I am delighted to welcome
|By kind permission of the author
|Chasing Shadows is published by Corazon Books exclusively as an ebook
20th February 2013
Chasing Shadows is Micaela's story, from her birth in Santiago de Compostela in the late 1870s, to her death in Liverpool in 1950. The story unfolds as tragic events alter the course of Micaela's life, taking her from a comfortable life in nineteenth century Spain to a poor,working class environment in early twentieth century Liverpool. In Liverpool, she meets the Spanish seaman whom she marries in 1907. Chasing Shadows tells of their life together, the difficulties they face in a foreign land, their hopes and disappointments.
It tells of Micaela's failure to fully adapt to her new environment and how this affects her
eldest daughter's life as Pilar is torn between two cultures, two languages and two religions after making a hasty marriage.
Micaela was my grandmother and Chasing Shadows is also my story. It tells of my travels through northern Spain in search of my lost heritage as I explore the culture and the landscape that Micaela left behind. Seemingly chance meetings influence my search, helping me, after many false leads and dead ends, to unearth the secrets of past generations.
What inspired you to tell your grandmother's story?
I was only ten when my grandmother died and although I saw her at least once a week, she didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Spanish, so the research which led to Chasing Shadows was, I suppose, my way of getting closer to her. Also, I feel her story, about emigration and the difficulties encountered in settling into a new life, separated from family and friends, your language and your culture, is as relevant today as it was over a hundred years ago.
What was the writing process like?
The writing process was difficult at first. I lacked confidence in my ability to do justice to the story, which is why I enrolled on a series of creative writing courses. The encouragement and feedback I received on these helped enormously. Once I started travelling to Spain to do the research, I kept journals which I filled in every night so that I was recording my immediate impressions and reactions to people and places. These journals were the basis for the travel sections of the book. The fictionalised, biographical chapters of my grandmother’s early days in Spain were based on anecdotes told to me by my mother and it was thrilling when my research confirmed these, with only a couple of discrepancies in dates and names. These were understandable given that oral history is rarely one hundred per cent accurate and my mother, having been born in England, was passing on stories that she had heard as a child.
What kind of research did you have to do for Chasing Shadows?
My first step was to contact a cousin to see if she had any documents relating to my grandparents. I’d been told my grandmother’s maiden name and that she came to Liverpool from ‘near’ Santiago de Compostela. I also knew the name of the church where she married my grandfather, but not the date. For various family reasons, I hadn't seen my cousin since she was two, fifty years previously, but fortunately she’d inherited photographs and documents from my uncle. She also had a copy of our grandparents’ marriage certificate; alien registration documents from both world wars, and photographs of my grandmother’s siblings – with their names. It was on the strength of these that I set out on my first trip to Spain.
How long did it take you to write Chasing Shadows?
Because the research was so important to me, from that first journey to completion of Chasing Shadows, took eight years! As I made subsequent journeys and uncovered more facts then I would write the next chapters. Sometimes when I discovered a new piece of information I would have to go back and rewrite a chapter.
Are you inspired by any particular era, author or book?
I find the period from the 1880s to the 1960s particularly interesting because of the huge social changes that were taking place. Also, I like to feel part of the chain that links my great-grandparents’ marriage in Santiago de Compostela in 1880, to my marriage in Liverpool in 1960. I’m an avid reader, both of contemporary novels and the Victorian classics. I love Dickens’ novels, especially David Copperfield. Had I met him, I may not have liked Dickens the man, but however many times I read it, I can still weep for David.
About the author
J Carmen Smith was brought up in the Liverpool suburbs, the youngest child in a working class family. She went to grammar school but left at the age of fifteen to start work as a typist in a Law Stationer's Office in the city centre. At the time, she promised her English teacher that one day she would take her English Language and Literature 'O' levels. She eventually kept her promise, gaining '0' and 'A' levels while her children were young, then a BA (Hons) in English and History when they had all flown the nest. At the age of 59 she graduated from The University of Liverpool with an MA in Victorian Literature. Chasing Shadows is her first full length work.
Find out more about the author http://www.jcarmensmith.com/
My Review of Chasing Shadows
Chasing Shadows is a beautifully written and thought provoking story, which not only charts the author's progress as she seeks to discover more about the life of her grandmother, but also works as a rather lovely travelogue, as her research takes her deeper into the culture and hidden secrets of rural Spain. Unearthing the secrets of lost generations is often hampered by lack of information, it’s all too easy for forgotten generations to slip into the mists of time, but this novel shows that with skill and determination, long buried hopes and dreams can be made to live on again in the hearts and minds of others.
Thank you so much for taking the time to give us such a lovely insight into your book.
Jaffa and enjoyed reading it very much, and I'm sure that your grandmother would have been delighted with this story.