Why I Wrote Let the Dead Hold Your Hand

When I first moved to Madrid in 2017, I decided to do some travelling around Spain. I visited Cordoba, Granada and  Zaragoza and I was completely enthralled by the architecture. The more I read about the 800 years that the Moors of Al-Andalus spent in Spain, the more I was fascinated by them. I decided to learn as much as I could about their culture, history and their writings, particularly their poetry. Back home in Madrid I was also becoming aware of the rise of the far right both in Spain and across Europe. I needed to understand the background as to why people were turning in certain areas to such extreme politics and racist views. I read as much as I could about the Spanish history from the time of the Reconquista to the civil war of 1936-39. I already could see what was happening in Britain post the Brexit vote and the problems it was causing for minorities and foreigners on those shores. I then came across an excellent online newsletter called opendemocracy – https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/ –  and was staggered to learn how quietly and insidiously the far right were spreading their tentacles across Europe, often under the guise of nationalism. At the same time, I read a book that was to change my life, The Moor’s Last Stand by Elizabeth Drayson. It tells the story of Boabdil the last ruler of Granada, a story to quote the blurb ‘of intrigue, treachery, cruelty, bravery and tragedy.’ His defeat at the hands of Isabella and Ferdinand, the Catholic Monarchs, has ‘reverberated powerfully down the centuries.’ Indeed it has. This book is not only an excellent introduction to the last days of Muslim Spain, but it was also the inspiration for my novel. I realised I just had to write about Boabdil and try to imagine what might have happened under other circumstances and more so, through my protagonist, Lucy E Hawksmoor. 

There are flashbacks to set the scene, though most of the story is set in the 21st century. I wanted to reflect how there are people in politics today in Spain who want to enact a new Reconquista – forcing out those the far right see as non-Spanish, including Muslims, Jews, homosexuals, gypsies as well as limiting or preventing freedoms from abortion to gay marriage. And what better way than to stir up the hornet’s nest than suggesting what might happen if the history books are wrong – if Boabdil did not leave Spanish shores – if his body could still be on the mainland and how that might annoy those racists who fear a new rise in appreciation of all things Muslim should his resting place become a shrine.

For Isabella and Ferdinand to suggest they were claiming back Spain for the Spanish is ridiculous. The Moors had lived in Spain for 800 years – they were Spanish. It was simply a desire for power – using religion as an excuse.

There is a pettiness in racist behaviour. And Lucy experiences it first-hand – and how that pettiness can become lethal when these people’s ideology becomes all consuming. But the story hopefully also raises awareness that this movement of the far right is widespread across Europe. Often little reported in the U.K. press. For example, how many in the U.K know how strong Vox, a far-right party, are becoming in the Spanish government? How they are currently propping up the conservative PP party in Madrid.

But in the end, I also wrote it because I wanted to write a book that reflects all that is wonderful about the 800 years of the Moors in Spain, and to introduce a new kind of hero, Lucy Hawksmoor, whose life is turned upside down by events beyond her control. And through her I want the reader to experience all that is good about Spain, from the food to the architecture to the ordinary people, as well as showing how history does matter and we need to learn from the past to avoid making the same mistakes. It is a mystery, a thriller, a political commentary and at times a love story. I have already started the sequel.

 I hope you like Lucy and I hope you too will let the dead hold your hand as, with her, you follow her quest for the truth and to stand up for what is right.

ABU ABDALLAH MUHAMMAD X1, KNOWN AS BOABDIL RULER OF GRANADA 1482-1492

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