn’t just have a two-week beach holiday like normal people. Don’t feel too sorry for them though – they were twenty-three and nineteen at the time.

Every town or village we stayed in had its own charm and personal welcome, but it was the tiny medieval town of Pedraza, standing at an elevation of 1,073m which impressed us the most.  We had to dismount and push our bikes up the short but steep hill to arrive through a gap in the walls.  Entering the main square was like walking onto the set of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and I immediately thought it would be a wonderful setting for a book.

Kathryn Hughes

The next day’s cycling took us into Las Hoces del Rio Duraton National Park.  The vertiginous limestone cliffs rise a hundred and fifty metres above the river which has carved out the deep canyon for centuries. After persuading our kids to take the optional ten kilometre detour, we arrived at the Hermitage of San Frutos, which stands on a peninsular.  The hermitage is no longer inhabited but it was here around the year 680 that Saint Frutos did penance with his brother and sister.  This setting further fuelled my imagination and as I munched on my sandwiches, I wondered what made someone want to leave their life behind and come and live in such seclusion, completely cut off from the outside world.  After writing about the gloomy world of asylums in The Ke yand undergoing research which involved scrabbling round in derelict buildings, this setting was a welcome departure. If you want to know how it all turned out, then you can read about it in my latest book, Her Last Promise.

Thank you so much to Kathryn for sharing such lovely memories of this part of Spain. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook and connect via her website.

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