When I want something badly, I can be a nuisance, I know. But I did not need to use any of my bugging or bargaining skills when I asked Steven to talk to me about his book, Granada- a Pomegranate in God’s Hands. He was ready to share and willing to weave a conversation on an unsunny Tuesday afternoon. Well, sunless for me in London but a warm morning for him in California, where he currently resides.
Steven is a kind man with a lot of honesty that rips through every page of his book. He fell in love with the Albayzin and as he renovated a house he had just bought there, he wrote the history of the heart of Granada; a project that was set for two years and that lasted for eight, instead. It is the story of many of us, writers- starting a writing project with a huge zeal, then filter into weakens as we got into the deep end. In his words “when you love a place, you have a responsibility to write about it”- I wholeheartedly agree. We share a common fascination with Spain although he is no longer a resident there, his book (I believe the only one about Spain) has been my companion for several years.
My first encounter with his book was a few years ago when I first lived in Andalucia. I was drinking any information about the place I loved and Steven wrote the history of Granada; an unlikely book far from fancy foreigner story and just as he jumped into the renovation project, let me jump in here, too, into the heart of the conversation as I am sat with a straight-talker. “What we have been taught about Andalus is an ideological fabrication” and the outrage Steven felt when he started studying his hometown, this realization came fast. It is an obligation as a writer to present the truth once we learn about it and sometimes it means to correct historical records.
“We have been lied to about Spain and the creation of Europe and it is our obligation to seek what is the truth is about it all”- he says in an authoritative voice. I pick a few ideas from his book- such as the blood cleansing process instigated by Isabella and Ferdinand, or the expulsion of the Jews and Muslims in an organized manner and we have a solemn silence as we think back centuries, realizing that some things just never change. Both in the UK and the USA where we live, we see this ideological twisting daily but as writers we have the privilege and responsibility to change a widely held perception people hold.
Andalus was one the greatest civilizations that transformed the world- I say to him and he nods. “Absolutely! People got to believe that Andalus is the symbol of hope and power of the time that Western culture is unwilling to admit”. It is a beautiful tune to my heart, especially when we are surrounded by destructive narratives all around us.
“What, in your opinion, is stopping people in believing the power of Andalus? “- I ask hopefully.
“The dark impulses of our character. People got to believe that we can build a world based on truth”- he says without floundering strength. “Instead, we are stuck with indoctrination that blinds us to some fundamental truths we build our life on”.
“I know I can ask you this question, I trust you will give me the honest answer: What is the role of Muslims in creating a different narrative to the history of Andalus?”
“Our lack of sense of transcendent collaboration without religious and ideological doctrines that can be, indeed, destructive. Muslim people or people of any faith or none have the power to correct historical records”
“I know you have written different genre- poetry and a new book coming out soon. What is your practice and what advice would you give to new or unestablished writers?”
“Oh, you know, this is a very easy answer, as you know it yourself as you have been a writer for a while- write every day. It is just like washing the dishes”
I sit with Steven for half an hour but my mind travelled many centuries in this short time. We tap in and out of time, history and writing as a practice- the things that would tickle anyone’s heart; anyone who cares about the world, that is. Because let us face it, we all fear to dig out old documents and question our history but Steven’s words left lingering: It is important to be sceptical. That is something we can all do- be sceptical about what we read, hear and see so we can create a version of truth the world needs. Writers, we have an obligation- once you see the truth, you got to write it up! Just like the dishes- the longer you leave them, the more clutter they create. They also smell, so I am off to remedy that.