Even before I left Spain after my first stint as a correspondent, I had a sense of business unfinished. I had spent three years covering the country’s eventful transition from dictatorship to democracy for the Guardian. I had reported dutifully on the many political changes.

Yet I had only touched on the myriad ways in which the end of General Franco’s long rule was changing Spanish society and the lives of ordinary Spaniards.

Some months earlier, I had convinced the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, for whom I had once worked as a correspondent, to let me make an hour-long documentary on the non-political changes in Spain.

And I had an idea it might make the basis for a book. But the book would probably never have been written had I not been contacted by the man who was to become my first literary agent, Aubrey Davies of Hughes Massie.

He wanted me to write an entirely different work — on the disappearance of art works — and he invited me to lunch at the Garrick Club. By the end of the main course, it was clear to us both that I was not the right man for the job. So I tentatively mentioned my idea for a book on Spain. It turned out that Aubrey had once lived in Granada and he warmed to idea straight away. We were the last people to leave the dining room that day, and by the time that we did an outline of The Spaniards, the precursor of The New Spaniards, had begun to take shape in both our heads.