Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Kitty Harris' Blog

Included in the previous round of Exclusively Independent was Kitty Harri's novel Hector's Talent for Miracles from Honno Press...."an intelligent and sympathetic exploration of the lasting damage done to survivors of war." Planet

My novel HECTOR’S TALENT FOR MIRACLES has its roots in two countries which have shaped my life. Born in Sweden, I grew up in Spain. As a young adult I emigrated to Canada but a decade later found myself living in Wales, and now, coming full circle, have returned to live in Spain.

During my years in Wales, I became aware of a poignant historical connection between Wales and Spain. During the 1930s, the decline of the Welsh coal industry had turned South Wales into an area of massive unemployment. It was named “The Devil’s Decade” and was notorious for its poverty, deprivation, means testing, soup-kitchens and general despair. There were few other industries and people starved. Meanwhile, the Communist Party in South Wales grew strong.
At the start of the Spanish Civil War, the situation in Wales was catastrophic, unemployment in some areas reaching 70%. The greed of pit owners, and the marginalization of Wales within the UK, turned South Wales into a seething cauldron of bitterness and frustration. So it was that a large number of Welshmen went to Spain to join the International Brigades, fighting what they saw as the universal oppressor, those who exploit the working man.

From the many personal accounts and memoirs by ordinary Welshmen, it is now evident that, as well as a sense of loyalty and strong ideological motivation, a spirit of adventure compelled many of these frustrated young men to join the fight for a free Spain. It proved as good a reason as any to leave the grim and poverty-stricken Welsh valleys behind.

Geraint Watkins, the Welshman of my novel, embodies all these impulses. But not long after having fought in the battle of Jarama he vanishes without a trace, leaving his family with no further news of his whereabouts or his death. As his body is never recovered, his reputation is blackened by rumours of desertion.

Seven decades later, Mair, his granddaughter, takes up an interest in his fate and not believing he was a deserter, she becomes obssessed with the idea of wanting to clear his name. She quits her dreary job as a country vet and makes the journey to the small town of Torre de Burros, the place where Geraint was last seen, in an attempt to discover the true reason for his disappearance. This journey turns into a quest that will change her life.

In Torre de Burros she meets Hector, the main character of my novel. Hector is based on a real person from my youth. I attended school in Spain, and there I had a friend whose uncle was considered simple. He lived a comfortable life with his sister and her family, never having held down a job or being useful in any way. But there was something about him that always intrigued me. The look in his eye was disconcerting and slightly sinister - but far from stupid.

One day I accidentally ventured into a very seedy part of the city (Las Palmas) where I would normally never go, and spotted this man playing chess at a table outside a bar. Observing him at a distance, I learned to my astonishment that he was not who everyone thought he was. He was a highly articulate and fully functioning man, and from the comments of the onlookers, a chess prodigy. His family knew nothing of this double life that he led, and I was so shocked and fascinated by his amazing deception, I never said a word to anyone about what I had discovered.

His secret has stayed with me and stirred my imagination enormously. So it was fitting that, forty years later, I came to write a novel about him. Hector’s alleged inadequacy, however, is a legacy brought down by events in the Civil War. Not conscious of why he is acting out the “village idiot” persona, his thoughts and actions were, from an early age, carefully and disturbingly molded by Pilar, his grandmother. She carries a dark secret which has had devastating consequences for her offspring. Hector’s journey towards emancipation must include looking deeply into the past and uncovering the event that made him who he is. Falling in love with Mair is the catalyst for this powerful transformation.

In the process, Mair also finds the answers to the mystery surrounding Geraint, but none that she could possibly have expected. Though from such different countries, backgrounds and cultures, Hector and Mair discover how deeply affected their lives are by the same historical event. Ultimately the compelling revelation of Pilar leads to a resolution for them both.

The main theme of my novel is the long-term effect of war on individuals. Particularly, like in this case, a war as vicious and devastating as any that followed, a war fought within families, fathers against sons, brothers against brothers, within neighbours and friends.

It is a disturbing subject, often exceedingly violent and to some, taboo. I hope I have balanced out with a quirky set of characters, imbued it with blossoming romance, a craze for miracles, and lifted it into the light by a large helping of humour.


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