Join Carlos Ruiz Zafon to talk about THE PRISONER OF HEAVEN, May's Book of the Month on TUESDAY 4 JUNE, 9-10pm

(104 Posts)

Carlos Ruiz Zafon is the author of six novels, that have been published in more than 40 different languages. THE SHADOW OF THE WIND, the global phenomenon published in 2005, sold 1.5 million copies in the UK alone. Our May Book of the Month, THE PRISONER OF HEAVEN, is the sequel. It is 1957, Daniel is now married with a child, and Fermin Romero de Torres is preparing for his own marriage to Bernada. But Fermin's mysterious past is preparing to return, when a stranger leaves him a copy of The Count of Monte Cristo with a strange inscription. The story then moves back to the late 1930s, unlocking the mystery of Fermin?s imprisonment in the notorious Montjuic prison, where he meets fellow inmate David Martin, a writer whose storytelling and schizophrenic episodes have given him the nickname Prisoner of Heaven.

Zafon has created his own Gothic version of Barcelona, where real events and odd magic combine. There are links back and forth to the other two novels in the 'Cemetery of Forgotten Books' cycle, but Zafon has ensured that each also stands alone, and can be read in any order. Whether you are already a Zafon-ophile or this is your first encounter, it is easy to become fully immersed in the rollicking adventure.

You can find more details on our May book of the month page. You can buy the novel in paperback or, if you're eager to get started, a Kindle version.

Find out more at the English Zafon website or watch trailers and download extracts from all the 'Forgotten Books' cycle at the official Zafon website (most of it also translated into English).

Or if you are fairly proficient in Spanish, you can follow him on Twitter: @ZafonOficial

We are thrilled that Carlos will be answering questions about THE PRISONER OF HEAVEN, as well as THE SHADOW OF THE WIND, his other books and his extraordinary career on this thread on Tuesday 4 June, 9-10pm. So please feel free to discuss the book here throughout the month and then come and meet the author. Hope you can join us...

CarlosRuizZafón Tue 04-Jun-13 21:05:06

Hello everyone,

A pleasure being here. Thanks for the opportunity to chat with you. Hope you are all having a lovely evening in Albion. I'm sending a bit of California sunshine your way... Fire on.

CarlosRuizZafón Tue 04-Jun-13 21:06:20

BellaDesconocida

Hi Carlos, The Shadow of the wind is one of my favourite books, thank you.

How do you begin writing a tale with such an intricate plot? Do you use some sort of flow chart or spider diagram?

I generate a lot of materials, outlines, lists, etc, but mostly I try to hold it all in my head. It is a matter of discipline. I believe that if I cannot juggle it all in my head and something falls of, it is meant to fall. If there’re details I forget, or angles I overlook, it is because I could not fit it all in my brain and it was meant to be lost. In a way that keeps me on my toes, alert, and allows me to be constantly repainting and redesigning the blueprint. I want to keep it organic and alive till the end, not to follow an old outline I set out years ago. So there’re a million or a gazillion spider diagrams in my brain at all times, yes, but caffeine allows me to keep them on a leash. Or so I delude myself into believing…

CarlosRuizZafón Tue 04-Jun-13 21:07:16

Mems

Can't make the discussion this evening - am loving the book though, and looking forward to reading the rest of the series. My question is about magic realism - it seems to be a real feature of Spanish-South American culture and I was wondering whether Carlos could comment on why he thinks this is.

The great writer Gene Wolfe said once that magic realism is simply fantasy written by people with Spanish names, and I tend to agree. I think magic realism is mostly a purely marketing label originated sometime ago in the publishing industry to market and distribute certain types of fiction, nothing else. Much has been made about it and 99% of it is baloney. In fact Spain has little connection with south American culture, that’s another myth. For good or bad, Spain is just another country in western Europe and its cultural and social framework is very much that of its European neighbours. And so called magic-realism is virtually non existent in the literature of Spain. What we refer to as magic realism, that subtle blur of the lines between realism and fantasy in literary fiction, is something that exists in all literary traditions and has been present for a long time. Interestingly enough, there are still many silly and false stereotypes about “Spanish culture” floating around that don’t make any sense and have little, if any, real foundation. But I guess they sell, so somebody makes sure they’re perpetuated. Don’t believe the hype, though. Literature is literature and it has no nationality. There’s more magic realism in Kate Atkinson’s last novel, for instance, than in the last 15 years of Spanish literature. But she is not named Catalina Aldaya, so nobody even thinks of labelling it as such, or to call Margaret Atwood’s latests novels Sci-fi or…

margop Tue 04-Jun-13 21:08:08

Who or what inspires you most to write?

CarlosRuizZafón Tue 04-Jun-13 21:08:10

EmpressOfTheSevenOceans

I'd like to know whether you envisioned the whole Cemetery of Forgotten Books cycle when you started The Shadow of the Wind, or whether it was originally going to be a single novel?

It always was going to be 4 books. I knew this from the beginning. My idea was to create a maze of stories, a kind of chinese box of fictions with different points of entry and different ways of exploring the stories. That was the challenge and the original design.

lambfam Tue 04-Jun-13 21:09:02

The Cemetery of Forgotten Books are set in Barcelona and I cant imagine the story working so well if it was set anywhere else. The City is so much a part of the story. Is there any other city that inspires you in the same way that Barcelona does?

CarlosRuizZafón Tue 04-Jun-13 21:09:59

FairyArmadillo

Enjoying Shadow of the Wind so much. (Meant to download Prisoner of Heaven on my Kindle but downloaded Shadow of the Wind by mistake. Good mistake!) Was wondering just now as I was reading, how long it took to complete Shadow of the Wind, beginning with your imaginings for the plot. Reading the book reminds me of of when I read One Hundred Years of Solitude twenty years ago, as a teenager.

Thanks. I usually takes me about a year or year and a half to write a book, regardless of the extension. That is the actual writing. It is harder to determine for how long things marinate in your brain until you decide it is time to take them to the desk and start working on them, though.

EmpressOfTheSevenOceans Tue 04-Jun-13 21:10:08

I wanted to comment on how very vivid your characters are. Your descriptions - Bea talking to the Professor while Daniel is behind her, for instance - are like paintings.

Do you see them all in your head, and do you ever glimpse someone on the street and think they resemble one of your characters?

CarlosRuizZafón Tue 04-Jun-13 21:10:46

littlewifey

My question: is the cemetery of forgotten books inspired by a real location?

Not really. I suppose it is somewhat inspired by many of the secondhand bookstores I have visiting all of my life, many of them in the west coast of the US. If there’s a place that could claim the title of inspiration for it, I guess it would be the great, sadly departed bookstore called ACRES OF BOOKS that used to be in Long Beach, California. I first heard of that place in a piece by Ray Bradbury, an angeleno, and visited it on my first trip to L.A many years ago. It was a wonderful, cavernous catacomb of books that I visited many, many times over the years until its sad demise when it fell prey to, surprise, real state speculators.

CarlosRuizZafón Tue 04-Jun-13 21:11:38

ItsOkayItsJustMyBreath

I am so envy of those with free copies of the new book! I adore Carlos' work.

I too would like to know more about the cemetery of forgotten books, it's such a wonderful idea (if it doesn't already exist).

Another question would be: Fermin is such a strong yet funny character, is he based on anyone in particular? He is so beautifully described I can still picture him in my mind even though it has been years since I last read Shadow Of The Wind.

Fermin is basically a big part of me, an embodiment of my sense of humor and my own personal view of of the world. He is like 30% of my brain dressed in shabby clothes, dumped in the wrong place at the wrong time and trying to figure out how to survive. To me Fermin is the moral center of the story and one of two or three characters I feel personally closer.

CarlosRuizZafón Tue 04-Jun-13 21:12:42

HazelDormouse

Thoroughly enjoyable novel. I can not wait for the final book of the series.

* How did you do the research for this novel series? Were you able to talk to anyone who was imprisoned for political reasons in Franco's Spain?
* I believe you implied in a brief interview in the back of THE PRISONER OF HEAVEN that this is a 'game of chess'. If this is the case, who are the players, Valls and Fermin, with Daniel merely being a King or Knight? Can Daniel be an opponent if he doesn't really know the rules of game (in particular in SHADOW OF THE WIND) and is at first being taken along with the action?

I didn’t really research anything specifically because I am using the things I know about my hometown and the history of the place I was born and raised in. I am always trying to learn things about a lot of stuff. Then, years later, I end up using 1% of that in a story I am working on, but I rarely, if ever, do specific research for a book. I write about what I know well and feel confident in being able to approach in a solid manner. As for the chess game, well, it is indeed, but not just between the characters, but also between the books themselves and the reader. The whole quartet of novels of the cemetery of forgotten books is designed as a moving labyrinth of stories that keeps rearranging itself until the end. Once the final fourth book is done I think this design will be more self-evident. I hope to meet you there for the check-mate, doll.

Calypso2 Tue 04-Jun-13 21:13:07

Hi Carlos, such an honour to talk to you tonight. I was totally gripped by Prisoner when I got my copy this month (thanks mumsnet). I'm interested that the books are described as a cycle of books. Do you really think it doesn't matter in which order you read them? I hadn't previously read Shadow of the Wind and immediately went out and bought it after Prisoner but as I'm reading it I keep feeling like I wish I'd read this story first. Do you find peoples reactions to your books are different depending on what order they've read them in? Really love the world you create- makes me want to rush back to Barcelona and hunt out the streets you describe.

CarlosRuizZafón Tue 04-Jun-13 21:13:42

brendarenda

Coming to this a bit late as just back from holiday where Prisoner of Heaven was my beach book. I'm now desperate to read Shadow of the Wind...
I thoroughly enjoyed Prisoner - the characters, the dialogue, the compelling plot, but more than anything else just the atmosphere that Zafon creates. I completely agree with Awks - that you can almost smell and taste the book.
If I'm not too late I'd like to ask a question about translation. Does Carlos work with his translators to make sure they convey this atmosphere effectively? Or does he just leave them to it? (I have to say that this doesn't have any of the awkwardness you sometimes get with a translation.)
Also, despite the brutality and the downright evil of some of the characters (not to mention the violence of this particular period in history), the book doesn't feel at all bleak or depressing. On the contrary, there's an overriding sense of love and humanity and even humour. I was left feeling uplifted by the good in people. Is this deliberate? (Sorry - that's two questions!)

As one of my heroes, Orson Welles, said: atmosphere is everything. And who are we to argue with Orson? Translation? Nothing lost there. I am extremely involved, to say the least, in the process and I do personally rewrite, edit and refine a lot of it until I think it is perfect and you don’t lose a precious ounce of it. Plus, I believe readers in English have a huge misconception about the translation process. They seem to believe translators “rewrite” the books, add things or shape them in any way. That is not translating. A translation, if well done, is invisible and gives you the original, nothing less and certainly nothing more.

The books try to explore all things in life so hopefully despite all the drama and tragedy in them, there’s also light and hope and redemption. There’s good and bad in all of us, so there should be also in the characters…

CarlosRuizZafón Tue 04-Jun-13 21:14:38

EstelleGetty

An advance question, in case I don't make it on the night.

Hi Carlos, Barcelona is such a wonderful city and your descriptions of different locations are incredibly evocative. I would love to know what your favourite places in the city are. I love the church of Sant Pere de Puelles in Born.

Moltes gràcies!

Hard to give you a quick list of my favourite places. Barcelona is my mother, so to speak. I know the place better than the back of my hand and there’s a lot of it I like and lot of if I don’t. I tend to be more interested in the parts of the city developed during the late 19th century and the early 20th. They’re scattered across town, not just in the most touristic areas of the old town. I would suggest you get a very good book written about “my Barcelona” by a great journalist called Sergi Doria. He takes the Barcelona from my books and explores it from a historical perspective and gives you the best tour imaginable of the city. You’ll see there that my favourite places fill an entire book!

CarlosRuizZafón Tue 04-Jun-13 21:15:22

alialiath

Not received any bookssad( But as an avid reader would like to ask Carlos Ruiz Zafon, if he has a writing routine, and if so what it involves,

I do, of course, because writing is my job and all jobs require discipline. It is a complicated process that changes as the work in the book advances. But I can tell you I write in my own studio, closed to the world, follow strict and long hours, and write and rewrite everything to death, and then rewrite it all again. Writing a novel is like building a gothic cathedral made out of words. You plan, design, executive, build, correct, rebuild, redesign and work, and work on something for months or years until it is done.

CarlosRuizZafón Tue 04-Jun-13 21:16:11

Umlauf

Hi Carlos,

I love all your books and they have fanned my passion for Spain, so much so I moved here in September!

You paint a raw and incredibly emotive picture of life during the civil war, and how it has touched the lives years later of Daniel's generation. How did you go about researching this period, and did you find it challenging considering the 'pacto de olvido?'

Also, will we see more of Daniel and co, and what are you working in next?!!

Thanks, Umlauf.

piruletas that's really interesting about the translations, I'm learning Spanish but couldn't read them in the originals yet, and I always admired how authentic the translation seems, they must be amazing in the originals!

You will see plenty more of Daniel, Fermin and all the gang in the final and fourth book of the series, the big bang operatic grand finale in which I am working right now.

As for historical accuracy and research, well, I try to be as honest and objective about things as I can. I know I lot about the Spanish civil war from what I have learned and from what I have inherited, so to speak, from my family and the historical memory of the country. I just try not to be preachy or judgmental or manipulative about it. I try to take the reader there, and to allow the reader to judge by herself, standing side by side with the characters.

CarlosRuizZafón Tue 04-Jun-13 21:16:55

TeaforRoo

We were in Barcelona on St Georges day, without being aware of the signifance of that day in the Catalan calendar. We came across the crowd waiting for you to sign your books, do you always get that kind of reception in Barcelona? I have read Angel's Game and very much enjoyed it. I wondered who your main influences were and whether Jorge Luis Borges was one of them?

Yes, I do always get a very nice and generous welcome from the readers in my hometown. The day of st.george, the day of the book, in Catalonia is a huge deal, a great festival of books with hundreds of thousands of people in the streets celebrating books. I do have many influences really, too many to mention. Borges is of course a writer I enjoy, but I don’t honestly think he’s one of the strongest influences. In a way, for a writer, everything you read and see influences you, makes you think and reconsider things, prompts you to analyse and observe how the stories are told, how the language is being worked… It is very hard to list influences in an honest and realistic way, I believe.

CarlosRuizZafón Tue 04-Jun-13 21:17:49

colourhappy7

Carlos - I have been captivated by Shadow of the Wind, having read it years ago, and have only just found out about the other two books that link to it (Angel's Game, and Prisoner of Heaven), and am utterly fascinated about the translation, and have a few questions about it:-

1) Is Lucia an utter genius, and does her translation utterly adhere to every word, or does she re-write it into English with slight alterations to the original?

2) How closely do you work with her on the translation? Do you talk face to face? Is it a collaboration, or do you simply send her the manuscript and liaise online?

Thank you for the imagery you evoke and for your beautifully haunting words.

Rebecca

Lucia is very talented, which is why she does not, repeat, does not rewrite anything. That is not what translators do. For some reason readers in English are convinced that when something is translated into their language it is entirely reshaped, rephrased, rewritten and remade. It is not the case.

And I do work very closely with her, rewriting, re-editing and re-doing everything I feel is necessary so when you read the translation you read just that, which is, an exact and precise transposition of the original. Nothing else, nothing more.

CarlosRuizZafón Tue 04-Jun-13 21:20:23

TillyBookClub

Evening everyone

I am honoured and delighted that Carlos Ruiz Zafon is joining us tonight from Los Angeles to talk about his writing career, the phenomenal success of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series and his excellent new novel THE PRISONER OF HEAVEN.

Carlos, firstly, thank you very much indeed for taking the time to be here. And many congratulations on such a magically evocative book (and also on the others in the cycle: they are all much loved on Mumsnet). We'll kick off with the advance questions from further up the thread. And then we'll aim to get through as many new ones as possible over the next hour (although getting through all the posts above may take a good chunk of that...)

I'd also like to add our two standard MN Bookclub questions (which we like to ask all authors):

Which childhood book most inspired you?

What would be the first piece of advice you would give anyone attempting to write fiction?

Over to you...

I cannot really pick up the ONE book. It would be too hard to choose just one. For me it was ALL books, the promise and magic of storytelling, the music of language and its architecture… I was fascinated by words, images, sounds… anything you could use to create a story, a world…

What would be the first piece of advice to anyone attempting to write fiction?

To begin with read a lot, and without prejudice. Real all sorts of things, genres and authors. Pay no attention to what self-appointed experts, professional snobs and thought-mongers try to sell you. Use your brain, don’t parrot what others tell you you should think, say and do. Read. If you don’t, don’t even try to write.People who say they want to write and do not read are on the road to dellusion. Then, analyze and try to figure out how writers do what they do. Figure out the techniques, the devices, the engineering of it all. Work the language. Language is everything. And then write, write, write, and then rewrite, rewrite, and rewrite. Then rewrite again. Writting is a craft, a job, a profession, not something that comes out of thin air or is whispered into your ear by the muses in a bout of magical inspiration. That is utter nonsense. Writing is hard work, like anything else in life that it is worth the trouble. If you want to be a writer, work hard, learn harder and respect the craft you are trying to acquire. Same goes for any profession in the world, I think. Be prepared to write hundreds or thousands of pages nobody will ever read before you write a paragraph anybody will ever read. I suppose I could say things like “follow your heart and find your own voice” and all sorts of sweet baloney like that, but the truth is all that is rubbish and I would do you a disservice.

CarlosRuizZafón Tue 04-Jun-13 21:21:16

piruletas

Ruiz Zafon is one of my favourite authors ever but I am Spanish and have read all his books in Spanish. I believe his command of the Spanish language is a fantastic one and what he does with it when he writes is very much part of the story itself. Accordingly, my question to him would be about the English translations of his novels. What does he think about them? A lot is lost in those translations. Does it not bother him? Does he agree? Thanks a lot!

I think I addressed the translation issue in one of the other answers, so in the spirit of expediency, I won’t repeat it here. But yes, language is everything in literature and stories are actually not about “what they are about” but about how they’re told, how the storytelling works and how the language is articulated. That is what determines the reader’s experience, not the plot.



piruletas that's really interesting about the translations, I'm learning Spanish but couldn't read them in the originals yet, and I always admired how authentic the translation seems, they must be amazing in the originals!

As I said, you are losing little, if anything, in the translation, as I myself work hard on those to make sure you don’t have to. Do not mystify the translation process. Many readers assume translated books are different from the originals. They are not. A translation is not a rewrite.

CarlosRuizZafón Tue 04-Jun-13 21:23:29

Calypso2

Hi Carlos, such an honour to talk to you tonight. I was totally gripped by Prisoner when I got my copy this month (thanks mumsnet). I'm interested that the books are described as a cycle of books. Do you really think it doesn't matter in which order you read them? I hadn't previously read Shadow of the Wind and immediately went out and bought it after Prisoner but as I'm reading it I keep feeling like I wish I'd read this story first. Do you find peoples reactions to your books are different depending on what order they've read them in? Really love the world you create- makes me want to rush back to Barcelona and hunt out the streets you describe.

The idea is that you should be able to read the books in any order. The way your choose to explore the labyrinth of stories will determine the different angles in which you experience the world, the characters... Most people read them in the order they're published, but you could revisit them in different orders and see how each one of the books allows you to reinterpret the other stories in a different light. Be adventurous... and enjoy!

CarlosRuizZafón Tue 04-Jun-13 21:25:43

EmpressOfTheSevenOceans

I wanted to comment on how very vivid your characters are. Your descriptions - Bea talking to the Professor while Daniel is behind her, for instance - are like paintings.

Do you see them all in your head, and do you ever glimpse someone on the street and think they resemble one of your characters?

I do tend to think in images. It is the way my brain is wired and to me it is extremely important to stage well that visual presentation of the story in the theater of your mind. To me these aspects of the storytelling are essential and a great deal of effort goes into shaping them. Ideally I would like you to feel the textures, the light, the sounds, the movement, the colors... I aim for all this when I write, because I feel it is important to provide the reader with the most intense reading experience.

CarlosRuizZafón Tue 04-Jun-13 21:27:29

lambfam

The Cemetery of Forgotten Books are set in Barcelona and I cant imagine the story working so well if it was set anywhere else. The City is so much a part of the story. Is there any other city that inspires you in the same way that Barcelona does?

Many cities inspire me. The world is a big place and full of fascinating locales. For these books I decided to use my own hometown because I think all writers, at some point, want to deal with their own roots and contribute however a minute grand of sand they can to them. But there're plenty of places filled with promise of story, of course. Stories come from people, from human nature, not from places.

CarlosRuizZafón Tue 04-Jun-13 21:30:25

margop

Who or what inspires you most to write?

Hard to say, really. It is what I do. I have always written, since I was a child. All I've ever done is make up things and tell them. I think I came this way out of the factory. I always knew, as a child, that I would be a writer and would make a living telling stories, shaping words and images... I am inspired by life, by what I see inside and outside of myself, by my experiences, my memories... and of course if there's somebody who's been an inspiration is the love of my life, my wife MariCarmen, for whom I really write all my stories first, and then share them with the world.

I enjoy what you said about Fermin being 30% of your brain in shabby clothes... he is definitely my favourite character in the series, which is why this particular book was such a treat.

I feel that although the books are steeped in historical politics, Fermin doesn't seem to have any political tendency, i.e he isn't particularly swayed by one side or another. He just seems to be on the side of humanity and on survival.

Would you say you were political, or do you feel disenchanted with Spanish (or general, for that matter) politics?

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