Notes from Spain – the story so far…

After returning from our recent trip from Thailand I found that I had a serious case of blogger’s block. I couldn’t think of anything to write about that had anything to do with Spain. I even found myself staring helplessly at’s “Rediscovering Your Blogging Groove” series of posts, none of which did any good…

But now, just back from a trip to Andalusia, I have lots to say about Spain again, and look forward to recounting it all here over the next week or two. Moral of the story: if I want to write about Spain, I need to get out of the damn house and go and look at it once in a while!

Anyway, back to the “rediscovering your blogging groove” series. The latest piece of advice was to use a blog post to “tell a story“, so here goes. A question I am occasionally asked about my book, Errant in Iberia, is “what happened next”, and this is part of the story:

This blog started life as an experiment. I wanted to know how blogs worked, so posted the odd picture from Madrid, or comment on a Spanish news item, etc. About the same time I wrote an article in In Madrid, the local expat rag, on technology, which led to a phone call from an enterprising man named Rafe Jaffrey, who wanted to know if I knew anything about podcasting. I didn’t, so I looked into it, decided it was something I liked the sound of very much (making my own radio!) and started recording. Rafe and I set up In Madrid’s podcast for them and then left them to it (they gave up very quickly on the whole thing, big shame), and I started adding the Notes from Spain podcasts to this blog – firstly random musings from me, then Marina got involved, we started making travel-casts and cooking casts, and the podcasts started to improve.

Now the interesting bit. The Notes from Spain podcasts have led to wonderful things. First of all, work with Lonely Planet. I wrote several emails to the person in charge of on-line content complaining that the first LP podcasts, mainly telephone interviews with LP authors, were boring, that they should capitalise on their world-wide network to produce real ‘in-the-field’ audio – like the shows we were hacking together on our trips around Spain. Eventually, after my third pushy email, a very nice man called John got back to me, and purchased one of our podcasts for their feed – (the episode on the Basque Gastronomic society). We have now made 5 podcasts for Lonely Planet, including two from our Thailand trip (the first of which, from Bangkok, has just been published. Chiang Mai to follow soon). When I stop to think about it, making radio programs for Lonely Planet is a dream come true. It was the first time I had ever had the guts to repeatedly contact (harass) an institution I admired, and it really paid off.

Secondly, I was contacted by a commissioning editor at Fodors who enjoyed the podcasts and wondered if I would like to edit a chapter for their 2007 Spain guide. I chose Galicia and Asturias, and Marina and I spent a fun couple of weeks running around up north checking up on hotels, restaurants etc. This year I wrote a couple of introductory sections for their 2008 guide. Wow, now it was Lonely Planet and Fodors, and all because of the podcasts!

In the meantime, Marina and I made an experimental podcast in Spanish. It went down well, and led to a series of 31 Spanish podcasts in 31 days to raise money for my Enduro India motorbike trip. When I got back we discovered people wanted more Spanish podcasts, so we obliged, continuing with our 10 minute chats once a week or so on subjects we found interesting. We had requests for transcripts to go with the podcasts, and realised that would only be possible if we charged a small amount for them… which led to the following chain of events: we started producing worksheets that included a transcript for each conversation and we started an intermediate level, which led to more listeners and links, which led to an interview in El Pais, which led to an interview on Spanish radio and an offer of a substantial cash investment in our enterprise by a local language school owner over pints of Guiness – an offer that nearly made us fall off our seats in surprise, an offer of tens of thousands of euros that we had absolutely no need for, and were never going to accept. Finally, earlier this year Marina gave up her job as an IT consultant and now works full time with me on the Spanish podcasts, leaving behind her horrendous daily commute through 40 minutes of traffic to Tres Cantos.

For my part, it’s 7 months since I went anywhere near a translation, and 2 years since I gave up teaching, my two previous occupations in Spain. Thank goodness, as all of the above, the slow evolution of Notes from Spain and Notes in Spanish since Autumn 2005, followed a 2 to 3 year period where I was so sick of teaching English in a local company where students never turned up that I had lost most of my sense of self-worth and was suffering from pretty unpleasant psychological consequences.

So many thanks to the listeners, readers, Great-Madrid-Escapers and everyone else who has helped us get this far. There is a lot more to come! If there is any point to all this it is once again that there can be more to life as an expat than accepting that you will always have to do the jobs that you, and others, think that expats have to do. All you need is a passionate interest in something and, probably, a bit of an obsessive streak to make sure you stick at it, and who knows what might happen?

Hey, Spain bloggers, lovers and visitors – tell us one of your stories!

17 thoughts on “Notes from Spain – the story so far…

  1. rod

    What a coincidence! Around the same time I was also suffering the same blogger’s block, and it almost sounds as if it could have been a more general malaise, because what Darren on pro.blogger actually wrote was:

    ‘Last week I chatted with a lot of bloggers who are either feeling disillusioned, uninspired, uncreative or just plain bored with their blogs. The result was that their blogs were suffering.

    Perhaps it is the time of year (many in the northern hemisphere have all the distractions of summer while those of us in the south are feeling the winter blues) or perhaps it’s something else – but I’m sensing that many bloggers could need a little bit of a boost right now.’

    Although I didn’t consciously take in his post on ‘telling a story’, I did overcome the block by doing just that.

    A Spanish blogger posted a comment on my blog drawing attention to his on the wonderful Sierra de Cazorla, a place that I had visited several years ago. That encouraged me to dig out my old photos from that trip and get them digitised, and in turn that inspired me to do what I’ve been meaning to do for some time, to write a series of posts on that first visit to Granada, Córdoba and Cazorla and why it made such a powerful and lasting impression on me. In a way I’m writing this series mainly for myself, but hopefully some fellow travelers will find it interesting too. For me the whole point of blogs is they should reflect the individual who writes them: their own story, their personality, their memories, and experience.

    Look forward to the new posts and finding out where you went to in Andalucí­a!

  2. Brandon

    Welcome back- both physically and mentally! I loved reading what I can only assume was a little taste of ‘Errant in Iberia II’! lol You obviously have a great story to tell and I must say, it only makes me more anxious to get out and start exploring my own story.

  3. PattyN

    Ben, You make it sound too easy. I think your writing/podcasting style have everything to do with your success. I admit to being a podcast junkie (at last count, I subscribe to 29 podcasts and I dont’ even own an iPod), but if I had to eliminate all but 2 or 3, NFS would still make the cut. And I can’t even tell you how many podcasts I’ve tried out for a week or two and then abandoned out of complete boredom. Keep up the high quality interesting posts, and I’m sure you’ll see continued growth and success.

  4. Beckett

    Thanks for sharing more of the “behind the scenes” of Notes from Spain. So, does that mean that you didn’t accept that offer of €€€€€ from the language school? Did they want to make your blog and podcast an affiliate of their school? Inquiring minds want to know. 🙂

  5. luke

    You deserve your success. What makes your podcasts appealing to me is that you convey a sense of a ‘street level’ Spain with humanity and honesty. Small details of everyday life become as interesting as the more obvious cultural differences. From here in London it is the best way I have of being back in Spain until my next trip (only a couple of weeks away now). You do sometimes seem to edit out the darker side of Spain but I think that is from genuine optimism rather than rose-tinted specs. In terms of style, what you do is as good as the best the BBC has to offer in their excellent ‘From Our Correspondent’ broadcasts.
    The secret to your language podcasts is that one would find them interesting to listen to in English; having listened to many other stilted Spanish language podcasts, that seems to be unique.

  6. Jon Hundt

    Great work, Ben and Marina. I am envious! The best part (for me) is that your site does not come across as a commercial enterprise.

    I’m glad that you are doing well through this site. I often wondered “how does a site like this exist? Where’s the money?” I have always been very happy that you did not throw your faithful followers into an advertiser’s machine.

    Keep up the good work!

  7. Edith

    Blogger’s block after returning from Thailand… this sounds like a serious case of reverse culture shock! 😀

  8. Edith

    P.s.: I agree with all of the above! You are doing an excellent job, and now your success is paying off.

  9. Jules

    I have always been impressed by your description of how 9 years in Spain was almost an ‘accidental’ consequence of going to Spain in the first place for a 4-week language course. We have all benefited from your dedicated and vivacious approach in building a wonderful community that shares your passion of Spain & the Spanish language. I once joked with a fellow member at the GME that one day you would wake up to find you had ‘accidently’ become famous. Your success is well deserved and certainly no accident.

  10. Ben Post author

    Thanks all for the comments so far, you are very kind! Beckett, no we didn’t accept the €€€€€!

  11. Alison

    I don’t really know what else to add – I read the book and really enjoyed it, I’ve downloaded most of the advanced podcasts now and am currently listening to them on my commute to work…dreaming of moving to Spain one day! Out of all the spanish listening, learning ‘material’ I have listened to, your podcasts are the most interesting and natural and make me want to keep coming back for more!! It’s also given me a lot of confidence as I’ve realised once I am used to someone’s voice (i.e.Marina’s) I can understand a lot more than I can with someone I don’t ‘know’ (feel like I know you both even though I have never met you 🙂

    I also often wondered how you made a living, but now I know, well done!



  12. Enrique

    Yours are one of the few podcasts I keep — back to the ol’ Terraza-casts from 2005 and Maria’s Pantumaca. You have always sounded authentic, sincere and genuine, even as your “journalistic” skills have improved and the focus has become sharper. There’s no accident to becoming successful at doing what you love (especially if you’re doing it with someone you love!). Consider yourself supremely envied.

  13. Uncle Drew

    Hi Ben, Enjoyed your Thailand segment this morning while I was making breakfast. You are doing the same kind of podcasting that I’m trying to achieve on Budacast, actually transporting listeners somewhere, using ambient sound, etc. The language podcasts are also a great idea.

    Glad you’ve had a break and are back. Congratulations on your success!

    Stay tuned!

  14. jill

    Silly old lady that I am, it brought tears (of joy) to my eyes to know that life is going so well for you. Congratulations to you both, you bring so much pleasure to so many, you deserve your success. I’m currently in Ireland – escaping the Spanish heat – and can’t wait to get back home to continue my conversations with Marina.

  15. richardksa

    My first arrival in Spain coincided almost exactly with the start of Notes from Spain and my Spanish life has sort of “grown up” with them. The contents of the blog, the podcasts and the forum have given me a far richer experience of the country than I could ever have received from visiting the country on my own. European and American visitors I meet wonder how I know so much, the Spanish are amused that I know about doing a “simpa”. I have been to places I wouldn’t have known existed and done things that most tourists don’t know about. Notes From Spain has enriched my life. Long may it continue. Ben and Marina, thank you.

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