In my case, it is difficult to begin to explain exactly what moves someone to write something. I don’t put much stock in vocations being known “for as long as one can remember” or those “in one’s blood.” In fact, when I was a little boy, my primary aspiration was to become a scientist and I would spend my days using empty plastic tubes to mix things to be used to heal wounds. That is why, since what I’ve done thus far has been to train myself as a teacher and researcher of history, and as the author of a few historical and noir novels, I think that it is important to explain the origin of both of these interests.
I am quite certain when my taste for history first arose: I was in 5th grade when in Social Science class, the teacher told us that we were going to move on from studying Geography and start focusing on the discipline of History. It may sound silly, but the illustrations and texts in that unit spoke to me and since then I’ve always felt very clear about wanting to dedicate my life to the subject. At that point of my life, when innocence considerably exceeded understanding, I thought that I could do whatever I liked best, because it seemed to me that work naturally existed in people’s lives; needless to say concepts like crisis and unemployment were pretty far outside my theoretical horizon.
The eighties did a great deal of damage to a certain generation as well, because the figure of Indiana Jones served as a more than misleading cliché for those of us who thought that archeology consisted of unearthing treasures from the subsoil as if it were a harvest. Fortunately, my Archeology professor in my first year of undergrad didn’t take long to demonstrate that the total calculation of stairs in the Parthenon is far from the thrilling endeavors undertaken by Harrison Ford at the Lucasfilm studios. What ended up becoming my passion appeared in my life quite fortuitously, almost noiselessly, but ended up imposing itself like a faith that would outlast any adversity. In fact, as I matured and saw that human existence can sometimes get complicated, neither the threat of adversity nor limited job opportunities were ever dissuading factors in my primary conviction.
Despite the fact that I began this piece by saying that I don’t believe in vocations that course through one’s blood from the time they are born, I’ll have to contradict myself on this point and admit that in the case of storytelling, something quite similar seems to have occurred with me. Since I was very young I have enjoyed writing: in fact, when my classmates confronted the torture of a new composition, I enjoyed building stories and made an effort to try to improve my style and have fun while writing, experiencing the images I recreated with words. In the beginning they were small, inconsequential exercises done in the folders filled with white sheets of paper that my father gave me. For me, those folders were a much more appealing gift than the remote controlled cars that other kids my age went crazy for. Then I started working on a typewriter to transcribe film scripts while binge watching them (I watched Amadeus over 50 times). One fine day, when I got my first computer, I started to work on a short story about my life, which I conveniently deleted before anyone could read it, because I realized something: having a good idea doesn’t matter if it doesn’t go hand in hand with some narrative technique and the ability to create scenes and characters in the long term. Then something started happening to me that continues today: my stories didn’t last long in fictionalized time. And I was aware that my brain would not be able to bring me to put down the stories swirling around in my mind until a few years had gone by.
What did I do then? Basically, I read to become familiar with new styles and genres and to kill time during the long, sweltering afternoons of summer in central Andalusia, where not even cicadas dare to chirp when the sun falls away in mid August. Luckily for me, I had an extensive library because my father, who never knew which path to take in life, had several collections of historical fiction, Nobel prize winning authors, great classics, and, of course, noir fiction; there was one author and character who stood out in the latter genre: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the eternal Sherlock Holmes. Reading those short stories, I realized that mystery and intrigue captivated me, both to help me avoid reality and to provide me with an example that I would love to imitate. The years passed and, little by little, I graduated from my father’s library and began to build my own, first at my parents’ house and then in the different places that have been my home over the last decade. Based on the conviction that noir fiction is, as a friend and colleague once said, “a school of life,” I read other authors like Philip Kerr, Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, Dashiel Hammett, etc. With their peculiarities each one increased my desire and determination to write, and finally the moment when I had to do it arrived.
In 2005, while working on a project on the public records in Antequera, my hometown, I stopped to contemplate a monument in one of the city’s squares: a monolith, two sides of which contained a poem telling the story of a murder. The story impressed me and, since I had already started working on what I thought would be my doctoral dissertation, I tried to track down clues of the crime in the Municipal Historical Archive. But it was impossible: there wasn’t any information about the murderer or the motive; the only thing I knew was the name of the deceased, who was part of an elite local family in the mid 19th century. That fact led me to think that perhaps the murder was politically motivated, but the impossibility of finding any enlightening facts about the plot caused me to give up on the endeavor… For the time being. Because, as usually happens, a bit over a year later, when I was writing my master’s thesis and I had almost completely forgotten the matter, the records from the murder and police file on the murderer appeared. My suspicions were confirmed: the crime had a political angle, but what was it? As a historian in training, who already had an undergraduate degree, but was still taking his first steps in research, I could not invent history out of thin air, so the novel came to my rescue.
I started writing then, but didn’t finish, because I moved to Madrid to start my dissertation. My years as a PhD candidate were tough, but on a fall afternoon in 2010 when I had finished the research project related to my second to last research stay, in New York, I wondered: What if I do it now? And the first chapter wrote itself. The remaining chapters wouldn’t come until the following year in Pittsburgh, when my dissertation was finally finished and I had time to think about my future, faced with inescapable unemployment in the midst of a staunch economic crisis. It was the crisis that allowed me to dedicate a few months to finishing the story, which didn’t take its final shape until 2014. Un trienio en la sombra came out then and reached a limited audience. Despite the audience size, I got two sources of satisfaction out of it: love for my first piece and how well it was received by the people who read it.
Aware that the events in question had given rise to very intense characters, whose origin and gestation would be good to explain, I took on the project El crimen de la Cruz Blanca (2016) with an advantage: I had published the complete history of the city of Antequera for the years in which the story unfolds. In contrast with the previous novel, the crime here was fictitious, but the facts were real. To this day, I think that it is the novel that left me most satisfied after its culmination because it was also the one that I was able to write most continuously and that, whether we like it or not, is palpable. With the recently-published La Conjura de San Silvestre, I was able to close the circle and, above all, do justice to the characters and to myself, although I would prefer not to explain my reasons for saying this, because to do otherwise would make a spoiler out of me.
Ultimately, I can say that noir and historical fiction have allowed me to combine my two passions and, at the same time, build an imaginary space I can run to in order to expand and relax my mind. History continues to be my undisputed passion, which I try to share with my Journalism and International Relations undergraduate students while teaching Recent History of Spain, History of the Modern World, and History and Theory of International Relations. In my view, it is an essential tool for looking at oneself and the human race with a critical eye; it is a mirror showing the shortcomings of the past in order to attempt to not repeat or whitewash them in the future. Contributing largely to this is Education which, along with the Political and Legal Sciences, constitutes the other professional field in which I work at Universidad Europea. To me, storytelling acts a fundamental tool for reaching others, using channels and resources different from those used for oral communication that are quite enriching as they allow me to communicate feelings that I perhaps cannot share in person or directly, additionally offering me the opportunity to know and understand the feelings of my target audience.