Opinion

Kathleen MacMahon on the beauty of holidaying in the same place every year

Photo of Kathleen MacMahon and her novel Nothing But Blue Sky

Kathleen MacMahon has been longlisted for this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction with Nothing But Blue Sky, a tender and honest story of love in marriage – of what binds couples together and of what keeps them apart.

Kathleen MacMahon told us about the real life Catalonian village which provided a backdrop to Nothing But Blue Sky.

Nothing But Blue Sky is set in a tiny seaside village in Catalonia, where my husband and I have holidayed for twenty years. I’ve changed the name of the village to a fictional ‘Aiguaclara,’ but the rest of it is true to life, from the winding road that takes you over the mountain to the necklace of white buildings along the seafront and the tamarisk trees that line the emerald green cove. The novel hinges on that first, heart awakening glimpse of the sea from the road. There follows the first swim of the holiday and the ritual first drink on the seafront, as the long winter that led up to this point is slowly unpacked and defrosted. The holiday serves as a pit-stop in our lives, as it does for the characters of David and Mary Rose in the novel.

“Without milestones time is slippery, but the annual holiday is a marker buoy that ties it down. ”

Without milestones time is slippery, but the annual holiday is a marker buoy that ties it down. If you go back to the same place every year, as we do, you observe the changes not just in yourself but in everyone around you. The woman who owns the restaurant on the seafront gets a year older every time. Her son, who was just a kid when we first met him, is suddenly in charge. The French family who occupy the house next door acquire new grandchildren and lose and gain spouses, year upon year. These people all made their way into my novel, as David returns to the village for his first holiday without Mary Rose. His memories of their previous holidays provide a way for him – and me – to measure their marriage and the part he played in it.

I haven’t been back to ’Aiguaclara’ since Nothing But Blue Sky was published. The pandemic scuppered our annual holiday, so there was no first glimpse of the green sea from the winding road on the way down, no ritual first swim, no first drink on the seafront. Last year will forever occupy a blank space on the timeline, but that too is part of the story of our lives, told through the lens of our precious, numbered summers. 

Discover the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist here.

The Women's Prize Podcast


Tune into Yomi Adegoke and a host of inspiring guests on our weekly podcast full of book recommendations