I lead a double life. There’s my word-dominated existence in (mostly) grey London on the one hand. On the other, there is my alter ego: a tempestuous flamenco dancer with flashing eyes, nimble feet, and sinuous fingers.
Yes, I regularly transport myself off on imaginary jaunts to hot Andalucía (or, being honest, to Islington or Pineapple Dance Studios), where I do my best to don the requisite smouldering expression as I stamp and clap and spin. My flamenco classes are the highlight of my week.
It’s not an easy transition – not only the giant leap from literary lady to Spanish gypsy, but also the complex demands of flamenco technique. Year after year I tell myself I’m getting better, as I nurse my blisters and try to recall a piece of complex choreography or to train my stiff wrists to twirl a fan. It calls for grit and persistence – exactly the kind of tenacity that I advocate to the writers I advise, new and old.
Which is one of the points in common between flamenco and the painfully-wrought configuration of words that we call the writing of fiction. Sticking with it. Seeing it through.
And the fact that when it flows – when you’ve finally found the perfect phrase or the fluent fandango – it’s as though you have died and gone to heaven. Well, maybe not died, since both dancing and story-telling are both supremely life-enhancing. For me, flamenco is the perfect synthesis of the two: it has narrative, rhythm, physical expression plus a huge emotional charge. Since, to my shame, I have scant understanding of Spanish, the narrative is abstract.
But who needs mundane materiality when the crooning of the singer, the throbbing guitars and the melodious tunes tell stories that resonate universally? They speak of love, life, tragedy and joy. Can anything be more profound?