Aly lives in Edinburgh though she lived in Spain for many years. Her Peter Cotton series – The Maze of Cadiz, Washington Shadow, Icelight and Black Bear – follows the fortunes of a young British intelligence agent amid the changing realities of the post-war world. She was shortlisted for the prestigious CWA Historical Dagger for Washington Shadow and won it with Icelight.
About a week before Christmas, in the building where we lived, I met a twelve-year-old neighbour who was accompanied by a turkey on a lead. I say lead but it was really a red ribbon. The girl, who was called Maria de los Angeles, explained to me that she was taking the Christmas Eve meal home. The Spanish start celebrating Christmas on the evening of December 24.
Throughout December, it was quite common to see gaggles of live turkeys in the street, brought into the town from the country, without having voted. People would install them on their verandas to fatten them up.
Being British, I was not accustomed to meeting meals when they are still able to walk. Since I have a son who lives in the US, I’m pretty sure Americans will know what I mean. The day before Thanksgiving I have never seen a turkey blinking at me.
I complimented Mari Angeles on her turkey – ‘Nice and plump,’ and she seemed quite excited. Then she told me it would be killed the next day.
‘Ah, ‘I said, ‘and who does that?’
She turned to me with a gleam in her eye. ‘I do,’ she said. ‘I do it every year.’ Her mother, she said, was ‘too squeamish’. I nodded politely. ‘I cut the throat, like this,’ she said. ‘Zas!’ Zas is Spanish comic strip speak for something like ‘Zoom’ or even ‘Kerpow!’ in English. In case I was in any doubt she added. ‘I like it.’
We had arrived at her floor. ‘ Come on,’ she said to the turkey. “Feliz Navidad,’ she said to me.
I did wonder on the remainder of my trip upwards what it would take to kill a person. Would a young man intent on assassination be a sufficient justification? I wasn’t sure but I decided to see what I could do with what became my first Peter Cotton book.
The next year my elder daughter’s Godmother sent us a turkey from their farm. Since she knew me, the turkey arrived plucked and very recently dead on the evening of December 23.
‘Ew!’ said my younger daughter. ‘Why is the meat twitching?’
No, I didn’t become a vegetarian, but I sometimes wonder what became of my little Spanish neighbour. I do hope she developed a taste for crime fiction.