In 2007 Lisa Wright left a promising career as a UK ecologist catching protected reptiles and amphibians, and kissing frogs, to move to beautiful green Galicia in northwestern Spain. Her new memoir Plum, Courgette & Green Bean Tart is an engaging mix of anecdotes, letters, recipes and stories from the stunningly beautiful area she now calls home. I caught up with Lisa for a (virtual) chat recently and we discussed her book and the attractions of living in Galicia.
Jules: I’m a huge fan of Spain and especially the lesser-known parts up in the northwest. I love that you just went walking one day in Galicia, without really knowing anything about it, and ended up living there. That’s exactly the sort of thing I’d do! How did your move to Spain come about?
I’d never even heard of Galicia
Lisa: Years ago, when my partner first suggested a walking holiday along the Camino de Santiago, I’d never heard of Galicia (my encyclopaedia actually told me there were two, one in Poland and one in northwest Spain) and I had never been to mainland Spain. As a plotter and a planner, I stuck my head in a few books and by the time we left I knew everything there was to know about the region… and I had a phone number for a local estate agent. We weren’t looking to buy at that point but I do like to be prepared, and we ended up buying and renovating a semi-derelict stone farmhouse!
[Jules says – if you’d like to read the story of that first visit to Galicia, walking the Pilgrim Route, check out Lisa’s account of that walk in her book Camino.]
Jules: From reading your book, you seem to be a real part of the community in Galicia. How long did it take to feel at home there?
Lisa: In some ways we felt part of the community instantly. Our neighbours were (and still are) amazing. They helped us with paperwork and even let us use their well for drinking water as ours was disgusting… think the colour of a pint of real ale!
We joined in by going to fiestas – and pig killings
In other ways it took longer. Galegos are really friendly but not about to become your best friend without knowing something about you. It took one lady a whole year to acknowledge us but when she did we were suddenly ‘family’. I think it helps that we try to fit in, growing our veg, going to pig killings – and fiestas!
Jules: Going to pig killings…okaaaaay. So, I now have to ask, how else is Galicia different from your previous life? Anything you just can’t get used to?
Lisa: What? You think we didn’t go to pig killings in England? No, you’re right we didn’t, though in many ways life here is very similar to the small mining village where I grew up. Friendly, sense of community, everyone knowing everyone else’s business.
The galegos party more though! In summer there’s a fiesta every weekend and they don’t start until midnight. Old, young, everyone goes out. We struggle to keep up. Our elderly neighbour says “plenty of time to rest when you are dead!”
I do love the life here but I don’t think I’ll ever ever get used to Spanish bureaucracy and red tape! It drives me nuts.
Jules: I think anyone who has ever been to Spain will recognise that feeling! Tell me about the book – how did it come about? What made you start writing? And great title by the way, Plum, Courgette & Green Bean Tart! Makes you want to dive straight in and find out what that’s all about.
Lisa: I have always written stories about our adventures here as they came to me and kept them in a drawer with no idea what, if anything, to do with them. Then in 2015 I was helping mum pack up her home ready for her move here to Galicia. I found that she had kept every one of the weekly letters I’d sent to her since we first moved. And there, suddenly was my book – I am so grateful to mum for being such a hoarder. Though packing up her stuff was a nightmare I’d rather not repeat!
Memoir, travelogue, diary, cookbook
Jules: Your book sounds to be a really interesting mix of things. How would you describe it? It’s not really a straight memoir?
Lisa: Yeah, I’m not good at boxes in general! I think of myself as a genre-buster! My book is listed as a travelogue memoir but it is, as you say, quite a mix. It is the story of our first twelve months in Galicia, but instead of numbered chapters I have months – each month with a theme running through it. It could be a specific fiesta (like the famous bone stew fiesta in our local town) or a discussion about a place we love (like Lugo, our local Roman city). There are also diary entries and letters, travel writing and recipes. I’m thinking it’s a love child of Bill Bryson, Nigella Lawson and Adrian Mole (aged 42 and a half). Ooh-er, now that sounds well dodgy!
Jules: I will never get that picture out of my head now, thanks!
It’s been brilliant catching up with you and hearing about your life and book. Just one more thing – on the front of your book it says ’seeking la vida dulce in Galicia’. Can you give us a hint of what that phrase means to you? And do you think you’ve found it?
Lisa: The original sub-title was going to be ‘seeking the good life in Galicia’, after the 1970s British TV comedy in which Barbara and Tom Good leave the rat race to be self-sufficient in Suburbia.
However, I found that the ‘Good Life’ meant wildly different things to non-Brits so I went with the Spanish equivalent of the Italian la dolce vita – the sweet life. Ours isn’t a life of luxury by any means but it is sweet (with lots of cakes!) and being away from the rat race, the need to clock in or work set hours is wonderfully freeing. We manage to keep ourselves in veg, fruit and nuts year round. We keep rabbits and chickens. We work hard and we love our life here, it truly is la vida dulce.
Connect with Lisa
Find out more about Lisa and her story on her website – if you subscribe, you can get a copy of her short Kindle book Camino for free!
Buy the book!
Lisa’s book, Plum, Courgette & Green Bean Tart, is available as a Kindle ebook or paperback wherever you live – and you can read for free if you’re on Kindle Unlimited.
If you’ve read it, or plan to, let me know what you think below!
Like me, Lisa is a member of the amazingly friendly Facebook group We Love Memoirs, where readers and authors get together to talk about memoirs (and cake and holidays and everything else in between).
If this sounds like you, why not join in? Lisa and I will see you there!