Talking about books, shared talents, and the Algarve with author Alyson Sheldrake
Alyson Sheldrake is the author of two best-selling memoirs set in the sunny Algarve in southern Portugal, with a third book soon to be published. In addition to writing, Alyson is a multi-talented lady: an accomplished painter with a delightful and unique style (above and throughout this blog), much in demand for commissions; a spokesperson for the western Algarve; and she publishes a monthly newsletter literally stuffed full of news, book reviews, photographs (her husband Dave is a photographer with a particular love of the beaches and landscapes of the Algarve) and information about the Algarve. So talented is Alyson that I was really quite chuffed to find a talent she doesn't have (and sadly neither do I) but you will have to read to the end to find out what that is!
Alyson, phew! It exhausts me just listing your achievements. How do you juggle it all? Can you give me an idea of a typical day in the life of Alyson Sheldrake?
I am an early riser! I wake up at 5 a.m. and between then and about 7.30 is my quiet time when I can sit and write at the computer with no disturbances. Kat the dog comes downstairs with me and falls asleep on her bed under my desk in the office. Then it’s off out to walk Kat beside the river and home for breakfast.
After that I head off into my studio which overlooks our little garden where I happily paint until lunchtime. In the afternoon I enjoy the luxury of a siesta. The Portuguese don’t seem to take the siesta as seriously as our Spanish neighbours, but I love to curl up with Kat and have a snooze!
Another quick walk with Kat then it’s time for me to catch up on admin and emails before dinner. Husband Dave and I don’t watch television but we love a good boxset, so we curl up on the sofa and watch an hour of our latest chosen series before bed each night. I’m tucked up in bed by about 10 p.m. with Kat snoring gently away beside me!
It all sounds relaxed and yet thoroughly organised! Makes me think of lazy afternoons on a sailing boat like this one above. Though I’m still trying to get my head around a 5am!! Poor Kat being forced up so early. Our cat won’t budge before 9am. Something about owners being like their pets, or maybe vice versa?
Anyway, without further ado here’s my next question: I know you were brought up in Birmingham and that you were a police officer for 15 years. I can’t think of a bigger contrast between your old life and your new one in the Algarve. What’s been your secret for settling in on the Algarve and has there been any aspect you have found difficult?
Haha Kat doesn’t mind!
(I did 13 years as a police officer in Devon and Cornwall – then six years working in senior roles in education) (Oops, I inadvertently increased your pension lol, L)
I think one of the biggest mistakes anyone can make when they move to a new country is to try to compare it to the previous country where they lived before. Everywhere is different and it helps to accept that fact quickly and ‘go with the flow’. For us, the pace of life is one of the things that drew us to the Algarve (along with the fantastic weather – food – and people!) but that same gentle pace can be frustrating when you are trying to weave your way through layers of bureaucracy and navigate the system. My motto here has always been ‘one thing – one day’ and if you manage to achieve the one thing on your list before lunchtime – take the afternoon off!
My other piece of advice is try to learn the language. Even just a smattering of the basics to start with goes such a long way. I found that starting a conversation in Portuguese, even if I had to lapse back into English at times, meant that the person I was talking to would go out of their way to help me. Now I am more confident and happily chat to our neighbours, who are all Portuguese, but I still come out with some howlers every now and then. That just adds to the fun and challenge of learning a new language though, and certainly keeps the locals amused.
I love the idea of one thing one day. And of course living in northern Spain, can wholeheartedly empathise with the whole bureaucracy thing. I think after a while you have to adapt or leave! This beach painting of yours, (above) seems to sum up the amanha (hope that's right!) lifestyle perfectly.
Your adopting Kat the dog features in your first memoir; Living the Dream in the Algarve, Portugal, which was published just a year ago this month and has since been a regular on the Amazon best-sellers list. Do you have any hints for aspiring authors?
I think the first thing to do is to write your first draft just for yourself – then edit it for the reader – it helps to imagine someone actually sitting reading your book when you are editing and shaping your story. I wish I had discovered the joy of having a beta-reading team before I published my first book, and I can highly recommend finding your own niche in a group of like-minded writers. I joined the Facebook Group ‘We Love Memoirs’ https://www.facebook.com/groups/welovememoirs and have found so many new wonderful, supportive and encouraging friends. Writing can be a lonely venture, so it’s great to network with others who are carving a similar path.
Oh, I couldn’t agree more. And I know we both love We Love Memoirs facebook group (above) and we actually met there as we both joined around the same time. They are on Twitter too https://www.twitter.com/welovememoirs and hope lots of readers will join us.
In your second memoir; Living the Quieter Algarve Dream, you talk of your move to a more peaceful area of the Algarve. What are the main differences you have found there? And does Kat enjoy it more.
We moved from Ferragudo to Aljezur, on the west coast of the Algarve, almost three years ago, and it was the best move we could have made. We now live in a little hamlet on the edge of town. Aljezur is a small market town, surrounded by fields and open countryside, and we are only five minutes away from some of the most beautiful beaches in the whole of the Algarve. It is really idyllic, and Kat the dog is in her element, surrounded by Portuguese neighbours that have rabbits, chickens, ducks, goats and donkeys! She’s a real country girl and loves nothing better than snuffling and sniffing her way along the path beside the river every day. I love our morning walks together, it is such a peaceful and tranquil time.
It really does sound idyllic. I can see why your paintings feature so much of the feel of the Algarve in them and how Dave gets his inspiration from the sea. I love this beach scene photograph of Dave's (above).
I know many people choose the Algarve as their dream destination. In fact your next book A New Life in the Algarve, Portugal is due to be published on 24th April (and is on pre-order right now on Amazon worldwide https://smarturl.it/ANewLifeAlgarve). This is a slightly different book as it’s an anthology of people’s experiences moving to the Algarve to live. What was it about an anthology which appealed? And what was it like to work with so many different people?
It was a real privilege to work on this book, which is a compilation of stories of other people who have also moved to live here in the Algarve. Dave and I have met so many fascinating people in our years out here, and they all have a story to tell as well. In this anthology you can follow the artists, writers, and individuals that have set up amazing charities, innovative magazines, and new companies. You can discover the stories behind the owner of an award-winning wine farm, the couple who run a yurt farm, a wedding planner, estate agent, rural retreat owners, therapists, and the Vice-Consul to the British Embassy in Portugal. And there are even more stories in there to enjoy, including the families who moved to live in the Algarve in the early 1970s before tourism had even been invented.
I was delighted that the British Ambassador to Portugal agreed to write the foreword to this book as well.
I’ve had the good fortune to beta-read A New Life in the Algarve and can confirm that it is a fascinating mixture of stories from every part of the spectrum (and I love Dave’s cover photos for the series too - above ).
A little bird told me that you have more anthologies in the pipeline. Can you tell me about them??
Your little bird is quite correct! I am busy working on the first of three new anthologies in a new Travel Stories series.
‘Chasing the Dream – a new life abroad’ brings together 20 established travel memoir authors who are all going to share their unique stories about moving to live overseas. The book is planned for release at the end of June this year, and will be followed by two more anthologies in the series later this year.
7. Oo I can’t wait for those to come out. I've managed to twist Alyson's arm to let us have a sneak peek of the covers of these new anthologies. I think you will agree that they are so evocative, I want to dive right in!
Finally, Alyson, can you tell us one thing about you that your readers won’t know?
Well, let's put it this way... You wouldn't want to hear me trying to sing!!!
Haha, me neither Alyson. I'm wishing this was a podcast now so we could do a duet: though on second thoughts we don't want to frighten everyone away before we get to the links! Thank you for talking to me Alyson... and for not singing.
Here are the links for Alyson’s website (where there are more of her paintings and Dave’s photos to see plus her books to buy of course, and much more). www.alysonsheldrake.com
And this is the direct link to sign up to her free monthly newsletter which if you're not yet signed up for you are missing a real treat, it really is so jam-packed with goodies. A bit like Alyson herself! https://www.alysonsheldrake.com/news/