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Sun, sea, sacrifice…

Lottie Moggach’s second novel is a multi-layered tale set in the Europe of today

10 August, 2017 — By Dan Carrier

Gospel Oak-based writer Lottie Moggach. Photo: Alexander James

A BODY is found on a beach. At first glance it looks like another tragic victim of people trafficking from North Africa in to southern Spain. But English bar owner Anna unhappily scuffing around a fleapit resort, thinks there is something more to it…

This is the premise of Under The Sun, the latest novel by Gospel Oak-based writer Lottie Moggach. The story focuses on Anna, a woman who moved to Spain with her boyfriend Michael and while in the throes of love spent her life savings creating what she thought would be their perfect home.

But things don’t turn out to be a sunny fairy tale, and as well as taking us through the grim world of middle-aged relationship break-downs, Lottie throws into the mix a mysterious businessman who wishes to rent her finca, the Spanish agricultural sector and the migrant workers picking lettuces for supermarkets back home.

Lottie’s debut novel, Kiss Me First, was shortlisted for the Guardian’s First Book Award and has been bought by E4 and Netflix.

Based in Queen’s Crescent, Lottie uses the setting of Europe today for a multi-layered tale.

“The idea came from being on beach in Spain and seeing a young African hawker trying to sell a racist Rasta doll to a couple of uninterested sunbathing tourists,” she says.

“I thought: you’ve come all the way from over there, risked your life at sea, for this? Is this how you imagined your life in the promised land of Europe to be? Or maybe I’m just projecting onto him – maybe he doesn’t care about the doll, it’s just a means to an end, and the few euros he can scrape together each day is success to him.”

Her characters have a range of voices – from young Spaniards who once found work in the building boom but now see these estates lying half finished, to the ex-pats who want the comforts of what they know with added sunshine – and find themselves in negative equity as the economic crisis rips holes in their pensions. Then there are the migrant workers, ruthlessly exploited, but also pleased to have made the journey safely from poverty elsewhere. All are dealt with in a sympathetic if granite-edged observational style.

“I was interested in how these very different groups of migrants all see Southern Spain as the promised land – the ‘coast people’, expats wanting to live out their days in a warm home from home, in a community of people like themselves; the ‘mountains people’, who want to refurbish an old house, be self-sufficient, escape from old life and create a new world for themselves away from it all; and the migrants from Africa wanting work and to send money back home. They are three different groups who co-exist on the same patch of soil but whose paths rarely cross. I wanted to see what happened if their lives collided.”

Lottie first starting researching the book before the Arab Spring accelerated the numbers of refugees desperately seeking shelter and sanctuary in Europe became headline news.

“I read lots about migrant crossings into Europe and conditions in greenhouses,” she says. “It’s been going on for decades, quietly, because the workforce is vital for the Spanish economy. The migrants in the book are economic migrants, not refugees. They aren’t escaping war or terror, and come from relatively stable countries but just want a better life, like the Western expats.”

And she adds that the idea of moving away and finding a new life holds a particular interest for her. As someone who grew up in and still lives in Kentish Town, the idea of uprooting yourself and moving away holds a particular, and somewhat grisly, fascination.

“On a more personal level I wanted to explore the world of expats because it has always been completely alien to me, the desire to uproot oneself from friends and family and start afresh, make new friends, forge new connections, create a new home,” she says.

“I know it’s a failure of imagination because I feel I’ve completely lucked out here, living where I do, doing what I do, knowing the people I know, but on a wider level I find it hard to understand how a bit of sun and a cheaper standard of living – in the case of Brit expats moving to Spain – can compensate for living somewhere where you’ll never truly fit into the culture and always be an outsider, even if you do learn Spanish.”

The result is an atmospheric story that deals well with concepts of a sense of place and confronting powers that are beyond your control to truly shape.

Under The Sun. By Lottie Moggach, Picador, £12.99


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