BRITISH author Rosanna Ley describes how a taste for orange marmalade led her to visit and fall in love with the city of Sevilla and sparked the idea for her new novel, The Orange Grove.
The first thing that struck me when we arrived in the city was the incredible scent of the orange blossom – this was in March and the fragrance seemed to hang in every street.
It was truly intoxicating. I also loved the history and character of the city; Sevilla is effortlessly elegant.
It felt very different over the river in Triana and this intrigued me as I had planned to include a few fictional characters in the novel who had been born in this district.
Triana felt like the home of both bullfighting and flamenco and although I had already read a lot about flamenco and had already visited the fascinating museum in Sevilla, Museo del Baile Flamenco, I was hoping to witness an authentic flamenco performance that would help me get the full flavour and which I could include in the book somehow.
As Triana is also the home of many pottery workshops, including the ceramic tiles that can be seen on many building façades, and since I have a passion for ceramic tiles and intended one of my characters to be a potter, it was important for me to visit some of the workshops in this district in order to learn more.
The tourist trail of Sevilla includes some wonderful architecture and history – the exquisite Moorish Alcazar Palace with pretty patios and beautiful gardens was probably my favourite, but I also loved the planting and tranquillity at Parque de Maria Luisa with its lovely ceramic fountains. And the shop-fronts of Calle Sierpes were just gorgeous.
The people of Sevilla are friendly and welcoming and the weather is warm. What’s not to love about this glorious city? And I can’t leave this question without mentioning the tapas and the wine (including the orange wine at Taberna Alvaro Peregil!).
The food in Sevilla really blew me away and once again there is so much history and character behind it that I wanted to taste it for myself and try to capture it for the book.
Why I chose the city as the backdrop for my latest novel
It’s warm, sunny and summery and definitely felt like the kind of place where I like to base my books. But a place also has to interest me culturally and historically too. Sevilla had come into my orbit a few times over the previous year or so; a few friends had mentioned how much they liked the place, and my literary agent also had visited and recommended the city to me.
I had read a few articles about Sevilla and it had come on to my radar (which is often the first stage…) I did a bit of initial research and when I found out about all the orange trees, I had the idea of writing about this somehow.
I am a great lover of Seville orange marmalade, and this prompted me to write about someone who made orange marmalade and who went on to discover the city of Sevilla.
It is a romantic city, so it was easy to see how someone could fall in love there. But what if a mother and daughter visited together and the mother had secretly visited long before..? The plot developed from there really.
A city full of surprises
I loved the little nooks, squares and alleyways; the notion that you could be wandering through the city and suddenly come upon a beautiful fountain in a square with a bench under an orange tree, or a statue that linked up to one of Sevilla’s many myths and legends (including Don Juan and Carmen of course!).
This was how I came to write about the ‘legend walk’ in the novel where one of my characters shows another round the lesser-known part of the city.
Although I like to mention some of the more popular places in any city, in my novels, it is important to go a bit deeper and explore some of the places that might not be so well known – at least to travellers or tourists like me.
The tiled facades were wonderful. My favourite was in Calle Teuan – a car advertisement from 1924. I’m sure that the Sevillanos are so used to these facades that they probably forget how amazing they are – but I certainly spent a long time gawping!
My favourite ‘secret place’ was at the back of the Palace Gardens in Barrio Santa Cruz, the city’s Jewish Quarter, which I found when I was researching for the ‘legend walk’.
It is in Calle Susona and is a little piazza that includes a plaque dedicated to Susona (her story is in the book) and two beautiful trees. Inscribed on the plaque is the last wish (or warning) of this young girl who lived in the neighbourhood in the late 15th century. It was so quiet and peaceful there. It is incredible that in a busy city like Sevilla, it is possible to find these spots of perfect tranquillity.
Favourite way to spend a day
I think my favourite day was spent wandering around Triana. I loved exploring all the pottery workshops and I spent a long time deciding where a few of my characters would ‘live’. (I like to find a house and then map out the nearby surroundings so that when I’m writing about a character in his/her space I can imagine it more fully).
I was especially interested in the traditional Gypsy houses featuring living spaces and bedrooms off an open-aired internal courtyard that was the home’s social hub, for example in Calle Pages del Corro – previously Cava de Los Gitanos.
People were so charming and everyone was happy for me to take photos of the interior of their bars/ clubs and the exterior details of their homes.
This research was so useful for the book but it was also just so interesting.
We had an amazing tapas lunch al fresco and then witnessed a wedding taking place at the church next to our restaurant. It was so charming and we felt as though we were witnessing some of the real life of Sevilla. We felt very privileged to be there.
I also loved our morning delving into the treasures of Calle Feria market, where we bought some lovely old tiles.
And then we had a wonderful day exploring the orange farms with José Manuel Bautista from Gospa Citrus.
He was such a knowledgeable guide and the information he provided was invaluable to me in writing the book. (He also gave us two bags of oranges which were delicious!)
What is it about Sevilla that will stay with you forever?
Sevilla was one of my favourite places to go and research and I plan to return in the near future so that this time we can just have a holiday and enjoy the place without having to do all the research. I brought back a few ceramic tiles which will always remind me of my time there. And some orange blossom neroli perfume. I won’t forget Sevilla and I will keep the scent of the orange blossom close to my heart forever.
Rosanna Ley has had ten novels published by Quercus Books. She has worked as a creative writing tutor for many years and has written articles and stories for a number of national magazines. Her writing holidays and retreats take place in stunning locations in Spain and Italy. When she is not travelling, Rosanna lives in West Dorset by the sea. Her latest novel The Orange Grove was published in March 2021.
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