Today I’m delighted to feature author Joanna Glen. Her début novel, The Other Half of Augusta Hope, was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award and the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award. Her second novel, All My Mothers, set in London and Córdoba, was my book of 2021 and was published in paperback yesterday.
Joanna read Spanish at the University of London, and lost her heart to Andalusia whilst studying at the Faculty of Arts in Córdoba. She went on to become a teacher of English and Spanish, and a school principal. She and her husband live in Brighton.
Over to Joanna:
Which five pieces of music/songs would you include in the soundtrack to your life and why?
ABBA is the soundtrack to my childhood home and to long car journeys to Wales and Scotland and the Norfolk Broads with my wonderful father, my lovely brother, Richard, and our beloved mother who we lost far too early. As a tribute to her, let’s go for Mamma Mia.
In our childhood home, we had a little extension built off the kitchen, which you reached through sliding doors and which contained a wild Seventies rug, a small sofa and a stereo on which Richard and I played records day and night. I’m choosing Peter Sarstedt, Where do you go to my lovely? The lyrics include these lines: Tell me the thoughts that surround you – I want to get inside your head. The words remind me of the privilege and joy of a close sibling relationship, with whom from the very beginning you can share the thoughts inside your head (as well as the privilege of sharing thoughts in general). When my brother, as an adult, was in a coma for three weeks (from which he, wonderfully emerged, utterly himself), these words went round and round my head, like a prayer.
The man who would become my husband sent me the single – The Power of Love by Frankie Goes to Hollywood – in a jiffy bag to my parents’ house. The power of love really is a force from above and behind absolutely everything that is good in the world.
Anything by the Gipsy Kings because it’s summer, and we’re on our beach on the coast of Cádiz, and the sun is sinking behind the horizon, and the beach is clapping for a day well lived, and the music’s playing. Here I am with my husband and our children (and other beloveds) and absolutely everything is right in the world – and, as the lyrics say, I am flying into the infinite sky.
And because everything isn’t in fact right in the world (whatever it feels like on that beach), I am going for Subcity by Tracy Chapman, such a powerful, stirring reminder of the injustices we can miss if we choose not to look, and our responsibility to choose to look.
What five things (apart from family and friends) would you find it hard to live without.
Spain (and please include here the sand and the sea of the Cádiz coast; palm trees and orange blossom; paella and sangría and Manzanilla sherry from Sanlúcar de Barrameda; and the poetry and plays of Federico García Lorca; and flamenco dancing on the streets of Andalusian cities.)
Dungarees (of any variety but never tight ones.)
Words (that’s reading them and writing them and using them to talk and learn and grow and relate, and it’s also arriving in Seville and letting the Spanish version of myself out of my mouth.)
Chocolate (in all forms, but never covering nuts.)
Nature (and this is the wind in my hair and the sun on my skin; and the dazzle of the goldfinch and the kingfisher and the Mandarin duck; and the feel of the small hot cat in my lap; and the smell of jasmine on warm summer nights; and the sound of waterfalls and mountain streams; and the sight of the northern lights emerald green over glimmering fjords and snowy beaches.)
Give five pieces of advice to your younger self?
Worry is pointless. Every day I worried how I would cope if either of my parents died. When my mother did die far too young, all my prior worrying was absolutely no help at all.
Comparison brings misery. Do everything you can to refuse it.
Do not carry 55 exercise books every day in a Spanish wicker basket over your right shoulder up and down three flights of stairs to your classroom as this will give you a bad back. Forgo the basket in favour of the admittedly uglier rucksack. Your passion for aesthetics can be bad for your health.
Enjoy your body – it will never be lovelier than it is now, younger self. And wear what the hell you like.
Love never fails.
Tell us five things that most people don’t know about you
I have never ever been to a gym. I went to one exercise class in a community hall wearing an unpleasant yellow sweatshirt in my early twenties, and left before the end.
I gave up Geography to study Latin when I was twelve, and I have no idea where anywhere is in the world.
I have a powerful sense of smell and would make an excellent sniffer dog.
I can’t watch tv programmes which contain judging of any kind, and have to leave the room when footballers take penalties. (I know this is ridiculous and irrational, and people have chosen to be contestants or footballers, but that doesn’t help.)
When I was a headteacher, I spent the whole of Sports Day trying to hide the fact that I was crying. Partly, it was watching those whose bodies were made to run. Partly, it was watching the courage of those who would never win, and would always lose: their brave, humbling, awe-inspiring perseverance.
Tell us five things you’d still like to do or achieve.
I had to give up the recorder at school because it was far too musically challenging for me, but I harbour a secret desire to play the guitar – magically – without the pain of learning. I shall take my magic guitar to the beach in the evening and play it under the stars.
I’d like to visit both the north and south poles and see polar bears and whales and penguins and snow and snow and snow.
I long to own a campervan – a vintage VW obviously – and along with it, the skill first to make it beautiful and second to repair it when it (inevitably) goes wrong. And I shall wake up inside it in extraordinary places around the world, starting, tomorrow, in the desert.
I’d like to unjam the school curriculum, giving everyone a bit more time to think and talk and reflect and explore and create and breathe.
Finally, impossibly, if only history were a tapestry and we could unpick all the threads that should never have been sewn.
Thank you so much for joining me Joanna and I really hope that All My Mothers gets the love that it deserves. I love your music choices, my love of ABBA has been noted before and Peter Sarstedt always reminds me of a particular period in my youth. Plus how romantic was your would be husband? My love of Andalusia came from being stranded in Seville, and it started an ongoing love affair so flamenco, sherry and sangria are some of my favourite things too (although sherry always was). Great advice to you younger self and still very relevant. I’d love to think that one day you might be sitting on the step of your campervan, ideally with a guitar. I echo your dream of being able to unpick threads especially as we are watching the unthinkable unfold.
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All My Mothers
MEET EVA MARTÍNEZ-GREEN, AN ONLY CHILD FULL OF QUESTIONS ABOUT HER BEGINNINGS.
Between her emotionally absent mother and her physically absent father, there is nobody to answer them. Eva is convinced that all is not as it seems. Why are there no baby pictures of her? Why do her parents avoid all questions about her early years?
When her parents’ relationship crumbles, Eva begins a journey to find these answers for herself. Her desire to discover where she belongs leads Eva on a journey spanning decades and continents – and, along the way, she meets women who challenge her idea of what a mother should be, and who will change her life forever…
The Other Half of Augusta Hope
Augusta Hope has never felt like she fits in.
At six, she’s memorising the dictionary. At seven, she’s correcting her teachers. At eight, she spins the globe and picks her favourite country on the sound of its name: Burundi.
And now that she’s an adult, Augusta has no interest in the goings-on of the small town where she lives with her parents and her beloved twin sister, Julia.
When an unspeakable tragedy upends everything in Augusta’s life, she’s propelled headfirst into the unknown. She’s determined to find where she belongs – but what if her true home, and heart, are half a world away?