I met with Andrés Pascual, the well-known Spanish author on a sunny day in June in the heart of Notting Hill. After having given up his law firm, Pascual and his wife decided to give London life a shot. They have been in what he terms the “interminable” city for a year and half. The man in the flesh presents a suave image with dark flowing hair and a denim shirt with skull button details and skinny jeans. His manner is pleasantly warm and surprisingly casual for a former corporate lawyer. The café we were supposed to meet in happens to be closed on this precise day so after trying several cafes which are also closed, we end up wandering towards Portobello Road and sitting in a Nordic bakery where he says he often buys bread.
His first novel El Guardian de la Flor de Loto, or The Lotus Flower Guardian, published by Plaza &
Janés in 2007, was a success and sold more than 100,000 copies in Spain. His début work is a murder mystery turned spiritual quest. The Lama Lobsang Singay is due to give a lecture at Harvard University about the medical knowledge of Tibetan sages that might revolutionise western medicine when he dies in strange circumstances. Jacobo, a young Spaniard who is going through a personal crisis is pushed into investigating the Lama’s mysterious death. He embarks on a perilous journey through the Himalayas, and alongside his spiritual master Gyentse, he is immersed into the magical soul of Tibetan Buddhism.
Pascual chose Tibet as a setting for his first novel as it was on a trip to Tibet when he realised that he was able to embark on his dream of becoming a writer. Although the novel’s main character is not completely autobiographical, Pascual admits he fashioned the character after himself, as he lived through some of the same travel experiences.
Personal travel experiences that are the foundation for most of Pascual’s books. He explains “I started writing to ‘travel’ away from my every day reality. I wanted to fly far away during the hours that I spent in front of the page. People used to ask me, ‘so are you not going to write a novel about lawyers?’ ” He chuckles and exclaims “Jamás!—Never.” He shakes his head. “That’s why writers like Lorenzo Silva (a Spanish crime writer) are already writing.”
His latest book, El Viaje de tu Vida or The Journey of Your Life takes a step away from his previous fiction publications. It is a compilation of the life lessons he has learnt through a series of his journeys. They are life lessons applied to travel, and travel lessons applied to life. He admits that this concept is “terribly easy.” He chuckles and says, “what I don’t understand is why no one had written this book before, because the lessons are effectively the same.”
This is exactly what I thought when I came across Pascual’s book. I was jealous when I picked it up, because this is the exact book I had been thinking of writing for years. Maybe the idea got tired of waiting for me and migrated into Pascual’s creative space instead! (Elizabeth Gilbert talks about this kind of thing happening here). I came across this book at the bookshop in Sants Estació in Barcelona. My mother had just come out of hospital and I was feeling pretty low, and as I walked in to the bookshop I begged the Universe to give me something good. My eyes settled on this book. The cover boasts a mandala-like design comprising a lotus flower, a winged creature, a flame-coloured tree and a radiant sun and the tagline, “nunca es tarde para perseguir lo que amas—it is never late to chase what you love.” In the last few years I have chased some of the things I love, but that seems to have become stagnant in the past year or two, so I bought the book thinking it would encourage me to continue.
This book will appeal to many people, as feeling dissatisfied with life is a common scenario. As Pascual says in the book, “society ensures that all of us, at some moment, are living a life we’re not in control of. Whether we are pushed by the inertia of our jobs, the wrong relationship, daily chaos, apathy or frustration.” There is a moment when we wake up and realise that this is not the way we want to live and we have to start the journey towards where we want to be.
Pascual’s own journey started one day as he looked at himself in the mirror. He lived a very comfortable life with no financial hardship; he owned his own law firm. However, as he looked back at his reflection he didn’t recognise the person he had become. He decided to start travelling, and that was what changed everything. During his travels he found the answers that made him change the direction of his life. He knew he wanted to write for a living, so he set about doing just that, putting in the extra hours to write in his spare time. He doesn’t regret the loss of financial stability as he realises that with all the potential earnings he has lost, he would have just tried to buy the time that he has now to spend with his wife and write.
This book was a natural next step for Pascual. He had been giving talks and speaking at conferences for a while, about his writing and travelling, and he wanted to gather all those thoughts into a book. Each chapter picks up on one of his trips, and combines it with a life lesson the journey taught him. Many of the settings are exotic, and indeed his next pending destination is Iran, which he believes is an “energy focal point” with traditions stretching back for millennia. He is a diverse and adventurous traveller and this is reflected in the book. The first chapter focuses on South Africa and the theme is freedom. In the Tibet chapter he talks about dreams. Syria is all about overcoming, India about help, Madagascar about courage, Ethiopia about time, Japan about the truth, Indonesia about resisting and Brazil about the present. His travel narrative and life lessons are punctuated with inspirational quotes by famous thinkers such as Mahatma Gandhi, Herman Hesse and Matsuo Basho.
In writing this book Pasucal wasn’t expecting to get the same reaction as his novels. He tried to pour all he had learnt and experienced through his travels into the book. He says, “people could enjoy The Journey of Your Life or not enjoy it at all, but it is definitely honest.” This geographical adventure is more than a mere travelogue, but an inner voyage. It aims to help the reader tap into their deepest desires and find ways of making them a reality. Pascual believes that this is possible. He says “Thankfully destiny does not exist. We shape our destiny minute by minute. It’s not written out for us, we are the ones that write it day by day.”
Pascual’s suggestion for those who want to find what they really love is simple, “it’s enough to just ask yourself, am I living the life I want?” However, Pascual warns that the answer might not always be easy to deal with. “Often we don’t find answers because we’re afraid of the questions we’d have to ask ourselves to reach those answers. Many people say, oh, I don’t really know what I love…” Pascual waves his finger and says emphatically “No, no, no.” He clarifies, “that’s because you prefer not to know. If you knew, you would realise that what you love will demand some kind of change or sacrifice.” These may be harsh words for those who are procrastinating and pushing their true desires to the bottom of their heart. He believes the first step in the journey towards what you love is crucial. “From the moment you start walking towards what you love then you have already changed. The first step leads to the second step, and the second to the third. It’s not impossible. It’s long.” His journey towards his first novel was also long. He took two and a half years to write it in free moments slotted around his legal practice, and then after his agent rejected it it, he took another two years to rewrite. He was undeterred, as he believes the most important part is the journey, and the attempt to reach what we love. He explains, “journeying towards the things we love should fill us. It would be terrible to get to our last day and realise that we haven’t even walked towards those things.”
At the end of each chapter of The Journey of Your Life there is a round up of the lessons and tips gleaned from each of Pascual’s travel experiences. He calls this the Cuaderno de Bitácora which translates as a ship’s log book. Indeed this book offers the perfect tools to navigate life. One way to find and chase what you really desire according to Pascual is to be calm. “Our brain is like the sea. When it is calm is when everything can be seen through the water, but when the waves are rough nothing can be seen because it’s full of rubbish and chaos.”
Pascual’s book is full of quasi-spiritual experiences and thoughts. Although he doesn’t profess a particular religion himself, he says, “the more I travel, the more I open up to spirituality.” He believes everyone has a god-shaped space within them and it must be filled with something. “I haven’t found someone up above to worship every morning, but I do believe we should all consecrate ourselves to something bigger than our own existence.” He is endeavouring to transcend his own individuality as he believes that the very moment one realises that the self has no meaning, many fears are lost.
Lack of fear, and anxiety is what makes for an enjoyable trip, according to Pascual. “We travel to enjoy ourselves, and life should be the same way. We should not think about the little time we’ve got left; otherwise between lament and lament our lives slip away.” The moment is never going to favourable to taking the first step. All the heavenly bodies aren’t going to suddenly align. All Pascual believes is necessary is a tiny crack in our lives which will lead us to chasing after all that we love.
Although El Viaje de tu Vida has yet to be translated into English, Pascual would be delighted if his time in London gave way to a translation and publication deal for this book and his novels. He is currently working on further works of fiction, and would be happy to dabble in non-fiction again. For now though, he is enjoying the journey, both metaphorical and physical, and says “I can’t wait to get on the road and get my boots dirty again, whether it be with mud, sand or mire.”
Andrés Pascual’s books can be found here: http://www.andrespascual.com/en/
Follow him on Twitter @andres_pascual