A million euro literary prize has lured three Spanish men out of anonymity, to reveal that they are behind ultra-violent Spanish crime thrillers marketed as the work of “Spain’s Elena Ferrante”
The men had published under the pseudonym Carmen Mola, which roughly translates as “Carmen’s cool”.
When one of their books won the lucrative Planeta prize, the trio went public to pick up the cheque at a glitzy ceremony attended by the Spanish king.
Agustín Martínez, Jorge Díaz and Antonio Mercero had published novels and worked as scriptwriters under their real names before coming together to write as Mola. Credits include work on TV series “Central Hospital” and “Blind Date”.
Their lead character in the Carmen Mola novels is detective Elena Blanco, a “peculiar and solitary woman, who loves grappa, karaoke, classic cars and sex in SUVs”, according to publisher Penguin Random House.
The men, all in their 40s and 50s, denied choosing a female pseudonym to help sell the books. “We didn’t hide behind a woman, we hid behind a name,” Antonio Mercero told Spanish newspaper El País. “I don’t know if a female pseudonym would sell more than a male one, I don’t have the faintest idea, but I doubt it.”
They had previously claimed in interviews and on their own website that Mola was a professor in her late 40s, telling Spanish ABC newspaper three years ago that they needed anonymity to “protect a settled life that has nothing to do with literature”.
Spanish media noted that publicity for the books had played off the tensions between the apparent creator’s life and “her” creations.
“It hasn’t escaped anyone’s notice that the idea of a university professor and mother of three, who taught algebra classes in the morning then wrote ultra-violent, macabre novels in scraps of free time in the afternoon, made for a great marketing operation,” Spanish paper El Mundo noted in an interview with the authors.
Beatriz Gimeno, a feminist, writer, activist – and former head of one of Spain’s national equality bodies, the Women’s Institute – attacked the men for creating a female persona in their publicity for Carmen Mola books, over several years.
“Quite apart from using a female pseudonym, these guys have spent years doing interviews. It’s not just the name – it’s the fake profile that they’ve used to take in readers and journalists. They are scammers,” she said on Twitter.
Their agent’s website features a photo of a woman, looking away from the camera, on the author profile page, above a flattering comparison with Italian literary sensation Ferrante.
Last year, a regional branch of the Women’s Institute recommended one of Mola’s works as part of a selection of books by female authors including Margaret Atwood that could “help us understand the reality and the experiences of women in different periods of history and contribute to raising awareness about rights and freedoms”.
The Planeta prize, run by the publishing house of the same name, is as much a search for potentially lucrative new books as a recognition of talent.
It is only open to submissions of unpublished manuscripts, and the winning book must be published by Planeta. In the case of the new Mola work, which will be released under that name, that means abandoning their current publisher, rival Penguin Random House.
The book that clinched the prize does not feature Blanco. It is a historical thriller, set in 1834 during a cholera epidemic, about a serial killer who dismembers girls, according to the Spanish media. A journalist, a policeman and a young woman get together to try to hunt him down.
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