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Interview with Ignacio Martínez de Pisón

Ignacio Martínez de Pisón: A Writer Seeks to Explain Conflicts

Ignacio Martinez de Pison


Interview with Ignacio Martínez de Pisón held on 29th May 2012 at the Dámaso Alonso Library of the Instituto Cervantes in Dublin in connection with his participation in the “Tribute to Félix Romeo”, with Miguel Aguilar, Luis Alegre, Malcolm Otero Barral and David Trueba.

Ignacio Martínez de Pisón (Zaragoza, 1960) holds a degree in Italian and Hispanic Studies and has lived in Barcelona since 1982. He writes novels and short stories, as well as screenplays, articles for different newspapers and literary criticism. His novels have been translated into a dozen languages​​. These include La ternura del dragón (1984), Carreteras secundarias (1996), Enterrar a los muertos (2005; To Bury the Dead, Parthian, 2009), Dientes de leche(2008), and El día de mañana (2011), which won the Premio de la Crítica prize for Spanish fiction 2011 and the City of Barcelona award in 2012. In 2011, he also received the Premio de las Letras Aragonesas prize.

Carmen Sanjulián: —Ignacio, let’s start by remembering Félix’s character. What was he like as a person as a writer?

Ignacio Martínez de Pisón: —When I met Félix, he was a boy. He was already a gigantic boy, a boy who knew everything and had read everything. He was about seventeen years old, I think. Even then, he collaborated with newspapers in Zaragoza, as well as magazines, and wrote reviews. I was surprised that a guy so young had read so many books, and so I didn´t trust him. I thought, “This boy can’t have read everything”. But gradually I discovered that he actually had read everything, everything he said and much more. There were many more books he didn’t talk about, that I would later discover he had read. In time, I came to think he had some mental illness, that one guy couldn’t have the head to read so much – so much to know, so much to master, so many fields of knowledge. And he was like that. I really think he had, like Valle-Inclán said, “a privileged skull”.

Carmen Sanjulián: —What do you miss the most about his absence?

Ignacio Martínez de Pisón: —I miss the person. Félix was very invasive, in the best sense of the term. He was someone who entered your life, your work, who changed you. He changed you for the better. He intervened in the lives of others to make us as good as we were capable of being. And also, he was a great friend. He was one of those guys you could always trust. Truly, the void someone leaves is felt. The pain Félix’s death left was tremendous. There are many people, many writers, many friends, many intellectuals who felt his death because he was like a reference, the person you could always turn to if you had questions about a title, about a topic, about reading material or a movie. Félix always had answers, answers for everything. His ideas were always very clear. Faced with the usual uncertainties of others, Félix was there and always had a straightforward answer to help you clear your head.

Carmen Sanjulián: —Félix was one of the people you used to give your manuscripts to, and you have admitted that he changed, or helped you to change, the ending of El día de mañana.

Ignacio Martínez de Pisón: —His influence was felt in the books of many friends, and certainly in mine. When writing To Bury the Dead, he was one of my regular advisers, who gave me references for my bibliography and provided ideas and points of view. In Dientes de leche, I made use of a story of his, a story about his father, who was a city policeman in Zaragoza, and was obliged to act as an extra in a movie that was filmed there. The mayor forced all the policemen to act as extras in that movie. Félix told me a very nice story about how, many years later, he went with his then-girlfriend, Cristina Grande, and his parents, to see the movie, in which Zaragoza looked like a city in Northern Europe. As they were alone in the cinema, his parents commented aloud on certain things in the movie, “Look, that person is dead”, “that poor creature is sick”, “that guy, we don’t know anything about”, “this one stole some money”. And they kept on making comments about his former colleagues. As Félix was not going to make use of this anecdote in any of his books, I borrowed it for a little story in Dientes de leche.

El día de mañana is a novel I gave to him to read, before handing it over to my editor, and he said to me, “It’s very good, but the ending is superfluous. Those final explanatory pages are not very useful”. So naturally, I reduced it to a minimum. I took out about eight or ten pages because of what he said.

Carmen Sanjulián: —When someone starts reading about Ignacio Martínez de Pisón, one of the first things you read is “Ignacio Martínez de Pisón, writer from Zaragoza, belongs to the new narrative or the new narrators”. Do you feel comfortable with that label?

Ignacio Martínez de Pisón: —The new narrative is a phenomenon created in the eighties as a kind of historic fact. It was important to have a different type of literature than the kind written during Francoism. The democracy had to produce new names, new titles and new aesthetics. So the term stuck, and that term took in many of us writers, even though we had little in common. But the truth is, it was good for making us known.

I was lucky because it was a moment in which it was hoped a new generation would appear. So when I took some stories to Anagrama, they immediately said yes because of that need for new writers, writers emerging after Franco’s death. But it was one of those fleeting labels that is useful at a certain moment in time, for making a group of writers known, Then the label disappears. However, many of those writers have remained. Soledad Puértolas, Julio Llamazares, Enrique Vila-Matas and myself, were all with that label. There was a group of writers who continued on, but others ended up disappearing along the way, as often happens in the world of literature.

Carmen Sanjulián: —Family is one of the constant topics in your books, and you speak about family with conflicts. Are there any families without conflicts?

Ignacio Martínez de Pisón: —I doubt such a thing exists. Not even the concept seems imaginable. I get the feeling that family is the sphere in which conflicts multiply or amplify, and therefore, it´s the ideal sphere for a writer, because a writer strives to discuss conflict.

Carmen Sanjulián: —So the idea about happy families…?

Ignacio Martínez de Pisón: No, Tolstoy already covered that.

Carmen Sanjulián: —You have been writing and publishing for over 25 years. The topics are endless.

Ignacio Martínez de Pisón: —It’s been a long time – my first book came out in 1984. It’s been almost 28 years since my career as a writer began. It’s true that, even though you never know what your next book is going to be, the ideas come to you. There are many things that have to be told, that expect to be told, and the only thing you have to do is be alert, be vigilant the moment an idea crosses your path and offers itself to you. Even now, I don’t know what my next novel will be, the one after the novel I’m writing now – what it´s about or how it will turn out ?.Nevertheless, I’m sure when I finish the novel I’m writing, an idea will come to me immediately.

Carmen Sanjulián: —How have you evolved from when you started up to now?

Ignacio Martínez de Pisón: —When I started, discussing realism was like speaking about transient literature, literature from the past, fluffy literature, and no writer from the eighties wanted to be a realist writer. In time, I came to realize that I actually was a realist writer. I had a tendency to write stories well rooted in reality, close to my life, close to the places I live or have lived, and more and more, my books started resembling me and my own life. So the biggest change in my biography as a writer is that my literature began strongly resembling the realist tradition.

Carmen Sanjulián: —Have you experienced the same evolution as a reader?

Ignacio Martínez de Pisón: I’m much more open as a reader. There are many kinds of books I like, that I would never be able to write or even attempt. I find the aesthetics of many writers, that differ from mine, interesting too. Although it´s something alien to me, it´s also quite interesting. In spite of everything, it’s true that you always seek to nourish yourself with the voices closest to you. Maybe that’s why, in the past ten or fifteen years, I´ve mostly read North-American literature, which probably has the most powerful realist tradition.

Carmen Sanjulián: —What does Zaragoza mean to you?

Ignacio Martínez de Pisón: —Zaragoza is the city where I was born, where I spent my formative years as a person, and therefore, it’s the most important city of my life, even though it’s not necessarily the city I’ve spent most of my time in. In fact, I’ve been living in Barcelona for many more years. But it’s inevitable for my characters to go back to Zaragoza. I constantly return to Zaragoza through my books and through my characters.

Carmen Sanjulián: —There are some writers who say they refuse awards. Is that only act? Deep down, does everybody like to get recognition in the form of awards?

Ignacio Martínez de Pisón: —Well, you always like it. You always like when you get told that someone liked one of your books. If it’s one of those awards where you don’t present yourself but you get a phone call and they tell you, “Look, we decided to give out this award or that one. We have come together, and we decided your book is the one we liked the best in the past few months, or the past year”. It’s one of those things that helps you to keep going. There’s another reason to keep on writing.

Carmen Sanjulián: —Javier Barreiro was here a few months ago and he said Aragón is particularly tough on its sons. But not in your case.

Ignacio Martínez de Pisón: —No. I don’t think it’s like that. I think Aragón has been very kind to its artists. The fact that some of them had to leave in order to develop their careers away from Aragón is part of the logic. I mean, the fact that the best filmmakers from Aragón have made their careers outside of Aragón is logical, because there is no film industry in Aragón. I think there are very good writers from Aragón who still live there, and there are some who live away, but I don’t think there is any reason to think Aragón is that bad. No. On the contrary, I feel very well treated and very loved in Aragón, and indeed, very rewarded by the awards I’ve received there.

Recommended links

About Félix Romeo

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