Stewart is one of nature’s enthusiasts. He’s also one of her more impulsive handymen. He’s also a farmer. The combination of all these has made him a best-selling writer. It’s a quarter-century since he spent virtually everything he possessed (about £25,000) to buy a small, primitive farm, on the wrong side of the river, in the mountainous Alpujarra region of Andalucia in southern Spain. He and his wife Ana had driven around the region and idly wondered if they might ever consider living there; but when he thrust the cash into the hands of Pedro Romero within minutes of seeing El Valero, he was going on the purest impulse.
Telling his wife what he’d done wasn’t easy. And, almost immediately, awkward questions crowded in: how could he fix a domestic water supply? What to do about locals’ plans to flood the valley and build a dam? And what about Pedro, who showed no immediate, or long-term, intention of moving out?
Solving these problems, and transforming this patch of Nowheresville into a sun-drenched idyll took years of back-breaking toil and learning-on-the-job DIY, of helpful neighbours and impossible bureaucrats. It also begat Driving Over Lemons, published in 1999 to loud acclaim and huge sales. Successive books, drawing from the same rich well of rustic anecdote and expatriate self-consciousness, followed in 2002 (A Parrot in the Pepper Tree) and 2006 (The Almond Blossom Appreciation Society), and Last Days of the Bus Club is out this week.