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Richard Garcia outlines his life in writing during Literature Week talk

Johnny Bugeja

Local author and historian Richard Garcia discussed his lifelong passion for writing and detailed his extensive collection of books he has authored during his Literature Week talk.

Mr Garcia opened the talk commenting how it was fitting that the ‘An Audience with…’ series of talks organised by Gibraltar Cultural Services, was held in the John Mackintosh Hall as it is the ‘alma mater’ of English in Gibraltar

He described how John Mackintosh, Gibraltar’s greatest philanthropist endowed the John Mackintosh Hall partly to promote the reading, the study, and writing of English.

Mr Garcia said writing first piqued his interest in school when he was encouraged to enter the short story competition, which was the winning stories published in the Chronicle.

“My first efforts were very much school boy efforts of writing fiction,” Mr Garcia said.

He added in the 1970s he joined the now defunct Junior Chamber of Commerce, which promoted young entrepreneurs.

The group approached local schools for an essay writing competition and Mr Garcia said he was surprised and honoured to have won that competition.

“It cemented me in my own mind as someone who could write stories,” he said.

The essay competition had instructed entries to write about what they thought Gibraltar would be like in 25 years, meaning he was visualising Gibraltar in 1995.

Afterwards he was approached by the Chronicle to be a drama critic, and later contributed to this newspaper in the field of philately.

“In 1981 something rather momentous happened to be, because I joined the civil service,” he said.

Mr Garcia joined the statistics department at a time when they were preparing for the 1981 census.

Then from his research in the archives, he found information on philately and began to write for periodicals outside of Gibraltar.

From there Mr Garcia wrote the Gibraltar Philatelic Society newsletters and moved on to write ‘Looking Back: Anecdotes and stories about the Gibraltar post office 1886 – 1985’ for the centenary of the Gibraltar Post Office.

Later Mr Garcia worked with co-author Denis Vandervelde on a book about the disinfection and quarantine regulations of mail.

“Believe it or not, in the 19th century and the 18th century at times where there was disease and plague, letters were thought to be a mean of carrying infection so they had to be disinfected before they could be delivered to the person to whom they were addressed,” Mr Garcia said.

“Or if they were being sent to Gibraltar they had to be disinfected so they were safe to send through the postal system.”

He added envelopes or letters were cut twice with a chisel and using tongs were placed in an oven.

Chlorine gas would circulate through the letter to disinfect it and mail bags would be thrown into the sea and fished out with a long hook to ensure it was not contaminated before it was handled.

“It was all very elaborate, and all absolutely useless because none of these procedures made the slightest bit of difference,” Mr Garcia said.

In 1998 Mr Garcia wrote ‘The Postal History of Gibraltar’, co-authored by Ted Proud and in 2004 he published ‘The Development of the Gibraltar Picture Postcard’.

Years later in 2012 he published a book titled ‘Gibraltar’s Currency and Banknotes 1898 – 2011’ and in 2013 his first picture book ‘Gibraltar through the Lens’.

A prolific writer, he published another book in 2014 titled ‘Wholesome Wines and Kindred Spirits: Saccone and Speed, 1839 – 2014’ and in the same year ‘A quiet voice that would be heard’ about the Alwani family history.

Through writing the Alwani family history, Mr Garcia realised there had been no previously written accounts of Gibraltarian families who originated from India.

That same year, in 2014, Mr Garcia wrote ‘A Might Fortress set in the Silver Sea’ featuring Victorian and Edwardian photographs of Gibraltar, and a year later in 2015, he published ‘A Tradition of Service: 150 years of the Gibraltar Fire Service’.

In 2015 he also wrote, ‘A Sense of Family: The first 50 years of the Gibunco Group, 1965 – 2015’ and in 2017, he published ‘Barroco on the Rock: George Borrow and Gibraltar’.

Just last year Mr Garcia published ‘Morocco: The history of the Local and Sherifien Posts 1891 – 1913’.

Mr Garcia latest book is called ‘In the Shadow of the British Fortress of Gibraltar: Forging a civilian community’.