‘Young prodigy civil engineer Sebastian Luna unveils urban development on cantilevered shelf hovering above Med Sea to the south-east side of the Rock’: this isn’t (yet!) tomorrow’s bold headline in the local media, but the main plot of the latest novel set in Gibraltar, published by Swedish-British-Canadian authoress Kitty Sewell and recently launched at the Gibunco Literary Festival.

Her fourth thriller, and her first set in Gibraltar, this page-turner drills its foundations in local current affairs and heritage, as well as the dynamic tension in the private life of the main characters. The restless protagonist is torn between his ambitious vision of a bridge propped on the Pillars of Hercules to reunite Europe and Africa, his oceanic love for Eva, the mermaid-haired American diving instructor who is not just who she says she is, and Imogen, his rebel teenage sister with writing ambitions of her own, who becomes entangled in an ambiguous relationship with the downstairs neighbour, a defrocked priest and tunnels’ tour guide, who is twice her age, and also happens to be a vociferous opponent to Sebastian’s ‘almost floating city’.

Throw in a violent death, a mysterious but attractive young Moroccan illegal alien, who claims to be ‘owned’ by the victim, claustrophobic trips to the very bowels of the limestone monolith, and you have all the flavours for a cliffhanger – literally.

She pioneered the topic of gender dysphoria.

Kitty got inspiration for The Fault when she spent a few weeks in Gibraltar a few years ago, and was invited to visit the caves, the tunnels, the Lower St. Michael’s Cave, and even went pot-holing “climbing, abseiling and crawling in virtual darkness”.

As an outsider, she is able to notice the darker and mysterious side of local folklore, and actually peppers her narrative with anecdotes and facts borrowed from Gibraltar history, particularly about ghosts, who populate the protagonists’ life, including the ‘fresh’ one of an elderly lady found hanged in the very apartment the trio is renting.

The primeval sheer cliff on the eastern side made Kitty wonder how progress could make good use of it from a real estate point of view, so the idea of a ‘cantilevered shelf’ was born. To add credibility to Sebastian’s blueprints, Kitty sought advice from actual structural engineers, to enquire if such technology could hold: the reply was that it hadn’t been done yet, but it could be done, making her idea sci-fi rather than fantasy.

“When I started researching this novel, Gorham’s Cave complex hadn’t yet been declared UNESCO heritage site, so my plot is almost prophetical when it describes the project being halted during a high-profile public meeting, citing concerns of geological and historical nature” Kitty says.

However, the plot is not only about the polarised public opinion, divided between business opportunity and natural landscape preservation, but mostly about exploring the boundaries between genius and madness, and how mental health, a dysfunctional family and dealing with rejection and bereavement affect the siblings, and their relationship with Eva – or should I say Chantelle?

Having practised as a psychotherapist in Wales, Kitty channels her experience in building all her characters and excavating their inner thoughts, compulsions and drive. Actually, she pioneered the topic of gender dysphoria twenty-five years ago when she published with Raymond Thompson What Took You So Long? A Girl’s Journey to Manhood, recounting the story of the first known transgender man.

“The sessions were cathartic for him, but the message we should get from his story is that one must be prepared to work hard to achieve what one really wants: this man was from a small Welsh village and was misunderstood, isolated and humiliated into resorting to drugs and crime, until he met a consultant who agreed to help him, under the condition he cleaned up and became a functioning member of society.”

Kitty describes herself as a late starter in fiction, but what an ice-breaking debut it was! Inspired by real events in her and her husband’s life in sub-Arctic Canada, where she practised as notary public, Ice Trap was written in English and translated into fourteen languages.

“It is acknowledged that there are only seven plots in literature, and every book ever written is nothing but a permutation of one or more of them, but I believe that ‘Ice Trap’ doesn’t fall neatly in any of them!” Kitty says. Wilderness, darkness, icy landscapes, wolves and polar bears are guaranteed to run an extra chill down your spine, while reading about a married man who receives a letter from a fourteen-year old girl claiming to be his daughter and has to confront his wife, the girl and her ‘psycho’ mother.

To defrost, you may want to follow up with Bloodprint, set in the Florida Keys, and if you love altitude with attitude, go for Cloud Fever, set in Tibet.

Departing from her familiar genre, she also published under her maiden name Kitty Harri, a poignant historical novel about the Spanish Civil War, Hector’s Talent for Miracles, about pilgrimage town of Torre de Burros’s own social outcast, whom she describes as “a man I knew, modelled from dark forces”.

Born in Sweden and raised in the Canary Islands where she attended German school, Kitty is a multi-talented professional and award-winning artist with a counsellor diploma, and degrees in law, applied sculpture and creative writing under her belt. She currently lives near Granada where she runs a ‘sculpture garden’ which is fast becoming a top tourist attraction in the area, with 10,000 visitors since its inception.

“I started planting all kind of trees in the plot of land around my property, and it turned into a botanical garden. Later, I placed my sculptures in it and opened it to the public. Soon, sculptures donated by other artists were added and nowadays 160 pieces, mostly carved stone, are on display; often on opening days, my partner, who is a musician, gathers his friends and they play live classical music to our visitors.”

For more information visit KittySewell.com and KittyHarri.com.