The Via Algarviana, Troika and Experimental Fiction, Monchique, March 2013

I have steered away from blogging and facebooking and, in fact, most things to do with ‘social’ and ‘media’ – mainly because, until recently, I used to teach on a computer, write on a computer, practically eat on a computer and there were only so many hours in a day I could sit – or lie – at a computer. However, recently and very belatedly in life, I had a baby. Leo, together with the half a donkey I share with a neighbour, three cats and a whole horse means that now I only have one precious hour a day on a computer. (I remember once going to a reading by William Gibson who claimed that he wrote Neuromancer while looking after the baby – a baby what I wonder now?). But I still can’t face Facebook so Goodreads looks like a good platform. The idea that there exists a huge online reading group makes me happy. For writers like myself who do not have a big publisher beside them it seems to me that this is an important place to be. So I will try to post something vaguely interesting on a monthly basis but, not being William Gibson, I can’t promise. However, I hope to tell a little about life in the south of Portugal which is, on the whole, thanks to the EU, Troika and the torrential rain this month, not what it was.

This month saw the release of Herdeiros da Revolução, a film directed by Uwe Heitkamp, with the premier in Ochála, a tea shop in Monchique – that is a small mountain town in the Algarve near where I live (the choice of venue had nothing to do with the fact there is only one cinema left within a 100 km.) The film takes us along the Via Algarviana, a 320 km trail that crosses southern Portugal. Some of the filming is stunning with Portugal’s photogenic blue skies, ochre land, eagles, vast empty valleys and green mountains, whitewashed crumbling villages, and the interviews with the few locals on the way really do capture old Portugal. It has a political angle that juxtaposes the expectations of the 1974 Revolution with the upcoming Troika Revolution. One old shepherd says that ‘this time blood will spill’. After visiting Lisbon last week he may well be right.

lisa_donkey_ianI am keen to write a book about the Via Algarviana but with a more practical, less political, approach. Well, slightly more practical. I cannot walk far due to bad knees so I had planned to ride the donkey but since last month when I started riding him again to get him fit he’s started limping. I’m sure he’s pretending but it’s a long way to hobble home if he isn’t. The horse is keen and able but she’s nervous of lumps of concrete and I’m afraid she’ll imagine a lion or a Findus logo in a rock, run for her life and then all I’ll see is ochre dust. So then I thought about a bike, an electric bike, a Stealth bike actually… Or perhaps all three? Perhaps I can create my own Troika with a horse, a donkey and an electric bike? But all that to be decided. In the meantime, I recommend the film to anyone who wants to know anything about life in Portugal, walking, or how to make medronho… Of course, you would have to contact Uwe (00351 918 818 108) as the film is unlikely to make it to the one cinema left in the western and central Algarve.

For culture we tend to have to head to Lisbon and last week we went to see the super talented Rodrigo Leão. The concert was packed with a very cultured, well dressed and heeled crowd. Even more surprising, Rodrigo Leão composed music to poets’ lyrics. A packed auditorium for what seemed like an experimental performance? What about austerity? At 1 am we were stuck in traffic trying to get across the city. Lisbon, despite the rain, was in full throttle and Benfica hadn’t even played. The next day, while half the city nursed hangovers, the other half crawled out of mouldy apartments and down to Praça do Comércio with their banners, ‘Que se Lixe Troika’ and singing, Grandola, Vila Mo-re-e-na…, the song of the Revolution.

Revolutions aside, the poets reminded me that there is a new literary prize, the Goldsmiths Literary Prize for new daring experimental fiction. Unfortunately, All entries must be submitted by an established UK publishing house (‘established’ is defined as a house that publishes a list of titles by different authors, that produces titles with an ISBN and that distributes them through established retail outlets). Self-published books are not eligible for the Prize.

And neither are small publishers because in order to sell through established retail outlets the company needs to have a turnover of at least twenty grand. Surely most experimental fiction is refused by major publishing houses and so doesn’t that defeat the object? My objection is, of course, personal but I’ll go into that another day. My hour is up. The donkey is braying and baby Leo is waking…