Friday, 22 June 2012

Last Night: Carlos Ruiz Zafon in Foyles

So, last night I went to the Foyles Event for the launch of 'The Prisoner of Heaven' by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. It was simply amazing to see the author behind the books and hear his explanation for why they are the way they are. It was also interesting to hear other people talk about the books, especially 'The Angel's Game'. That was probably my favourite Zafon book. But let's get underway with some things I found very interesting:

  • Research: Suzi Feay asked him whether he had done a lot of research for the setting of his novels: Civil-War in Spain. He told us he believed that research is only good to a certain extent. He gave historical fiction as an example. Some authors do so much research they simply throw facts at you for 300 pages, yet at the end the reader still doesn't have a feel for how the era actually was. Therefore, Zafon says, research should only be used when it can be put into the form of storytelling.
  • His work: This got me very excited! 'The Prisoner of Heaven' is the third installment of what will be a 4-work saga. He told us that each novel is different and that each can be a gateway into the world of the 'Cemetery of Forgotten Books'. The reason they're different is because they are written from the perspective of different characters. That is one of the reasons why 'The Angels' Game' is so dark, because it follows David Martin's descent of madness. 
  • Weather: Apparently he gets a lot of criticism on him describing Barcelona's weather as gloomy and temperamental. According to him, this is because people go to Barcelona in the summer, when it's hot. But the weather in Barcelona changes fast, unleashing apocalyptic amounts of rain within 5 minutes, only to return to sunshine afterwards. This question lead into a discussion of the London drought after which Zafon made the following, epic, comment: 'In California, even the water is fake.' 
  • Literary References: Something I myself had recognized as well and was picked up on last night were the many literary references in Zafon's books. Not surprisingly of course, because books are very important in the books. One of the major references is 'Great Expectations' in 'The Angels' Game'! Zafon calls this 'playfulness with the reader', because it adds to a reader's experience. At the same time, it doesn't devalue your experience if you don't know the books. He said it was like a 'haunted hotel', the ghosts of novels will only appear if you know them, otherwise you will simply have a good night.
  • Women: Suzi Feay asked him what the many women who died and disappeared in his books said about him. Zafon told us that the books are in essence about Daniel trying to rescue his mother from death, trying to remember her face. It is the ghost that haunts the story. Also his books are set during the '50s and he got a lot of his inspiration from Victorian Gothic novels where terrible things happen to poor women all the time.
  • Characters: He said his favourite characters were probably Isabella and Nuria Montfort. The former is key to the entire saga, apparently especially to the new one, and the latter is a beautifully tragic character. The one he relates most to are David and Fermin.They are all parts of himself because, as an author you always pour something of yourself into the characters.
  • Translation: He said he tries to be very involved with the translation into English by Lucia Graves. He also acknowledged the difficulty in translating since there are simply words in languages that cannot be translated. He also recounted a moment where a Korean translator had  contacted him with a question about the novel and he had wondered how the translation could ever work if the translator did not get a crucial plot point. 
  • Screenwriting: What I didn't know was that Zafon was a screenwriter in L.A. He felt he bought his freedom with 'The Shadow of the Wind' and never wants to see a movie amde out of his books. He knows the industry and has no illusions about it. He also feels that 'it's fine for novel to stay a novel'. He wants everyone to be able to use their own imagination to recreate the Barcelona he describes and feels that this is worth much more than any money he'd make out fo movies.
A lot more things were said, but I think these were the key things. I found it really inspiring and cannot wait to read 'The Prisoner of Heaven' in Barcelona in July! I had wanted to ask him whether his views on religion changed after he wrote 'The Angel's Game' since Corelli's character could be interpreted as the Devil and I found the conversations Corelli had with David about religion very interesting. I didn't have the opportunity to ask him, but he did say tht he thought the Devil was the most interesting literary creation. 

Do you like Zafon's books? Are there any questions you would have asked him?

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