About The Author
Carlos Ruiz Zafón was born in Barcelona in 1964, and now divides his time between Spain and Los Angeles. His work has been translated into more than 40 languages, garnering numerous international prizes and reaching millions of readers. He writes for older children and adults and is best known for The Shadow of the Wind, a gripping, page-turning exploration of obsession in literature and love, set in Barcelona.
The Author at Foyles
The Shadow of the Wind, whose prequel, The Angel's Game, was recently released in paperback, is one of the most phenomenal books in recent bookselling history, having sold 1.4m copies in the UK and 15m worldwide. His latest title in 2011 is The Midnight Palace.
So on Tuesday 2nd June2010, Foyles was delighted to host its author, Carlos Ruiz Zafón, who took us back 20 years to the publication of his very first book, The Prince of Mist, a young adult novel now available for the first time in English.
Carlos had been a keen writer as a child: before he had finished school he had written numerous poems, plays and short stories and even a 700-page Victorian gothic thriller, of which, he admitted to cries of dismay from the packed audience, that he had recently destroyed the last remaining manuscript copy.
El Príncipe de la Niebla, as it is known in Spain, was written as an entry to the Edebé Prize, a competition set up by a publisher to find new talent in the young adult field. But even after winning and enjoying excellent sales for his first published work, Carlos was doubtful of his ability to make a living as a writer.
He was to write three further young adult novels and also found work as a screenwriter in America, but always felt that he wasn't really writing for himself. Eventually, he decided to devote himself to writing full-time and The Shadow of the Windwas the glorious end product.
But The Prince of Mist still holds a very special place in his heart, not least because it was written to be the sort of book he would have enjoyed himself at the age of 12 or 13. He was an avid teenage reader, with a particular penchant for science fiction, fantasy and horror, notably the books of Stephen King and Peter Straub. At a younger age he had, like so many children, devoured Enid Blyton, but commented that the Famous Five's frequent ginger beer drinking began to grate, as it seemed to interrupt the plot. More to his liking were the Alfred Hitchcock Murder Mysteries penned by Robert Edmond Alter, the very first of which happened to centre around scuba diving.
He also enjoyed Robert Louis Stevenson and Jules Verne, but felt that what such books lacked for younger reader was a real children's perspective; younger readers tend to enjoy books more when they can identify strongly with one or more of the characters. He hopes that his young adult titles achieve this and will also transport adult readers back to their own childhoods, perhaps reminding them of that point of realisation which all children eventually experience, that life has its darker side.
The seed of the book was planted by a wreck he used to tried to dive to when swimming in the Mediterranean off the shores of Catalonia. His breath never held out quite long enough for him to touch it, and the mysteries that lay just out of reach fired his imagination.
There is a gothic aspect to all his writing and he admits that 'darkness works much better, when you start out as a writer'. He's also very keen on the Faustian pact as plot device as it is, he says, the perfect metaphor for human existence: we all have to make difficult choices at times in the full knowledge that there will ultimately be a price exacted. But he was careful not to make his young adult books too scary: spooky is fine, but he didn't want to leave any of his young readers traumatised. The Prince of Mist has layers of meaning which he suggests might actually make it a more sinister read for adults. The story's baddie is just that to younger readers, but he has certain diabolical overtones that are only likely to be discerned by more mature readers.
As an erstwhile screenwriter, he has great fondness for the cinema. The first film he remembers seeing as a child was Orson Welles' immortal classic, Citizen Kane, which opened his eyes to the multifarious ways of telling a story and creating an atmosphere. It was a while, he recalled, before he began to see books and films as separate art forms, as he just regarded them as different ways of telling a story.
He did confirm, however, that he continues to reject lucrative offers to make The Shadow of the Wind into a film. 'The novel', he insists, 'is the supreme form of storytelling' and too much would be lost in a cinematic version.
The integrity of his storytelling is clearly very important to Carlos and he makes a point of being closely involved in the translation of his books. But, in response to one audience question about what an English reader might be missing out on by not reading him in the original Spanish, he did say that the English have a tendency to 'mystify the process of translation', possibly as a consequence of so little translated fiction selling in Britain. (In this he's quite correct: the figure is around 3% in the UK, compared to 30-50% in most other Western European nations.)
He was also at pains to demystify the original process of writing. He doesn't get struck by thunderbolts of inspiration, as other writers sometimes claim to, with both his ideas and the writing itself being the product of nothing more than hard work. 'The book just wrote itself' is another claim by fellow writers that he finds hard to believe.
After the event, Carlos happily signed copies for the queue of fans that snaked around our third floor, with customers treated to the special dragon stamp that he reserves for copies he signs for fans he meets. Finally, with his public satisfied, he was free to enjoy a Chelsea bun from our café; we had put aside one after his declaration on his last visit that ours were the best he'd ever tasted.
Below is a list of titles by Carlos Ruis Zafon currently in print in the UK. You may find othereditions in our 'New and Used' section by typing the author's name into the Search field at the top of this page andselecting the 'Author Exact' filter to the far right of the Search field.