Elia Barceló (Alicante, Spain, 1957) has published crime, historical, science fiction and fantastic novels for adults, as well as young adult books and essays. In 2007, she received the Gabriel Award, a prize for the most important personalities in the fantastic genre in Spain. Her work has been translated into French, Italian, German, Catalan, English, Greek, Hungarian, Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Croatian, Portuguese, Basque, Czech, Russian and Esperanto. Her novels translated into English are Corazón de tango (2007) (Heart of Tango, 2010) and El secreto del orfebre (2003) (The Goldsmith’s Secret, 2011). In 2013, she published the first two volumes of her trilogy Anima Mundi.
Carmen Sanjulián: —Elia, the literati say that you are a master of words. You wrote El almacén de las palabras terribles (The Storehouse of Terrible Words) but I think that you left the terrible words in that store and you remained with the beautiful ones.
Elia Barceló: —That’s one of my ideas. Probably because I live abroad, language, my language, is a fundamental thing for me. Words, in my view, are a real treasure. It is not speaking for the sake of speaking, it is something that I appreciate and try to recreate.
Carmen Sanjulián: —In your novels you always endeavor to dismantle stereotypes, those dealing with sex, with identity for example…you would be a good politician.
Elia Barceló: —Never, never. Perhaps I could be a good friend to politicians for example, to be able to tell them of the atrocities that they are committing. But I would not be able be one myself. I am in favour of small groups that operate autonomously. If I thought that anarchism actually worked in reality, I would absolutely be an anarchist.
Carmen Sanjulián: —Science fiction, which is becoming increasingly popular, is still considered as a poor relation of literature. What is this due to?
Elia Barceló: —There are many reasons. I suppose that a lot of people speak badly of science fiction without having ever read it. They have perhaps seen a couple of movies on TV, and with a bit of bad luck, they have seen the worst that science fiction has to offer. They see it as a mindless caprice.
I wrote 19 books and only three of them are science fiction, but I think that science fiction is one of the few genres that offers fresh themes. All other genres deal with the same concepts that literature broached two thousand years ago. Science fiction is the only one that breaks new ground. And surely, for many readers, this is something that scares them. Because it does require more work. When you approach a science fiction novel, it doesn’t offer its meaning immediately. You have to put in much work yourself.
Carmen Sanjulián: —Is there a symbiosis between the world of science and that of science fiction writers?
Elia Barceló: —Yes. When I was young I was always struck by things we read that were then seen as fiction, issues such as the cloning of children for example; these type of problems are now very real. At the time, it was felt that these ideas were whims, nonsense that was invented by certain madmen. And so, I think it’s important that we as writers propose certain themes, ideas, that are yet to come. Literature makes us see the world in another way, with different eyes. And this why science fiction is a great challenge. There are of course many others that are equally so.
Carmen Sanjulián: —What then, if not science fiction, are the stories that we have left?
Elia Barceló: —We, as human beings, are storytellers, this is fundamental. All human need to narrate. Each of us narrates our own story to ourselves. There are of course moments in which we know we are lying to ourselves, because we feel shame, because things seem less palatable. And other times, when you’ve already said something untrue four or five times, you’re not aware that are lying. You believe completely that it was as you said it. This is why I wrote the novel Disfraces terribles (Terrible Disguises), which deals precisely with this fact, someone who tries to write a biography of a great Argentine author and has the idea that by asking people who knew him, and reading his texts, the author could be recreated. But he comes to realise that memory itself is a creation.
Carmen Sanjulián: —If the inhabitants of Umbria could see the world that we live in today, not only in Europe, but particularly in Spain, what would they say? How would they react?
Elia Barceló: —The poor inhabitants of Umbria are accustomed to everything because Umbria is a Spanish autonomous region created by four writers ten years ago in which anything is possible. The beauty of Umbria is that everything is normal. There are normal roads and airports and restaurants, but all its inhabitants know that strange things happen there which are never spoken about. Everything is known, but nothing is talked about. The people of Umbria would look at our world and say that things are just the way they are.
Carmen Sanjulián: —So far all your novels have been based in Umbria. Are you writing anything else situated in this fictional environment?
Elia Barceló: —Not at this time, no. There were four of us originally and the only one who continued to write about it, besides myself, was César Mallorquí. The others left it, and this is why I am not sure whether it is really worth continuing to propagate this world. Now, the novel I’m writing takes place on this planet, but all over the place. It has something like twenty-five locations.
Carmen Sanjulián: —As science fiction is a genre that is not well known, some have used it at times to steal ideas. Has this ever happened with any of your books?
Elia Barceló: —In my opinion it is a type of coincidence. I have never thought that others steal ideas from me. I believe that literature is ultimately a kind of pirate treasure chest, and when you open the lid there are so many beautiful things which you feel belong to no-one in particular, that they are for everybody. And you start to put on necklaces, earrings, such things, without thinking that perhaps they could belong to another person. I do not believe that some rob from others, it is not necessary.
Carmen Sanjulián: —You like to visit, to physically experience the places where your novels are situated. Once you even pursued someone to see what it feels like!
Elia Barceló: —Yes… Usually everything goes fine, nothing strange happens. But at the initial moment, when someone asks you “Why are you staring at me?”, you tell them, “Look, I find you very interesting, because I’m writing a novel, and I have a character like you”. People then usually become very friendly and amiable.
Carmen Sanjulián: —One of your most recent experiences has been with tango. You put Corazón de Tango (Heart of Tango) in this fascinating world of the 1920s. After your visit to Buenos Aires, did it exert in you the same fascination?
Elia Barceló: —One of the joys of literature in general is that it is larger than life. When a story is described in a literary sense, it touches you more, you appreciate more. One sees images that are much more powerful than when you were physically there. In fact I started to write Heart of Tango more or less precisely when I stopped dancing. The tango is a dance in which the man leads, decides, does it all. And my husband said once “Look darling, I have already started to tire of this tango”. This was surely because he understood the lyrics of the songs – he said “It is unbearable spend four or five hours listening to how someone complains because they have abandoned him.” As we stopped dancing, I started to write.
Carmen Sanjulián: —What is very clear is that you are a tremendously curious woman who enjoys experimenting and rummaging through many different fields.
Elia Barceló: —Yes. Something that is very typical of me is that each novel I do is always something new. Both my publishers and my agent tell me “Listen, perhaps you could take an approach where your readers might know what to expect from you”. I have written criminal fiction, fantasy novels, gothic horror novels, realistic works, everything. What I’m doing now does not yet have a specific label. It is a kind of thriller. It is a trilogy, and it is enormous – there will be one thousand three hundred pages or so. It is a contemporary thriller, taking place in this world, in which there are a few fantastic elements that become increasingly stronger and more potent, with a surprising, unexpected finale. Well, I hope so! I hope that you read it and you enjoy it, is calledAnima Mundi.