‘I still remember seeing the Guardia Civil patrolling the Denia beach with their rifles and green capes, I was just a little girl,’ says Jana Petken, sipping a coffee during our interview in 21st century Denia.
She first arrived in Spain, from Glasgow, as a small child in the mid 60s with her parents on an early package holiday.
‘The villa had a maid who cooked and cleaned. There was not much here then, just dusty tracks for roads and a vast wilderness with snakes and free donkey rides.’ She reminisces with a smile.
That was the start of her extended love affair with Spain. Her family returned the following year and got to know some local inhabitants. Her father ended up buying a property on a large plot and they lived a life between Scotland and Spain as they gradually developed their finca.
Jana joked, ‘It was childhood slave labour, building walls and helping dad who had become so passionate about Spain.’
In 1976, she left her Denia home and joined the British Royal Navy. ‘It was a great career I learnt a lot and started to travel the world.’
Later she worked for a popular UK travel company working in several popular resorts where her Spanish was put to good use. She then moved onto working for the BBC and met her husband in London.
‘He was from Saudi and we frequently travelled to America and Europe.’ She admitted that although she loves Spain and Denia in particular which she calls ‘home’ she also loves to travel and explore the world.
It was no surprise to discover that she has also worked for British Airways. It was during this career that she was involved in an incident that left her with physical injuries, requiring surgery and rehabilitation. ‘That ended my career with BA but has lead me to focus on my writing,’ she explained over our second coffee.
Her first book, The Guardian of Secrets and Her Deathly Pact (See TIM July 2014 Book Reviews) is a mighty tome published in 2013 and is available from 1.85. It tells an enthralling family saga spanning four generations.
Jana told me, ‘It is historical fiction and although it starts in Kent the main action is set during the Spanish Civil War. My extensive research included talking to many Spanish men who shared their wartime memories from both Republican and Nationalist allegiances.’
The book is receiving wide acclaim, including many American readers and Jana is currently in negotiations for film rights with a screenplay version already written by a specialist screenplay writer.
‘I have one offer and am expecting others, so I am waiting to see how the project develops.’
She continued, ‘My next book, Mercy Carver, is due out later in 2014 with a follow up already under way. I have set these books around the American Civil War. I enjoy writing and creating characters. I have so much fun making them do anything I want.’
Doubtless her travel experiences in America, including visits to Virginia will be put to good use in her forthcoming series of novels, which, she promises, ‘… will be a bit thinner.’ Her first book runs to over 200,000 words, which is an amazing achievement for a debut author.
I was intrigued how she is managing to be so prolific in the fiercely competitive world of writing successful books.
‘I have always had an imaginative mind and flair. I wanted to be an actress when I was young. My travels and experiences have also contributed to my writing.’
As well, of course, has her wide knowledge and varied experiences of Spain, so different from many expats who typically arrived in Spain in later life. Having personally witnessed those patrolling Guardia way back in the 60s and seen first-hand the vast political and cultural changes that have taken place in Spain during the intervening decades.
The interview ran to 2 hours then Jana excused herself to go and see to her dog and get back to her keyboard. Being an author is not just about writing but also research, marketing, promotion etc so she does not have enough hours in the day.
I was left feeling exhausted and in great admiration of her achievements and plans for the future. I will be keeping an eye out for the film. I wonder if they will need any extras?
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