Blog 117  14/08/2023 A Literary World:  An Interview with Alyson Sheldrake

Posted in on 14 August, 2023 in News

A Literary World 

An Interview with Alyson Sheldrake

Today’s guest on A Literary World is someone who will whet the appetite of those readers longing to “live the dream”; something that many of us yearn to do and yet never act on. Alyson Sheldrake is an author and painter living in the Algarve in Portugal. I first got to know her a few years ago on the We Love Memoirs Fb site and since then, I have followed her journey with admiration. I was also fortunate enough to be asked to contribute to her Travel Stories Series.


Welcome to A Literary World, Alyson.

Tell us about your background. When did you decide to move to Portugal and become an author?

I was born in Birmingham in the UK and after graduating with a degree in sport and a Post Graduate Certificate in Education; I joined the police force. After serving for 13 years, I changed career to work as an education adviser. Three years later, I was a Director of Education responsible for over 130 schools in Devon.

My husband, Dave, and I first fell in love with the Algarve in Portugal over 20 years ago. One last-minute, ‘never go back to the same place twice’ holiday turned into a recurring love affair with a little fishing village called Ferragudo. Life had conspired that we had sold our house in the UK and were renting, so we put everything we had into buying a house in Ferragudo. Then we had a long (and impatient!) five-year wait until Dave retired from the police before we could realise our dream. I took a huge gulp of air, handed in my notice from my education role, and in May 2011 we moved out here to live permanently. It was the best move we ever made!

Ferragudo village

Five years ago, we sold our house in Ferragudo and moved over to the western Algarve, to a wonderful rural little town called Aljezur. Monte Clérigo Beach is just a five-minute drive away. It’s heavenly.

Monte Clérigo Beach

What are your books about and where are they set?

I captured the story of our move to Portugal in my first two travel memoirs, Living the Dream in the Algarve, Portugal, and Living the Quieter Algarve Dream. For the third book in my Algarve Dream Series, I interviewed a host of people from all over the world that have also made the Algarve their home. That one is called A New Life in the Algarve, Portugal, and features some fascinating folks, including some who have lived here since the 1960s.

I then created three anthologies in a new Travel Stories Series, collaborating with almost 50 authors who shared their intriguing travel stories with me.

The book I knew I was always meant to write came next and has been a multi-award-winning bestseller for me. Kat the Dog: the remarkable tale of a rescued Spanish water dog is the heartwarming true story of our darling rescue dog. I am particularly proud of this book and all the wonderful reviews and messages I receive from readers who have loved Kat’s inspiring tale of rescue and redemption.

What is the most challenging aspect of writing?

I am a bit of a perfectionist, so for me the challenge lies in balancing wanting to go back over what I have written and fine tune it straight away, versus ploughing ahead and getting the story down on paper. With Kat the Dog, though, I woke very early each morning for almost three months, with the next chapter ready to go in my head each day. The only challenge there was being able to type fast enough to keep up with all the words spilling out of my head…

What do you think is the secret to writing a good story? Are there any?

I think you must capture a reader’s imagination early on – preferably on the first page – and then ensure that you deliver what you promise! For me, characters are very important. They are what draw me into a book and keep me turning the pages – and I am an avid reader of lots of different genres. I want to care about what happens to the characters in a story – and then I want to be drawn into their world, the plot, their conflicts. I want to know what happens to them. I try to do the same with my own writing.

Do you have a special writing space? Is there a special time of day that you like to write?

My desk is in our office at home. But I need peace and quiet to write, which is why I get up early (5 am!) and get to work while the house is silent, and my lovely husband Dave is still asleep. If the words are all lined up in my head, clamouring and scrambling to be written down, the worst thing that can happen is for someone (Dave!) to walk in and ask me a question or talk to me! The words just melt away and if I try to recreate them later, they never seem as fluent or natural.

When you’re not writing, what do you like to do to chill out? I know you are an artist too. Can you tell us more about that?

I studied art and English literature at ‘A’ Level, so unsurprisingly I have always enjoyed painting and drawing (and writing!). Sadly, my career choices left me little time to pick up a paintbrush and my easel sat gathering dust for many years. But that all changed when we moved to live in the Algarve. For the first time in my life, I had the most precious thing of all in abundance – time. And a rather lovely big studio space in our new home. I set to work and over our first winter here created 32 paintings and invented my own ‘New Wave’ modern style. I just had a ‘boring’ large sky to paint one day and drew in some blocks of different colours to liven things up. And so began my unique style, which has evolved and grown over the years.

12 years later, I have completed over 250 paintings (all sold!) including over 100 commissions for clients, and my paintings are on the walls of homes around the world. It still gives me a real thrill every time I pick up a brush and begin a new piece, and I’ve just finished creating a new series of paintings ready for a big Art Expo here in the Algarve in September.

The Old Boat, Ferragudo

Edge of the Sea.

I also love pulling together my monthly newsletter, Snapshot! I’ve joked it’s the ‘newsletter that thinks it’s a magazine’ as it’s now over 100 pages a month, full of art, photography, news, reviews and interviews.

If I am not painting or writing, you’ll find me walking our newly rescued Spanish water dog, Zara, beside the river here in Aljezur.

Who are your favourite authors? 

Oh, gosh, that’s an impossible question! It depends on what mood I am in, what genre I fancy reading and what books have caught my eye. As a teenager, I started collecting Danielle Steel books, so I have a lot of her work on my shelves. For modern fiction, I like Colleen Hoover, Kristin Hannah amongst others. For fantasy, I’d never part with my books by Christopher Paolini, Tolkien, and J K Rowling. If I am in the mood for travel memoirs; I dig out books by Beth Haslam, Lisa Rose Wright, Simon Michael Prior, Stephen Powell, Adrian Sturrock and Laura Bradbury.

The master of time travel stories for me is Shawn Inmon. And for modern thrillers, I like Alice Feeney, Rona Halsall, and Nita Prose.

Favourite painter? 

Canaletto. He is one of the masters for me. His paintings of Venice are sublime. In the modern era, I was lucky enough to know a British artist called John Hammond, who sadly died last year. He was a real inspiration to me.


Favourite piece of music?

Another impossible question for me to answer! If I am painting in my studio, then you will probably hear some modern country music blasting out of my speakers. I usually just ask Alexa to fire up a playlist, and hope that songs by Sugarland, The Chicks, Carly Pearce, Lady A, Luke Bryan and Shania Twain are in there somewhere!

What’s next for you?

I’m secretly working on a new book (Shh! Don’t tell anyone!). This one is a bit different because it’s fiction. I’m just letting it all whirl around in my head at the moment, and then I’ll see what happens when it hits the page.

All images © Dave Sheldrake Photography.

Fascinating. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know you even more in this interview, Alyson. What a change of lifestyle from being a Director of Education responsible for over 130 schools in Devon, to an artistic life in the Algarve. Good for you. You certainly live up to the old adage – “If you want something done, give it to a busy person”. Your newsletter/magazine alone is jam-packed with inspiring articles, and I always love Dave’s photographs. As for Kat the Dog, (who can resist those eyes?), it was one of my favourite memoirs in the last few years. It certainly touched me. On behalf of my readers, thank you so much for being my guest today, and I wish you continued success.

To find out more about Alyson, here are the links:

Art and books. Website:

To subscribe to Alyson’s free newsletter, Snapshot!, just click here:

Kathryn Gauci: The Books

Upcoming Release. September 2023

In the Shadow of the Pyrenees

The Freedom Trail to Spain


Back Cover Blurb

From USA Today Bestselling author, Kathryn Gauci, comes a thrilling and emotional story of bravery and self-sacrifice, heartbreak and revenge, set in one of the most dangerous and difficult of WWII escape routes.

 “A beautiful dark-haired woman dressed in the latest Parisian fashion, stepped onto the platform. She held a small child in one arm and her false documents in the other. A girl, about six-years-old, stood by her side clinging to her mother’s skirt and clutching a doll. Justine felt a surge of pity. They didn’t look strong enough for the journey ahead of them.”

When France declares war on Germany, the villagers of the sleepy village of Mont-Saint-Jean have no idea how much their lives will be impacted. At first they find themselves helping a trickle of British soldiers and airmen heading into Spain, but within months, that trickle has turned into a never-ending flow. Desperate French and foreign Jews, together with ordinary men and women evading Vichy’s harsh laws in search of freedom, either attempt to flee and join de Gaulle’s Secret Army in North Africa, or hide and regroup in readiness for D-Day. Before they know it, they are drawn into the shadowy world of escape networks in one of France’s harshest and most dangerous mountainous terrains, where at every turn they face deportation or death if caught.

Rich in detail and based on true events in Occupied France, In the Shadow of the Pyrenees weaves together a powerful and vivid tableau of characters, a tortured love affair, and the heroism of countless helpers. It is a story that conjures up the voices of the past and will take you on a journey in which the ensuing upheavals continue to resonate in the villagers’ lives long after the war has ended. 


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