He might be famous for his books set in Cambridge, but Tom Sharpe has fallen in love with Spain. Graham Keeley met Britain's funniest author in his adoptive home on the Costa Brava.
In an exclusive village in Catalonia, Tom Sharpe found the place where he could break a 20-year writer's block.
Britain's master of farce sat at the vast desk in his white-walled
villa, overlooking the sea, and wrote his new book, Wilt in Nowhere, on
an ageing Smith-Corona typewriter.
Seven years in the writing, the book brings back to life his most famous character, Henry Wilt. It's already a bestseller.
Wilt, a hapless Cambridge college lecturer who tries to get rid of his wife Eva, is Sharpe's most popular character.
He is loosely-based on Sharpe himself, who worked as a lecturer in Cambridge before making a breakthrough as a writer with his first book Riotous Assembly.
But before his latest novel, Sharpe did not publish a book for 20 years - principally because of a series of health problems.
Indeed, his main reason for preferring life on the Costa Brava is the faith he puts in the Spanish health system after he claims he was "let down" by two British doctors.
Life at the villa in the village of Llafranc, two hours drive north of Barcelona, clearly agrees with Sharpe.
The British writer has lived in his three-storey villa for nine years, but has been spending long periods of time in Spain since the early 90s.
Now he lives here alone here, in between regular return trips to his home in Cambridge, to see his wife Nancy and their two daughters.
Nancy is an infrequent visitor, and when they are not together in Britain, she prefers to see her daughter from a previous marriage in her native United States.
While he is in Spain, she busies herself sorting out his business matters.
Sharpe's two daughters do not come out to see him regularly, but he does not feel lonely.
"I have always been alone," he says. Even his parents sent him on holidays on his own - a good lesson in self-reliance.
Sharpe made his home in Llafranc
But the 76-year-old author is not without friends and admirers in his Catalan hideaway.
After all, he's a famous writer in Spain, and his books have sold two million copies.
His house is visited by Spanish celebrity spotters, and national newspapers regularly run long profiles.
He has his own circle of English-speaking friends, both Catalans and Britons, but does not speak Spanish.
"I don't want to learn the language," he says. "I don't want to hear what the price of meat is."
A natural story-teller, he has a ready audience from admirers in this small village, where he is something of a famous figure.
Perhaps his closest friend in Llafranc is his doctor, whom he calls the 'Angel of Llafranc'. He dines with her most days.
Originally, Sharpe came to this corner of Catalonia after his Spanish agent recommended a hotel where he worked for months on end.
He always preferred to work in hotels and he ended up spending up to five months at a time at the Hotel Llevant in Llafranc, which became a home-from-home.
It was here he started to work on the latest Wilt novel, but burnt some of it because, in his own words, "it didn't make me laugh".
Eventually, he bought his secluded villa for the bargain price of
GBP 200,000 from a bankrupt.
Nine years later, many villas in Llafranc, a popular weekend hideaway for the wealthy Barcelona set, go for more than three times that figure.
Inside his home, the walls are decorated with black-and-white photographs he took himself.
Some show strong images from his time as a photographer in South Africa during Apartheid.
But, true to form, other photographs poke fun at figures Sharpe thought silly, like pompous fellow students at Cambridge.
There are also his own photographs of his wife and his daughters.
From his bedroom on the top floor, Sharpe looks down to the sea, through other, similarly tasteful villas. But immediately below is a simple courtyard.
"My wife calls it the prison yard," he says with a smile.
Simply decorated, the house is instantly recognisable as the home of a writer.
The shelves are filled with books, many by his literary hero P.G. Wodehouse. But they also contain many of his handwritten notebooks.
Laid out beside his desk is his humidor, filled with his stock of huge cigars which he occasionally smokes with a pink gin.
Sharpe has little fondness for Britain.
"It is so depressing. I can't bear it. There is no such thing as the English gentleman anymore. Money rules everything," he says.
He deplores the British drinking culture and crime.
"Here in Llafranc, we don't get that. I can go out at any time and have no fear. There is no crime. We don't have any of that sort here."
Wilt in Nowhere, price GBP 10.99 (EUR 14.25) is published by Hutchinson.
Subject: Author Tom Sharpe at his home in Spain; Life in Spain
Page last modified: 22st of November 2008
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