Joplin, MO (SNS) – Nellie Bennett, the author of “Only in Spain: A Foot-Stomping Firecracker of a Memoir about Food, Flamenco and Falling in Love,” will speak and sign copies of her book during several appearances set for Wednesday and Thursday, Nov. 18-19, at Missouri Southern State University.
Bennett has worked as a screenwriter in both Australia and Bollywood, and contributed feature articles to The Australian and The Sydney Morning Herald. She currently lives in Sydney, where she is doing master’s degree research about foreign fighters in the Spanish Civil War, with the possibility of turning it into a doctoral thesis.
Copies of “Only in Spain” are a common sight on the Missouri Southern campus. As part of the Spain Semester, her 2012 memoir was selected as the common reader for freshman University Experience classes.
Bennett’s book deals with her decision to save money earned from working in a Sydney department store to finance a trip to Spain to study flamenco dancing. After arriving in Spain, she studies flamenco, lives in hostels and cheap apartments, finds a part-time job teaching English, makes friends and falls in love.
One of the book’s themes is the Spanish saying “toma que toma,” a phrase often heard in flamenco recordings.
“It’s used as part encouragement and part celebration of the artists, much like ‘olé’ is,” Bennett says. “For me, it encapsulated the attitude to life that I found in Spain.
“It was a passionate celebration of ephemeral moments – like a song, or morning sunlight, or a fat green olive. It was also an encouragement to grab life, to have fun, to be outrageous, and – of course – to dance!”
Bennett says her career as an author came as something of a surprise.
“I didn’t go to Spain thinking that I would write a book,” she says. “That part was just luck.”
She says after the events in the book finished, she found herself “broke in Madrid (again).” She wrote a brief article about her time in Seville.
“To my utter amazement, it was picked up by an Australian newspaper,” says Bennett. “The article was spotted by a Sydney-based publisher, who rang me up and asked if I’d like to write a book. I didn’t know what to say – so I said yes.”
Bennett says characters and events were only changed to the degree needed to protect peoples’ privacy.
One part of the book describes her relationship with a young gypsy boyfriend and a harrowing visit to meet his family.
“Meeting the gypsy family was a culture shock for me,” she says. “I was, after all, a young girl from Sydney. But I actually got a lovely email from a reader recently who said she had a similar experience in Cuba when she first met her husband, and they are happily married. So I guess that’s the wonderful thing about travel – you never know where these experiences will lead you!”
“Why Don’t You?”
10 a.m., Wednesday, Nov. 18
No matter how well prepared we are, travel never goes according to plan. So why not throw the checklist out the window? Bennett will discuss the thrill of knowing where you’re heading, but never really knowing where you’ll find yourself.
“A Brief History of the End of the World”
9:30 a.m., Thursday, Nov. 19
Bennett will discuss life in a traditional Galician village, and provide practical tips on how to witch-proof your home. She will also discuss how the experience led her to her current research on the men and women who fought in the resistance in the Galician mountain ranges during the Spanish Civil War to protect their historic identity.
“We Say Tomato, They Say Tomatito”
1 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 19
When Bennett stepped off the plane in Spain, she expected to find a new and wonderful world. What she didn’t expect was a hundred different worlds. This talk will explore cultural differences and local traditions in Spanish regions and villages, and how they come together to form the wider national identity.
Book Signings and Q&A with Nellie Bennett
11-11:50 a.m. and 1-1:50 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 18
8:30-9:15 a.m. and 11-11:50 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 19
All presentations are free and open to the public.