Friday, 6 July 2012

Summers in Madrid

On 4th July The Book of Summers, El libro de los veranos, was published in Spain and my publisher, Suma de letras, invited me over for the launch. WHAT a time to be visiting Madrid. The city was euphoric, riding high on the football team's stunning success. I arrived in the middle of a city-wide street party, with Gran Via, the central thoroughfare akin to Oxford Street, entirely closed to traffic. Marta, from the Suma de letras publicity team, met me at the airport - a taxi took us as far as it could then we walked the last steps to the hotel. It was past 9pm and the heat of the day was still thick in the air. We sauntered to the tune of air horns and whistles, drum beats and joyous renditions of Viva España. Underfoot the street was sticky with spilt drinks and paper replicas of the Euro 2012 trophy were scattered like giant confetti. As an arrival in another country goes, it couldn't have been more intoxicating. As soon as I'd checked in I went out to join the red and yellow blaze of the party. 
The next morning I threw open my balcony doors. Even though it was only 8am it was already white-hot, and Gran Via was back to business as usual, football shirts swapped for office wear, and humming with traffic. I was getting ready for work too; the next day and a half held ten interviews with some of Spain's biggest papers, magazines, radio stations and websites. El libro de los veranos and I were going to be busy.

Our base for the day was my hotel, Hotel de las Letras, a place with a fine literary heritage and apparently the venue of choice for visiting authors. I met Marta and my interpreter - the super smart Diana - in the cool-white lounge, and so began an exciting, stimulating, exhausting day of interviews and photo shoots. 
After lunch at a cool little restaurant across the street (where my new Spanish friends laughed at our crazy English ways - puny sandwich lunches 'al desko' and bed before midnight) we sped through the afternoon. After the last interview Marta introduced me to the delights of San Anton market, helping me pick the finest Manchego cheese and Chorizo sausage to take home. By the evening I was pooped (last night's air horns not proving to be the softest lullaby) but Madrid is not the kind of city you want to draw a curtain on. Thanks to the late hours everyone keeps I still had time to wander around the shops, spotting El Libro de los veranos in three bookstores and two window displays, all within steps of one another.  In El Corte Inglés - Spain's biggest department store chain - the book is being sold together with a lovely desk-top photo album, meanwhile in Fnac in Valencia (books, music, movies) there's a huge banner advertising El libro de los veranos on the building's exterior... for a girl who used to work in Ad Land, that's especially awesome. I'm told Suma de Letras have even more exciting advertising plans for the summer... so watch this blog.
Rejuvenated by these 'in the wild' sightings I took to the hotel's rooftop bar for a nightcap and caught up with some work on book two (a deadline's a deadline, even when you've escaped your desk). The pink-white dusk was rolling in gently, Madrid's rooftops were luminous, and I found a quiet corner all to myself. Bliss.
I woke up the next morning with the sense I always get on my last day in a foreign city - I didn't want to go home. But there was plenty to keep my mind off departure, with more interviews - including with Spain's biggest daily El Pais - followed by lunch with the very lovely editorial team of Gonzalo and Pablo. They took me to a gem of a restaurant tucked in the back-streets, where giant hams hung from the ceiling and old boy waiters served up Spanish specialities. Gonzalo is a dedicated Anglophile and we talked cream teas, Agatha Christie and the indescribable joy of plucking a perfectly risen pie from the oven.
After bidding goodbye, I spent my last couple of hours in Madrid wandering the streets surrounding Gran Via. I found the brilliantly tatty English second-hand book shop J&J Books & Coffee where I drank a café con leche and browsed the stacks, coming across a near-new copy of Paul Hendrickson's Hemingway's Boat. Ernest famously loved Spain, and the last page of The Sun Also Rises takes place on Gran Via, with Jake and Brett in a cab.
My own taxi was waiting, so I hastened back to the hotel. As I walked, smiling and sweltering in the full heat of a weekday afternoon, the incredible warmth of my Madrid welcome over the past couple of days hit me. And it's with me still. I feel incredibly lucky to be published in Spain by people as passionate and enthusiastic as the Suma de letras team (thank you - Gonzalo, Pablo, Marta, Patricia, and interpreters Diana and Beth - for such an amazing trip). I feel grateful that so many journalists were willing to meet me and talk about my book. And I feel awed that The Book of Summers has taken on a life of its own, as El libro de los veranos, and will still be in Spain even when I can't be. Muchas gracias y Viva España!