Hi all, today I am excited to be kicking off the blog tour for Leila Segal: Breathe – Stories from Cuba on my blog today Leila writes about What inspired her to write Breathe.
You can purchase breathe here http://www.amazon.co.uk/Breathe-Stories-Cuba-Leila-Segal/dp/0954157052
As soon as I set foot in Havana, I felt a passion for the place. I walked down the main street and came to a food stand – the woman was holding a baby, she was looking straight at me in a way that made my stomach jump. I felt alive. I wanted to stay.
For the first six weeks I rented a room. The feeling of sweet breeze on my face in the morning – that’s in Sabbatical, one of the stories. The room inspired that story – though the characters are not me, or the people I knew: they’re bits of people, bits of story, bits of thoughts, all bound up into new creations.
It’s the sun – the heat – they melt your bones, your mind, your heart. Words flowed out of me like sweat from the skin – it was hard to stop them. I went diving in the far West of the island: fish beneath the water – multi-coloured tropical fish, lace on the seabed, sun in your eye like a day-long flash… All that became the title story Breathe.
I fell in love. Falling in love with a man from another culture wasn’t easy – not for me, not for him. I had so many new thoughts all the time – I was discovering that this man, a fisherman from a small Cuban town, and me, an urban Englishwoman: we were the same. I remember a fight, once – he’d been out all night with his cousin, and as we didn’t have a phone, I had no idea where he’d gone. When he finally came back, I saw that he was just as sensitive as me in the same way to the same things – I could hurt him, he could be angry, we could give each other love. My story The Party grew out of that.
I wanted to write about the country people. Foreigners have written books about sex and degradation in Havana, but I felt this did not do justice to the beautiful Cuba I knew.
The story I Never See Them Cry came from my difficulty with Latin family living – and the physical hardship of life there. You adapt – love is the first thing that makes you want to – but bits of you have to be smoothed out, knocked off in the process. These powerful emotional journeys inspired stories. I wrote in a small hut in the garden amid the pigs, dogs, chickens, peppers and avocado trees. The family kept asking me why I wanted to write so much, instead of sitting with them. It was my difference, though, that stimulated creativity – just as grit in an oyster makes a pearl.
I witnessed tourists doing awful things – as if there were no repercussions, like infants in a playschool grabbing cake. That’s where Luca’s Trip to Havana came from – the story about an Italian businessman who picks up a Cuban woman working in his hotel. Sex tourism was evident – you’d see gorgeous young Cubans with unattractive Europeans, staring into the distance whilst they sat at tables together, or being pawed. My idea was to show how people project their dreams onto the island, like a colouring book. It’s not just outlines, though; it’s full people.
I think that most writers feel like outsiders. I write to say the things I can’t speak aloud. Living in Cuba was the most extreme form of difference I’d yet experienced – but whether we’re in a foreign land, or have never left home, each of us is a different country – and we reach across difference to get close, which is what the characters in Breathe are trying to do.
About the author: Leila Segal was born in London, of Polish, Lithuanian and Romanian descent. When she was little, she started to write. In 2000 she visited Cuba – as soon as she arrived she knew that she wanted to stay. She lived first in Havana, then the rural far West. Breathe – Stories from Cuba is her debut collection, written during this time. Leila is director of Voice of Freedom, a project that works with women who have escaped trafficking. She reads her work regularly in London – find out more at www.leilasegal.com