Javier Peña (La Coruña, 1979) picks up the phone from his ‘office’. This is how he refers to the Santiago cafeteria where he spends his afternoons correcting (an activity he enjoys) what he writes at home in the mornings and preparing the literary workshops he teaches. A custom that comes from the time when, after leaving the Xunta —December 31, 2016—, where he spent seven years writing speeches, he launched himself without hardly a network, unemployed, to conceive a career as a writer that he accumulates for now two novels (‘Unhappy’ and ‘Agnes’, both in Blackie Books). It has a third “in the head” that, if it goes ahead, will follow the path of its sisters and will once again propose a “structure game”, another of those puzzles so much to the liking of its author.
“I have to find time. It’s curious, I left the Xunta to write and now I dedicate myself to everything except writing to make a living from this», He comments in a relaxed chat with ABC.
It is a comment without the slightest hint of discomfort. Rather, a celebration of the accumulation of projects: a podcast in the making, the two workshops for Blackie Books and the literary residence of the Cidade da Cultura, which runs. A point he has reached, he naturally remarks, “by a stroke of luck.” A story worthy, in turn, of another novel, in which a friend shares a tablecloth, without knowing it, with a literary agent, and tells her about a friend who has written what would end up being ‘Unhappy’. As Woody Allen already captured in ‘Match Point’, talent and work matter, but without that bit of luck… «What happened to me can happen to anyone», he encourages the students of his workshops.
From his own experience, that of having made a “strong bet”, which he even believes took too long, encourages him to pursue dreams, even if they consist of jumping into a sea with so many fish. “Living from this is almost a chimera,” he reminds possible clueless. “Getting to live only on royalties, I think it’s easier for you to win the lottery,” he jokes. It appeals, at least, to try it, but parking wrong intentions: «If you want to be famous, become an influencer, but not a writer». In any case, his speech avoids any temptation to fall into the naive. «It is very difficult, and more and more, not to be published, but for people to read you. A novel lasts 15 days on the news tables and, after a month, it is already an old novel. It’s a terrible thing,” he reflects. “It is important that writers are also aware that we are overcrowding bookstores and that, in the end, we all end up harmed in this brutal war,” he warns navigators.
“Use and throw”
Peña acknowledges that he is obsessed with fighting against the ephemeral, making his novels last, in an era in which, after six months, a work “is almost out of print.” But it is not a phenomenon exclusive to literature. He gives an example: during confinement he consumed 17 series and, now, he could give three titles. “We are stuck in a moment in which the idea of culture is a lot to use and throw away,” he laments. In his case, he fights it by savoring again and again movies he saw 20 years ago, fleeing from volatile novelty. «I wish my books were something else», dice.
His first two works are anything but ‘fast food literature’, with their complex structures, those that he claims to be able to weave with his chess-player mind —he played until he was 14—, plots that he “tears apart” and messes up because, if with something does not agree, it is with temporal linearity. In ‘Agnes’ he uses a thriller wrapper in which he admits that the whodunit is the least of it; what interested him was concocting a kind of modern ‘Arabian Nights’, with inverted roles, where it is not the narrator who is at risk of dying. a novel that It is not a black novel, with echoes of the Carmen Mola phenomenon, but in reality it is prior, with more influence, in fact, from the Elena Ferrante case.
In the strip of ‘Agnes’ you can read that Peña has left behind the “tyranny” of writing “lies” for others, in her case, politicians. He admits that he does not like it, like any band in general, that it made more sense when ‘Unhappy’ came out, and rejects “that need to pigeonhole an author and sell his character.” “It’s a bit of an exaggeration,” he says, “but I did write a lot of lies and a lot of half-truths.” Today Peña looks at his time in the Xunta without bitterness, but with a trace of unreality: «Five years have passed and it seems to me another life». And, with jazz in his headphones, he continues to work in his ‘office’.