Living in Spain

Notes from Spain – the story so far…

After returning from our recent trip from Thailand I found that I had a serious case of blogger’s block. I couldn’t think of anything to write about that had anything to do with Spain. I even found myself staring helplessly at’s “Rediscovering Your Blogging Groove” series of posts, none of which did any good…

But now, just back from a trip to Andalusia, I have lots to say about Spain again, and look forward to recounting it all here over the next week or two. Moral of the story: if I want to write about Spain, I need to get out of the damn house and go and look at it once in a while!

Anyway, back to the “rediscovering your blogging groove” series. The latest piece of advice was to use a blog post to “tell a story“, so here goes. A question I am occasionally asked about my book, Errant in Iberia, is “what happened next”, and this is part of the story:

This blog started life as an experiment. I wanted to know how blogs worked, so posted the odd picture from Madrid, or comment on a Spanish news item, etc. About the same time I wrote an article in In Madrid, the local expat rag, on technology, which led to a phone call from an enterprising man named Rafe Jaffrey, who wanted to know if I knew anything about podcasting. I didn’t, so I looked into it, decided it was something I liked the sound of very much (making my own radio!) and started recording. Rafe and I set up In Madrid’s podcast for them and then left them to it (they gave up very quickly on the whole thing, big shame), and I started adding the Notes from Spain podcasts to this blog – firstly random musings from me, then Marina got involved, we started making travel-casts and cooking casts, and the podcasts started to improve.

Now the interesting bit. The Notes from Spain podcasts have led to wonderful things. First of all, work with Lonely Planet. I wrote several emails to the person in charge of on-line content complaining that the first LP podcasts, mainly telephone interviews with LP authors, were boring, that they should capitalise on their world-wide network to produce real ‘in-the-field’ audio – like the shows we were hacking together on our trips around Spain. Eventually, after my third pushy email, a very nice man called John got back to me, and purchased one of our podcasts for their feed – (the episode on the Basque Gastronomic society). We have now made 5 podcasts for Lonely Planet, including two from our Thailand trip (the first of which, from Bangkok, has just been published. Chiang Mai to follow soon). When I stop to think about it, making radio programs for Lonely Planet is a dream come true. It was the first time I had ever had the guts to repeatedly contact (harass) an institution I admired, and it really paid off.

Secondly, I was contacted by a commissioning editor at Fodors who enjoyed the podcasts and wondered if I would like to edit a chapter for their 2007 Spain guide. I chose Galicia and Asturias, and Marina and I spent a fun couple of weeks running around up north checking up on hotels, restaurants etc. This year I wrote a couple of introductory sections for their 2008 guide. Wow, now it was Lonely Planet and Fodors, and all because of the podcasts!

In the meantime, Marina and I made an experimental podcast in Spanish. It went down well, and led to a series of 31 Spanish podcasts in 31 days to raise money for my Enduro India motorbike trip. When I got back we discovered people wanted more Spanish podcasts, so we obliged, continuing with our 10 minute chats once a week or so on subjects we found interesting. We had requests for transcripts to go with the podcasts, and realised that would only be possible if we charged a small amount for them… which led to the following chain of events: we started producing worksheets that included a transcript for each conversation and we started an intermediate level, which led to more listeners and links, which led to an interview in El Pais, which led to an interview on Spanish radio and an offer of a substantial cash investment in our enterprise by a local language school owner over pints of Guiness – an offer that nearly made us fall off our seats in surprise, an offer of tens of thousands of euros that we had absolutely no need for, and were never going to accept. Finally, earlier this year Marina gave up her job as an IT consultant and now works full time with me on the Spanish podcasts, leaving behind her horrendous daily commute through 40 minutes of traffic to Tres Cantos.

For my part, it’s 7 months since I went anywhere near a translation, and 2 years since I gave up teaching, my two previous occupations in Spain. Thank goodness, as all of the above, the slow evolution of Notes from Spain and Notes in Spanish since Autumn 2005, followed a 2 to 3 year period where I was so sick of teaching English in a local company where students never turned up that I had lost most of my sense of self-worth and was suffering from pretty unpleasant psychological consequences.

So many thanks to the listeners, readers, Great-Madrid-Escapers and everyone else who has helped us get this far. There is a lot more to come! If there is any point to all this it is once again that there can be more to life as an expat than accepting that you will always have to do the jobs that you, and others, think that expats have to do. All you need is a passionate interest in something and, probably, a bit of an obsessive streak to make sure you stick at it, and who knows what might happen?

Hey, Spain bloggers, lovers and visitors – tell us one of your stories!