The idea was to write a factual book detailing accounts of mystery and magic in the Canary Islands, especially as I hadn’t seen much written about the folklore of the islands in English.
Years and years of exploring each of the islands on foot left me with a whole raft of amazing tales I’d never heard about before. It started with our very first commission to write a travel article in 2004, when we sat in a tiny library in a hill town above Tenerife’s south coast translating mostly boring text about the area. But one article both amused and intrigued us. It involved campesinos (people who work the land) being waylaid by strange creatures. Although I never wrote about it in detail, save for a brief mention in that first article, the story stayed with me, especially as I heard similar accounts in various locations across other islands.
‘I spun around with my knife raised, ready to strike out at whatever was stalking me and found myself looking into the red eyes of the Devil in the shape of a black dog. I swear it was the size of a bear and roared like a lion.’ – By the Time Dawn Breaks
Nearly every time we researched a new municipality, we’d find more fantastic tales, some stretching back to the days of the Guanche (or the name applied by each of the islands to their original inhabitants), others were from more recent times, even occasionally within living memory.
There are many, many strange aspects to the Canary Islands that are rarely mentioned in English language media, yet which were relatively well documented in the past. Sometimes we literally stumbled across these. Mostly they were embedded in reams of text in obscure publications, at other times we learned of mysterious reports thanks to first-hand experiences. Once, while hiking through a deep, narrow ravine in an area we didn’t know particularly well, we came across an abandoned mining camp outside a cave. It was a Mary Celeste affair with mugs and plates still laid out on a dusty table. In truth, it was rather spooky. Shortly afterwards, we read an account of a quite bizarre incident which occurred in the same area in the early twentieth century. The more I researched, the more information I found pointing to this area having a connection with magical practices, even to this day.
‘The man grunted and turned away to shout his strange dialect at someone else out of Jon’s light of sight. When he turned back, his fingers were clenched around the hilt of a shiny black object, one end of which tapered to a sharp point.’ – By the Time Dawn Breaks
And so, over the years the strange stories piled up. The problem was where to share them. They didn’t really fit easily into travel articles or guidebooks. They were a series of curious snippets with nowhere to go. So, I decided to compile a selection of my favourites in a book about the folklore of the Canary Islands. However, as I started to write these colourful tales from the Canaries, a straightforward account didn’t feel as though it was doing justice to their flamboyant natures. As if by magic, the book took a different direction and morphed into a series of mysterious and magical tales, each representing an example of fantastical folklore from individual Canary Islands, set within the framework of a single narrative – basically stories within a story. La Noche de San Juan is the foundation for the novel, the link that connects each of its characters. As anybody who is familiar with fiestas on the Canary Islands might know, La Noche de San Juan itself is shrouded in myth, and is the most magical night in the Canarian calendar. It’s also a lot of fun, which is what I hope readers find this story and the stories within to be.
‘You are looking for the magic springs, right? Forget it,’ he shook his head slowly for emphasis. ‘They are not worth it. All they are, are seven rotting wooden pipes directing water into an animal trough. There is nothing magical about them.’ – By the Time Dawn Breaks
I refer to the novel as a work of fiction but, as most of what is revealed within its pages is based on accounts some locals believed to have occurred, as well as documented facts, I’m not so sure ‘fiction’ is the right term.
The finished novel is called By the Time Dawn Breaks – A tale of mystery and magic in the Canary Islands is available to buy in paperback and Kindle. If you’re interested in reading about a bizarre, intriguing, and mystical face of the Canary Islands that few people know about, you can buy it here.