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LucyGransnet (GNHQ) Thu 29-May-14 16:03:53

Leaving paradise and starting again

Imagine losing all the financial security you'd worked hard for over so many years - and losing it at 60 as you settle into paradise in another country. Author Dinah Jefferies experienced just that, but would she have started to write with such determination if she had never been touched by the recession? She's not so sure...

Dinah Jefferies

Leaving paradise and starting again

Posted on: Thu 29-May-14 16:03:53


Lead photo

The paradise Dinah was forced to give up.

Picture a simple village house in forested mountains in Northern Andalusia; a lovely holiday home, but cold and damp in winter. As the attic had a large floor space but impossibly low beams, once we'd sold up in Gloucestershire and moved there, we began a major rebuild.

By 2007 it was almost complete. Surrounded by wild flowers we walked cobbled donkey trails admiring the gorgeous Sierra de Aracena close to the border with Portugal. It's easy to live frugally in a paradisiacal medieval village miles from the madness of modern life.

We lingered in the square with a one euro coffee while practising our Spanish and watching the birds. We'd decided not to touch the pension funds for a few more years but to allow them to grow, and my only luxury was the regular airfare home to see my new granddaughter. In August 2008 at my sixtieth birthday most of the village joined in, dancing exuberantly into the early hours.

Then came autumn and the economic downturn or "credit crunch". For complex reasons we lost our life savings, the value of the pension funds plunged, and so did the value of our house and land. We'd lost our financial security at the age of sixty without a clue what to do next.

The fact that I've found the thing I love doing more than anything has given me a new lease of life and really is a gift from the gods.

We'd been living on investments and a small pension, but we knew we couldn't afford to stay in Spain. Neither of us spoke Spanish fluently enough to work there, so we put the house on the market while brainstorming ways to recoup our losses.

I'd been thinking of writing for some time and had been swotting up on what it takes to write a bestseller. So once I'd stopped crying, I began. My first novel didn't get anywhere, but with no idea if what I was doing would ever be good enough, I didn't give up. Even though I'd repeatedly read that writing was a young person's game, I posted little success notes all over the house to encourage myself. I wrote like a maniac, with a deep anxiety that we'd never get home again. Paradise was still paradise, but not for me.

It took a year to sell our house, but once back in Gloucestershire, my husband began work again and I wrote a second and third novel. I am grateful that now, at 65, I have fantastic deals with Penguin UK who are publishing two of my books. Was losing so much money actually a godsend? I'd have started writing anyway, but would I have kept going so relentlessly, or would I have buckled under the early rejections? The motivation to start something new comes in many guises, but the sheer impact of our losses was what drove me initially.

The fact that I've found the thing I love doing more than anything has given me a new lease of life and really is a gift from the gods. I recommend starting again at 60, whether you need to or not.

Dinah's debut novel The Separation is published by Penguin UK and is now available from Amazon.

By Dinah Jefferies

Twitter: @DinahJefferies

granjura Thu 29-May-14 17:47:56

There are 100s, possibly 1000s of Brits trying to sell their house in France, due to huge changes in exchange rates which caused a massive loss of income. We took a huge hit, even bigger due to Swiss franc being so high- the £ was 2.50CHF when we decided to come here. 2 years ago it dropped to 1.18, and we did have a massive panic. Now back to about 1.45 and we can relax again. Those who calculated that they could just about survive on their pensions now find that they can't keep head above water.

Also many fall in love with a place in Summer- square crowded, everyone sipping coffee and wine in the square, playing 'pétanque'- then when late October comes it gets freezing and everyone stays indoors until May- and depression sets in- many turn to alcohol- and yes, the lack of language becomes really apparent when having to deal with the nitty gritty, red tape, taxes, doctors, etc, etc. Beware those rose tinted glasses, or repent at leisure.

annsixty Thu 29-May-14 17:59:08

The DT also did an article on ex-pats who moved to Spain and now find themselves in a dire situation with pensions not keeping up with inflation but worse they have problems with the property they bought through not taking proper legal advice.In some cases the properties are unsaleable. I realise this does not answer the OP just pointing out that everyone will not have the resources of the blog writer.

granjura Thu 29-May-14 18:18:31

And of course, some just become older, develop more health problems which they find difficult to deal with due to language limitations- and I know quite a few who have lost their partner, and are now left alone to cope, in a strange land, without the language and family and neighbour support- and unable to sell- and even if they do, find that prices in the UK have gone up hugely and that they just cannot buy a property in the UK again.

merlotgran Thu 29-May-14 18:24:26

Be careful what you wish for. hmm

grannyteddy Fri 30-May-14 12:14:11

I am glad that you had writing to fall back on and were able to regain some financial security. We too have lost all our financial security and can find no way out. For 40 years my husband paid into a private pension which went west with Equitable Life and then when he was 59 his final salary scheme was wound up. This left us with less than £1,000 a month to live on! My DH now cannot continue to work as he has lost the sight in one eye and is losing the sight in the other and has to learn to live with that. My health too is shattered after years of nursing relatives until they passed away. We cannot claim any benefits as he has a pension. After doing the 'right thing' all our lives we are left in poverty for the next 5 years until he hits 65 and I reach 65 and 1/2 due to the recent legislation. Our next issue is selling the house that we spent so many years buying as we can no longer afford the basic bills. There must be hundreds/thousands more like us coming up, who have fallen foul of changes to pension entitlements and the credit crunch. Rant over, I can still just about afford the broadband bill for now.

P.S. We still live in Britain, our dreams of retiring to the sun are long gone.

annsixty Fri 30-May-14 12:23:09

So sorry for you and your husbandgrannyteddy and yes sadly there are far too many in the situation you find yourselves in.The Equitable Life scandal was disaster for many people who put their trust in financial advisers. I hope you find some peace in your life although that won't put many dinners on the table.

Labouroflove Fri 30-May-14 14:18:54

Very sad stories and I have the greatest sympathy for all caught in this way. One plus of never having had anything is that you have nothing to lose and live accordingly. My only asset was my semi in Bognor which was duly sold in 2003 and the cash realised bought me a lovely longere and 3,400sq m of land just outside a small town on the Loire Atlantique/Morbihan/Ile et Vilaine borders. My OH was a builder so we renovated the place into our home and 3 gites and never looked back. To this day I can't get over that the semi sold for enough to buy/renovate and live for a year. Now after 10 years of successful giting which made us enough to live on, my little bit of paradise is up for sale but only because it's now getting too much for us to cope with and we want to enjoy a bit of 'retirement' while we still have our health. I want to stay in France if for no other reason than the fantastic health care but OH still has home sickness pangs so we'll see and decide once an offer's on the table. We hope that by buying something smaller and with our state pensions we'll manage to live comfortably enough, even with the UK gov's underhanded plan to deny us the winter fuel allowance by including France's tropical Dominions and Dependencies in the temperature stats and claiming OAPs in France enjoy hotter weather than the UK.....
Good luck to everyone, hope it all works out in the end. wine