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Between the Lines

Interview with Robert Wilson
The Blind Man of Seville
Robert Wilson

Harcourt author Robert Wilson spoke with PW Daily's Edward Nawotka from his farmhouse in rural Portugal.
Robert Wilson was born in 1957. A graduate of Oxford University, he has worked in shipping and advertising in London and trading in West Africa. He is married and divides his time between England, Spain and Portugal. He was awarded the CWA Gold Dagger for Fiction for his fifth novel, A Small Death in Lisbon.
PWD: You're a Brit, yet you live in Portugal. Is it easier for you to work in a foreign country?
RW: People think that Portugal is European time, but it's on London time. I'm about an hour-and-a-half on the motorway from Lisbon and four hours from Seville. I can drive to the airport and be in London in few hours. It's always in people's mind in England to escape where it rains all the time, where it's gray and dull. When I got married, my wife and I took a long trip around Africa. I did a year's work to pay off the debt and that's when I made my bid for freedom. We're coming up to the 11th year in this house. I moved here in my late 30s.

PWD: The Blind Man of Seville is the third book of yours to be published in the U.S. Your first books were set in Africa. What happened to them?
RW: The first one is coming out in the States—Instruments of Darkness. It's a noir Chandler affair. They're very different from the three so far published in America. The Company of Strangers was a spy story cum love story. The Small Death and Blind Man have some similarities, since both start out as police procedurals. My work often starts one way and takes a different direction.

PWD: This book starts out very violently. Is this intentional, perhaps to get readers' interest?
RW: The Blind Man of Seville starts with a brutal murder and, yes, the brutality is intentional. This is a book about seeing or rather, perceiving—about our ability to distinguish between appearance and reality. The detective sets out on what he thinks will be a normal police investigation and stumbles on something more. The horror of the murder starts something up inside of him and he discovers old journals of his father, which starts up the historical aspect of the story. There are effectively two stories going on. In a way, there's an irony to all this. It's physically violent crime that is supposed to induce the ability to see. I wanted readers to see violence through the eyes of a victim, which becomes a very uncomfortable place to be. I take a moral stance and think violence is a terrible thing, but I get people to sit up at the beginning. My moral point is to remember there are victims out there.

PWD: The first two American books were set in Portugal, this one in Spain. How important is the setting to your novels?
RW: The two countries are side by side: you'll see a difference in the way characters perform and react. This is a particular interest of mine—what in their history have made them different. One country had a civil war and one country didn't. The apparent Spain and the hidden Spain has fascinated particular American writers, Hemingway for example. You write a book on the basis of a feeling. Some get a feeling about a story or a character; I get a feeling about setting. If I get a setting inside of me, the characters walk out of the setting. It's been true of all of them: Africa, Portugal, Spain. From my point of view, this book started off as Seville. Then I came up with Falcon.

PWD: Spain does not have many famous crime writers. Why is that?
RW: In Spain, there is no tradition of crime fiction. I have this for a theory: the police in Franco's time were the Guardia Civil, who were renowned for being heavy handed. If that is your idea of the police force, it becomes difficult to have crime fiction. They are an evil entity. They are not a force for good.

PWD: Much of the book is not narrative at all, but journals from Falcon's father—which PW criticized in the review for slowing the pace of the book. How integral are the journals to the plot.
RW: The journals are the key to understanding the book and especially its ending. The journals were written of a piece over the three months of the summer of 2001. I actually wrote 100,000 words in that time. I obviously cut them savagely and I ultimately used only 35,000 in the book. There are another 9,000 words on the Web, which are interesting from the point of view of the character but unusable as far as the demands of the story were concerned. I don't think anything like this has been done before.

PWD: Your fans will want to know if you will continue writing about Spain or return to Portugal anytime soon?
RW: I am currently writing the sequel, which takes place about a year later in Seville and features Javier Falcon. There will then be another two books with Falcon in another Spanish city, which will probably be Barcelona.

Copyright © PW Daily 2003, written by Edward Nawotka
Interview extracted from PW Daily, March 4, 2003 edition

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Robert Wilson

Robert Wilson
photo credit:
Louise Stoner

The Blind Man of Seville

The Blind Man of Seville