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Marc Pastor – author of Litro’s Autumn Book Club pick, the thrilling and gruesome Barcelona Shadows – tells us about his experiences as a real life CSI, gives his advice to budding horror writers, and picks his favourite horror authors.
Litro: Marc, thank you for joining us. We are delighted to be reading Barcelona Shadows as our Autumn Litro Book Club read of 2014. It certainly makes for engaging reading. Firstly, could you tell us a bit about yourself? How long have you been a writer?
Marc: I’ve enjoyed writing since I learned how to read. I envied all those people who could make me change my mood with their words. They could scare me, or make me laugh, or make me cry only with the power of their books, so I wanted to play that witchcraft. I wanted to get into another reader’s mind and build a mashed potato tower with my stories.
And I had the fantasy of coming into a bookshop and watching my book on a shelf. And being immortal, too. You know: being remembered through my books forever and ever. Don’t blame me. I was a child. Nowadays I’m satisfied with the immortality.
But that wasn’t your question.
My first book came up on 2007, and I’ve published three more since then. I began writing books as a teenager but I never finished them because I was more interested in teen stuff (girls, party, movies, girls, girls). I wrote a book when I was 20 just to prove myself I could finish one. And then I tried to improve and write a better book, that was the one that finally got published.
Litro: In a nutshell, what is Barcelona Shadows about?
Marc: I could tell you it’s the story of a female serial killer from the beginnings of the 20th century in Barcelona, the real case of Enriqueta Martí. In fact, it’s more about a the frustration of an investigation and how you realize that everybody lies when you are a detective chasing a murderer. But basically it’s a recreation of a city that is mutating and the people who live (and die) in it.
Litro: Where did your inspiration for the book come from?
Marc: I heard the story of Enriqueta Martí on a radio show, ten years ago. They were talking about the “vampire of Barcelona” and that really surprised me. I didn’t know anything about a vampire in my own city! What the hell was that?
I began a research just for curiosity, and I found out that there wasn’t too much information. Today, you google “Enriqueta Martí” and there’s a plenty of websites talking about her, but it wasn’t this way back in the 2004. I feel that was the dark age of internet. So I went to libraries and hemerotheques, like a Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington’s movie, with my notebook and a pencil. I discovered a very literary story. All the characters (the REAL characters) were so theatrical and full of life and dark!
I HAD to write that story.
So I did.
Litro: How influential was your work as a Crime Scene Investigator in writing the book? Did you get access to files and documents for example, that others would not have ?
Marc: My intention was to show how hard a serial killer investigation can be. While I was looking for documentation about Enriqueta’s life (and murders) we had a female serial murderer in Barcelona. In two months, she killed (or tried to) eleven times, so it was like a time trial. We were working 24 hours a day to catch her. I realized that she was like Enriqueta, but one hundred years later. So I put together my feelings and tried to describe them in the book. And the portrait I make of Enriqueta is the portrait of the murderer we chased back in 2006.
I wasn’t interested in looking for old files of the Enriqueta’s case. My book is not as focused on her as on the detective. I was discovering a lot of information but I had to stop. I wanted to write fiction inspired on true events, not being a journalist. I wanted to recreate the city and the limelights and the people living backwards to law. And the police force where I work (Mossos d’Esquadra) is not the same police force that arrested her.
Litro: What would be your advise to young writers, writing horror fiction?
Marc: First of all: write.
I’m not kidding. Wanna be a write? write. I know a lot of people who tell me “someday I’m going to write a book” and I say “ok, do it”. I know it’s sort a Yoda’s advise, but it’s true.
The second one: be constant. Writing means work everyday. Not always sitting in front of your computer, but thinking about your story, planning how to solve a scene, talking to your characters on dreams… Writing means 24 hours a day of dedication. At least for me. I know writers who don’t need that but… who’s answering this interview right now, uh?
The third: choose a story you love so strong you are not going to get divorce after a few months. I usually spend two years writing a book, so I gotta be sure that’s the story I want to write. Two years of your life is a lot of time to waste on things you’re not interested in.
And advice for horror: I don’t know. Write what you feel. Don’t betray yourself. You wanna be subtle, be subtle. You wanna go bloody, take the chainsaw. But find your style and squeeze it.
Personally, I like going from a realistic environment to a grim, gruesome scenario. I want you to be in the book and then make you believe that everything can happen. And no one is safe in my books. My characters use to suffer and die very often. George RR Martin isn’t alone.
Litro: What made you decide to choose Death as a character to narrate the book?
Marc: I had a heart disease when I was writing the book and I almost died. Actually, the doctors had to shock and stop my heart for a while. And they thought they couldn’t cure and that I was going to die soon. They diagnosed me that disease (the cause of sudden death) for three days, until they discovered that they could operate me, and they did.
I met Death. And It wanted me to be the narrator of the book. As simple as it.
By the way, no light tunnels at the end.
Marc: Mmm.. I think I’ve said all of them…
The real case…
The city contrasts…
Ah, uhm: the criminology theories. Positivism and all that stuff (phrenology, psicoanlysis…). I studied criminology and always wanted to include these theories in a book. So I created a “mad doctor”, a sort of Van Helsing, that helps the cops.
Litro: What do you hope people will take away from reading your book?
Marc: I hope they want more.
No, seriously. I want the reader to discover not only a real case of a serial murderer from my city, but the city itself. I want them to smell the sewers, the alleys and feel the danger on every corner. And I want them to recognize the classics: Stevenson, Poe, Conan Doyle or Stoker. This book is my homage to them. The first chapter, for example, is a story of grave robbers because I love the tale of “The body snatchers” and I wanted to do something similar.
Ah, and I want the reader to go and watch again the movies that Roger Corman did inspired on Edgar Allan Poe’s stories. And the Sergio Leone’s films too…
I want the reader to join the game and play with me.
Litro: Who are your favourite horror authors, and which writers have most inspired your own writing?
Marc: There are two big names that I must say: Richard Matheson and Stephen King.
Stephen King really thrilled me when I was a child. I remember reading Misery by nights (and wondering if I really wanted to be a writer). The Stand is the only book that has given me nightmares. Actually, the worst nightmares I remember come from this book. And I love Matheson’s sense of wonder. His style, so visual, direct from the twilight zone. I am Legend is my favourite book (and the one that inspired me my third book: The Year of The Plague, coming next year to a theater close to you!). I want to write as Richard Matheson did.
And then there are a lot of different writers that inspire me everyday (not all of them are “horror writers”), with a scene, a dialogue, an idea…
Litro: What are you working on now?
Marc: If you want to read more about Moisès Corvo, the detective from Barcelona Shadows, he is the main character in my last book, Bioko. It’s his first case, when he was eighteen and he was in the spanish army. He is destined to serve in Fernando Poo, a penitentiary island in the coast of Africa, in front of Guinea. And we discover why he behaves as he behaces in Barcelona Shadows, or how did he learn to investigate, when he must face the terrible massacre of a native tribe.
And now, I’m writing a love of story set in the French Polinesia. Heavenly, warm, full of magic sunsets… and a disturbing mystery with horrifying consequences.
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