Inspiration: A Trip to Granada, Spain

granada spain alhambra nasrid

I’ve always found place explosively inspirational when it comes to writing. Reading prose and looking at art generate a little zap of imagination each, poetry and music quite a bit more, but actually going somewhere and breathing it in and absorbing all the little details has always worked wonders. A number of characters and settings still brewing in my mind are the result of childhood and teenage trips to castles and coasts.
I do like a good castle or coast…

Granada: The Why and the How

One of the settings – the setting of the subplot – in my current long project sprang to life years ago when I watched a documentary about Siena (which I now can’t find, but the Cosima Spender one on Netflix is really interesting), and more specifically, the city districts (contrade) and the cutthroat, pageant-heavy horse race (palio) in which they compete. This mingled in my mind with another ‘actual place’ that has always seized my imagination: Moorish Spain. Countless videos, photo galleries, history books, travel accounts, fictional representations and films have added layers to the initial flash of stimulation, but, being itchy-footed, I always get to the point with ‘inspiration locations’ where I convince myself I have to visit them.

Siena at palio-time was never going to be an option: it’s fiddly, it’s over-subscribed, and it’s immensely expensive. Andalusia, however, is quite accessible, and from my first glimpse of a picture of the Alhambra, I knew that Granada, in particular, was going to be one of those places that wired my brain into the mains.

I put it off for ages. Although far simpler than a palio trip, getting to Granada from Scotland still needs to be filed under ‘a little bit fiddly’: direct flights depart from London, mostly, and by the time I’ve added ‘get to London first’ onto the itinerary of a trip, I’ve usually thrown a calculator out of a window and gone into a serious sulk. You can fly from Glasgow and Edinburgh to Malaga, but that’s two hours distant, and I wanted to go with my partner, who likes the arriving and chilling out bit of travel way more than the faffing about with foreign public transport bit (personally, I’m easy – sometimes that’s my favourite part. Promotional emails from InterRail elicit a Pavlovian reaching for the credit card. Anyway…). I didn’t want to talk him into something I wasn’t sure he’d enjoy. Icing on the cake, I was on a ‘saving spree’ for about eighteen months, which was as mind-meltingly fun as it sounds, and designated trips overseas as being out of the question. I put it off, and put it off. Then, of course, I cracked, and booked everything in a manic rush of plastic cards and glee. We arrived in southern Spain on the 3rd April this year, and it was sunny and beautiful and awesome.

As A Tourist Destination

Just in general as a place to go for a trip, or a getaway, or an adventure, Granada is perfect. Getting there from Malaga turned out to be pretty simple, and if Malaga Bus Station is somewhat less than salubrious, the ALSA buses themselves are very comfortable and swish, with helpful drivers and clear ticketing. We stayed for four nights, and afterwards felt perfectly recharged and ‘unwound’. I managed to create a detailed outline – almost draft 0.5 – of a weighty chunk of my book, mostly sitting on a bench under an orange tree in the Plaza de la Trinidad (which our hotel overlooked). Gorgeous streets, vibrant plazas, delicious food, friendly locals, rambling walks, cheap beer and wine, chilled out things to do, and views to die for – yup. I’d whole-heartedly recommend the city as a destination if a person was after a laid-back city break with culture and sun.

granada spain plaza trinidad


The area of the city known as Albaicín is the old medieval Moorish quarter, and every little twist and turn brought new inspiration. “IT IS ASSASSIN’S CREED!” announced my partner, the first time we started a hike up the winding, vertiginous alleys, and yeah, it’s pretty Assassin’s Creed-y. Meaning that you can absolutely imagine that you’ve left the real world behind, and are sneaking around on some quest in a fantasy town. Much of Albaicín is comprised of tiny, narrow, whitewashed alleyways, often incorporating steep flights of stairs and meeting each other at right angles. Over the top of these, trellises creak in the sun, trailing the most amazingly fragrant wisteria and almond blossom. There are heavy doors of dark, carved wood; sun-drenched, silent squares; house names and numbers displayed on blue and white tiles bordered with filigree; and sudden vistas either out across the hazy city districts down on the plain or up to the Alhambra. It’s magical.
 granada spain albaicin


We had to stop in at the Corral del Carbón to pick up our pre-booked tickets for the Alhambra (this guide is all you need if thinking about doing the same – worked perfectly). This quiet, cobbled square was an unexpected treasure. It’s a fourteenth-century caravanserai (an alhóndiga, technically), all columns and balconies and cool water and clean stone. Like the Albaicín, it feels like a time/space portal: you step through to its quiet, sunny space and into another world. I do actually have a desert-crossing caravan haulier in my WIP. Now I know where he sells his cargo…
 granada spain corral del carbon

The Alhambra

The Alhambra, though… the Alhambra made me cry. I can’t claim to be the world’s most sensitively artistic soul, but it was just exquisite, especially the Nasrid Palaces. I kept finding tears pricking my eyes, and everything I said came out as a sort of breathy snuffle. (Given that I mainly said, “It’s so beautiful, it’s so beautiful,” that wasn’t a great loss.) It’s a great ‘tourist site’ in that there are lots of different sections, each with their own charms, and the ticketing is cleverly worked so that as long as you hit your timed slot for the Palaces, you can experience the rest at a very sedate pace. It is a popular place, of course – more than 2 million pairs of feet cross the threshold every year, and even in early April there will be 6000+ people visiting per day – but it doesn’t feel overly crazy, and you only need a moderate amount of patience to enjoy yourself.

granada spain alhambra nasrid

granada spain alhambra nasrid

Did I get my expected dosage of inspiration? Very much so. All the scenes I outlined in a mad, citrus-scented flurry were set in the fictional location Siena and Granada originally spawned, and being able to ‘steal’ streets and alleyways and castle sections in which to imagine my protagonist made the job super simple. Since returning home, I’ve written all these sections, and again, the sailing was very smooth: words came easily, and although it’s all first draft blether, I feel like the sensory details that have woven their way through the prose are far more natural and useful than those in other bits of my manuscript.

granada spain alhambra

I’m aware this whole thing reads like demented copy for the Spanish tourist board, but I really, REALLY loved Granada, and it did some small wonders for my writing inspiration. And people brought me tapas. Endlessly. Go, if ever you get the chance.
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