I know I raved about Chris Hilton’s Caliente back in February when I reviewed it here, but I can safely say it’s one of my favourite books of 2013 so far. When I approached Chris about doing an interview (which I fully expected him to say he was too busy for) I pretty much squealed so loud that only dog could hear me when he said yes. Y’see, I admire Chris for being brave enough to uproot himself from the UK to Cuba. I kind of did the same thing, moving from Kentucky to the UK which was mega brave at the time but now I’m too cowardly to make that move in reverse back to Kentucky. Anyway… I digress. Interview time!
All this cold and gloomy weather makes me long for warmer climates–it’s no wonder you defected to Cuba! What made you leave everything behind, family, friends, possessions, and make the move to Cuba? Was there a catalyst?
Although I love England, the months of gloom and grey and damp and cold give me itchy feet. I’ve always dreamed of escape. Movement feels natural; I could settle anywhere. Cuba was the original spur: I’d been fascinated for years by Castro, Che, Kennedy and the missile crisis; Cuba: tiny outlaw island thumbing its nose at the United States. One visit was enough. I decided to return and stay if I could. But Yamilia became the catalyst. Without her the plan would have faltered. I would have done anything to be with her.
What were the best and worst things about living in Cuba?
Short answer: Read the book! But, Best: the people. Worst: Although there is much to admire about Cuba, life is too hard on them. Change must come soon, hopefully without losing their uniqueness.
Caliente, with all of its grit and sensuality, would make a brilliant film. If it were up to you, who would you cast in the movie, particularly as Yamilia and yourself?
I was crossing the street with Yamilia and some friends in Havana one night. Yamilia was walking ahead. A friend grabbed my arm, “You can travel the world, my friend,” he said, “but you will never find another woman like this one.” Nobody could play Yamilia. A fiery Latin actress with long dark hair, blazing coal black eyes and more beauty and charisma than could be found in the whole of Hollywood might be able to give it a go. As for me: I find it hard to think about this. Could anyone play a character quite so mad?
Please, please, put me out of my misery. What happened after Caliente? Did you ever see Yamilia again? Did you go back to Cuba? I’m sure I’m not the only fan who needs closure!
OK. All will be revealed in the next book. Caliente doesn’t contain a quarter of what happened. I don’t want to give everything away but, yes, I did go back although not immediately. I have seen Yamilia again and I’m in regular contact. She’s not in Cuba right now.
Are you currently working on any other projects? Any fiction, perhaps?
I’d love to write some fiction – only a few short stories so far – but the next project has to be the rest of this adventure. The plan is to retire to Cuba and write fiction. The problem is deciding what to write from about 10000 ideas. For now though it’s the next installment of Caliente (no title yet) which is about half completed.
For those of us stuck in the dreary UK, do you have any recommendations for good Cuban food? And of course, good mojitos…
Cuban food has a terrible reputation, partly justified, often due to shortages. I’m no gourmet so this has never really bothered me. For eating out I recommend paladres. A paladare is essentially a Cuban family house or front room converted to serve customers. You’ll get fantastic service and the best they can provide. You get to know people and find out about other places. Now that Raul Castro has relaxed restrictions and allowed more entrepreneurship the choices and quality should be even better. Otherwise shop at the markets and cook at home in a casa particular or, like me, find someone happy to cook for you. The best of Cuba is behind the scenes.
Mojitos are great but the sugar will give you a murderous hangover if you overdo it, nice and mellow if you don’t. I prefer the white rum of mojitos neat. If you remember to eat and drink water separately you can get away with a surprising amount, hangover free.
Finally, I ask everyone I interview this question–I’m always curious about other people’s answers! Hemingway once wrote a story in just six words (“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”). What would be your six word story for your life so far?
Got away with it so far.
And if you’re not able to take my enthusiasm and excitement for Caliente at face value, why not check it out for yourself?! Chris has given The London Diaries one signed copy to give out to one very lucky reader! All you need to do is hit the wordpress “like” button or comment on this post. Seriously, people. I can’t say enough good things about this book… you just have to read it! You’ve got until noon (Brit time) Thursday to enter.