Thursday, 21 June 2018

Guest Post - Julie Houston on Mexico - Bookish World Cup - Mexico

When, as a teacher of a class of eleven-year-olds, I was told I’d be teaching about Mexico, I was slightly peeved. If we were intent on heading to South America, at least let it be Brazil or, even better, Peru from where my sixteen-year-old son had just returned with a stack of resources, photos and – despite dire warnings from the age of ten that any drugs, tattoos or piercings would mean instantly being cut out of any inheritance - a pierced lip.  

The little information I had about Mexico was gleaned from the school’s pink Axolotl - a salamander native to Mexico and obviously the natural son of an uncooked Walls’ skinless pork sausage and Gollum – and the confusing Mexican food. I didn’t – and to be fair, still don’t – know a Nacho from a Fajita; a Taco from a Burrito or an Enchilada from a Tortilla. Visiting my son, newly ensconced at Newcastle university – sans piercing and thus back in the running with his sister for anything left in the coffers - he proudly took us to a student dive where we ordered Nachos. The plate that the four of us shared was as big as the table and consisted of fifty-thousand salty triangular crisp things covered in melted cheese, salsa, guacamole and soured cream. A bit like eating two Mars bars on the trot. At the end you ask yourself: Why? And that was just the starter.

So, with knowledge of only the Axolotl and the Nachos, as well as some hazy recollection of the Aztecs from my own Junior school days, my class and I set out to find out about Mexico. To my shame, I didn’t even know that Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and even California once belonged to Mexico, but had become the American spoils of the 1846-48 war. Poring over political and physical maps of Mexico we found Tijuana -  which led to someone bringing in their granny’s Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass CD - and the Chihuahuan Desert which, thank God, didn’t result in any uninvited ratty little dogs. We made papier-mâché skulls in honour of El Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, when Mexicans celebrate the lives of friends and family who have died, and learned that much of February is given over to Carnaval, the equivalent of Brazil’s Mardi gras - or Fat Tuesday – in addition to an average 5000 fiestas celebrated throughout the year in Mexico. Obviously a jolly sociable, party-going lot.

So, when my husband and kids were planning yet more ski and scuba diving trips from which - as I loathe snow, don’t like water anywhere above my neck and am a physical coward – I’m always excluded, I decided I was off to Mexico. By yourself? Doesn’t your husband mind? Will you go out to dinner by yourself? Won’t you be frightened on your own? I confidently answered: Yes; No, not at all; Yes, with my trusty Kindle; and I’d be far more frightened hurtling down a black run or eyeballing a Great White, to the above questions regularly thrown at me when I say I’m off tout seul.

I’ve now done Mexico two Februarys on the trot. I eschew Cancun which, I’m lead to believe, is a bit of a concrete jungle, and head for Riviera Maya located on the Caribbean coastline in the eastern bit of the Yucatan Peninsula. Imagine, if you will, a huge hotel room overlooking the sea, all to oneself with a whacking great hot tub on the balcony to soak one’s limbs after a hard day on the beach. I’ve spent hours watching herons - poised stone statues that suddenly plummet into the sea like ancient pterodactyls - surfacing with huge fish in their mouths. At dawn and dusk the most wonderful cacophony of bird, insect and, I’m led to believe, howler monkey calls, emanates from the rain forest. There is no shortage of wildlife in the actual hotel grounds and I regularly came across Agouti, Iguana and Racoon ambling down the path in front of me. 

February and March is the best time to go to Riviera Maya: it will possibly rain, but showers last only a few minutes, and without such welcome drenching there would be none of the verdant rainforest for which this area is famous. Even in October and November, when it will probably rain a lot more and is actually the hurricane season, the sun will shine and temperatures rise. A day out to Chichen Itza to see the ancient Mayan civilisation is a must, as is a boat trip to Isla Contoy and Isla Mujeres. 

Such is my love for this area, I’ve given over three chapters of my latest novel: Little Acorns – out November 2018 – to my main character Cassandra’s holiday to Riviera Maya in Mexico. 
But possibly the best thing about the country is that, at just five-foot tall myself, I feel at home with some of the friendliest, happiest - and smallest- people I’ve ever met.

Thank you so much Julie for taking the time to talk to me about Mexico, easily my best memory of Mexico is swimming with Dolphins in Cozumel on my 30th Birthday.

About Julie Houston 

Julie Houston’s first three novels GOODNESS, GRACE AND METHE ONE SAVING GRACE and LOOKING FOR LUCY are all Amazon Humour #1 best sellers both here in the UK and Australia. LOOKING FOR LUCY hit the #1 best seller overall in Australia. Her new novel, LITTLE ACORNS will be published in November 2018 and HOLLY CLOSE FARM in February 2019.

Julie lives in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire where her novels are set, and her only claims to fame are that she teaches part-time at ‘Bridget Jones’ author Helen Fielding’s old junior school and her neighbour is ‘Chocolat’ author, Joanne Harris. Oh, and she was once rescued by Frank Bough when, many years ago, she was ‘working as a waitress in a cocktail bar’ at the Kensington Hilton in London. After University, where she studied Education and English Literature, she taught for many years as a junior school teacher. As a newly qualified teacher, broke and paying off her first mortgage, she would spend every long summer holiday working on different Kibbutzim in Israel. After teaching for a few years she decided to go to New Zealand to work and taught in Auckland for a year before coming back to this country. She now teaches just two days a week, and still loves the buzz of teaching junior-aged children. She has been a magistrate for the past nineteen years, and, when not distracted by Ebay, Twitter and Ancestry, spends much of her time writing. Julie is married, has a twenty-four-year-old son and twenty-one-year-old daughter and a mad Cockerpoo called Lincoln. She runs and swims because she’s been told it’s good for her, but would really prefer a glass of wine, a sun lounger and a jolly good book  - preferably with Matthew Mcconaughay in attendance. She is represented by Anne Williams at KHLA Literary agency.

You can contact Julie through her website


  1. Thanks, Rachel, for allowing me to return - if only in spirit - to one of the most fascinating places on the planet.


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