Four years ago, when I began to sketch out ideas for a crime series set in Spain, I knew sooner or later I would have to tackle the subject of the Spanish Civil War and the shadow it still casts over Spanish society. The 2012 draft of Stolen Lives touched on a particularly painful part of this legacy, that of the illegal adoptions that occurred during the Franco dictatorship (which saw the parents of newborns being told their child was dead, when in fact he or she had been given away to another family).
However, publishers felt that version of the book didn’t really do justice to the subject matter (one rejection letter read, “Pritchard very nearly said something profound about the Spanish Civil War, but fell at the final hurdle”) so in the rewrite I have decided to tackle the subject head on and make a more general comment on how the civil war has affected – and continues to affect – Spanish society.
The first thing I did was to look through articles I wrote during the ten years I worked as a journalist in Spain. I was immediately struck by the unmistakably pro-Republican slant some of my articles had. This was only natural, as at the time I was in a relationship with a Spanish woman, and her family had been badly persecuted by the Franco regime after the war. However, through being able to read texts in Spanish, I know the Republican repression of the Right in the province of Almería was particularly harsh, so I want to reflect that aspect of the conflict, too.
Another factor is that in the interim period between the writing of those articles and my writing this, I have fathered two Spaniards, so the whole subject of the civil war really matters to me in a way that it didn’t before. I now find myself far more drawn to stories of how normal Spaniards from across the political spectrum struggled to keep family and friends safe, rather than tales of the arrests and executions carried out by extremists.
So, how to use this in the new draft of Stolen Lives? Yesterday, I had a brainstorming session to determine exactly how I felt about the conflict. While I can’t say I possess any sympathy for Franco and the militarists, I now take a far more jaundiced view of the way the Left acted during the war, and so have decided to make my central character, Danny Sanchez, the grandchild of Right-wing exiles.
Part of this decision was practical – every novelist who has written fiction about the conflict recently has gone for the Republican/International Brigade angle – while another part is that I find writing about characters with whom I have little in common creates far more compelling prose: the character I have most enjoyed creating so far is Ilse Drechsler, a female Nazi-sympathiser from my novel, Werewolf. Making Danny’s family from the right also establishes an interesting conflict within him, as his own political views are centre-left.
Thinking about the controversy the civil war still provokes also suggested an interesting backdrop for the new draft of the story: a town that is bitterly divided by what took place there in the 1930s. This will allow me to draw in some of the fascinating details I have learned from collecting books published in Spain by local historians. This is turn gave me the idea for a new character, the writer of a wildly biased and controversial history book, so I am going to run with these ideas for the rest of this week and see what pans out.