Friday, September 4, 2015

The Long Siesta

The International Man Of Mystery  Nick Sweet
Or Man Of International Mystery

One of the best things about being a crime writer is discovering new writers.  My experience follows a very familiar pattern.  An email bounces in to my in-tray asking if I would like to review a book and I say yes. Then forget about it.  The book then appears in a brown padded envelope usually sandwiched in between a legal request for an onerous personal injury statement and an electricity bill.  So the secret package is opened up with huge excitement and the contents are sometimes as exciting as the electricity bill. Occasionally the book lives up to my expectations.

The Long Siesta  was fabulous.

Then, there is the icing on the cake I promptly request, threaten, blackmail the author to do a guest blog for Murder is Everywhere. Especially if they write about somewhere as yet unblogged.

 So it’s with great delight I introduce you to Nick Sweet, who sets his novels in Spain. His book The Long Siesta is published by Grey Cells Press – the crime imprint of Holland House and on the surface it’s an intriguing police procedural set in Spain, yet the author gives us glimpses of the country's unsettled past.  It’s a compliment when I say his detective reminded me of R D Wingfield's  Frost.  The detective is a deeply flawed individual (with good reason) and I shall maintain an enigmatic silence on that one - no plot spoilers here. Nick obviously knows Spain very well and the narrative has a sort of magical flourish. ( I did have one moment of sharp intake of breath when I read a member of the strong supporting cast was a bull fighter so it was interesting to read what Nick had to say  on that subject.)

 I did ask Nick for a few words about the translation style of the novel as it is obviously written in English for an English speaking audience but maintains a direct translation of many Spanish phrases. … read on.
The book cover!

I first came to Spain with my parents when I was seven, and it struck me as being a magical place. And as I grew up my fascination with Spain grew, too. It was a country—or a group of countries—with so many different customs and traditions; and at the same time, it also seemed to be a land that embodied a mass of contradictions. I first moved here to live way back in my twenties; to begin with I lived in Bilbao, then I moved on to Barcelona, where I met my wife, Belén, and we married the following year. During our time in Barcelona, we met all kinds of people. One friend we made was an undercover policeman, and I naturally found it interesting to talk to him about his work. It’s certainly true that I learned a thing or two from him about what was going on in the city’s criminal underworld.

Decades later, after living in England and the Middle East, we moved to Seville; we found a nice flat bang in the heart of the city, and I immediately fell in love with the place. There’s a magic about Seville, so that I found it could be exciting just to walk the streets; and I loved the art and architecture. So I decided to set my next book in Seville, and the main character, Inspector Velázquez, came to life in my imagination as the manuscript of what would become The Long Siesta slowly began to take shape.
I was impressed by how warm and welcoming the local people were. But this is true of the people all over Spain. I remember one time when Belen and I were in the Retiro, the big park in the centre of Madrid, for instance, and we were considering where we might go and eat. We got talking to a man who happened to be sharing the same bench as us, and asked if he could recommend somewhere that did good food and was easy on the pocket. The man, who was a perfect stranger to us, said he knew just the place; but it was too far to walk, and the route too complicated for him to be able to give directions. No matter, he would just have to take us there. He was waiting for his son, who would be coming to pick him up in his car any minute. They would take us to the place and drop us at the door. We said we didn’t want to put him out. But it would be a pleasure, he protested.  So sure enough, when his son arrived they drove us to the restaurant and even introduced us to the owner.
I wanted to make bullfighting an integral part of the novel, because it is part of life in Spain. Actually, Spaniards tend to have different attitudes towards it. You can see this in my own family, for instance: when she was eighteen, my wife’s mother once went to a corrida in Valladolid with her father, only to pass out in the middle of the action. Her father had saved up all through the year to be able to afford the best seats, for the two weeks when the bullfights came to his native city and, far from showing any concern for his favourite child’s well-being when she fainted, he merely began to berate her for having ruined his enjoyment of what should have been, in his view at least, a wonderful spectacle. Like her mother, my wife Belén also disapproves of bullfighting.

My late father in law, Manolo, was a keen painter and took an obsessive interest in the work of Goya and Picasso, even though he did not share their passion for the bullfights. Picasso’s Guernica famously manages to feature a number of bulls and elements from the bullfight of course, while also portraying the horrors of war. Manolo also told me stories of his experiences as a small boy during the Civil War, and of how, for years after it had ended, he would be woken up in his bed every Sunday morning by the firing squads. Manolo’s anecdotes inspired me to become interested in the history of the conflict, and this ended up playing a part in The Long Siesta, too.

I also wanted to give my readers (whether or not they happen to have any Spanish) a sense of the ways in which Spaniards use language when they speak, in the hope of making the work more authentic (and also possibly more interesting and amusing); and so I’ve included a small number of phrases in my novel which are in fact instances of Spanish idioms. This presented the question of whether it would be better to translate these idioms from their original language into English; or whether it would work better if I were to transliterate them. There is of course a big difference, as anyone who is interested in the whole business of translation will know; although this may not be so obvious to ordinary readers who have never had cause to concern themselves with questions which are perhaps usually considered to inhabit the terrain where specialists hang out. Perhaps if I provide a few examples then it might make what I am talking about a little clearer. Let’s begin with ‘milk’. In Spanish, someone who is in a bad mood can be said to have, or to have drunk, (the) bad milk (‘El/ella tiene (la) mala leche’). On the other hand, if you want to express surprise or astonishment in Spanish, then you might say ‘Joder’/’F***’, but you might just as easily say ‘I dirty (or literally ‘shit in’) the milk’/‘Me cago en la leche’. And if you think something is wonderful, or simply ‘the best’, then you might say ‘it’s the milk’/‘es la leche’. To throw your house out of the window/‘tirar la casa por la ventana’, translates to ‘pulling out all of the stops’; and to warn against ‘putting the cart before the horse’ transliterates from the Spanish equivalent (‘empezar la casa por el tejado’) as ‘begin the house with the roof’.
You can see how these idioms might prove something of a minefield for the struggling learner of Spanish; but I thought it would be fun to use them in The Long Siesta for comic purposes, and also to provide authenticity, always providing of course that the meaning was obvious. Indeed, I was keen to write a page-turner that would be easy to read, and so naturally the last thing I wanted to do was confuse the reader. I discussed this with my editors at Holland House, and they assured me that the meaning of what I was writing was obvious and that they’d tell me if anything was unclear. I’ve also included a small glossary, at the back of the book, for readers who are interested in looking into these matters further, along with a short list of Spanish vocabulary, where Spanish words (often connected with cuisine or bullfighting) have been used; although readers who are simply interested in enjoying a fast-moving and easy-to-read crime thriller set in Spain won’t need to stop and look words or phrases up. 

Nick Sweet  04 09 2015


  1. Thanks for writing, Nick. Sounds like a fascinating book, I'll add it to my list to investigate.

  2. You're mother-in-law's father sounds like the perfect American Football season ticket holder. If you pass out you'll be dealt with at half-time. :)

    And I love the cover!

  3. Please investigate EvKa, you are in for a wee treat!!

    Jeff, are you a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers, or is that the wrong sport??;)

    1. Yep it's the right sport and I do indeed bleed the black and gold... or rather, in the context of poison ivy, ooze it.