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“Fictionalising my grandmother’s life was the key to writing about her”

Interview with Spanish writer Natàlia Cerezo

Natàlia Cerezo tried to write about her grandmother many times, but it was only when she fictionalized her life in a novel that she felt she had finally struck the right note.


“Since I was little I tried to write the stories my grandmother told me, first as very short and poorly illustrated stories, and when I was older I also tried to write an essay, and then a short story collection based on her life, but I didn’t like them, so they all ended in the trash,” she said.


“I felt that the closer I wanted to be to my grandmother the farther I was from her. Fictionalising her life was the key, as fiction allowed me to keep a distance from the real facts, which are merged into the story. It also allowed me to tell a new story to my grandmother, who was also able to recognise the real facts merged in it.”


As a writer, Ms Cerezo has a particular interest in oral storytelling, folklore and legends, which she says is an interest that also comes from the same inspiring woman.


“It comes from my grandmother; she was the first who told me stories. Oral storytelling is the origin of all stories, even of all literature, and it’s still present in so many ways today. Like the old woman who tells you the story of her life, even from the stories you tell your friends on an Instagram post. Folklore and legends are kind of the same,” Ms Cerezo said, speaking ahead of her appearance at the 6th EU-China International Literary Festival.


Before embarking on the novel project Ms Cerezo had written short stories for a long time, so initially the longer format seemed a daunting prospect.


“After so many years writing short stories I was terrified about writing a novel. In fact, I think it ended up being more of a novella than a novel, as I used some elements typical from short stories but applied to a longer text. It is written in the first person, and the voice of the protagonist is very strong and full of emotion, so I had to make the chapters very short, otherwise the intensity would have tired the reader. I also tried to follow Hemingway’s iceberg theory, which works very well on short stories, and not tell everything to the reader. It was very fun!”


Her debut book, an anthology of fifteen stories entitled A les ciutats amagades (In the Hidden Cities) won the Critical Eye Award for Narrative from RNE, Spain’s national public radio service, in 2018. It was a project she had worked on for some time but one that finally clicked into place, she said.


“It came together very naturally once I found out the kind of stories I wanted to write, but it was a very long process. Each story took months to finish, so in the end I spent years writing that collection. They are coming of age stories that explore loss and what turns us into adults.”


When she is not writing, she can often be found either engaged in proofreading work or honing her literary skills working on a translation project, she said.


“Translating allows me to know Catalan, the language I usually translate to and from, in depth, and to be able to find new ways to write. Translating, reading, proofreading, they all allow you to improve.”


While all the writing, reading, translating and proofreading can keep her very busy, Ms Cerezo says she has the ideal home set up, where she lives quietly with her books, four shy cats and a gardener who makes very good coffee.


At the upcoming EU-China Literary Festival, Natàlia Cerezo will join Ilze Jansone from Latvia and Kuai Lehao from China to discuss what prompted them to take up the pen to start to write, and how they engage with the creative process to bring their best work out on the page.