From raindrops dripping from terracotta rooftops, people and pine forests, to a glimpses of distant sea and wild grandeur, Mallorca inspires author Diana Janney. Here she explains why Mallorca was the ideal island muse for her new novel, A Man of Understanding
FOR me, inspiration is a simple yet complex force for the good. Simple in that it requires just one fleeting, indefinable moment to cast its creative spell, and complex in that its influence develops in a multitude of ways.
Mallorca inspired me from the very first time I visited the island 25 years ago, particularly the small villages that sit at the foot of the towering, tree-covered Serra de Tramuntana Mountain range in the north. On each of my many visits since then, I have found something different to inspire me.
I chose this part of the island as the principal setting for my novel, A Man of Understanding, because it is unquestionably a work of art in itself, one of nature’s finest sculptures.
It is the ideal location for a novel that explores the importance of art for its ability to heal those who are suffering from loss or grief – in this case, the recently orphaned Blue Ellerton, who is sent from England, to live in a finca in the mountains of Mallorca with a grandfather he has never met, the poet-philosopher Horatio Hennessy.
Having just returned to The Golden Isle, as the ancients called Mallorca, I find myself marvelling once again at its beauty. It is no surprise that the tiny ancient villages of Deia and Valldemossa, nestling quietly into the backdrop of the mountains, have attracted writers for generations.
I am reminded of what the 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant described as ‘disinterested pleasure’, that is, a pleasure that we derive from the beautiful that is not a desire, not a means to an end, but pleasurable in such a way that we believe everyone else ought to derive the same pleasure from it.
What is that feeling, asks Horatio Hennessy of his grandson Blue, that stays with us after we have listened to a beautiful piece of music, or admired a beautiful painting, read a beautiful poem, or been struck by the beauty of nature?
I believe that the feeling we derive from experiences such as these gives us a deeper understanding of what matters in life – not in a hedonistic sense of superficial beauty, but in the contemplation of the kind of beauty we find in Mallorca, in nature and the arts. The artwork by local artists and sculptors, its classical musical concerts performed in breath-taking settings, its simple but majestic architecture lead us to recognise a unity between the beautiful and the good. We draw closer to an understanding of the purpose of existence.
We hear a wandering donkey giving voice to its enjoyment of life, we savour food that has been perfected by locals over generations, we marvel at a church perched on the summit of an ancient village, and we feel a connection to something beyond us. We feel alive. We feel part of a shared but individual existence. And this is what Mallorca inspired in my novel.
Guided by his grandfather, the orphaned Blue finds a positive way to overcome loss and grief, by expressing those inner thoughts and fears, that would otherwise remain unexpressed, in the form of poetry. Gradually, Blue comes to see that those we have loved are still with us after their death, and feeling their loss teaches us something about the nature and importance of life, what it means to love.
Soon, the boy is experiencing the sound of dripping raindrops from terracotta rooftops; the heavy scent of freshly watered soil; the forests of pine trees; the beauty of the finca that Horatio restored, with its mighty walls the colour of a sandy beach in the midday sun; the rocky caves that offer shelter from sudden rain; the blue of cloudless sky on a summer’s day; the clay pots overflowing with brightly coloured flowers; the scented herbs; the glimpse of the sea on the horizon; the camaraderie of the locals; and the freedom of uncultivated nature at its best. It isn’t long before he too is in love with the place.
He learns the importance of embracing the beauty and the good in life, and how we can use our individual talents to give something back to the beauty that life offers us.
Writing A Man of Understanding was my way of utilising my talents to give something back to the beauty that Mallorca has given me. I am proud and humbled when reviewers describe my novel as a beautiful, poignant work, and I hope that, by feeling this experience, readers will be similarly inspired in their own individual, creative ways.
In order to be inspired, it is essential to lose oneself to the grandeur but simplicity of existence. Mallorca is the perfect place to do that, and I hope that as readers travel through the pages, they will feel that the beauty of Mallorca, the beauty of love, and the beauty of the human soul, travels with them.
Diana Janney is the author of the novel A Man of Understanding, named Runner-Up in the fiction category of the People’s Book Prize 2023, published by Cogito Publishing (winner of the Best Publisher award) and out now in paperback and e-book.