In Santiago de Compostela with Agustín Fernández Paz. Interview for Boletín Galego de Literatura

In Santiago de Compostela with Agustín Fernández Paz[1]


Agustín Fernández Paz (Vilalba, 1947) is one of the fundamental creators of contemporary Galician literature.  We talk with him about the thirty years plus he has spent writing works consciously set in the system of children’s and young adults’ literature, the future challenges having abandoned his professional labour as a teacher, the criticism and recognition he has received for his work and, in particular, his other side as an insatiable reader and his passion for reading.

You have stated on various occasions that literature is constructed with threads of life.  In your work you seem to create landscapes from your own memory.  What is there of you, your childhood, the threads of your life in your work?  Is there an autobiographical episode hidden in all your works?

The idea that literature is woven with threads of life seems vital to me.  Life, in a wide sense, is the only material which I have to hand to construct my books, everything comes from it.  From the plots, which allow me to express my vision of the world, to the way I write them, with my experience as a reader as a backdrop.  Naturally, this has nothing to do with the association which sometimes occurs between my personal life experiences and the stories narrated in the books.  Because these stories are invented, of course, although they feed off material in my biography, and undergo a more or less intense metamorphosis in the process of writing.  There are, however, books in which it is easier to intuit the personal experiences which brought them to life.  For instance, Trece años de Blanca (‘Thirteen Years of Blanca’), Avenida del Parque, 17 (‘17 Park Avenue’) or several short stories in Lo único que queda es el amor (‘The Only Thing Left is Love’).

Childhood years have a special importance, and I’m not saying that because some of the books I write fall into what, to understand each other, we call children’s literature.  Rilke wrote that a person’s homeland is childhood and Pessoa stated that a writer’s homeland was their language.  In my case, language and childhood take me to my years in Vilalba, when I saw the creation of the world and discovered the names of things, in this marvellous process which takes place in the first few years of anybody’s life.

You have also stated on many occasions what your work methodology is, from thinking of an initial idea for a story up until you move it, after intense meditation and a lot of work, to the computer.  How do your novels begin?  Is it an uneasy or obsessive process?

Obsessive, yes, but there is no room for uneasiness in it, only for the excitement that the creative experience produces.  What propels the process into action is almost always a fact of daily life.  It needn’t be an extraordinary event, what has to be different is the way in which you look at it.  Often they are experiences which you forget after a short time.  But there are times at which this experience stays in the brain, takes a seat in it and ends up becoming an obsession which asks to get out.  It is at that moment I understand I have before me a possible book, which I will later write or not, because life is very short and ther is no way I could have time to develop all the obsessions which appear in my head.

If I decide to write, then yes the process is very similar: the creation of a plot which gives life to what you want to express, the progressive definition of the characters, the process of documentation, the previous records, the writing of the first draft, the doubts which arise, the successive revisions.  Like life, it is always the same and always different.

And when you consider a text is finished, do you visualise its graphic presentation?  Do you decide which illustrator you want to work with or must you often accept impositions?  What is your relationship like with the illustrators or with those commissioned to design the graphic part of your books?

Visualization is inevitable, the influence of cinema and comics is very powerful.  But I think it is hardly relevant; the important thing is the power the text has to connect with the illustrator’s personal world.

I always write the text independently, without thinking at all about possible illustrations, except for the few occasions on which I wrote some story for early readers; in those cases I usually also do a kind of script which can be of use to whoever is going to illustrate it.

In other books of mine which have illustrations, sometimes I have had the opportunity to suggest who I wanted to work with, although it is usually the publisher who finally decides.  On some occasions I maintained a close relationship with the illustrator, on others I knew nothing until the illustrations were finished.

It seems that literature is a constant presence in your life.  It can be perceived in your work, through explicit citation or implicit reference, the intertextuality, and at the same time reading your work always means an intense rediscovery, an exciting journey through literature from many other creators belonging to very diverse traditions.  Another of your passions is also obvious: cinema, music, art in general.  Tell us a little about your opinions regarding this and, if you are able to choose, tell us which writers you could never renounce.

Yes, literature had, and has, a great presence in my life.  As do cinema and comics, which I won’t talk about here so as not to go on too much.  I am a good example of Cunqueiro’s statement (“Man needs, as if it were water, to drink dreams”) reiterated by Paul Auster not long ago (“We need stories almost as much as we need to eat, and in whatever the form they present themselves – on the printed page or on the television screen – it is impossible to imagine life without them”).

I remember reading at all stages of my life, at some with more intensity than others.  Writing is secondary if you compare it with reading; if I am anything it is a reader.  I have had the defect, or the virtue, that everything interests me: narration, poetry, essays.  Although I mostly read narrative, poetry is the most solid space, to which one returns again and again.

It is logical that this experience as a reader is reflected in my books, many times in an explicit way.  In my novels there is always a character who is passionate about reading.  It is, shall we say, one of the house brands.  This allows me to be able to talk about books which I like and which I wish to share.  And, at the same time, it allows me to better characterize the personalities, given that Borges’ sentence (“I am the books that I have read”) is also true for them.

The authors which have most interested me have followed one after another throughout my life.  Among them are names which are considered canonical and others which belong to the so-called genre literature (noir novels, mystery and horror literature, science fiction), I have never had any problems in combining all types of reading matter.  For some authors I have obsessively read everything by and about them: Kafka, Joyce, Lovecraft, Ferrín, Valente, Camus, Rosalía, Chandler, García Márquez, Cunqueiro, Cortázar…  With the passing of time some no longer interest me; others remain in this group of authors I will never abandon.  And there are always new names which one discovers over the years, from Paul Auster to Wislawa Szymborska, covering Manuel Rivas, John Connolly, Bernardo Atxaga or Ian McEwan.  Luckily for us, we would need various lifetimes to read all the extraordinary books which we have within our reach.

What about authors of children’s and young adults’ literature?  What are your classics and whom do you follow at the moment?

I began to read authors of so-called children’s and young adults’ literature in the seventies, when some Spanish publishers, such as Noguer or Alfaguara, started to translate works which had renewed the European panorama after the Second World War.  Thus I was able to read authors such as Gianni Rodari, Roald Dahl, María Gripe, Michael Ende, Astrid Lindgren or Úrsula Wölffel; in some way, they showed me the path which I would later follow with my books.

There are also the authors of forever, which I read for the first time in my childhood and which I re-read when I was older: Verne, Salgari, Stevenson, Poe…  In their books is the root of my passion for reading, I will never be able to forget the debt I owe them.

At the moment, I am unable to follow what is published, although there are authors which particularly interest me: Aidam Chambers, Marjaleena Lembcke, Jostein Gaarder, Christine Nöstlinger…  The work of some authors in Galician children’s and young adults’ literature and that which is being produced in other languages in Spain also seems of a very high quality to me.


In Aire negro (‘Black Air’), one of your novels, the doctor begins a therapy with Laura Novo based on the reading of books full of passion and vitality, of those which awaken the desire to live in anybody.  This is repeated in other works of yours like, for example, in Corredores de sombra (‘Corridors of Shadow’), where the protagonists exchange reads.  Do you share this idea of the power of books and of reading to change people’s lives?  Do you believe in the therapeutic value of reading and also of writing?

Literature has a very profound dimension, as well as other more obvious ones, as it is capable of arriving at the essence which characterizes us as human beings.  The complexity of people, the depth of life, the great questions of humanity, feelings and emotions.  All of this is in books, that is why I think that they the capacity to change our lives, even if we don’t know why or how.

You began writing after you were forty.  How did this need arise and what were your motives in opting for literature aimed at young people?

I began publishing at that age, but I was writing long before.  I did it in notebooks which we would now call reading, film and pedagogical diaries, but it didn’t even occur to me to publish them, as I have already said if I consider myself to be anything, it is a reader.

Writing thinking about publishing arose somewhat by chance.  Coincidentally at that time, at the end of the seventies, the official introduction of the Galician language in teaching began.  So I began writing stories to use in my classes, then I moved on to doing them to include in didactic materials and, finally, I began to publish independently.  It so happened that two of my first books won significant awards, one in the Galician field (the Merlín, for Las flores radioactivas {‘Radioactive Flowers’}) and one at state level (the Lazarillo, for Cuentos por palabras {‘Stories for Words’}; it was the first time that it was won by a book written in a language which wasn’t Castilian).  Discovering that my books were well received and had readers encouraged me to continue writing.  And, although I carried on writing theoretical texts – Leer en gallego (‘Reading in Galician’), Los comics en las aulas (‘Comics in the Classroom’) – and didactic materials, fiction slowly won more terrain and acquired more and more importance in my life.

Have you ever considered the possibility of writing “for” adults or do you think you already do?

In some way, I think I already do; several of my books (Aire negro, El centro del laberinto {‘The Labyrinth’s Centre’}, Lo único que queda es el amor, Amor de los quince años, Marilyn (‘Love at Fifteeen, Marilyn’}, Con los pies en el aire {‘Feet in the Air’}) could be published in any collection of so-called literature for adults.  But it is my choice that they are included in young collections; in this way I reach a sector of readers which interests me greatly, the young; and, if the social prejudices which there are towards children’s and young adults’ literature didn’t exist, I would have no problems in reaching adult readers.  It is a choice I feel comfortable with; I have no intention of changing it in the future.

To sum up: I feel very distant from the concept of children’s literature as a minor literature.  I don’t write my books because I don’t know how to do other types of texts, nor do I think that children’s and young adults’ literature is a rung to be able to step up later to a higher rung.  For years I have been striving in an explicit fight to dignify this literature; a slow fight, but which in the last few years has borne fruit.

In this sense, things have changed a little, although much less than one would hope for.  A decade ago, authors of children’s literature were invisible, we didn’t exist; and if they talked about us, it was to do so with a view which was accompanied by a certain underestimation.  Now we are partially visible and it verifies a change of mentality, although there are still some looks of contempt towards children’s and young adults’ literature.

Do you think these prejudices, or let’s call them “preventions”, towards children’s literature and its creators still exist?

I think that these preventions still exist, although with a much lower intensity than a few years ago.  In this aspect a lot of progress has been made because we started from a situation which oscillated between invisibility and the stereotypes this society applies to everything that carries the label “children’s”.  Now, as well as there being some specialist critical voices, there is a sector of general criticism which concerns itself with us and which tries to judge us according to the possible qualities of the text, which is no small thing.  I suppose the situation will get better, although prejudices, as well we know, are by nature very resistant.

Anyway, this isn’t the main problem of criticism today: it is the lack of space in the printed and audiovisual media.  If only we had 10% of the space they dedicated to football!  We would swim in abundance!

Is it still somewhat considered as a minor literature?

Twenty years ago, when I began to publish, children’s and young adults’ literature didn’t exist for the critics. Any book for adults, however bad it was, appeared in the also scarce annual panoramas of Galician literature.  They didn’t talk about those for children’s and young adults’ literature, whether they were good or bad.  In the paper “Contra la invisibilidad” {‘Against Invisibility’}(which I presented in some open days in Salamanca in 1995 and which was later published in CLIJ) I explained the state of the situation and demanded this essential critical look.

Having said that, I have to clarify that, especially from 1996 on, the critics began to pay attention in what I was writing, almost always in a positive way.  Perhaps this turning point was the novel El centro del laberinto, which even had reviews in the big Galician magazines Grial and A trabe de Ouro, something unheard of in those days.  None of my books have had this recognition since, but there are others from children’s literature which have.

The critical view seems essential to me.  Not only does it fill a vital role in the literary system; it is also a stimulus for the author, even if the assessment received is negative.  I read those who write about my books, of course, but I have a rule never to comment on them.  The freedom of those writing criticism to me seems as is important as that which I claim as a writer.

The thing a writer can complain about is that the book doesn’t receive any attention and passes by unnoticed.  Of course, as compensation, there is always the generous reception of the readers; in this aspect I consider myself very fortunate.

Looking back on your career it is easy to identify a wide range of themes and forms.  Which themes and techniques do you feel most comfortable with?

As far as themes go, I don’t have any special preference.  It is true that at times they categorise me as a mystery writer, because ghosts have an obvious presence in many of my stories, but that is only because they formed part of my childhood reality, the Galicia of the fifties, where the line between the living and the dead was very diffuse.

The invention procedure I like most is imagining stories which take place in a realistic context and in which, in one way or another, a fantastical element bursts out.  This presence of the inexplicable is that which, paradoxically, allows me to expand the limits of reality and talk about it in a more authentic way.

From the perspective of form, I have a preference for the use of different narrative voices and for the use of the first person.  And I always pay great attention to the structure of my books; I think that it is decisive when it comes to articulating the narration.

You write as much for a children’s audience as for young adults.  Which do you feel most comfortable with?

The truth is where I feel most comfortable is when I write those books which I call “on the border”; that is to say books which are usually published in young adult collections but which may also interest an adult reader.  And those which are most difficult for me are narrations for early readers, a terrain I don’t consider easy at all; it is about texts which have to have a simple form and, at the same time, tell a suggestive story which reflects an original vision of the world.

In the last few years you have devoted yourself to “freshening up” your texts, moving beyond the concept of re-editing and creating a new category which is not very usual in current writers.  Your books appear in new editions, updated or modernised and you re-write the texts, you add, you take out, you put in, and the result is a book which keeps its original spirit but goes beyond it.  What is this process of re-writing responding to?  Is it, perhaps, related to a perfectionist character?

This obsession of mine to re-write the texts is, in part, owing to quite a simple fact.  In my first books I held a different stance towards writing, it wasn’t my most important occupation, and also I knew less about the craft.  This changed with the passing of the years, time made me realise the mistakes of form in what I had published.  From there the intense re-writing process arose, which especially affected all those books written before 1996.  I was lucky enough for the editors to allow me to redo them and I think the work was worth it: the new editions of Cuentos por palabras and Cartas de invierno (‘Winter Letters’), to name two examples, are much better than the originals.  The stories haven’t changed, nor I think has the spirit of the books, but technically they are much better worked out.  On the other hand, I acknowledge this perfectionist obsession.  The temptation to re-write the texts is difficult to resist, one always thinks that they can be improved.

Earlier we mentioned Cartas de invierno, which has recently reached its 20th edition in Galician, an unusual event in the panorama of books in our linguistic area.  Is this the work which has given you most satisfaction?

If I think about the enthusiastic acceptance of the readers, Cartas de invierno is, without a doubt, the book which has had the best reception.  Not only in Galician, but also in Catalan (its 17th edition has just appeared) or in Castilian (I think it has had 15 editions)[2].  And the letters or e-mails which keep on arriving give an account of the readers’ interest.  I love the fact that this explicit homage to the atmospheres created by Lovecraft is still as alive as when I wrote it.

In spite of everything, it is not the book I feel most satisfied with by any means.  I prefer other titles, maybe because there is more of me in them or because the process of their writing obliged me to face more complex challenges.  I’m thinking of books like Corredores de sombra, El centro del laberinto, Aire Negro or Lo único que queda es el amor.

If you had to highlight a few titles from your body of work, which would you highlight?  Which would you say is, among all of them, the most innovative?  And could you indicate which one you have the most affection for or the one which meant a fundamental step in your career?

I think that some of my books were openly innovative, some for their form and others for their theme.  I think that Cuentos por palabras, Aire Negro, Noche de voraces sombras (‘Night of Voracious Shadows’) or Mi nombre es Skywalker (‘My Name Is Skywalker’) contributed to moving the frontiers of Galician children’s and young adults’ literature.

As far as which ones I have most regard for, it is not easy for me to select as I have published more than forty titles and many of them were, in their time, very important to me.  Perhaps, as well as those already mentioned, I would highlight Corredores de sombra, El centro del laberinto, En el corazón del bosque (‘In the Heart of the Forest’) and, especially, a book which I consider deserving of better fortune than it had, El laboratorio del doctor Nogueira (‘Doctor Nogueira’s Laboratory’).

Education in general and the role of reading in the classroom are questions which always seem to be under debate, in search of the most suitable recipe, and subjected to constant measurements.  From your experience of so many years as a teacher, should reading be an end in itself or an instrument at the service of curricular content?  Are their magic recipes to awaken the taste for reading?

It is difficult to answer such a broad question, these questions would demand a monographic conversation for them alone; to touch on, for example, the role which the current educational system plays: if it is contributing to the correction of social inequality or if it is organised to legitimise and reinforce them, for a start.

However, focusing only on reading, I believe it is an essential ability for people living in current society.  A democratic society is only possible with critical citizens, with the ability to express themselves and defend their own ideas; reading is one of the necessary factors for this to be possible.  Of course there is the danger of other models of society, where reading is reserved for the controlling minorities and the citizens are submissive and can be manipulated, in the manner which Ray Bradbury imagined in Fahrenheit 451 or Orwell in 1984.  There is a reason why the first thing dictatorships do is to burn or to ban books, because they fear the potential they hold.

And yes, of course there are ways to awaken the pleasure of reading, procedures which have already more than proven their efficacy: in this field almost everything has already been invented, it only has to be put into practice.  It is another thing if public policies are inadequate or the values which this society really promotes move along other avenues.


How do you see the role of reading in the face of the future?

We live in a society which has experienced a profound transformation.  It has never read as much as it does now, the educational level of the population is far superior to those of a few decades ago, when the majority didn’t go beyond primary studies and only the minority had access to knowledge.  Today, in addition to the extension of schooling, the information and communication technologies generate new spaces for reading, and from there arises the necessity to develop new abilities in relation to the Internet, already essential for access to instrumental contents.  At a deeper level, as well as aesthetic pleasure, reading, above all literature, is essential to know ourselves better and to understand what the society in which we live is like, along with the complexity of life and interpersonal relationships.

In a world wrapped up in reflections regarding the global and the local and from your experience as a writer with an open path to the peninsular and international languages, how do you value the concept of “periphery”, when on occasions they allude to you belonging to a “peripheral system” or to the list of creators who use a minority language?

A writer is never peripheral, the centre of the world is always on his work desk.  The creation process doesn’t understand peripheries, in the same way that the language one uses is always the ideal tool, despite the socio-linguistic problems it may have.  In theory at least, the geographical and linguistic situation should not have a bearing on the process of creation.  Even less so in this era of the Internet, where concepts of centre and periphery in communication are very open to question.  If I write in English from an island lost in the Pacific, it is the same as if I were doing it from an office in London, as long as I have adequate channels to communicate with my agent.

Where the problem lies, which exists and is very serious, is in the political questions, in economic and power relationships.  Writing in a minority language, belonging to a minority culture, supposes grave problems of visibility, as much in the society to which you belong (and I’m thinking now about Galician books in Galicia, confined like an Indian reservation in a good many bookshops, or in the subordinate treatment they receive in the media, or in the mantra that we are a subsidised literature) as in the possibility of being translated into other languages and therefore reaching potential readers in other countries around the world.  So the question is political, and it is the measures of cultural policy which can help to solve it.


In your works, you clearly reveal your ideological positions with regard to language, culture, social questions, etc.  For example, in El centro del laberinto you defended linguistic and cultural diversity in the world against the aggression which neo-liberal globalisation favours; in Mi nombre es Skywalker you give centre place to social questions; a life philosophy is almost presented in El Rayo Veloz (‘Lightning Quick’); in La playa de la esperanza (‘The Beach of Hope’) you describe the Prestige oil disaster on the Galician coast.  In this sense, they have labelled you many times as “ideological writer”.  What do you think about this label?

All works of creation, mine and those of other writers, have a strong ideological charge because they all reflect a vision of the world and of society.  They apply this label to me because, in quite a lot of my books, I touch on social questions from a transforming perspective.

It doesn’t bother me, as long as they clarify the above.  Because, for a moment, let’s think about the books to which they don’t ascribe this label.  For example, think about the classic story, which can serve as a paradigm, in which Mummy Rat is at home (a home like those in the American Doris Day films), very relaxed, with her apron on, and she decides to bake a cake for her little rats.  And then Daddy Rat comes home from the office, with his tie and his briefcase full of papers, and he greets his affectionate wife and his children, and they eat the cake together.  How sweet!  But this text and these illustrations are laden with an ideology which defends the values of a very specific class.  The thing is that when this ideology matches the dominant one, it becomes transparent, it doesn’t seem to exist.  How lucky that it can be seen in my books.


From literature you have also participated in the open debate in Spain and in other parts of the world on “historical memory” through what has been named in your career the “cycle of shadows” or “the memory trilogy”, that is to say works which, from the present, touch on events and repercussions of the Spanish Civil War and post-war period.  The short story “Las sombras del faro” (‘The Lighthouse Shadows’), in the volume Tres pasos por el misterio (‘Three Steps to the Mystery’); the novel Noche de voraces sombras, and Corredores de sombra, in this case using the Civil War as the background for the story, would be placed in this line.  Tell us about the origins of this interest in relating these events, in dealing with shadows, particularly thinking about the young readers who are partly ignorant about what happened in our immediate past.  Did you have a need to express this theme in your literature?  What do you think about the attitude of youth towards recovering memory?  And, above all, what are the similarities and differences between the three works?

I will start by clarifying that none of them are historical novels about the Spanish Civil War, but the protagonists of all three books are people of today, who live in the 21st century, as are we.  They aren’t books about the war; they are set in the present. I don’t talk about people at the time of the war, although I could do (as John Boyle does with Nazism in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas), but about something which worries me much more, which is the repercussions that the Civil War continues to have in our lives.  In mine, and also in the youngest generations, because it is impossible to understand the Spain of today without accepting the enormous earthquake which the war was, and the very long post-war period still hangs over our lives, although apparently it seems that we are talking about something from long ago.  It is somewhat distant, of course, thankfully, and Franco has been dead for many years, but the spectre of the dictatorship still surrounds us in daily life.

As a society, it is necessary to accept that we have deleted the memory.  When I was writing Noche de voraces sombras, the newspaper Faro de Vigo did a feature on what adolescents of today knew about the Civil War.  The panorama was pathetic; reading those accounts one could imagine those responsible for so much forgetting rubbing their hands together with satisfaction.

The younger generations are largely ignorant of this past.  The Civil War and the bitter post-war are wounds which don’t stop weeping, despite the self-interested voices which refer to them as an already forgotten past.  But what is not known cannot be forgotten, they are realities which can only be overcome after a true examination of everything that happened.  As one of the characters in my book says, “you should know what happened in those years so it never happens again, and to honour the memory of so many broken dreams”.

But it isn’t only the youth of today. I, and the majority of people of my generation and later ones, grew up and lived without knowing crucial aspects of our past.  How is it possible, for example, that until a few years ago I didn’t know that the San Simón Island, in the River Vigo, had been a huge prison, a concentration camp into which so many prisoners were crowded?  And like this, hundreds and hundreds of events of which we know nothing, or we know in secret, while we have to tolerate them still giving us an interpretation of the war so far removed from what really happened.


Until the appearance of Noche de voraces sombras, the Civil War and its repercussions had hardly been central themes in children’s and young adults’ literature.  To what do you attribute the fact that the theme of rescuing what happened in this country in the years prior to the Civil War and the consequences of this conflict, extended in a long and repressive dictatorship, from oblivion – particularly thinking of young people – wasn’t touched upon?  Why did it take so long?  What do you think of the accusations of “opportunism” that are often heaped upon novels which deal with the theme of war or of memory?

The protagonist of The Music Box, the film which Costa Gavras made in 1989, tells us: “it’s too late to avoid what happened, but is never too late to remember what happened”.  These accusations of “opportunism” form part of the ideological argument made by those who want to perpetuate the cloak of silence.  Only now are we beginning to discover the reality of the concentration camps which functioned in the post-war period.  Now we know that here too, as in Chile or in Argentina, babies were stolen to be given to families of the victorious regime.  Now, as in the thaw to which I allude metaphorically in my novels, we are beginning to find out how much suffering and pain there was.

It isn’t a coincidence that I felt the necessity to write about all of this around the year 2000, when the revisionist policies of memory were in their zenith and threatened to triumph, supported by the climate created by Aznar’s government, when he began to create a re-reading of history which was a blatant apology for Francoism.

Also in those years, the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory began its activity, pushing for the search and opening of graves in which the murdered were buried with impunity, those passed on to the paramilitary groups which imposed terror in so many areas of Galicia, León and so many other parts of Spain.

Back then, a well-known political leader exclaimed on the radio: “Stop opening graves!”.  I, in the solitude of my home, shouted at him that it was the other way around, that all of them had to be opened, that the name and dignity had to be returned to so many dead, because only that way can we really talk about this past.  I reiterate what has already been said, they ask us to forget, but what is not previously known cannot be forgotten.

My novels are an attempt to open some of these forgotten graves, to dig up the ignored dead that lie in them and restore their dignity.  They are fictional beings; Ramón Peña and Sara Salgueiro only exist in Noche de voraces sombras, the same as Rosalía and Rafael in Corredores de sombra.  But there are thousands of anonymous people like them, with sufferings and unsuccessful lives like theirs.  My novel is homage to these lives broken by a barbarism which showed no mercy to those people who dreamed of a better and fairer world.


Do you consider the theme to be closed within your literature or have you thought about doing another book about the Civil War?

I don’t know if I will go back to the Civil War or not in any of my future stories, who knows what these ghosts, who will stay with me for the rest of my life, like the protagonist in “Las sombras del faro”, will say in the coming years.  In any case, when I look back and review these three stories, I feel that, in some way, part of the moral debt I owe is paid.  And that, although it may be minimally, my books also contribute to opening the graves of the past.  The only way in which wounds are healed and the future can be faced, mine and above all that of the generations such as that of my daughter or that of the students with whom I lived for all those years in the classroom.  So that one day ours can be a fully democratic society.


Bearing in mind that you are a writer who is attentive to your closest surroundings, how do you find the most recent panorama of Galician literature?  Which aspects awaken optimism or happiness in you, and which others bring dejection?

Galician literature has an enviable vitality, particularly if we take into account the cultural and linguistic context in which it develops: there are authors of repute, quality works, new values, new paths are explored…  And every year some excellent book is published, others are mediocre and there are a large number of average quality titles.  That is to say, as in any of the European literatures.  If we examine only children’s and young adults’ literature, then I would have to be even more positive because it seems evident to me that it is a sector with a lot of strength.

Nothing leads me to dejection.  Now then, there are problems which worry me greatly, almost all derived from the social situation which Galician language and culture are in.  There is a wide sector of society who don’t read (and that signals some deficiencies in the cultural and educational policies which come from far away) and in the sector that reads there is a good percentage which never does so in Galician, because of ignorance of what is on offer, or because of prejudice, or because of insufficient literacy in Galician.  Or perhaps because of the invisibility of Galician books in the media and in the bookshops.  In some of the big city bookshops buying a particular title in Galician can become an adventure worthy of Indiana Jones.


As a reader, what would be your canon of classics?

My canon is, in good measure, changeable; or, rather, accumulative: alongside books which seemed extraordinary to me at the time are added others which I discovered over the years.  Rather than specific titles, I would talk about what they have in common for me, what it is exactly that makes them classics.

To me they are those which have life, that is to say, those which have the ability to arouse a new, different perspective of society and people in the person who reads them.  That is, when they provoke a mutation, even if it is small, in the system to which they belong (they cannot write any longer as if this book didn’t exist) as well as in the people who read them (it is not possible to look at reality in the same way as before reading it).


[1] Interview conducted by Blanca-Ana Roig Rechou and Isabel Soto for the magazine Boletín Galego de Literatura, nº 38, “Encontros”, Santiago de Compostela: Servizo de Publicacións da Universidade de Santiago de Compostela, pp. 161-178.

[2] At the time of recovering this interview for the making of this dossier, Cartas de invierno has reached its 26th edition in the Galician language and the 20th in Catalan.