Valencia, Spain: October 1957 – After a long hot summer, Guardia Civil officers José Morales Ruiz and Fermín Belasco Ibarra have had enough of their lives. Sick of dealing with lowlifes and those left powerless under Franco’s ruthless dictatorship, the friends devise a complex system of stealing babies, to be sent away to paying families. But as the October rains fall, the dry Valencian streets fill with muddy water, and only greed and self-preservation will survive…
It’s 2010, and Luna Montgomery is busier than ever. With the mystery of her murdered grandfather solved, she reluctantly prepares to be the bride in Spain’s ‘wedding of the year’. But four more bodies lie hidden at Escondrijo, Luna’s farm in the Valencian mountains. Her fiancé, bullfighter Cayetano Beltrán Morales, is not eager to have his name brought up in a post-civil war burial excavation. When Cayetano’s grandfather José, an evil Franco supporter, starts to push his ideals on Luna, her decision to join the Beltrán family comes under scrutiny.
The Tour de France is fast approaching, and Luna’s position as a bike mechanic on Valencia’s new cycling team begins to come under pressure. When an ‘accident’ occurs at Escondrijo, lives hang in the balance as more of Spain’s ghosts come to life and tell the story of a flood in 1957…
1 ) What is Vengeance in the Valencian Water all about?
VITVW is the second in the Luna Montgomery ‘Secrets of Spain’ series, which continues right where Blood in the Valencian Soil left off. VITVW follows the same vein – two different time periods, with their own themes that are bound together by similar circumstances. VITVW is centred in Valencia 1957, with a Guardia Civil officer, José Morales and his battle against the struggles of Franco Spain. Common in this time period was the horrendous baby-stealing practices in hospitals, where the church would steal babies from mothers at birth and sell them, with the law on their side. José gets caught up in this vicious circle, only to find his real adversary is the Valencia flood of October 14 the same year. The story runs alongside the 2010 storyline of Cayetano Beltrán, José’s grandson, and his life with Luna Montgomery, which is under pressure. With the financial crisis weighing down Cayetano’s career as a bullfighter and the impending bankruptcy of his grandfather’s huge business, life is increasingly difficult. Luna is still struggling after the recession claimed her job in the first novel, and just as she finds some stability, her late husband’s alleged drug cheating as a professional cyclist rears its head. The long-awaited trial of a Spanish doctor caught doping Tour de France riders leaves Luna to face a legacy she never wanted to be part of. Luna continues pushing to dig up unidentified Spanish civil war bodies, the common clash in Luna and Cayetano’s relationship in BITVS. All the themes in both 1957 and 2010 interlink as ‘coincidence versus fate’ is again explored.
Pretending to be researching in Segovia
2 ) How long did it take to write Vengeance in the Valencian Water?
I started writing in February ’13, with the intention of having the bulk of the storyline completed before my research trip in May. That failed dismally but while in Spain, I learned so many things. Once back from Spain I was busy with Violent Daylight‘s August release and the story went on hold. I didn’t get back to VITVW until October and finished at the end of November. The book dragged out longer than ever planned, and many ‘real-life’ things got in the way. I had the background for the book, with the research on the Valencian flood, the baby black market, and the drugs in cycling done a year in advance, so when it came time to flesh out the book, there was no delay. Going to Spain to learn more about bullfighting and the reality of the recession in Spain really helped with the final touches. Because this book had swirled in my mind for so long, the writing was the final piece of the puzzle, rather than just writing and seeing where the book led, as I have done in the past.
3 ) How can you justify being a fan of bullfighting? Bullfighting is grotesque, so why do you condone animal cruelty?
I have heard it all. I have three things that attract internet trolls – bullfighting, supporting cycling (in NZ), and being a feminist. Bullfighting tends to bring out the animal in people themselves. I have been told I am vile, I am cruel, I don’t deserve to be a parent, I am disgusting, my family deserves to be hurt… the list goes on. Are all these people interesting in the way their meat was raised and processed? Bulls raised on ganaderías and sent to bullfights are treated like kings. Quality healthcare, exercise regimes, carefully controlled diets… none of those things are taken into consideration for the chicken or pork in your fridge. Yes, bulls are taunted and exhausted in the ring, surrounded by the real beast of bullfighting – the crowd – who hungers for the animal to die. Is that degrading? Yes – that is without question. Do I feel sorry for the bulls while they stand disoriented and weakened as they get stabbed to death? Absolutely! The combination of watching the animal die, combined with sitting beside people who love to watch the event is not a nice feeling at all. Am I trying to promote bullfighting? I’m not sure if that is even possible – people can make up their minds about the corrida long before they get there. Many argue on the side of tradition, and I can identify with that. Bullfighting is more than killing an animal. The toreros are fascinating men and their dance with death is something I could write about forever. They are brave, proud, and skilled. They have a talent that is frowned upon in the modern age, and stand in the ring to cheat death of its right to claim them, and are both reviled and revered every time they do so. (Numbers of men wanting to be toreros is up, not down as expected). I have great respect for these men, but I have no desire to promote cruelty to animals. I don’t plan on opening minds to both sides of the argument – many minds cannot be opened. The bull is the orchestra, the torero is the conductor. The crowd chants for a kill. I don’t write to glamourise the event – in fact, if you read, you’ll find the books regularly grapple with the subject, and show there is more to a torero than his sword.
4 ) Do you need to read Blood in the Valencian Soil before you read Vengeance in the Valencian Water?
A tricky one. Yes and no. Book one tells the story of a lonely bullfighter and a grieving bike mechanic teaming up to unearth a civil war grave, running parallel to the 1939 storyline of their grandparents trying to flee Valencia at the end of the civil war. The story tells of how Luna and Cayetano meet and how unorthodox they are as a team. However, book two tells the story of them battling through the trials of 2010 Spain, alongside unearthing an all-new grave. The story does stand alone, and the book should give you enough of a background that you don’t feel like you’ve been denied any detail. But they are designed to run together, with VITVW starting off just a month after BITVS ended.
5 ) Why have alternate storylines? Isn’t that complicated?
I’ve never had anyone tell me that alternate storylines are complicated. I personally feel that VITVW is even easier to follow than BITVS with the different time periods. The series tells the story of Spanish families throughout the civil war and Franco time period. BITVS is a snapshot of life in 1939, VITVW tells of 1957 Valencian life, and the third book (out 2015) tells the story of 1976 Spain, as the country comes to terms with Franco’s recent death. These times are pitted alongside modern Spain and the very real struggles that the nation is facing. Given the laws that the current Spanish government passes, there is no need to imagine fantastical fiction; reality continues to inspire in depressing ways.
Portal de la Valldigna ’57/’13 – Different and yet the same (photo courtesy of Juan Antonio Soler Aces)
6 ) Did you base the characters on real-life people, like Blood in the Valencian Soil?
Rather than look at the situations of specific individuals and make a fictional tale based on their lives, this book takes a different vein. This book follows real events (like BITVS) but has all fictional characters. This book is a snapshot of Valencia in 1957 and the characters live in what was reality at the time. I spent countless hours studying photographs and recollections of the city and its way of life at the time. I also studied the 1957 flood over the period of about a year, so I knew all the details I needed. I got to the point where I knew the water level of individual streets around the city. I also walked those streets in Valencia, to visualise the scenarios for myself. All of the characters are entirely fictional, and would not want to meet these people in person!
As for the 2010 characters, they are all also fictional but live in Spain as it was that year. One chapter sees Luna caught up in protests in Madrid, and I made sure there was a protest in Puerta del Sol in that month and checked what they protested against and what their signs said. The timeline is accurate, but no one is based on a real person.
Graham Hunt was kind enough to capture this, so it had to go in the book
7 ) What did you research for the book? You talk about research a lot of twitter.
Jaja, my twitter rambling coming back to bite me. Following on my from the last question – I researched a lot. For me, when I sit down to write, I need to be able to envisage the whole scene in my mind before a word can be written. When it’s based in Valencia, imagining somewhere is a piece of cake. But still, I need to know the details are in place before I can start. For example, when writing José in 1957, I needed to know what his Guardia Civil uniform looked like, or what the fashion of the time looked like in Valencia. That meant tracking down photographs in 1957. There is one scene where José has to wear what I imagine as the ugliest brown suit ever, but then in another, the smoothest grey suit you can imagine. I know both of these were on sale because I checked. I don’t spend a great deal of time on clothing unless it’s relevant to the scene, so you don’t feel bombarded with inane tidbits. But when they buy 1957 swimsuits, I checked to see what you could get at Malvarrosa at the time. Beach umbrellas are the right colour, the restaurant decor is correct, street names are correct, even the flowers bought at the market are the right type. When Franco arrives, his car is the right kind, the positions are correct, the aides are dressed properly. When it comes to bullfighting, the clothes are correct, the details of a fight are correct, the feeling from the crowd is correct ( I know this because I sat there to get it right). Valencia is the perfect place to use as a location because there is just so much to see, and how much the city has changed is incredible. I have studied the detail of the city from the mid-1800′s until now and the changes are amazing, yet the core, the heart of the city remains the same.
Calle Miguelete at Plaza de la Virgen, both Jose’s 1957 and Luna’s 2010 reality
8) Are there any storyline pieces you are worried about? Does reaction to the book worry you?
Does it worry me? Only all the time. Writing a book is like walking around naked, you are fully exposed to embarrassment and ridicule. I feel like a running joke – an author with an anxiety disorder. I dream about being teased about typos. After writing a chapter, I put on a cynical hat and question its believability. With the Luna Montgomery series, I want things to be as realistic as possible. Fortunately, by following real-life scenarios, the possibility of the storyline being over-the-top is nigh impossible. With the flood, it’s all real, as are the babies stolen by the church. None of that needed to be made up. The 2010 storyline gave me more worries. The medical details were something I was careful with – there’s nothing worse than reading/watching something and a character is sick and makes an instant miracle recovery. Anyone who suffered or nursed someone with a serious illness or injury will see right through it. I had to check the detail very carefully. I fight constantly with Luna and Cayetano, to make sure they are believable and full of flaws. Perfection doesn’t exist and neither of them can appear to have the upper hand over the other. They both make mistakes, they both say stupid things, like any couple. I worried, about halfway through, that Luna was being too needy, and then wasn’t being strong enough. In the end, I did worry if all the feminists out there will be disappointed with her life choices, but to me, she does all she needs to do for all around her. She doesn’t have the luxury of making decisions to suit herself. I also worry if Cayetano comes off as arrogant or selfish at times, but have tried to suitably redeem him. You aren’t supposed to like every character all the time anyway.
9 )Why give Luna two children? What’s the point?
There are plenty of points. From the very beginning, I imagined Luna with two sons. Luna is the very first character I ever created, back in 2009 when I was still finding my feet. (You can’t accuse me of not taking my time with the characters. I took 18 months off these characters to work on Canna Medici while I got this series together.) Luna meets Cayetano and their lives are a mess. They meet to uncover murdered relatives, so it’s not a love story. From the very beginning, Cayetano always had María, his wife. That in itself is a nightmare, but to have Luna as a single woman would be too easy, and make her too perfect. I made her a parent because it suits her, she’s the type to cope well with sons. I had to also make her a widow because that was the only way to make her solo mother, no other scenario worked on Luna and Fabrizio as a couple. I’ve been the child of a solo mother, and know just how amazing they are. To have a male and female lead character makes it easy for them to fall into a relationship, or at least an affair, and by making Luna a widowed solo mother and Cayetano already married, it gave me far more scope to develop the characters and their interactions. They come from totally different perspectives, and not just because their families sit on opposite sides of the political and religious divide. They cannot understand each other’s situations because they are so bogged down in their own realities. Just when the path seems smooth for a quiet life, I have something to throw in the mix. This isn’t a romance novel.
10 ) Which of the two books (Blood in the Valencian Soil and Vengeance in the Valencian Water) have you enjoyed writing the most….and why?
That is a really hard choice. BITVS was my baby, I nursed her for quite some before I got the book I wanted. It is centred in the civil war, something that gives me enough inspiration to write 100 books. It is set around a murdered grandfather, something very close to home for me. The issue of relatives killed in the civil war and hidden away also hits close to home for me. The story of a kiwi nurse in Spain is something I took the time to understand, follow and genuinely care about. It was great to meet the family of Renee Shadbolt, the real Scarlett Montgomery, and how proud they were of her. Real people in real scenarios flourishing and despairing was what I wanted to create. I will always love BITVS.
one place – three periods in the series
VITVW is totally different. Writing one book and making it my baby seems easy compared to following it up with a suitable sequel. I wanted to continue the series, but at the same time, make a story that can stand on its own. It needed to pack all the punch of the first book, without going over old detail. I can’t remember when I decided to write a Valencia flood novel, but I don’t think it’s been done before (feel free to correct me). It would have been easy to have Luna and Cayetano go back through another civil war story and it probably would have worked, too. But going back to the 1950′s instead of the 1930′s gave the series new life. The third book goes to the 1970′s, so the state of Spain under Franco through the years can be seen in long-form. From war in the 30s to the heavy-handed rule of the 50′s, to the unstable 70′s, the story of the Beltrán and Morales families can tell a huge story. The present-day storyline also gives that chance. BITVS is set in 2009, VITVW in 2010, and then Death in the Valencian Dust in 2013, and Spain changes in this tiny time frame, giving me plenty to work with. As long as Rajoy is in power, enough things will be screwed up, providing plenty of ideas.
I would have to say BITVS is my favourite to write because it was the first in this big project, but VITVW gave me huge satisfaction too, as I feel I have done a really good job with it. I wouldn’t change a thing and feel my writing style is much better now.
11 ) Did you learn anything new about writing while working on Vengeance in the Valencian Water? Did you enjoy writing this book? Would you change anything about your books?
I learned plenty once again. My last novel release was only five months ago, but I feel like I learned so much about editing in that tiny space of time. I feel like the quality has stepped up another level. Because the time it took to write this book became a mess due to illness, I had to stay on task, and I learned I can write a lot in a short space of time if I make the effort. If I needed to have a chapter done from start to finish in a couple of hours, I can do that. Doing 5000 words a day doesn’t feel like a big deal.
I have two individual book series and they are very different from each other, and flipping between the two wasn’t as hard as last time I swapped between them. I finished Violent Daylight and felt ready to finish VITVW once and for all. Now it’s done, I can go and work on Luminous Colours of Dusk without any trouble. Because I feel happy with the product, can I put it to bed and move on without any worries. Swapping between Night Wants to Forget and Blood in the Valencian Soil was harder because the first edition of NWTF never made me happy.
The other thing I learned is that you need to have several proofreaders. Everyone puts their hands up to volunteer to proofread, but then bow out when they see the level of reading involved. It makes perfect sense since the world is a busy place, so always get a few extra readers, just in case. Big thanks to Sue Sharpe, who volunteered to painstakingly edit the book, and to Mary Mixon who proofread the entire book in a really short space of time. I wouldn’t change a thing!
Tip to looker thinner than you are on research trips – stand in a giant room filled with fat pillars
12 ) What did you mean when you wrote on Twitter – ‘I hope I don’t sound like a Franco sympathiser in my next book’? Why do you write about Franco? Is it possible to be objective about Franco?
Eek – Franco questions. It instantly reminds me of the troll who told me I was a liar and Franco is a hero and a genius. That really happened.
If you have read the first book in the series, you won’t be confused about where my political alliances lie – I am an unashamed leftie. Writing a story about a group of anarchists in the Spanish civil war didn’t produce any trouble for me – the desire for freedom, rights for the working class, and equality for women appeal to everything I stand for. Of course, the two families in the series come from different angles – one Republican anarchist and one Nationalist heavily in favour of Franco. In VITVW, the story learns more about the Morales family and their Franco and religious leanings. What I know is that people on either side of the divide believe in their ideals without question, so I wrote a family who believes Franco was a hero. It’s not my personal belief, and there are plenty of lines in the book which go against what I think is true. Remember it’s not the final book in the series, so it will swing back to my beliefs more in the next book. What’s the point of writing the series if I don’t explore both sides? I am not endorsing Franco at all, the book does not even attempt to do that, and I still dislike religion as much as ever.
I may take photos of this Falange loving weirdness, but I don’t support it
13 ) Will this book be hard to read if I don’t know anything about the history of Spain? Is this book for Spain lovers? I have never been to Spain, will this book be complicated?
I hope not! This is not a true story; it’s not a set of facts. VITVW is a novel, first and foremost. While I stuck to reality in terms of the timelines, the people are completely fictional. Are there groups of Franco lovers out there, ready to praise the man? You bet there are (they are called the Spanish government… I’m kidding… but not really…), I spoke to Franco lovers personally. Headlines used in the Valencian papers are close to reality, but the characters are fictional when looking for their stolen babies, and you don’t need to already know the background of the baby stealing process of the Franco era – everything you need to understand in the story is included. Likewise with the 2010 drugs in cycling scandal – everything you need to know to understand it is there.
14) Tell us a few things about you that we don’t know about you. Is your online persona the same as your real-life persona?
Jaja, my online persona is probably way cooler than real life. In saying that, I am a snappy dresser (I wish) and get into some funny situations. Things you might not know –
I like radishes
I get so seasick that my backyard hammock is even off-limits unless I take my seasickness pills
My homemade salad dressing is made with condensed milk
I scuff the toes of every pair of shoes I own
I climbed onto a railway line when a train hit a car (first on the scene) when I was only 13. Only two of the six-car occupants survived. It was as bad as you could imagine. Only two years later I dealt with my step-brother’s body being fished from a river.
I’ve never understood why some women say they feel threatened by other women. I’ve never felt threatened. Am I the threatening one?
I once cried at a Spanish supermarket
My parents both got terminal cancer in their 50’s, which taught me to never hold back – dreams, words, goals; there is no extra time, now is the time to get out there
When I was 17, I carried around a Volvo Ocean Race magazine everywhere I went – I ended up getting work on sails for a team
As a child, I was pulled from classes to take part in a special writing course. The teacher said I had terrific storyline ideas, but I would never be smart enough to write a book
My best friend is my brother who sadly lives in Australia (upside – epic holidays together)
I feel like the last stay-at-home mother left in New Zealand
I was a show-off in 1982 (and a natural blonde! Shh…)