Monday 18 February 2013

Alma de Cuba, Seel Street, Liverpool

Alma de Cuba restaurant and bar in Liverpool, England. By katielips ( [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
The Alma de Cuba is a restaurant and bar in Seel Street, Liverpool which has a personal significance for me. The building was formerly St Peter's Roman Catholic Church, and until its closure it was the oldest Catholic church in the city.

My Spanish grandparents attended the church at the beginning of the last century, and my mother was baptised there in 1908.

St Peter's Church, Liverpool. By Bazonka (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
The Alma de Cuba has kept many of the church's original features. When I visited it for the first time, it was very emotional to stand where my grandparents had stood almost one hundred years earlier, holding their baby, my mother, in their arms. In fact, three generations of my family came together at the restaurant in 2008 to celebrate the centenary of my mother's baptism. By that time, I was a grandmother myself. Two years later, my husband and I celebrated our golden wedding anniversary with family and friends at the restaurant.

If you are ever in Liverpool, do pay a visit to the Alma de Cuba, there is nowhere else quite like it.

Book a talk

‘Thank you so much for coming along to our New Group meeting last night. We all thoroughly enjoyed your interesting talk and hearing how you came to write Chasing Shadows. You touched so many subjects and gave us lots to think about…’ (L.S., Merseyside)

I am available to come along to creative writing, reading, or family history groups to talk about my work. Please feel free to contact me.

Writers' groups
I am happy to attend writers' groups and talk about getting your book into print and how to market your book successfully.

Reading groups
I would be delighted to attend one of your sessions to discuss the book with you and answer questions. It is a privilege to be asked to speak to a reading group when the book under discussion is Chasing Shadows. The most common reaction is that members feel they can relate to the themes in the book on a personal level. It is surprising how many of us are descended from immigrant ancestors.

Family history groups
I can attend family history groups to share my experiences of tracing family history, especially the challenges of doing so abroad. These talks have also been well received and I am looking forward to fulfilling my forthcoming bookings.

Other organisations
Whether you are a discussion group or any other organisation that meets for informed and entertaining discussions, I can talk about many aspects of writing and family history.

I have spoken at a Barnado's Luncheon Club attended by almost 60 ladies, also various NAWCs, Townswomen's Guilds, etc. I am happy to speak to small, or large, groups.

About Santiago de Compostela

Church of Santiago, Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain. By Vasco Roxo
Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, northern Spain, is a city of pilgrimage for Roman Catholics, the main focal point being its cathedral, believed to house the tomb of St James. The cathedral has been rebuilt four times, its golden Baroque shell enclosing a medieval interior. The cathedral is set in Santiago's main square, the Praza do Obradoiro, in the heart of the old city. It is flanked on one side by the Hotel Reis Catolicos, originally a pilgrim's hostel built in the early 1500s, but now a luxurious parador. The praza is unusual in that it is not lined with restaurants, pavement cafes or souvenir shops but it is always thronged with people, groups of tourists who have been coached in from cruise ships anchored at Vigo; Spanish tourists flocking in from the bus station, a stone's throw from the cathedral; weary pilgrims, weighed down with backpacks, often wearing the traditional cloak, hat and staff and hurrying to climb the cathedral's magnificent Baroque steps and enter its Romanesque doorway, the Portico de la Gloria, or 'Gateway to Heaven in time for the midday service.

However, there is no shortage of restaurants, bars, taverns and opportunities for souvenir shopping in the smaller squares and narrow, granite paved streets of the historical centre. Places to sit and stare, to enjoy a tortilla and a glass of rioja, followed by a slice of traditional Santiago tarte, whilst marvelling at the architecture of the dozens of monasteries, convents, churches and museums. One great advantage of the city is that its historical heart is small enough to be explored on foot and has an intimate atmosphere which is vibrant without being frenetic.

Outside the old centre, Santiago is a city like many others, with department stores, commercial buildings, hotels, fountains and green spaces – and traffic. If you wish to travel further afield, hire a car and visit the seaside town of Sada or the bustling port of La Coruna, with its attractive glazed facades lining the Paseo Maritimo.

About Chasing Shadows

Part family saga, part memoir, Chasing Shadows tells the true story of Micaela, a Spanish immigrant to Liverpool at the beginning of the last century. It is also the story of her granddaughter's search, one hundred years later, for her own lost heritage and the truth about Micaela's early life.

Chasing Shadows is Micaela's story, from her birth in Santiago de Compostela in the late 1870s, to her death in Liverpool in 1950. The story unfolds as tragic events alter the course of Micaela's life, taking her from a comfortable life in nineteenth century Spain to a poor, working class environment in early twentieth century Liverpool.

In Liverpool, she meets the Spanish seaman whom she marries in 1907. Chasing Shadows tells of their life together, the difficulties they face in a foreign land, their hopes and disappointments. It tells of Micaela's failure to fully adapt to her new environment and how this affects her eldest daughter's life as Pilar is torn between two cultures, two languages and two religions after making a hasty marriage.

Micaela was my grandmother and Chasing Shadows is also my story. It tells of my travels through northern Spain in search of my lost heritage as I explore the culture and the landscape that Micaela left behind. Seemingly chance meetings influence my search, helping me, after many false leads and dead ends, to unearth the secrets of past generations.

Chasing Shadows: a journey into the past and the secrets it holds is published by Corazon Books and is out now.

Guest posts

I'm looking forward to having guest posts on my blog from fellow writers. If you write historical fiction, memoir or family sagas, I'd be happy to receive posts about your latest book or to send you some interview questions by email.

I also welcome emails, comments, stories and photos from any one with an interest in and knowledge of northern Spain and the Spanish immigrant population in Liverpool.

Write to me at jcarmensmith @ (anti-spam measure - please close the gaps either side of the @ symbol).