By Jessica Hepburn
SwimQuest tours on Formentera will always have a special place in my heart. In fact, they feature in my second book – 21 Miles. In my early forties – after a series of hard life experiences – I decided to try and swim my way out of sadness. I Googled ‘How to swim the English Channel’ which is how I wound up having my first ever conversation with John Coningham Rolls – one of the Founders of SwimQuest – and ended up on small Balaeric island just off Ibiza which is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited.
I wasn’t an open water swimmer at the time. In fact, I wasn’t even really a swimmer. I’d enjoying swimming as a child but had done little more than a few laps of breastroke in my local pool since then. But John warmly and gamely suggested I came along to one of the company’s long distance training camps to see how I got on. It was the start of an adventure that would change my life, and later became a book, and (coming soon) a film.
So I was delighted when Alice, the other founder of SwimQuest, asked me if I would write a reading list for SwimQuesters heading to the idyllic island of Formentera. I love travelling and I’m a reader as well as writer. And choosing the perfect book for wherever I’m going in the world is one of my favourite things.
1: Frederico Garcia Lorca
I love reading a writer who comes from the country I’m visiting, and my own first foray into Spanish literature was the playwright and poet Frederico Garcia Lorca. I performed in his one of his plays at school – and from that I went onto having a career in theatre becoming Executive Director of the Lyric Hammersmith in London. I think the great thing about taking a play to read on a swimming holiday is that if there’s not a lot of reading time, it’s relatively quick and easy to get through. Read a scene. Have a swim. Read another. Swim again. Lorca’s most famous plays are Blood Wedding, The House of Bernada Alba and Yerma. They’re all great (and translated) and if you fancy something contemporary I would highly recommend Simon Stone’s adaption of Yerma – which became an award-winning play starring the actress Billie Piper. It’s brilliant.
2: Gavin Mortimer: The Great Swim
These days, I know that SwimQuest run their long distance tours in Croatia not Formentera but if you’re heading to Spain to improve your technique in preparation for longer, more demanding swims then one of my all time favourite swimming books is The Great Swim which tells the story of the race that took place to become the first woman to cross the English Channel. It’s not just a great swim, it’s also a great story. (and FYI Ray Gibbs features in my book 21 Miles too – everyone needs to experience his ‘catch’.)
3: Carlos Ruiz Zafron: The Shadow of the Wind
I’ve always read a very varied range of books. I read to learn – books that stretch me in subject matter and style. But sometimes I just need to read for pleasure (Jilly Cooper, Jackie Collins) and if you’re looking for something Spanish-inspired try The Shadow of The Wind about a secret book whose author has gone mysteriously missing. It became a world-wide bestseller when it was first published and if you haven’t read it and you want a page turner – then maybe this is the one.
4: Isabel Allende: The House of Spirits / Paula
I have to have a woman writer in this list. And I know it’s a bit of a cheat because she’s South American Spanish and not European Spanish but I can’t not mention Isabel Allende. I adore both her and her writing. Her break-through novel The House of Spirits is a must read. But I also highly recommend Paula her non fiction work about the loss of her daughter – which shares many of the themes of my own work.
5: Ernest Hemingway: The Old Man and the Sea / The Sun Also Rises
When I turned 50 a few years ago, I set myself the challenge of reading 50 books that I must read before I die (and hadn’t yet). One of them was Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea – which I have now and would be a perfect read for any sea-swimming holiday. Hemingway also did a lot to shape the English-speaking world’s image of Spain. When I watched the outstanding six hour documentary about him it inspired me to read The Sun Also Rises which is his autobiographically inspired novel set there. I love the last line – ‘Isn’t it pretty to think so!’ – it’s one of my favourite last lines of a novel ever.
I hope this has provided you with some swimspiration for Formentera. Happy reading. Happy swimming.
Jessica Hepburn is an Author, Arts Producer and Adventure Activist
Her second book – 21 Miles is partly set on a SwimQuest tour in Formentera. It’s the story of how she asked 21 famous women to meet and eat with her to help her get fat to swim the English Channel and answer the question: does motherhood make you happy?
Her new book – Save me from the Waves – is out in March 2024 and available for pre-order now. It’s the story of how she has become the first woman in the world to complete the Sea, Street, Summit Challenge – swim the English Channel, run the London Marathon, and climb Mount Everest.