Over the past few decades there have been many writers who have written novels that feature Gibraltar. International best-selling thriller writer Kitty Sewell came to the Gibunco Gibraltar Literary Festival in November 2019 where Jo Ward managed to catch up with her for a chat about her latest novel, The Fault.
“I came here a few years ago for another reason,” Kitty tells me, “and I immediately fell in love with Gibraltar and thought it was an extraordinary place and a fascinating location in which to set a thriller, with many strange, mysterious and often sinister elements to it.” Kitty was helped in her endeavours to find out more about the Rock when she went into a restaurant owned by local restaurateur Tim Turner, and after chatting with him about her idea for a novel, he became interested in the concept. “I asked if he knew anyone that could help me get into the tunnels and possibly dive in the caves and he immediately introduced me to a whole lot of people including a structural engineer and a guy who owned the Diving Center.”
The best writers are those that get direct experience in the real world, fully immersing themselves in the characters they are writing about. Kitty was taken potholing in the bowels of the Rock and although she can scuba dive she didn’t go diving, but she told me that she had it described to her in vivid colour by several people who had been looking at the treasures on the seabed.
The Fault contains everything a good thriller should, focusing on secrets and lies, family relationships and a kidnapping, using Gibraltar as the backdrop for intriguing and unusual plot devices including the idea to build a cantilevered shelf city on the east side. The three main characters, Sebastian, a civil engineering prodigy, his teenage sister Mimi and his diver girlfriend Eva, are well developed but each seems to be dealing with their own demons, including mental health issues. Without giving away any spoilers, the claustrophobic labyrinth of tunnels are a crucial ingredient that are the perfect location in which to set the mystery. For those who know Gibraltar, the whole place is brought vividly to life in Kitty’s portrayal of a place with mixed traditions, religious diversity and a complicated history. The narrative is full of anecdotes and well observed nuances of everyday life that enable those who don’t know the Rock to fully immerse themselves into the setting and which hopefully leaves them with a desire to visit.
Chatting to Kitty after her talk at the Garrison Library, she said that apart from filling her in with information about the tunnels and Operation Tracer, the audience were mostly interested in how she found the discipline to write. “You are your own boss,” she says, “and unless you’ve been commissioned, there is no deadline, so you don’t know whether what you are writing is good.” Kitty adds that she always gives drafts of her novels to friends to read before sending them to the publisher. “I don’t want to know about the good stuff, I want to know what I have done wrong.”
Kitty’s life has taken her around the world. Born in Sweden, but not having lived there for over half a century, she moved with her parents to the Canary Islands and then to Canada several years after that. She continued to travel and hitchhiked solo around South America, before settling in Spain where she lives on a fruit farm in the mountains of Andalucía. As well as being a best-selling author, Kitty owns a Sculpture Park and Botanical Garden. “I exhibit my own sculptures and also the works of nearly thirty international sculptors, and there are around 160 pieces, mostly carved in stone, on display there,” she explains. Kitty Harri’s Sculpture Garden – www.kittyharri.com
There are many different threads to Kitty’s talents, and after finishing a degree in Urban Land economics, she took a degree in Law and then trained as a Psychotherapist. So where did her love of writing start? “It was almost a fluke because I was writing a weekly column about mental health for a newspaper group, which I did for 15 years, where it was the subject I wrote about that was more important than my skill as a writer,” Kitty says. “But then I got interested in perfecting my skill as a writer and I did an MA in Creative Writing and the dissertation for the MA was my first book ICE TRAP, which was subsequently published to critical acclaim and translated into 15 languages.” Asking what made the book such a success, Kitty states that it was based on the real story of something that happened to her and her husband. “We discovered a child that he didn’t know he had up in sub-Artic Canada.” Sometimes truth can be stranger than fiction! “It was a very dramatic incident in my life with a lot of complications and I wrote about it and I think it was because I put so much of myself into it that readers loved it.”
ICE TRAP was the first of Kitty’s four novels, but her initial foray into writing came when she was practising as a psychotherapist in Wales. What Took You So Long? A Girl’s Journey to Manhood, was written with Raymond Thompson and recounted the journey of his life as the first known transgender man.
Running a sculpture garden, which takes up a lot of her time, and writing best-selling novels would surely be enough for most people, but Kitty is now training to become a meditation teacher. “I’m very passionate about meditation and mindfulness and the role that they can have in saving the Earth in the future,” she states.
Kitty’s next novel is already in the pipeline but, like any good writer, she won’t divulge too much. “It’s about organ transplants, something which I know quite a bit more about than most people,” she confides, “and it’s very sinister.”