Deia is the setting for The Lemon Grove, Helen Walsh’s fourth novel. Her first, Brass won the Betty Trask prize in 2005 and the follow-up, Once Upon a Time in England, the 2009 Somerset Maugham prize.
Published in early 2014, The Lemon Grove was described by a Guardian reviewer as “taut and lyrical; steamy, tender and full of insight”. The Puffin Review website said “it’s the power of the writing which sets this book apart”. You can read a review of The Lemon Grove in my Cala Reading post.
I asked Helen what Deia means to her.
How did you find out about Deia in the first place, Helen?
Like most great finds, I stumbled on it by accident.
What were your first impressions?
That first glimpse of the village toppling down the hillside and wedged under the shadow of the looming Teix, took my breath away. However much the village has changed over the years, that first impression of Deia as approached from the Valdemossa road is exactly the same: magical, mythical. Impossible.
Where did/do you stay when you come to Deia?
Before I had my son I used to stay in Hotel Des Puig which holds the most magical memories for me. I’ve also stayed in Hotel Costa D’or for its tranquility and proximity to the coastal path. These days I tend to holiday in the South East of the island where the pace of life is much more sedate but every year, I spend a few nights in Deia.
What do you love most about the place?
To me, Deia, is the most romantic place on earth. I love the physicality of the place: the lush, dramatic terrain, the ever-shifting coastal paths realigned by the wild storms. I love the night skies, sprayed with stars, the clang of the goat bells, the clap of shotguns. Beyond that, I know very little about village life. I think the less you know about a place, the more that you are able to impose your own mythologies upon it – and the place remains sacred.
What do you do first when you come to Deia – do you have a ritual?
I’ll buy a couple of pastries and peaches from Es Forn, the bakery in the middle of town, then take a coffee on the terrace opposite, before walking down to the beach. I love the beach first thing in the morning; last thing at night. In the golden age of budget airlines, I would take a dawn flight out from Liverpool, nibble langoustines in a Deia beach bar, swim in the sea, dine under a full shock of stars then take the midnight flight home. My husband also proposed to me on top of a mountain overlooking Deia in the middle of a Mallorcan winter. We celebrated that evening in what become known as Paco’s Bar in The Lemon Grove.
Have you read any of the other books set in Deia? (Edna O’Brien’s The High Road, for instance)
When you first discover a place that you really love (and I discovered Deia out of season) for the briefest spell of time you allow yourself to believe that no one else knows about it but you. For the first two years that I was coming to Deia, I didn’t tell anyone about it because I didn’t want to share it. I always knew I would set a novel here – and I thought I would be the first writer to immortalise this place in fiction. Imagine how foolish I felt to discover that Graves had made this place his home and Anais Nin, Marquez and Sillitoe had all written out here!
Do you think Deia really does give people a kind of permission to act in ways they wouldn’t elsewhere as it does for Jenn in The Lemon Grove?
If you take a character out of their natural habitat, put them in a cliff top villa under the searing heat of a Deia summer, introduce a reckless outsider, then sparks are bound to fly! But it is the sensuality of the landscape and Deia’s own mini microclimate that gives Jenn license to behave recklessly. When I am in Deia, I feel very different to how I am when I’m in C’as Concas or Pollenca or Arta. I remember, last year, sitting on Deia cove, watching a storm break, brandy in hand and thinking this is what freedom feels like.
Do you feel you’re done with Deia as a writer or might you set another book in the place? (The Lemon Grove ends, appropriately, on a cliff-hanger.)
I’m not sure if I will set another novel in Deia but I will definitely return to write. I have solved plots, conceived entire novels on Deia beach or on the coastal path. There is something about the lean mountain air, the unpredictability of the weather, the permanence of the olive groves that make Deia a fecund writing environment.
When will you visit Deia next?
Late October. It can’t come soon enough.
Thanks very much, Helen.