Event Review: Meet the author – Sarah Watling
- Posted by membership
- On March 30, 2023
The BritishSpanishSociety’s Meet the Author Event: Sarah Watling
The stunning converted chapel conference hall of the international school the Instituto Español Vicente Cañada Blanch in Kensington, London, drew an enthusiastic audience to the latest BritishSpanish Society’s popular ‘meet the author’ event, on Wednesday March 29th.
Prize winning young biographer Sarah Watling engaged in an illuminating conversation with fellow author and journalist BSS chairman Jimmy Burns, about her new book Tomorrow Perhaps the Future, following English and American women writers in the Spanish Civil War.
The book, only recently published in the UK (see review by Roger Golland in the latest issue of the BSS’s magazine La Revista) and soon going into translation for publication in Spain, is already front lining in major London bookshops and moving up the best-seller lists. It was a special honour to have the author a history graduate from Newham, a College in Cambridge run by women for women, sharing her insights with our diverse and bi-cultural members and supporters, during and after her ‘in conversation’ with Burns had concluded with Q & A’s, talking one to one with attendees.
Subject and author drew an interested audience that included three veteran foreign correspondents who have reported on Spain, David White (Financial Times), Adela Gooch (The Guardian), and Angus Macswan (Reuters), Spanish embassy officials, academics, and students, along with staff of the Instituto Español Vicente Cañada Blanch, led by Antonio Simon Saiz the head teacher .
In his welcome address, Saiz celebrated the fact that the event marked a resumption of the warm links between the BSS and the school which had been interrupted during the pandemic and expressed his commitment to strengthening cooperation going forward.
Watling and Burns explored the passion and commitment with which a generation of talented woman like the American journalist Martha Gellhorn, the maverick English poet and wealthy heiress Nancy Cunard, and the writers and women partners in love Sylvia Townsend Warner and Valentine Ackland, and the photo-journalist Gerda Taro (later killed aged 26) journeyed to Spain and supported the Republican side.
Watling noted that a common thread running through her women subjects was that they considered themselves outsiders in their own country because of their radical politics (Cunard and others), sexuality (Townsend Warner and Ackland), race or colour, as in the case of Taro who was German Jewish, and the African American nurse Salaria Kea who accompanied the International Brigades .
The experience of Spain for them was not a romantic escape but an act of conscious solidarity and also a liberating experience, however temporary or delusional, of perceived revolutionary fervour and female equality, even if their optimism came to be overshadowed by the Republic’s eventual defeat and the outbreak of World War Two.
Watling said she had been prompted to write the book in a time when the world is faced with major challenges to democracy and other threats such as climate change , which may require people to take a stand .
As she told the audience: “I firmly believe that women’s lives can be used to tell the stories about the big questions, about arts and politics and how they came together in the 1930’s. This is a new telling about the Spanish Civil War, about solidarity. These were all women who had political views, who took risks, who had the courage to go to Spain. The fact they were women was intrinsically significant.”
Asked by Burns about the relative absence of male protagonists in her book, Watling acknowledged her contribution to women’s history, when few books of the many published about the Spanish War have been written by women or deal with the role of women.
Thanking the author, Burns presented Watling with a signed copy of his book Papa Spy, an account of his Catholic father’s experience in wartime Spain, and a bottle of Terra Alta red wine, to ‘savour the memory of the many who died in the Spanish war, on both sides.”
Terra Alta is the most southerly wine region in Catalunya located between the Ebro River and Aragón border. It was the setting of the bloodiest and most decisive battle towards the end of the Spanish Civil War the Batalla del Ebro, which led to thousands of casualties on both sides.
Tomorrow Perhaps the Future is available from book stores across the country, HERE you can find a retailer near you.
With thanks to Codorniu who generously provided wine for the post-talk reception, and to BSS’s Cristina Alvarez, Lisa Chambers, Amy Bell, the BSS team on the night Maria Soriano and Victoria Oakden Romero, and the staff of the Instituto Español Vicente Cañada Blanch.