Paul Preston, the author of
Franco, and a huge fan of The Blind Man of Seville said, The
sights, sounds and smells of Seville in Holy Week zoom off the
page. How did you manage to create the spirit and people of
Seville so authentically?
Before a word is written of a book I have to have a very strong
feeling about the setting. If I have that inside me then the
characters and story will emerge. This does not necessarily mean I
have to know the place deeply but I will have had a powerful
reaction to it, normally in the form of great swings of emotion.
To feel the richness of a place you have to see its poverty too.
My love affair with Seville started when I arrived there on a
bicycle in 1984 and Ive been going back there ever since.
The streets still retain the maze of the medina, the sun blasts
down on the palm trees and jacarandas, the bars are always open
and full and the locals like to stay up until six oclock
every morning, especially during the Feria de Abril drinking fino
and dancing Sevillanas. This is my kind of town but this is the
Seville that everybody else sees too.
I used two techniques to make it feel fresh. I only wrote what I
saw with my own eyes so that I could bring a unique vision to
every description. I also used all the classic associations of
Seville but not just as backdrop. They all formed part of the
texture of Inspector Jefe Javier Falcóns collapsing
inner world. The narrow, winding, cobbled streets of Seville
became indistinguishable from his anguished mental alleyways. The
Holy Week processions with the Virgin on her float had a
devastating impact on him because of associations in the detectives
mind. The bullfight, in its stages, mirrored the intricacies of
the interplay between killer and investigator with an unexpected
outcome. Sevillanas were danced at the Feria amongst glasses of
fino but it was like some form of redemption rather than
hedonistic celebration. In short all the clichés were there
but transformed to return their meaning to them and to bring
greater power to the story.
For me, the genius of The Blind Man of Seville is the
way you so convincingly put your finger on the pulse of the human
condition and the slippery slope to what many would term evil
acts. In many ways your orchestrators of bad deeds are more
frightening than the usual literary psychopaths, because they are
so believable and immersed in everyday life. Without giving too
much of the plot away, where do you think the violence and hatred
that is at the heart of your protagonists comes from?
An American journalist interviewing me about The Company of
Strangers asked as his opening gambit: Why do
homosexuals make great spies? I told him that it was
probably because back in the 1950s/60s/70s with society/the law
intolerant of homosexuality they already had something to hide.
Take that thinking a step further and ask the question: What
could make you betray your country? I would suggest that it
has to be something visceral to make you hate your country and
your colleagues sufficiently to betray them every day. To be
denied a full and happy life because your sexuality is not
acceptable to society, I think, would prove visceral enough. In
almost all my books the villains are rarely motivated by their
intellect but rather by some damage sustained at the hands of
other human beings, which has broken the link of trust. Love
withheld, innocence defiled or vulnerability abused are more
likely to motivate violence and hatred than, say, money or
The journals of Javier Falcóns famous father,
Francisco, were for me the cornerstone of this book. I was riveted
by the candidness of this artists tormented and twisted
words. I know that you took three months out to work solely on the
journals. That must have been a bizarre period - did you ever feel
like you were being taken over by the hand of Francisco Falcon?
It was a mesmerising patch of creativity. I wrote the journals
in the towering heat of the summer of 2001, which somehow suited
the demanding nature of the character. Every day I would sit down
for four or five hours to become this half-mad, demonic,
charismatic, crafty, weak, vulnerable, brutal, sensual, chilling,
amusing maniac. The journals burgeoned to such an extent that my
wife began to worry that the main story would never be resumed and
I would say: Yes, yes, just a few more entries to go.
and plunge back into the maelstrom in this mans head. Where
that intense period of imagination came from I dont know. I
had an idea and just got into it. The voice was always separate
from me even though I was creating the words. Nothing really scary
happened like stuff I didnt know about art, for instance,
suddenly coming unbidden into my head. The interesting thing for
me was that what started out as a bit of technical virtuosity
actually gave the whole book wings.
Most of the characters in Blind Man are blind and closed
in some way, whether to a painful past they want to bury or to
their own potential for happiness. Which do you think applies to
Javier? Do you see him as sleepwalking through life, or burying
painful memories and associations so deep that he doesnt
even know theyre there?
I think both apply to Javier. He felt responsible for the
terrible incidents of his childhood. He had no way of processing
the tremendous sense of guilt and he was not helped with it
either. He dealt with this by burying these powerful feelings so
deep he no longer knew they were there. Their long-term effect on
his psyche was to diminish him as a human being. By the time we
meet him he is an enclosed individual, right down to his suits and
ties and lace up shoes. He is literally holding himself in,
applying his own strait jacket, and it is having a devastating
effect on all his human relationships, and not just those with
Fear is a dominant emotion of the characters in this book. There
is a fascinating exchange between Javier Falcón and his
bullfighting friend, Pepe, which seems to draw a distinction
between the tangible fear of a matador and the intangible fear
felt by Javier; a man who doesnt know why hes
frightened, or what of. Both of these men seem in the grip of a
terror, but do you see one as being more real or more difficult to
Im not afraid of flying, Im afraid of crashing. The
imagination is a much more potent force for fear than reality. The
reality offers you a course of action whereas the imagination
erodes your will. Pepe has a tangible fear. He is going into a
ring with an unpredictable wild animal. All his fear comes from
the imagination that this afternoon he may meet the bull that will
be the one that gets him and either puts him in a wheelchair or
kills him. But he does have the release of the eventual act.
Javiers fear is more appalling. He is in the grip of a
terrible fear but doesnt know what he is scared of. He only
knows that it is something inside him. What could be so terrible,
he asks himself. In his case there is no release. There is nothing
he can do. Fear is not supplied by his imagination
because he doesnt know what he can imagine. It
is unimaginable. I think his paralysis is the worst form of fear -
a constant, unremitting state.
The Blind Man has a strong theme of art
running through it - your characters create art, but also worship
it, buy it, steal it, and inspire it. What does art mean to you?
Do any artists move you in the way that the famous Falcón
nudes moved their admirers?
Im glad you left the easy question to No. 6 so that Im
well warmed up.
Art is genius whether its words, paint, stone, music or
performance. Genius is an original capacity to transform and
transport. It can help you to see things in a way that
youve never seen them before and move you to a state where
you no longer feel the same. I went to the Tate Modern when it
first opened and was amazed to see the crowds. Art has become
something that we can all be fascinated by. It does not demand
profound knowledge only the ability to see and react.
I particularly remember two things. The first was a rough table,
which looked as if it had seen much chopping, like a butchers
board. From a distance I had a strong feeling of dread about this
table. As I came closer I could see that stretched out in lines
over the surface were strands of human hair. I cant remember
the exact title of the piece but I think the word torture
appeared in it. It was pure horror and Id felt it. The other
exhibit was an abstract painting, speckled, red and grey. The
woman in front of me turned to her friend and said: That
looks exactly like those non-slip tiles you get in a disabled
persons lift. The sublime and the absurd - art has no
control over the viewers perception.
The Blind Man of Seville is a book about our ability to
distinguish between appearance and reality, the extent to which we
can believe what our own eyes tell us. The experience in not just
confined to the characters in the book but is extended to the
reader as well. There are sight lessons for everybody. I think if
youre writing a book with appearance/reality as the central
theme then art offers a multiplicity of dimensions, as Francisco
Falcón shows us.
I have been moved by Gauguins South Sea Islanders. They
inspire a great melancholy in me because these primitive people
seem to hold some mystery within themselves that gives them a
powerful connection with their world and this is something which
we, in our civilised state, have lost. This is not, however, what
the Falcón nudes are particularly about but they do have a
mysterious, indefinable quality.
Its interesting that you are an English writer who writes
largely about Africa and the Mediterranean. You live in Portugal
and obviously have a great interest and love of the Mediterranean
way of life, so how do you feel about England when you return? Do
you still feel British, or have you become naturalised to life
I certainly dont feel Portuguese or Spanish because of the
time I have spent there. I am still British, but sometimes I feel
like a tourist whos revisiting. I find myself saying things
like: What the hell happened to pubs? I have always
been something of an outsider because I have never belonged
anywhere. My father was an RAF officer and we moved from base to
base. I was sent to boarding school around about my eighth
birthday. I used to envy people who had lived in the same place
all their lives and had a developed social life away from school.
I am someone who has always had to adapt to my surroundings, who
has always had to get on with people to survive. Children from
Forces families recognise each other. Its the odd
mixture of vulnerability and adaptability, the outsider always
trying to fit in, the observer in the midst. It gives me plenty of
material to work out in my books, believe me.
Javier Falcóns epiphany is at the heart of The
Blind Man of Seville, yet you are taking him on to another
book. Will his own psychological journey continue to be at the
heart of this next novel, or will you let him float more to the
sidelines? Do you intend developing a series around Falcón?
I havent gone to all this trouble putting Javier through
these phenomenal crises to have him drift away to the sidelines.
We are continuing with his journey but the next book is not a
direct follow-on. There has been a gap. There have been
developments through his rapport with the psychologist but as you
can probably realise theres still a lot of work to be done.
Falcón is a damaged man. If anybody should be allowed an
identity crisis its him. An interesting relationship
developed between himself and the prime suspect, Consuelo, in The
Blind Man of Seville and that will be something thats
taken up in the next book. We havent seen the last of Calderón
and Inés. Theres plenty of unresolved stuff to look
at in the next book, which will also take place in Seville.
I do envisage a series of at least four books with Javier. I
think I will move him to a different city perhaps Madrid or back
to Barcelona, where he did most of his training for the two books
that follow the one Im working on at present.
© 2003 Harper Collins
reprinted with their permissionhttp://www.fireandwater.com
exclusive photos taken at the launch of The Blind Man of Seville
- BLOOD IS DIRT
- A DARKENING STAIN
- A SMALL DEATH IN LISBON
- THE COMPANY OF STRANGERS
- THE BLIND MAN OF SEVILLE
- INSTRUMENTS OF DARKNESS
- THE BIG KILLING