By the Time Dawn Breaks, a tale of mystery and magic in the Canary Islands is and isn’t a work of fiction. The characters in the novel and their experiences are made up, but the tales that inspired them aren’t. Neither are most of the settings mentioned; although, some have been geographically re-arranged slightly … perhaps in order to throw people off the scent.
‘It is a night of magic,’ Rosa had said, laughing. Then, more seriously, when Danny raised one sceptical eyebrow. ‘Really, es verdad … it is true. La Noche de San Juan is the most magical night of the year, a night when strange and wonderful things can happen.’
Over the fourteen years Andy and I lived on Tenerife, we regularly explored the more off the beaten track parts of all the Canary Islands, sometimes carrying out research for travel articles, at others creating walking holidays. When exploring any destination on foot, irrespective of where it might be, you tend to collect a rucksack full of information along the way. Some of that information invariably includes the obvious ingredients – picturesque villages, most impressive views, quirks, insights into local life past and present, where to enjoy the tastiest local food etc. But as we wove our way along rural paths, and explored small villages, we collected many other valuable items – anecdotes, unique personal experiences, and fantastical tales of regional folklore. Tales that were commonly known locally but less so beyond a municipality’s boundaries.
‘What’s the difference between the absolute black of being in an unlit volcanic tube and the absolute black of being dead? Now that he was dead himself, Enzo was in a position to answer the question.’
On our very first commission back in 2004, we sat in a library inside a community centre in a hill town in the south of Tenerife poring through books and magazines written in Spanish, searching for interesting snippets about the area. Much of the information was tedious, involving reams of text listing entire families and their contribution to the town. But one of the accounts of local life that caught our attention was about shape-changers encountered by campesinos, people who worked in the fields. These shape-changers turn up every now and again in folklore from various Canary Islands, as do other intriguing curiosities.
On a jaunt to La Gomera, a friend who lives on the edge of the Garajonay National Park took us to the springs mentioned in the book. It’s claimed the water flowing from them possesses magical qualities.
Across the western islands especially, there are many spots which have the name bailaderos. Some locals say the word refers to the movement of livestock. Others that they are places where witches congregated. Sometimes there is no ambiguity, such as when an area is known as Bailadero de las Brujas (Dance of the Witches).
“What? Don’t tell me you believe in those old wives’ tales?’ Henk slapped Ramón’s shoulder. ‘I’ve drunk from those old springs many times and nothing magical has ever happened afterwards.”
Some of the tales the incidents in the book are based on date back to the days of the conquest, and some are from a couple of hundred years ago. Others are more recent, within living memory. The account of The Girl with the Pears did occur as outlined, more or less, or as the Canarios might say, más o menos.
Like the book’s narrator, readers might find some stories stretch the boundaries of belief. Yet they mostly have their roots in episodes locals claim to have witnessed or believe to be true, and some are inspired by factual information. Superstition, legends, and magical rites are rife in the Canary Islands … when you know where to look.
By the Time Dawn Breaks is my homage to an aspect of the Canary Islands most visitors will have never encountered.
By the Time Dawn Breaks – A tale of mystery and magic in the Canary Islands will be on sale from 24 November. For anyone interested in discovering an intriguing and mystical side to the Canary Islands that few people know about, the kindle version is available to pre-order here.