Cristina Fernández Cubas (Arenys de Mar, 1945) studied Law and Journalism in Barcelona. She is the author of five collections of short stories: Mi hermana Elba, Los altillos de Brumal, El ángulo del horror, Con Ágata en Estambul and Parientes pobres del diablo, winner of the Setenil Award for Short Stories in 2006. She is also the author of two novels, El año de Gracia and El columpio, a play, Hermanas de sangre, and a narrated memoir, Cosas que ya no existen,republished recently by Tusquets. Her work is translated into ten languages. In 2009, her collected short stories, Todos los cuentos, received the City of Barcelona, Salambó and Qwerty awards, among others.
Patricia García: —Cristina, in your stories we often find Fantastic elements. What does the Fantastic mean to you?
Cristina Fernández Cubas: —When I started writing I never planned to write anything in the Fantastic genre. The Fantastic element appears before I summon it and it suddenly disrupts a very calm situation. Now, I can admit, that there are parts of my writing that can be considered Fantastic literature. But I was very reluctant to admit that in the beginning because I thought it was like a label. I have finally accepted it and I’m OK with it now. Yes, there is an element of the Fantastic in some of my creative work.
Patricia García: —Given the topics, the claustrophobic and even macabre atmosphere, it’s been said on some occasions that you are the Edgar Allan Poe of contemporary Spain.
Cristina Fernández Cubas: —That’s a big compliment, thank you.
Patricia García: —Do you really feel you’re walking in his shoes?
Cristina Fernández Cubas: —In his shoes would be going a bit too far. What I can say is that one of the first stories I remember which had an impact on me was “The fall of the house of Usher” which my brother told me. He told the story and I loved it and I used to always say that he was improvising and, when I finally read the story, I found the house seemed very small. You see, he was adding rooms and information of his own, answering the questions that his little sisters would ask him. So it’s not so much that I’m in Poe’s shoes, but he definitely had something to do with the start of it all.
Patricia García: —Which short story created by someone who you consider to be a master would you like to have written yourself?
Cristina Fernández Cubas: —Many by Edgar Allan Poe… although actually I don’t think “I wish I had written this”. No, it’s written and I read it and enjoy it. I even think: “Look, it’s already been written, I don’t have to write it myself”. Many short stories by Poe and some by Guy de Maupassant, for example. And a short story named “La resucitada” by Emilia Pardo Bazán.
Patricia García: —We know that you have travelled a lot in your life. Has Cristina the traveller influenced Cristina the writer?
Cristina Fernández Cubas: —Yes, but not in a clear way. My short stories generally happen in places with no name, even if they might have one. But I don’t say it. Somehow, my travel and life experiences are reflected in Cosas que ya no existen,which is a book of memories. Although they look like short stories, they’re not. The material I used in that book is my own memory, life is the scriptwriter. Many countries appear in that book.
Patricia García: —Is there a short story of yours that you are especially fond of?
Cristina Fernández Cubas: —Well, yes. I’m very fond of “Mi hermana Elba”. From Parientes pobres del diablo, there’s also “La fiebre azul” or “El moscardón”. And this book of memories that I mentioned, Cosas que ya no existen, because I had always said I would never tell things about myself, but you end up telling them, don’t you? Because somehow, writing is always autobiographical. But when I finished Cosas que ya no existen, I lifted a huge weight off my shoulders, I laughed like crazy, I cried as well with some chapters. And I think I was reborn. I think I became a better person. I was already good, but then I was much better, honestly. It was a very interesting experience because working with reality is very difficult, and even more so with memories.
Memory is no more than a pulse, it’s not easy to call back memories. I decided not to allow myself any license, apart from some name change, so as not to offend anybody or, sometimes, to do just that. Nothing else. There is not a single license throughout this book. In other words, life is the scriptwriter and life is very capricious sometimes.
Patricia García: —Your short stories are full of thresholds that sometimes seem disturbing to cross: architectural thresholds, like the convent gate in your short story “Mundo”, and sometimes they’re symbolic like the passage into adolescence in “Mi hermana Elba”. What thresholds disturb Cristina Fernández Cubas?
Cristina Fernández Cubas: —Life is full of thresholds. It is very easy to cross them. What’s difficult is turning back.
The vision of life as something full of unknown thresholds always haunts me and interests me. Moreover, what we consider Fantastic today may not be the same in a hundred years, because what was considered Fantastic 100 years ago, now, due to discoveries and scientific progress, may no longer appear so. I believe that some things that come to us as intuitions or strange sensations, for which we don’t have an explanation, perhaps these strange thresholds that I see everywhere, allowing entry into something different, something unknown, well, perhaps in some years they’ll be the most natural thing in the world.
Patricia García: —We know that your first book, Mi hermana Elba (1980), faced some problems before being published. What advice would you give to someone who is trying to publish his/her first book?
Cristina Fernández Cubas: —Those times were very tough. When I finished Mi hermana Elba, publication generally was difficult, but for short stories, you can’t even imagine: it was as if I’d committed a crime.
There weren’t many short story writers at that time, but I persisted. I was being given ridiculous feedback: “It’s very good, change the endings”, for instance. I would advise someone who has worked earnestly, and believes in their work, to keep going until the end. I did that, I persisted, I ignored what was being said out there. Advice is helpful as long as it’s advice, but not when it’s nonsense. And even though you feel insecure writing your first book, you have to learn to defend what you really believe in.
Patricia García: —And to finish, let’s imagine, 100 years from now. How would you like to be remembered?
Cristina Fernández Cubas: —First of all, I would like to be around in a hundred years… But that hasn’t been invented yet. In a hundred years… It would be nice to be remembered… my writing, in any case, maybe my first book, Mi hermana Elba and maybe the courage I showed when I had to defend short stories as a genre. Yes, I would like to be remembered by short story writers. Because it seems very obvious now that a story is a genre in its own right. But I’ve had to continuously explain that a short story is neither an earlier stage of the novel, nor training in short films before getting to do a feature film. So, I would like to be remembered for my short stories but also for my stubbornness.