Every novel has a back-story or experience to which the author can use as their muse. Some books are drawn from research, others however, are based on a collection of personal experiences and combined with fictional imagination. Helen gives us an insight into her own experience of a villa holiday in Mallorca that creates the basis for her exciting and sultry novel.
“I have been visiting Deia on the North West coast of Mallorca for over 12 years now, yet I still experience the same gut-rush of euphoria with each new glimpse of the place. As you round the final bend of the Sóller road and catch sight of the Teix mountain, it really does take your breath away – every time. And, sheltering in its crook, there is Deia – impossibly pretty with its tumble of terracotta rooftops. The ochre casitas with their cerulean blue or olive green shutters; the fairytale hilltop church; the mind blowing vistas; the pine-clad cliffs; and the ancient terraces of twisted olive groves tumbling down to a turquoise sea.
It felt like the perfect birthday present to give my Mum – a week in Deia for her 60th birthday. But, as Robinson Crusoe discovered, no two persons’ idea of paradise is ever the same. My mum’s first impressions of Deia filled her, not with awe but a white-knuckled terror. I caught her gripping the seat with each hairpin bend as we navigated the winding Tramuntana roads in our tiny hire car. But once we reached our villa, almost overhanging the idyllic Cala Deia cove, she was all smiles again. From our terrace, I pointed out the vertiginous cliff walk I’d been rhapsodizing about since telling Mum about our holiday. The joy sapped from her face in an instant. “That can’t be safe?” she gasped. She had a point. The well-hewn cliff path I’d walked a dozen times had been savaged by the recent winter storms. There were trees, torn from the russet earth, gigantic roots hanging over the cliff like entrails. Sections of the original path had simply collapsed into the sea, dragging chunks of the cliff face with them.
Regardless, I overruled Mum’s misgivings and insisted she do the walk with me, confident that, once up there, her anxiety would be blown to nothing by the sheer beauty of the vistas. You can imagine my guilt then when, only a few minutes into our walk, my mother slipped on loose stone scree and fell heavily. There were no broken bones but she twisted her ankle badly. We got her back to the villa and shacked her up by the pool, but walking anywhere, at least for the next few days, was going to be a non-starter.
So it was, then, that my Mum began what turned out to be the most relaxing holiday of her life. She spent the days reading in the shade of the villa’s lemon grove, sipping sweet, potent café negro and dipping her legs into the pool whenever she needed to cool down. I, too, kicked back and relished languorous days with my mum, doing nothing in particular. But, by Day Four, I was itching for a hike on the cliff path, a simple picnic in one of the rocky coves and a long swim in placid waters, away from the madding crowds of Cala Deia.
That morning, up early to buy hot baguettes in the village, I struck up conversation with a Swedish woman as we waited for the pan to come out of the ovens. Sigrid was an ex-pat (and ex-hippie) from Stockholm who had fallen in love with Deia in the 60s. She told me about a cove that could only be reached via the Deia/Soller cliff path. The steps down to this tiny cala were barely visible to passers-by and general hikers. One had to be shown the way down – and Sigrid offered to show me. It sounded heavenly. My mother would understand – no way was I missing out on privileged insider tips like this!
I arranged to meet Sigrid later that afternoon, once the sun’s fiercest heat had burnt itself out. It took us an hour to reach the cove, and my Swedish tour guide was right – the path down to the beach was little more than a goat track. We picked our way over tree trunks and bind-weed, me slipping twice on loose soil and almost plummeting onto the rocks below. If this was in the UK, the route would have been sealed off by Health and Safety – perhaps rightly so.
All such common-sense thinking was shot to smithereens when we dropped the last six feet from an overhanging ledge to the cove below. It was heavenly – the kind of back-to-nature paradise you dream of stumbling across. For a while I just stared out to sea, mesmerised. There was no beach as such, just a wash of pebbles and shingle broken up by big boulders, some as huge and smooth as prehistoric eggs. From a little fisherman’s hut at the water’s edge, and old man, tanned nut-brown and without a tooth in his head, grinned and waved as he dragged his battered boat out into the water. “That’s Pablo”, Sigrid told me. “He’s 90, but beware. He’ll try it on!” She told me Pablo lived in a tiny casita, and was well-known around the area for the freshness – and giddying prices – of his catch. “Watch him!” she winked. But I was already planning the lobster a la plancha I was going to cook for my Mum that evening.
As we picked our way down over the rocks, I saw four naked pensioners splayed out in splendid repose on a flat rock. At this point Sigrid, presumably trying to reassure the prudish Brit, whispered that nudity was tolerated here, rather than encouraged. With that, my elegant host whipped off her cheesecloth sarong, gave me a mischievous wink and executed a nimble swallow-dive off a rocky ledge. I stood there a moment, flummoxed, before realising that none of the slumbering naturists had so much as batted an eyelid. Without further ado, I undressed and followed Sigrid into the serene waters. Life can throw up myriad treats and experiences, but there can be few sensations so powerfully liberating than swimming, naked, in the clear blue open sea. I swam out, exhilarated, my endorphins kicking in with every stroke. “This is it,” I said to myself. “This is freedom.” I have rarely loved a place or a feeling so much. I would haul myself back up onto the rock ledge, dry out under the waning sun then plunge back in again. I didn’t want the day to end, so much so that, when Sigrid was ready to head back, I asked if she wouldn’t take offence if I stayed behind.
“Don’t stay too long,” she warned. “The light drops quickly, here.” She made sure I knew where the pathway back was and how to access it, and off she went, the embodiment of Scandi cool at the age of 70+.
Finally, exhausted and thirsty, and with the tide starting to come over the rocks now, I sought out a safe place to clamber out. I spotted my trainers and rucksack, much closer to the water’s edge than I remembered stowing them – but there was no sign of my clothes or my water bottle. I fished up my rucksack, wet through from the waves and began beach-combing for the rest of my things. I swept the cliffs above for signs of passing opportunists, but I would have seen anyone coming down from the cliff-path and, besides – why didn’t they take my bag? Naked and clueless I looked out wistfully at the sea, half expecting to see my clothes bobbing out to the horizon. I weighed up my options. The idea of walking back along the cliff path dishabille, was unthinkable. I could wait till it grew dark but a) without my phone to inform my mother, she’d be sending out the policia local to look for me and b) without a torch, the cliff path would be impossible to navigate.
I was contemplating the risk of trying to swim back around the headland when Pablo, the old fisherman, shouted over from his wooden hut. He gave a gummy grin and pointed to my clothes, which he’d rescued from the sea and were now drying out on a weathered wooden beam.
I showed my gratitude by purchasing two glistening dorada from him – though I stepped away from his puckering kiss. I paid Pablo with a soggy 50 Euro note. No change was proffered. Next day I saw Sigrid in the village and recounted my misadventures to her. She roared with laughter, pinched my cheek and said: “That old rascal. I should’ve warned you about his wet clothes routine…”
Helen Walsh’s stunning new novel THE LEMON GROVE, set on the island of Mallorca, is out now in paperback and ebook.”