Laurie Lee is often cited - amongst English Speakers moving to Spain - as one of the few writers on the country that have managed to portray the Real Spain - Lee’s travel stories having inspired and often ignited a passion for Iberia previously unknown amongst Anglosaxons. Yet any cursory inspection into Lee’s autobigraphical travels reveal inconsistencies, inaccuracies and outright inventions.
At some point, those of us still treasuring our battered copies of "When I Walked Out One Mid-summer Morning" - must ask ourselves - What if Laurie Lied?
It would not be until 1998 that I would eventually begin to search for the answer. In that year I found myself concluding a two year stint inToledo and looking to move to a small village on the coast of Granada. It was there that I stumbled across an almost hidden plaque embedded in a small concrete structure, tucked under a palm tree overlooking the central beach. Inscribed was the following message:
"The town of Almuñecar, in recognition to the great writer Laurie lee, that lived in our town (1935-36) (1951 - 52) and immortalised it under the name of Castillo."
Was it fate that had brought me here? Was I destined to carry out the investigations I had started so long ago?
There was 3 facts that persuaded me to begin this quest: 3 facts that - for me - had always raised doubts over his accounts of what happened…
1. Lee never wrote "When I Walked Out..." untill 35 years after leaving Spain. Time plays games with memories and hind-site can too easily add weight to an instinct or feeling. Much of his writing is uncannily accurate in its predictions, far more so than that of political historians of the time.
2. Lee was a writer of fiction and poetry, above all else. It is part of the role of a writer to weave together unconnected and perhaps, tales that have been merely whispered, rather than encountered.
3. When I had studied the history of the Second Republic and the lead up to the Spanish Civil War at University, I had read many accounts by International Brigaders who had questioned Lee’s role in his book on the civil war. Some had discounted his writing as pure fiction.
I wanted to know why so many English Writers - seemingly effortlessly - to acquire a linguistic fluency (particularly in the indecipherable province of Granada) after just a few weeks strolling the back roads of Spain, and how wherever they set foot, they were warmly embraced, welcomed and then sobbed over as they strolled on, just three days after arrival.
My understanding of the complexities of the subjunctive meant I would forever raise a eyebrow when writers engage in back-room shouting matches over politics and war.
And my raised eyebrow was beginning to ache.
So, armed with these facts, a few crazed questions in my mind and a battered copy of Lee’s work… I too walked out "One Midsummer Morning" back in 1998, and went looking for answers.
Listen to the whole story of the first investigations into Lauire Lee's writing on this weeks episode of The Speaking Of Spain podcast with the Gazpachomonk.
You can listen to it here, download it from itunes or from here, and subscribe so that you will not miss PART 2: The Eyewitness Accounts of Lee's time on the coast.