As a boy a was a very bad student because I only paid attention to academic subjects that interested me. My conduct was awful too. I was always labelled as the rotten apple for I also encouraged my friends to get involved in my transgressions. So the school director kept calling my mother with complaints about me. One day they sent a note asking her to go for an interview with the director. She came to me and asked: What have you done now? I could not remember any wrongdoing in which I had being caught. It turn out that he wanted to congratulate her for some writing of mine on some patriotic festivity, and asked her permission to read my text in the celebration. That way I discovered the one thing I was good at. So I kept on doing it.
Well, I was not thinking about that at that moment, but my father rewarded me with a couple of bucks which I invested in a book: Robinson Crusoe. That was the first money I earned for my work. So I kept on doing it. Anyway money is not an issue for me. I live a very austere life, I am not a consumer, I write most of the time, and writing is the cheapest of the arts. With a pencil and a pad you can write the Divine Comedy. And with the new technologies you can carry your complete works in a pen-drive and read it or print it anywhere.
You had written five books in Spanish before Bitter Lemon Press offered you the chance to publish in English and then they only published two, Sweet Money and Needle In A Haystack. What do you think is the element, if any, that stirred the English market’s curiosity in your books?
Don’t really know, but I think that there is something special between Argentina and the UK. Soccer rivals, the English invasions to the colonial Buenos Aires, the rail-roads built by the English, the stupid and desperate military Junta war over the Falkland/Malvinas Islands among other things. It’s a passionate love-hate relationship. And passion, I think, is the main raw material of literature. A friend of mine who lived in London for a long while once told me that I write in Spanish, but I think in English. My translator also remarked something like that. Somehow I feel that the bond English and Argentinians resembles that of turbulent lovers.
This year you were the finalist at the CWA Dagger Awards with your latest novel, Needle In A Haystack. What does an award mean to you and your writing work?
There’s this beautiful sentence from the film “The Swimming Pool” by François Ozon. Charlotte Rampling asks her editor Who is that man? Oh, replies the editor, he is the winner of the National Book Award (or something like that). Then she goes: Awards are like hemorrhoids, any asshole can have one. Writers should not succumb to the temptation of believing that are good because they were awarded. The important thing is that there’s no award that can actually help you to write your next work. One is as good a writer as his next novel. Awards are only important if they grant you enough money to write the next novel.
Your website introduction is very personal, very emotional, like you wanted to make sure the reader knew you were wearing your heart on your sleeve when you wrote it. Is it always that personal with you?
Always. I’m quite personal I say what I think, and I express what I feel, in writing and in everyday life. It saves a lot of arguments and a lot of time. When I sense that my sincerity can get me into trouble I simply walk away.
You’re currently on a UK tour for your latest book, A Needle In A Haystack. How is it going?
I had very good reviews for both “Needle In a Haystack” and “Sweet Money”, and I receive lots of mails from readers who praise my work, and remarks on Facebook and Twitter. I don’t check sales reports, I leave that to my agent. François von Hurter, my wonderful English editor seems happy, so I think they must be doing well. Tell you when the check arrives.
What did you learn from it so far you definitely going to do/not do on your next UK tour?
I never plan what I will do or say. I don’t even think about that. I trust my intuition. What certainly I will not do is go eat to a restaurant that’s near Victoria Station again.
Is there anything else you wish to discuss?
I dream to write a novel in English, but I feel I don’t have the scent of the language. My dream is to spend a year or two in London (a city I love) to do it. But to achieve that maybe I will have to win a lot of awards, sell a great deal of copies or find me a sponsor. You know any, by chance?
Correction: Ernesto says, “I’m not currently touring in UK. In fact I just came back from a tour in Spain.”
Ernest Mallo website: http://www.ernestomallo.com.ar/engla.html
Next week author interview will be with David A. Gibb, a true crime writer, on tour with Camouflaged Killer, the story of a military man who turns into a sadistic rapist.