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Lemons

This little girl in 1970s beige is me, the author of Alberto's Lost Birthday.

From when I was even smaller than this, our family used to go on holiday to Spain.

It sounds very grand that we had a villa in the Costa Blanca.

In fact, there was no running water, or electricity.

But for us kids, living up a hill surrounded by trees to climb and nothing to do but explore, it was bliss.

Every year, before we arrived, a Spanish woman called Maria Louisa would come to clean and air the house.

Her husband, Pascual, would look after the almond trees on the terraces.

Although my parents' Spanish was ropey at best, the two couples became friends.

Maria Louisa would make a huge paella, and she and her family would carry it up the hill to our house, where we would all tuck in.

Pascual created the small garden in the photo for me.

The flowers came out around the time we arrived for our holiday.

And next to it, he planted a small lemon tree.

It produced the largest, most amazing lemons I'd ever seen.

Mum and Grandma would make lemon curd.

And the grown-ups would have a giant slice of lemon in their gin and tonic.

One year, perhaps the year this picture was taken, I discovered that Pascual didn't know when his birthday was.

I was shocked.

Along with Christmas, your birthday was the most important day of the year.

Presents, cake, parties - all just for you.

I didn't know, or understand, what the Spanish civil war was, but that was why Pascual had lost his birthday.

That thought - about a man who'd lost his birthday - stayed with me.

And so, when I decided to write a novel, it seemed a good place to start.

With a nugget of truth.

Pascual became Alberto and a story unfurled.

It wasn't Pascual's story because I didn't know it.

But he, and his lemon tree, were at the heart of my novel.

I wish that little girl in the picture could have given Pascual a big hug to say thank you.

Thank you for the beginning of a story.

And thank you for the lemons.

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