An interview with me about my book, Errant in Iberia

Cory Hughes recently interviewed me about my book, Errant in Iberia, using questions sent in by Notes in Spanish listeners. You can check out the interview here: – I think there is some good stuff in there about the experience of moving to another country, focusing of course on Spain.

Another book?

I think about writing a follow up to Errant in Iberia about once a week, but haven’t started yet for a few reasons:

1. The first book covers a period when everything was asonishingly and wonderfully new to me, when I was making a huge change to my life. That meant there was a huge amount of material to write about.

2. The story of ‘what happened next’ (i.e. what could be in book 2, continuing the story after our marriage) is very different to the ‘inspiring move abroad’ narrative that I wrote about in the first book.

What did happen next was that I struggled for a long time with finding happy employment here before we started our own business, and, once we did start the business, had a lot of hard stuff to deal with, like constant trips to the UK for a year leading up to the death of my mother. I also travelled less than in the first 3 or 4 years. This makes it a much more complicated book to write in the ‘inspiring life in Spain’ mould, though I think the rise of Notes in Spanish as a business can be an inspiring stroy (I like the thought of being inspiring, as you can tell!)

So basically, I’m not sure what the story would be for book 2. If the story of the first book, Errant in Iberia, was ‘escaping to Spain, discovering Spain and myself, meeting Marina,’ then a book 2 might be ‘finding it’s hard to really settle in, but building a cool business which solved lots of problems’, and again, I’m not sure how great a book that makes.

3. It takes a hell of a lot of effort to write a book, you have to want to do it more than anything else on the planet, and we’ve got a business to run at the moment!

4. Rather than ‘Errant 2’, I also get distracted by the idea of doing a different sort of book, based around the blog, like ‘Notes from Spain – the book’, full of the best posts on Spain from here, and new stuff with lots of fun lists, Spain-isms etc. Then I think, ‘why don’t I just blog that here instead?’

Thanks for listening! Thoughts welcome.

27 Replies to “An interview with me about my book, Errant in Iberia”

  1. Great interview, there is lots I could comment on but I’ll stick to one thing. I’ve heard you talking about the Spanish table manners before and I’ve never experienced this difficulty. My people are pretty casual around the table, apart from the obligatory table- cloth. Perhaps you hang out with a higher class of Spaniard than me! Dipping the bread into soup or olive oil is common in my experience and is called a ‘submarino’? Maybe I’m getting confused?
    The thing that I couldn’t handle at the table is the big bowl of salad being attacked by everyone’s forks. I can’t help thinking that everyone is just sharing saliva in there. So I’ve managed to train most of my Spanish friends and in-laws to take the salad on your own plate with a big spoon. Sorry to comment on such a low-brow theme amongst the interesting concepts that came up.

  2. @Luke, that’s funny, the Englishman in me really can’t deal with the salad on everyone’s fork thing either!! Sadly, I have not trained this out of my in-laws yet 🙂

  3. @luke _ lots of posh pubs and basrs in the uk put large bowls of nibbles on the bar for drinkers which we have no problem dipping our fingers in – not everyone washes their hands as often as they should. Some hoe salyva looks like quite appealing alternative… 😉

  4. This is distracting me from my work! I read the beginning of your book and I’m hooked so it looks like I’m going to have to buy it. It’s a grim, grey rainy day in London and your first chapter has emphasised it even more. I can relate to the photography thing having had quite a bit of photo work published in the past and I was an extra in a King Arthur movie too(the Richard Gere one), among others. What a boring job that was…

  5. @Luke – I couldn’t agree more on the salad sharing thing. I kept being offered salad from a bowl that everyone had been eating directly out of. I admire you for mentioning it to the in-laws, I’m not sure how I could tell them in Spanish that I find their salad eating habits unhygenic and repulsive without causing some offence!

  6. Ben’s quote: ” and again, I’m not sure how great a book that makes.”

    You clearly have a lot going on and seem concentrated on your current enterprise and now that Marina is onboard there are without doubt many new options to extend your current business. I am reasonable sure that you are/have considered these options together.

    As to another book, the time and theme for it will arrive in due course and when it does you will realise that you have new and interesting material and then and only then be ready to take that step and concentrate producing something worthwhile.

    As to dunking and salad sharing, I think some of the above comments are an indicator to the habits and preferences of the posters nothing more.

    I am a plate sharer and personally never think twice of dipping my fork alongside other forks to scoop up a delicious salad or whatever plate, but of course others, from whatever country prefer their own plate to which sharing and mutual forking is not on.

    I am happy to report that here ( at least within my group of local friends) in Cádiz mutual sald plate forking and dunking is the norm.

    Iwould be interested to here how some of the non dunkers and mutual forkers would address a plate of “boganvante en arroz ” for a table of eight.

  7. @Berti wrote: “I would be interested to here how some of the non dunkers and mutual forkers would address a plate of "boganvante en arroz ” for a table of eight.”

    I would eat it all myself

  8. Ben,

    I bought the first book and have read part of it, not all. So forgive me if I am suggesting things that are all ready covered so here goes.

    1. Day in and Day out Culture differences that one loves and one hates.
    2. The assimilation process as an extranjero. How to retain your identity while at the same time being accepted by the new culture.
    3. The good and bad you learned about your own culture with this experience.
    4. The daily life differences (besides more sun)
    5. Seeing success and failures of your compatriots in the assimilation process.

    That’s it for now. I’ll think of more.


  9. Oh, how I miss a personal salad. That and screen doors, and window screens. I will never be in a position to ‘train’ my in-laws into doing anything, nor they me. Despite the years they lived in the States.
    Your book sounds fascinating, and I see the dilemma of writing an equally interesting follow up. All the real drama in my life also happened during the transition, not now that I’m here.
    If boganvante is lobster = I don’t touch crustaceans.

  10. @Ben – I’m pretty sure there’s a gap in the market for a book about contemporary Spain and the Spanish, written by a foreigner, but targeted at the Spanish market. People are interested in what foreigners think of them, and people love it when foreigners compliment them and take an interest in them. Similar to what Bill Bryson did with “Notes From A Small Island”. It was popular with the Brits partly because it was an American who wrote it, which made it appear more genuine and objective rather than just another person writing about how wonderful their own country is.

    If you can completely avoid the usual stuff that has been done so many times before, and tends to stereotype Spain and the Spanish (Franco, bull fighting, etc) but concentrate on the quirky aspects and idiosyncracies, and write them with a positive slant, then the Spanish might buy it (and maybe a few expats as well).

  11. Ben,
    Have you heard of Enric González??.
    He is a contemporary Spanish journalist and writer who’s been correspondant for ‘El Paí­s’ newspaper in New York, Paris, London and Rome.

    Some two or three years back he published a little gem of a book called ‘Historias de Londres’. It is a sentimental guide of his time spent in the city of London full with irony, humour, intelligence and good taste pointing out the little indiosincrasities of England and London from a Spanish perspective.

    If you haven’t read it I strongly recommend you go fast to your favourite bookshop and get it right away. I’m sure you’re going to enjoy it a lot and maybe you could find some inspiration regarding your next book.

    Historias de Londres, de Enric González, publicado por la editorial RBA.

  12. @acosta – point 2: Surely you mean ‘integration’ as opposed to ‘assimilation’. My understanding is that if you ‘assimilate’, you give up your own cultural identity, replacing it with a new, adopted one.

    Integration means the acceptance of various aspects of the dominant local cultural identity while retaining elements of your own original cultural identity. I believe that integration is viewed as easier for the immigrant but can sometimes prove difficult for ‘natives’ of the host country to accept. Spain seems pretty accepting of ‘foreign’ cultural traditions, on the whole.

  13. Hey, that was a good interview. Plenty interesting stuff. On the point of you saying some people find the Spanish a bit rude, I can’t say I’ve ever found them rude but maybe somewhat indifferent, yes. I’ve never felt like I was encouraged to speak Spanish wherever I go in Spain. They don’t seem to care. Maybe they are fed up with tourists, I don’t know. Usually it ends in a duel between me attempting to speak Spanish and the Spanish trying to show off their (equally bad!) English. Well maybe not quite as bad 🙂 On the other hand, they don’t seem any different to the French.

    But I’m just back from Tuscany, and I was struck by how friendly the Italians were on the whole. Unfortunately, I hardly know any Italian, but I did notice they seem to speak a bit slower than the Spanish and it’s easier on the ear, easier to make out. But I’m still sticking to Spanish meantime! They were a bit depressed after getting beat in Euro 2008 but they took it quite well. Quite impressed by Tuscany I have to say.

  14. OT…”Unfortunately, I hardly know any Italian, but I did notice they seem to speak a bit slower than the Spanish and it’s easier on the ear,”
    Is this true? I’ve started learing Italian since I’m working over in Rome for a few months. It seems quite easy to pick up (if you know Spanish) and it’d be a great bonus if it they speak more slowly than the machine-gun rate of the Spanish.

  15. Totally in agreement with Bill, Ben! Bill Bryson’s book “Australia” went gangbusters here.. everyone had to read it to find out what he said.

    Everyone loved it and more and more people bought it because the book was funny and he loved his trip a lot, which self-validated us

    Judging by the Spaniards who reply here I reckon they would love reading something like that.

  16. Careful, careful. A book written by a foreigner about Spain and popular with Spaniards? With exception of historical books and intellectual art works of a a la Gerard Brennan that has never been achieved before.

    Bill bryson is the wrong example. My dear anglo individuals (with Ben at the top) what can be successful within the (admittedly huge) anglo-linguistic island does not necessarily succeed in other cultures. Sure, there is Hollywood, the vast best-seller literature and pop-music. But none of the books written in a slightly journalistic style about Spain in recent years (John Hooper, Giles Tremlett and others) has had success amongst Spaniards. The audience is and remains anglo. I have read the books, I liked them, but I am afraid a lot of Spaniards would take exception to the style and content of both books. Add to that irony a la Bryson, and you have a recipe for disaster. Well, it wouldn’t be disaster because nobody would read it, and no Spanish publisher would risk translating it into Spanish.

  17. My point was that Ben should avoid the deep and heavy stuff, the socio-analysis, the politics, the serious issues, etc that can be found in most books written on Spain by foreigners. I had the Tremlett book in mind when I wrote: “If you can completely avoid the usual stuff that has been done so many times before, and tends to stereotype Spain and the Spanish (Franco, bull fighting, etc)…”. The Spanish were never going to buy “Ghosts Of Spain” because to them it’s “yet another foreigner sticking his nose into complicated issues and drawing the same old negative conclusions about Spain”.

    The contemporary Spanish like to look forward, not backward. They like to live in brand new flats, drive brand new cars, build new railways, etc. They’re not interested in the past so much, nor the heavy socio-analysis, especially when it’s coming from a foreigner. I’m talking about a book on subjects such as eating out of the same salad bowl, those huge muebles found in every house, why Spanish families seem to have thousands of sets of sheets and table cloths, and still buy each other more as presents, all the effort that goes into las fallas, village fiestas, or those nativity scenes you see in shop windows at christmas time. Light hearted, uplifting stuff, that the Spanish will like to hear coming from a foreigner. I don’t think anyone has done that yet.

  18. I really enjoyed the interview, it was like re-reading ‘Errant in Iberia’! As far as your second book is concerned: just go for it Ben, it will be a different book, but that is only to be expected.

    RE Moscow and Anglo authors on Spain: I’m not an Anglo, but I often enjoy these books very much! Travel books are my favorite and English-speaking authors are often among the best travel writers.

  19. @Edith,
    Sorry, what I wrote above includes English speaking foreigners as well. I myself actually almost exclusively read books in English and by British authors. That’s because I like history and the British have carved out a real niche in this area for themselves. The same although much less so for travel books. What I was referring to is that if you write a book about Spain trying to please Spaniards a bit in order to get a Spanish readership, that then, then this might backfire just splendidly.
    And that is because the Spanish public, in general, is not acquainted – the way you and I are – with British/english cultural quirks.

  20. We are talking about a book here as scientists in a lab.

    If the book is good it’ll have a better chance to be a good read than otherwise. The angle, the focus, the topics to be covered, etc… all these factors have to come second after what’s really important : talent and writing abilities.

  21. How about a parallel text/dual language book of essays or short stories about Spanish culture? Accompanied by an audio CD – in Spanish and English of course!

  22. @Bill,
    Yes maybe…….hmm…..and maybe not. I get the impression many of the travel books already contain that sort of information, nut perhaps I’m wrong. If, for example, Ben would compile “Notes..” into a book – would that please Spaniards? No and thousands times no. The readership here is primarily anglo (or English speaking).
    I see few Spaniards (except for hate mail) on this blog.

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