Small talk: Javier Cercas

Javier Cercas, 49, was born in Caseres, Spain. He published his first collection of short stories, The Motive, in 1987 and his debut novel, The Tenant, in 1989. Other novels include Soldiers of Salamis (2002) and The Speed of Light (2005). Cercas has won several literary prizes including the National Narrative Prize in Spain and the UK’s International Foreign Fiction Prize. The Anatomy of a Moment (Bloomsbury), his latest book, takes as its subject the failed Francoist coup of 1981. He is professor of Spanish literature at the University of Girona and lives in Barcelona with his wife and son.

When did you know you were going to be a writer?

When I published Soldiers of Salamis. Earning a living as a writer was out of the question before then so I worked at the university. My father was a vet and so a writer to him was like a person from Mars. Writing felt impossible.

Who is your perfect reader?

It depends on the book but for The Anatomy of a Moment my ideal reader is a man aged 18-20, who likes rock ‘n’ roll but doesn’t know anything about Spanish history.

What books are currently on your bedside table?

JG Ballard’s Complete Short Stories and David Vann’s new book Caribou Island.

What book would you give a child to introduce them to literature?

Treasure Island.

What book changed your life?

I read Borges’ complete works when I was about 15 – it was a revelation.

What is your daily writing routine?

In the morning I walk for an hour and then I write for four to five hours. In the last month of a book I write all the time.

Where do you write best?

In my office, in a different part of Barcelona to where I live. My friend [Roberto] Bolaño’s wife told my wife six years ago that I should write outside the house.

What music helps you write?

I respect music too much – if I write I write, if I listen I listen.

What do you snack on while you write?

I start with a decaf coffee and then I drink Coke all day and I have cookies and almonds. And I have a siesta, compulsory for a writer.

Which literary character most resembles you?

I see myself in a lot of characters. When I read Don Quixote I am Don Quixote. Or, in Hopscotch, the “Latin American Ulysses”, I am Horacio Oliveira.

Who are your literary influences?

I’m not a Spanish writer, I’m a writer who writes in Spanish. Kafka influenced me a lot, and Conrad, and some postmodern writers like Donald Barthelme.

Who would you like to be stuck in a lift with?

JM Coetzee. For me he’s the greatest writer alive. He’s extraordinary. I’ve met him three times – he doesn’t speak very much though.

What does it mean to be a writer?

A total privilege.

Javier Cercas’s latest book is ‘The Anatomy of a Moment’ (Bloomsbury)

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