The Basque Country – The Eve of St John the Baptist Day is Bonfire Madness

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The following extract is from A Basque Diary – Living in Hondarribia, which is available, in print and as an ebook, from Amazon.

Bonfire Madness


On the 23rd June, as the sun sets, the townspeople light masses of bonfires around the town and on the beaches in celebration of St John’s Eve (the day of St John the Baptist being on the 24th). It is another example of a Christian festival being a little bit pagan, as the date falls around the solstice. It is customary to write down the things that are bothering you in your life and throw them into the fire so that they will be consumed. Worth a try.

A Basque Diary - Living in Hondarribia cover with borderYou can read more about Basque culture, food and places by checking out
A Basque Diary – Living in Hondarribia.

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How Do You Create an Author Platform?

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Author of a book standing on her author platform

It used to be more straightforward getting noticed. If you had a great book and you could get it in front of an editor at a publisher, they would be likely to publish it. They would send it to be reviewed in a few key magazines and newspapers and people would see those reviews and decide (hopefully) to read it. Now you can’t get published unless you have a good “author platform” (lots of followers, or reviews on Amazon). Even if you are published, reviews in the press matter a lot less than reviews on Amazon. The world has changed and I wonder what, if anything, will be able to take on the mighty Amazon.

This is an except from my Illustrated Epistle, which goes out in the middle of the month. It is a behind-the-scenes look at the life of a cartoonist (specifically, mine). You can sign up here (and unsubscribe if you don’t like it, or even if you do, though that would be a bit daft, as how much email do you get that you actually enjoy reading?): http://eepurl.com/cCOOeD

And yes, a newsletter is one way to build your author platform, so please help me add another plank and sign up!

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View from Hendaye of Hondarribia, Basque Country, Spain

The Basque Country – One of the Best Places to Learn Spanish

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The following extract is from A Basque Diary – Living in Hondarribia, which is available, in print and as an ebook, from Amazon.

Lots of Brits go to Spain for the better weather. No one goes to the Basque Country for the weather. It is a land of pointy green hills, dotted with caseríos (traditional Basque smallholdings) and beautiful valleys pocked with ugly factories. The coast is ruggedly gorgeous, with forests and sheep pasture falling into sloping layers of schist rock. But, as in the UK, the lush beauty of the countryside comes from the fact that it rains a lot at any time of year, though especially in the winter.

The reason we went to the Basque Country was to learn Spanish. It is a bi-lingual region. Many people speak Basque as their first language, but others living there don’t speak much Basque at all. Sometimes this is because of the legacy of Franco (who banned the teaching and speaking of Basque). Other times it is because of people moving into the area from other parts of Spain. The upshot is that nearly everyone speaks Spanish. Unlike in the Spanish towns more popular with English tourists, very few people speak more than a few words of English. They are more likely to speak French because of being on the border with France. This made it the perfect place for us to practice our Spanish with native speakers.

A Basque Diary - Living in Hondarribia cover with borderYou can read more about Basque culture, food and places by checking out
A Basque Diary – Living in Hondarribia.

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Pinchos – The Basque Version of Spanish Tapas

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Pinchos (or pintxos) are like Spanish tapas, but better. The Basque Country is the best place in the Iberian penninsula to eat and pinchos take tapas to another level. There is healthy rivalry between places to put out the best pinchos on the bar and no more so than when there is a competition, as there has been this week in Hondarribia.

We failed (twice) to find the competition pincho (appropriately labelled “Delicacies of the Clown”) from Danonzat and Enbata was all out at the end of the Medieval Festival weekend. But Bar Larra had a fantastic duck in puff pastry pincho and Sardara’s “Egaluze” was lovely, even if we couldn’t identify everything in it (there was salt cod, we are pretty sure). But, the best pincho by far was from Bar Ondarribi. “Hornazo de Rabo” came under a glass filled with smoke. That was then used for beer, which was matched perfectly with the pincho. As befitting something medieval, you had to eat it with your fingers and it was truly “para chuparse los dedos”, or “finger-licking good”.

 

More on pinchos from A Basque Diary – Living in Hondarribia, which is available, in print and as an ebook, from Amazon:

Pinchos (Pintxos in Basque) – The Basque Tapas


Tapas are a feature of bars everywhere in Spain. In some places (like Leon, and Granada), tapas come free with your drinks. Often (though not always) the drinks are more expensive to cover the cost of the tapas. In the Basque Country, you don’t get a free pincho, but you do get a choice and the choice is incredible.

Pinchos on the bar are usually very good value, between 1.50 and 2.50 euros. They range from the “Gilda” (spicy pickled guindilla peppers with olives and a marinated anchovy) to pulpo (octopus) with smoked salmon and caramelised onions.

You usually pay more for pinchos that are cooked to order, but these can be good value too, as you often get something more substantial than a morsel of food on top of a piece of bread. The bar, Ardoka does things like fried artichokes with jamón, or entrecôte with green peppers.

A Basque Diary - Living in Hondarribia cover with borderYou can read more about Basque culture, food and places by checking out
A Basque Diary – Living in Hondarribia.

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A Basque Diary is Available in Print on the Amazon Store

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I’ve published a fair few books now, but you never know how they are going to look until you get a copy for real, as digital proofs are never the same. I was concerned that the colour might work out very differently for A Basque Diary, my account of living in Hondarribia. The real books arrived today and I’m delighted with the print quality. Createspace did a great job.

These books are larger (8.25 inches square) than the 6.5 inch square books I’ve had printed through Ingram Spark. I ordered proofs on 29th May and they still haven’t arrived – Spanish Post operates at a glacial pace…

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Walking in the Basque Country – Pasajes to Donostia-San Sebastian

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Having a dog in the Basque Country is easy and there are some great walks to take them on, especially around where we live in Hondarribia. If we want to go further afield, we can take our Jack Russell on most public transport in the region, but, since the boyf was taking his Land Rover for a service this morning, he gave us a lift to Pasajes San Juan (Pasai Donibane). The car park was full, so the boyf didn’t stay for a coffee, which was a shame, as the pastry was enormous.

 

We took the ferry across the harbour to Pasai San Pedro and ended up taking the Camino de Santiago start to the walk (The Camino is marked with yellow arrows. We were following the GR route with red and white stripes), which joined up with the GR route at the top. It is really easy to follow this route, as long as you look for the stripes at every junction.

Looking down at Pasai Donibane


The views on this coastal walk are spectacular and there were beautiful little flowers everywhere.

 

It wasn’t a very demanding walk, though this steep, old oxen track might be tricky in the wet.


It took about 2 hours of walking to get to Zurriola beach, where I had a swim and Billie chilled out in the shade (no dogs are allowed on any of San Sebastian’s beaches in the summer) before we took the bus back to Hondarribia.

 

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How to Ensure Your Cartoons Last: Make Them Ceramic

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We are back from a trip to Asturias (the boyf likes to fly fish, I like to surf and Billie likes sleeping with us in our tent) and we loved it as much as the first time we went, last year.

Billie loves the tent

 

On Monday, we checked out the seaside town of Ribadesella. It was a beautiful spot, with an estuarine river that loops inside the old town and around the newer part, with its mansions built with the riches brought back from the colonies in the Americas in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The river Sella wraps around Ribadesella in Asturias, Spain

 

In the early part of this century, Ribadesella celebrated its history with a fascinating installation. The writer, José Antonio Silva Sastre; ceramicist, Francisco Muñiz Muñiz and cartoonist Antonio Mingote Barrachina collaborated to produce a fantastic series of ceramics that showed the history of the town from prehistoric times to the present day. Here is a selection of them:

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Living and Working in the Basque Country: A Basque Diary

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I’ve been very lucky as a cartoonist in the era of the internet. I’ve been able to work from almost anywhere. Because of my UK-Kiwi citizenship, I’ve also been able to live in a lot of places. So I’ve lived and worked in the UK, New Zealand and Australia.

But I always wanted to live somewhere where they didn’t speak English, where I could learn the language. I am rubbish at languages and hated trying to learn French and German in school. But Spanish is more logical. The way it is written is the way it is pronounced, once you learn the basic rules (unlike English: pare, pear, pair!!!). If I was going to be able to learn any language, it was going to be Spanish. I also wanted to live fairly near my family in the UK for a while. So Spain was the obvious destination.

Zurriola Beach in Gros, San Sebastian, Basque Country

My first Spanish teacher came from San-Sebastian and raved about it. It sounded idyllic – a small, with two beaches, world-beating food (at the time, it had more Michelin-starred restaurants per capita than New York) and fascinating Basque culture. I visited in 2008 and was blown away. Duncan and I came back a few years later and enjoyed our trip, but discovered a place that was even better: Hondarribia.

Hondarribia is smaller than San Sebastian and a lot less touristy. It also has access to great beaches and it is easy to walk into the hills that surround the town. And the food and wine are fantastic and affordable. We moved here in 2015, planning to stay a few months.

It ended up being two years and we’ll be sorry to leave. I wrote up my experiences as an illustrated book, A Basque Diary – Living in Hondarribia.

You can see more of my illustrations that are in the book on my Basque Diary page.

anchovy

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Where Cartoonists Get Their Ideas From

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I’m not sure about other cartoonists, but this works for me.

where cartoonists get ideas from - how my brain works

This is part of this month’s Illustrated Epistle: http://mailchi.mp/e4f7d27e5958/epistle-4-basque-diary-hondarribia

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Recharging the Creative Batteries in Cadiz and Madrid

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Last week, I took a train trip to Cadiz and Madrid because I’ve never spent any time in those cities and I love long train trips, especially in Spain, where the trains are fast, comfortable and cheap. I was hoping I’d be able to finish Don Quixote, but I’m still a couple of hundred pages short. I was reminded of this nearly everywhere I went in Madrid.

 

Cadiz is a sweet little place in Southern Spain. Being Andalucian, I found it very hard to understand people (as they say, they eat the ends of their words), but they were friendly enough when you got away from the more touristy bars.

One of the best attractions is a camera obscura, housed in one of the towers that the merchants used to use to monitor the comings and goings of their ships. You can’t take pictures, but you get a great 20 minute show of the town from above.

I dropped in to Cadiz Museum for an hour and I wish I’d allowed myself more time, because the displays of Phoenecian and Roman finds were fascinating.

Madrid was a lot more enjoyable than I expected (I’m not a huge fan of big cities). Partly because I made the most of the museums that have free openings at certain times.

Though Prado and Thyssen-Bornemisza are stuffed with the greatest hits of art, my favourite was the little Joaquin Sorolla museum. I love his painting, but I also loved seeing all of his painting ephemera and the house and gardens.

Now I’m back to work and feeling inspired.

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