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Planeta Prize: The truth about Spain’s mystery novelist Carmen Mola: ‘We did not hide behind a woman, just behind a name’ | Culture

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The three men who, it turns out, were really writing the best-selling thrillers by Spanish mystery novelist Carmen Mola have spoken out to tell their story, following the controversy triggered last week when their real identities were revealed at the award ceremony of a major literary competition.

Jorge Díaz, Agustín Martínez and Antonio Mercero, professional screenwriters in their forties and fifties, were persuaded to come forward when their manuscript La bestia (or, The beast), a gory tale of child murders set in Madrid during the cholera epidemic of 1834, was named the winner of this year’s Planeta Prize, handed by the same-name publishing house. This year the prize money had been raised from €601,000 to a full €1 million, overtaking the Nobel Prizes in the amount awarded to the winner.

Díaz, Martínez and Mercero said that the idea for picking a woman’s name as a pseudonym was not deliberate. According to Martínez, it took only “a minute and a half of throwing around men’s names, women’s names, foreign-sounding names…”

“I don’t know whether a female pseudonym sells better than a male one, I haven’t the faintest idea, but it doesn’t look that way to me,” added Mercero. “We didn’t hide behind a woman, just behind a name.”

Carmen Mola had become a literary sensation, producing a bestselling trilogy about a female police inspector named Elena Blanco who solves gruesome crimes. The first novel, The Gypsy Bride, came out in 2018 and a fourth book in the series is expected out in March with the publisher Alfaguara, which is owned by the Penguin Random House Group – Planeta’s main rival in Spain. Under the terms of the Planeta prize, which only accepts unpublished manuscripts, La bestia will be published by Planeta.

Mola, whose Elena Blanco trilogy has already sold 400,000 copies, had also been marketed as a university professor in her forties and a mother of three who wrote fiction in her spare time and preferred to remain anonymous by using a pseudonym. She even gave interviews to print news organizations. EL PAÍS conducted an interview with Mola in 2018 through e-mail, the only way that “she” would accept to talk to the media.

When the three authors finally revealed their true identity on Friday at the award ceremony, it caused a stir in literary circles and in social media. Beatriz Gimeno, a writer, lawmaker and former director of the Women’s Institute of Spain, said that the deception goes well beyond the realm of the literary. “Beyond the use of a female pseudonym is the fact that these individuals have been granting interviews for years,” she said in a Twitter message. “It’s not just the name, it’s the fake profile with which they duped readers and journalists. Scammers.”

FERNANDO VICENTE

All three authors now say that if they had guessed how successful their first thriller about Inspector Elena Blanco would be, they would have given it more thought and perhaps come up with a different name. “But the whole thing started to gain traction and built up into a wave that we could not get out of. There were translations, we were asked for another novel…” said Díaz. “We had to write something about the author for the dust jacket sleeve, so we made up that she was a university professor from Madrid. But she could just as well have been a taster of gin-and-tonics…first we said she had two children, then we forgot and said she had three…we haven’t been very rigorous about it,” added Mercero.

Penguin Random House is playing down the relevance of the fact that its rival publisher Planeta has lured the authors away with its million-euro check. But María Fasce, a publisher at Alfaguara, called it “a marketing operation.” Screenwriters are increasingly sought after by publishing houses due to the growing popularity of television series that are often based on books.

In fact the story begins with a former Penguin employee. Justyna Rzewska, who used to work in Penguin’s international rights sales department, founded a small literary agency named Hanska in 2017 and sent Alfaguara Negra the manuscript for the first novel she was going to represent. This department, which specializes in crime novels, was looking for a writer in Spain who would have a similar impact to foreign authors such as Pierre Lemaitre or Joël Dicker. The manuscript was received by María Fasce, who was fascinated by the story but soon learned that Carmen Mola was a pseudonym and that the real writer wished to remain anonymous.

“In these cases, when a published reaches a deal with a writer, the deal is strictly honored. You act as though it were a writer who doesn’t want to talk to you and you wait for his or her great novels,” she said in a conversation with EL PAÍS. The book was an immediate best-seller.

The winners of the Planeta Prize, Agustín Martínez, Jorge Díaz and Antonio Mercero, with King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia.
The winners of the Planeta Prize, Agustín Martínez, Jorge Díaz and Antonio Mercero, with King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia.Albert García

The publisher said she could not comment on when she knew that Mola was really Jorge Díaz, Agustín Martínez and Antonio Mercero. The secret was always part of the process, even after The Purple Network came out in 2019 and The Girl in 2020.

“We’ve been lying like dogs for four years and several months,” laughed Díaz. “It’s been a long time since [I published my own] last novel, and more than one person had chided me for not writing anything else, for being lazy. And I would think, ‘If only you knew…!’”

There was a circle of people who knew something was up, but very few (and very discreet ones) who knew that one of the three might be behind Carmen Mola. But nobody knew it was the three of them.

Díaz, Martínez and Mercero said they are not expecting to begin a new saga with La Bestia. Then again, they hadn’t been expecting to write several books about Elena Blanco, either. “We’ve had a really good time working within this genre,” said Martínez. “We live by the principle of pleasure. We are hedonistic writers, not authors who suffer when they write, and I believe that when you’re having a good time, the book comes out better. That’s what we’ve always wanted to do, to have fun writing.”

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Covid testing rules for all arrivals into State come into force

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New Covid testing rules for travellers arriving into the State have come into force today.

At the start of the week the Government announced that all incoming travellers except those travelling from Northern Ireland will have to present a negative test result in order to enter the country irrespective of the vaccination status.

The move came in response to concerns about the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

The test requirements were due to be introduced from midnight on Thursday. However the system was postponed at the last minute to midnight on Sunday in order to allow airlines prepare for checks.

For those with proof of vaccination they can show a negative professionally administered antigen test carried out no more than 48 hours before arrrival or a PCR test taken within 72 hours before arrival. Those who are unvaccinated must show a negative PCR test result.

Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary had described the move as “nonsense” and “gobbledygook”.

Meanwhile more than 150 passengers have departed Morocco for Ireland on a repatriation flight organised by the Government.

The 156 passengers on the flight from Marrakech to Dublin included Irish citizens as well as citizens of several other EU countries and the UK.

The journey was organised after flights to and from Morocco were suspended earlier this week until at least December 13th, amid fears over the spread of the new Omicron Covid-19 variant.

The repatriation flight on Saturday was operated on behalf of the Government by Ryanair.

Responding to news of the flight’s departure, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney hailed the efforts of the Irish Embassy in Rabat in the operation, tweeting: “Well done and thank you!”.

On Saturday the number of Covid patients in hospital has fallen to 487, the lowest level in almost four weeks, the latest official figures show. The number of Covid patients in hospital fell by 41 between Friday and Saturday. There were 5,622 further cases of Covid-19 reported on Saturday.

Tweeting about the latest hospital figures on Saturday, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the “plan is working – 3rd doses, masks, test & isolate, physical distancing. Thank you for what you are doing. Please don’t lose heart. Let’s all have a safe Christmas.”

The figures come as the Government on Friday announced its most wide-ranging introduction of new restrictions this year after “stark” warnings from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) to take immediate action in the face of the threat from the Omicron variant.

From Tuesday until at least January 9th, indoor hospitality will be limited to parties of up to six adults per table, while nightclubs will be closed and indoor events limited to half a venue’s capacity. Advice has been issued that households should not host more than three other households in their home, while the use of the vaccine pass is to be extended to gyms and hotel bars and restaurants.

Trinity College immunologist Prof Luke O’Neill said the main reason for the new restrictions was the new Omicron variant, and he thought they were needed as the “next three to four weeks are going to be tough”. Speaking to Brendan O’Connor on RTÉ radio, he said it was “strange” that restrictions were being introduced when things are stabilising, with the lowest hospital numbers since November 6th.

Prof O’Neill said he was “hopeful” at news that the Omicron variant may have a piece of the common cold virus in it which could make it more like the common cold.

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Divock Origi delivers late delight as Liverpool see off Wolves

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Wolves 0 Liverpool 1

Divock Origi’s last-gasp strike sent Liverpool top of the Premier League with a dramatic 1-0 win at Wolves.

The substitute fired in from close range in stoppage time just as it looked like the Reds would fail to score for the first time in eight months.

He spared Diogo Jota’s blushes after the forward hit Conor Coady on the line following Jose Sa’s second-half mistake.

Chelsea’s 3-2 defeat at West Ham gave the Reds a path to the summit and they went top thanks to Origi’s late show. Resilient Wolves were left with nothing despite another battling display and sit eighth.

Liverpool had blown away the majority of their rivals this season, having scored four in each of their last three Premier League games before arriving at Molineux.

They had, simply, been too good but found Wolves at their resolute best until the death.

Only Chelsea and Manchester City have conceded fewer goals than Bruno Lage’s side prior to the game and there was strong resistance to Liverpool’s threat.

The visitors failed to find any early rhythm, thanks largely to the hosts’ determination. Aside from Leander Dendoncker slicing a clearance from Jota’s header the Reds made few first-half inroads.

Three straight clean sheets had given Wolves’ defence renewed confidence and they continued to keep it tight as Liverpool slowly began to turn the screw.

Trent Alexander-Arnold volleyed over after 28 minutes and then turned provider for Jota, who headed his far post cross wide.

Liverpool had control but only managed to open their hosts up once and, even then, Romain Saiss’s presence ensured Mohamed Salah just failed to make contact with Andrew Robertson’s low centre.

As an attacking force Wolves were non-existent. Having scored just five league goals at Molineux that was no surprise but Adama Traore, Raul Jimenez and Hwang Hee-chan carried little threat.

Joel Matip and Virgil Van Dijk were on cruise control and apart from Rayan Ait-Nouri’s sharp run – before he wasted his cross – there was little for Liverpool to fear.

Yet, they were still searching for a goal. Having scored in every Premier League game since a 1-0 defeat to Fulham in March more was expected after the break.

Salah’s knockdown caused some penalty box pinball which saw Thiago Alcantara twice denied but Jürgen Klopp’s men lacked the fluidity and precision to break Wolves down.

They needed a mistake from Sa to create their best opening on the hour and even then Jota missed it.

The goalkeeper raced out to the left after Jordan Henderson’s searching pass for Jota but collided with Saiss to give the forward a clear run to goal.

He advanced but from just six yards belted the ball at the covering Coady on the line.

Alexander-Arnold drove over as Liverpool’s frustrations grew and Sa denied Sadio Mane late on.

But Origi had the final say deep into added time when he collected Salah’s pass, turned and fired in from four yards.

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Teenage girl travelling on scooter seriously injured in collision

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A teenage girl was seriously injured after she was struck by a van while she was travelling on a push scooter in Dublin, gardaí have said.

The collision happened on Walkinstown Avenue in Dublin 12 shortly after 6pm on Wednesday.

The teenager is being treated for serious injuries at Children’s Health Ireland Hospital in Crumlin. No other injuries were reported from the incident.

The scene was preserved for technical examination, and investigations are continuing.

Gardaí are appealing to anyone with information on the incident to contact them at Crumlin Garda station on 01-666-6200, the Garda confidential line on 1800-666-111 or any Garda station.

Any person, whether a motorist or pedestrian, who was travelling along Walkinstown Avenue on Wednesday between 5.45pm and 6.30pm is also asked to come forward.

Gardaí have asked that any camera footage is made available to them.

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