Carmen Mola presents a new novel
After the success of The Gypsy Bride saga and the historical thriller The Beast (winner of the Premio Planeta de Novela award), Carmen Mola is back with The Mothers, a new novel featuring police inspector Elena Blanco. We talk with Jorge Díaz Cortés, Agustín Martínez and Antonio Mercero Santos, the authors behind the pseudonym that has shaken up the crime fiction scene in Spain.
In The Mothers, you focus on the issue of surrogate pregnancy. What led you to choose this topic?
Jorge Díaz Cortés: It was really just chance. We based the beginning of the novel on the image of a man who, when cut open during the autopsy, has a foetus inside. So, this generated a lot of questions for us: Who is this man? Why has this been done to him? Where does this foetus come from? This led us to mothers – which is the novel’s title – and to the issue of surrogate pregnancies. Many of us have no opinion about it because it doesn’t concern us personally. Nevertheless, when you begin to investigate, you realise that there is a debate that must be initiated. However, our novel is not meant to be propagandistic. What we’re saying to the reader is, “Is it okay with you if we think about this and analyse it?” But there’s no political intention. Our novels are entertainment, although they may also contain a social dilemma.
How does one survive the research to write a crime novel as raw as The Mothers? Does it have a psychological impact?
Agustín Martínez: The three of us go to see a psychologist – we get a group rate [laughing]. We’re always joking that, if the police were to check our computer, we’d head straight to jail. Because, obviously, all the novels and the series we write force us to Google some unusual stuff. In the case of The Mothers, you’ve got a terrifying world: the world of human surrogate pregnancy farms. But what scared me most of all the research we’ve done was going into the deep web to write The Purple Network (the second instalment of The Gypsy Bride saga). That was a pit, a deep abyss. I think it was what made me feel the worst.
The book pushes us to reflect on human beings’ capacity for evil. Did you come to a conclusion about this after writing the novel?
Antonio Mercero Santos: Exploring evil is Carmen Mola’s number-one theme: violence, more specifically, violence against women, and also against children. You wonder, which evil is the most frightening? Is the evil motivated by economic ambition, by jealousy, by human passions? Or does evil seem to have no motive, suggesting the presence of a demon in our lives? In our novels, there are both types: there are murderers who seem to lack any motivation, who seem to have a devil within and are therefore evil incarnate. There are others – such as those in The Mothers – who do have motivations, whether directly economic, or based on revenge or religious fanaticism. Patricia Highsmith (an icon of psychological thrillers) spoke of the violence that exists not only in psychopaths or monsters, but also in the common man, who is capable of having an explosion of rage that will change his life forever. We are interested in exploring that.
You’ve been attributed with having subverted the crime novel genre via your straightforward treatment of violence. Is it something you deliberately sought?
AMS: No. We’re not prudes when describing violence, but our big transgression from the norm is collective authorship. Because this means coming down from the pedestal dedicated to the sacrosanct writer and saying, “There’s three of us and it doesn’t matter who we are.”
How do you write with six hands?
AMS: What we do is work together as though we were a team of scriptwriters until there’s no alternative but to split up. In other words, we build the entire story from the first spark, and then we divide the novel up into three and each goes off to write on his own. And then we go into a rewrite process in which we share the material and rewrite it. We all go through every single one of the pages. The big secret of Carmen Mola is that we know how to do it without getting angry, and we respect each other’s contributions.
Do you expect the debate that was generated during the award of the Premio Planeta in 2021 when it was discovered that you three were Carmen Mola?
AMS: No. Nor the virulence of the debate. For a few weeks, we were attacked from all sides. We said, “What happened?” It was also cool, because all of a sudden you go to a bar and there were people talking about Carmen Mola instead of talking about a football match. But we also made an effort to understand people, the reasons they were using as arguments on both sides. And, later, also to put things into context a little and give them the actual dimension they had. We understand that there were people who, initially, did not take it well; people who were surprised because they had created an image of Carmen Mola and – when they discovered that it was the three of us – were shocked. But we also always said that our exercise of collective creation was intended to bring relevance to the novel and make the author’s identity disappear. The debate came to nothing, because there wasn’t really much to debate about. Pseudonyms are a recurring feature in the history of literature.
Will there be more books by Carmen Mola?
JDC: At the moment, our intention is to continue with that world of the historical thriller, The Beast, but with a novel totally unrelated to it. We had a lot of fun writing that book and the outcome was great. It has given us a lot of satisfaction. As for whether there will be a fifth instalment of The Gypsy Bride, it’s going to depend on a lot of things, including the reception of The Mothers. There is some basic inspiration for doing another one. We’ll see.