Award-winning Spanish author Elia Barceló writes both science fiction and children’s books. Born in Alicante, she currently lives in Austria where she teaches Spanish literature. Her story “The Star” was included in the anthology Castles in Spain and her novel Heart of Tango was translated into English in 2010.
Rachel Cordasco: When did you first realize that you wanted to become a writer, and what drew you to speculative fiction in particular?
Elia Barceló: It may sound funny but I never decided to become a writer. As a child, I loved listening to all kinds of stories and later reading by myself (my mother taught me to read at the age of four, so that I wouldn’t be bored), but I somehow thought stories were not the work of someone; they just were. Like flowers or trees.
I learned in school that writers existed but all of them were old and male, serious looking, bearded, with glasses; most of them also dead. Obviously I never thought about becoming one of them.
Nevertheless I started inventing and telling stories to my friends, mostly scary stories told in the near darkness of a little hut my granny had in the terrace on top of her house where she stored wood for burning and all sorts of junk. And stray cats would also come to deliver their kittens.
I tried to write my first novel –science fiction- at the age of twelve, but I just managed to write ten pages or so. My thoughts were quicker than my writing and I discovered writing was work. But sometime later in my teens I managed to write my first short story and I got hooked.
Speculative fiction was the most natural choice for me because that was what I read for pleasure. School reading was always realistic and though I liked older books (because they showed a long past reality that looked almost like fantasy or at least like something invented) I didn’t especially like novels that tried to show “life as it is.” I turned to science fiction because it opened my mind, it took me places and let me know amazing beings and different ways of thinking. Ah, the wonder of it!
Of course I wanted to write like these incredible authors. And there also were women writing these amazing stories; women like myself, crazy about stories, and most of them weren’t even engineers or physicists. It was possible! So I did it.
The fact that I was actually a writer dawned on me only when I had published my third book professionally.
RC: How do you balance your academic life as a professor of Hispanic Literature with your writing life? And is it difficult to move back and forth between the two kinds of writing styles?
EB: It is not particularly difficult. My life is full of literature, always has been. The only difference is the point of view: as a creator/producer or as a critic/academic. I have come to terms with it, although I have to confess that when I finished writing my PhD thesis, which took two years, I was slightly scared of not being able to write fiction again in my life. But, like so often, I fell in love with a story, I started writing, and it worked just fine.
I believe that the trick is (sometimes): when I write academically, I sort of impersonate a character in a novel who is a scholar; then everything comes natural because that is the way she writes 😉
RC: How closely (if at all) do you work with your English translators?
EB: Very closely. I love translation, this awfully difficult task so may people seem to think so natural and easy. You take “mesa” and write “table”. Period. That is what some readers think.
I love working together with fine professionals who feel the texture of the text, the subtleties, the associations every word brings about. We write long mails to each other. I explain what I meant, what I tried to achieve and they try to recreate the same thing in their own language. I remember in one of my novels some character wants to eat “una almojábana de azúcar” (a pastry) and my German translator and I discussed how to translate that one. Then she told me: “OK. You want something that sounds old-fashioned, don’t you? Something my granny could have eaten as a special treat as a young girl.” And that was it exactly!
I enjoy working with David Frye, my translator into English. He is very good and I think we have both the same sense of humour; that helps a lot.
RC: Who are your favorite writers?
EB: Many, oh so many, although I like individual books more than writers, but I can name Julio Cortázar, my favourite as a short story author, and Leonard Cohen, my favourite poet. I love John Fowles’ The Magus, but also his other novels; Ursula K. Le Guin, Connie Willis, Anthonia Byatt, Stephen King, Carlos Fuentes, Ray Bradbury…
RC: If you’re willing to share, what are you currently working on/thinking about?
EB: I just finished a novel that will be published next year both in Spain and Germany and still has no definitive title. It is a realistic story which spans eighty years of a family, both in Spain and Morocco, beginning in the twenties and ending today. Like other novels I have written it is full of secrets and mysteries, twists and turns, all sorts of surprises for the reader, and a couple of murders. The main character is a very strong-minded sixty seven year old woman, a famous painter, who wants to get rid of the shadows of the past. I greatly enjoyed writing it and I hope so will the reader.
Now I am planning a fantastic dark novel which will take place in Spain, by the sea, in my region and is a bit of a challenge for me because Alicante is famous as a place for having fun, for holidays, not as a haunted region where monsters come out at night.
Thank you, Elia!!