Iñigo Puerta ‘Rafa Galdós’ | Writer
The San Sebastian author makes his debut in the novel with ‘Al filo del mal’, a thriller with political overtones and the fire of the Errotaburu Tower in the background
The journalist Iñigo Puerta adopts the pseudonym Rafa –in homage to his deceased brother– Galdós –in memory of his grandmother– to make his debut in literature with ‘Al filo del mal-Fuga a Budapest’. The novel starts from the fire that in 2005 broke out in the Errotaburu Towers that house the offices of the Foral Treasury to develop a plot with political overtones. The result is a narrative that takes the reader galloping from the streets of Donostia to those of the Hungarian capital. To say that the story progresses at a frenetic pace is an understatement.
– Three decades have passed since the Errotaburu Towers fire. What did that event have to have remained in your memory to the point of inspiring this novel?
– They were terrible events. In June 2005, a sworn vigilante murdered a colleague of his in the Hacienda de San Sebastián building, started a fire and fled. A day later his lifeless body was found shot in the chest and a handwritten farewell note. Speculation ran like wildfire, both because of the method chosen for suicide, and because of rumors that important documents had disappeared burned. A few months later a plot of embezzlement of public funds was discovered that involved important officials of the Treasury. Tragic events and a parallel criminal plot coincided. Also, I remember that the next morning the flames reignited and I hurried over with my camera. One of the photos was the cover of this newspaper. As for not remembering.
– The novel draws a Donostia and by extension, a Basque Country subjected to a climate of political and economic corruption. Pure fiction or are there parallels with reality?
– The book is a pure and hard fiction, which absorbs some real events, but decontextualizes them and places them in a very different historical period. The Basque Country that the protagonist describes is mediated by the environment in which he grew up, where he feels suffocated by not wanting to be what they expect of him. What he perceives is absolute control in the political, economic and social sphere. A domain from which you cannot escape. Parallels with reality? I think we are not used to certain spheres of our society starring in dark acts in a fiction. It seems taboo. I think the novel portrays acts of the human condition in power and no one is free to make mistakes.
“The protagonist is perceived under absolute control in the political, economic and social sphere”
– Has it been comfortable for you to put together such a violent and sordid plot in a city like San Sebastián?
– I don’t think the novel is sordid or violent in itself. Rather, I would say that an escape and some events push the protagonist to transgress the limits of his morality. There is a painful inner conflict along the way and the character will never be the same as the one who ran away as a giddy kid. And then it is true that Donostia has a beautiful packaging and a very placid rhythm of life, but in its entrails much harder acts than those narrated in the novel have been lived.
– It can be said that ‘Al filo del mal’ is a daughter of last year’s confinement.
– Not quite. During the confinement, the people who work in the generalist media had a peak of work totally incompatible with the writing of a novel. I didn’t have time to write and focus on a story in my head until I had my vacation and was able to put together the marriage leave days. In just a month I vomited all the raw text. He could only walk and write. For me it became an escape route. A leak from reality.
– Was it difficult for you to find the right tone before starting your writing?
– Any. Curiously, the tone comes from more than twenty years ago, from when I kept about forty written pages of a novel that was hanging around my head. I found it fun to adapt them together with some notes that I wrote on a later trip, and I improvised a story in which I immersed myself until I created something totally new. If you stop to scrutinize it, two parts are differentiated, which coincide with the evolution of the character, in a forced journey to maturity.
“Donostia has a beautiful packaging, but it has experienced much harder acts than those in the novel”
– Why did you choose to narrate it in the first person and in a continuous present?
– It was not studied. It just came about like that, with the idea of getting into the character’s skin and living the story from the inside. Feel the adrenaline of the escape. Be a participant in your decisions and your emotions. The immersion had to be total.
– Did you risk giving just a couple of brushstrokes of the numerous secondary characters and letting the entire weight of the narrative fall on the protagonist?
– I think that the immersion in the title role would have been diluted a bit if I had given more weight to a secondary character. Of course, all the characters are vital in his path and they forge him, they leave a mark on him. Some are forced to leave behind. He’s a fugitive.
– Flee the details and focus on the pure action …
– Everything is born with a shot and some flames. When adrenaline takes over you, you barely have peripheral vision and everything around you goes unnoticed. There is only one here and now, what you have in front of you. I emulate that state of mind where you only focus on escaping and improvising quick decisions in order to survive. It is pure rhythm. I want you to feel the danger. The description of the action beats the environment, where I do not adorn myself so as not to lose intensity.
–… except when describing food and drink, which he gives a careful account of.
– They are fundamental moments, of calm, of respite for the protagonist. Furthermore, as a good Basque, he enjoys and loves to talk about what he eats. We are a bit like that. They are also a truce for the reader. They serve to catch air, supply and return to the load.
«In just a month I vomited all the raw text. Writing became an escape route »
– Why did you choose Budapest as the protagonist’s destination in your escape?
– I visited Budapest a couple of years ago, on a solo trip. It is a wonderful city to get lost in it listening to good music and learning about its history. Of course, while beautiful, the people I ran into seemed generally quite cold and distant. I was not lucky. Surely a trip with friends has to be like visiting Cádiz.
– What is the moral of the story, if any?
– More than a moral, I think that the reader is going to experience morally uncomfortable situations in the first person. It will be debated alongside the character, always on the edge of evil. It is possible that depending on his decisions you love him, hate him, justify him, empathize with him, feel sorry for him … Among the readers with whom I have been able to comment, an ethical debate arises regarding violence.
– Would you feel comfortable if they told you that yours is ‘pulp’ literature?
– I would be amused. I think rather that ‘Al filo del mal’ is an unconventional thriller, that if I hurry it would have touches ‘pulp’ in terms of action or a more frenetic narration. And it carries humor. If as ‘pulp’ you also view ‘Pulp Fiction’, I buy it.
– The novel is a desktop publishing. Did you try to publish it on any of the traditional labels or did you give up this option from the beginning?
– No, I didn’t even try. I found it a fun challenge to publish it myself on Amazon and I was spreading it to friends and colleagues. Seeing the positive ratings and that it reached # 1 in the category of ‘political thriller’, my environment encouraged me to print it.
– Do you plan to continue giving free rein to your writing vein, now that you have debuted?
– Of course. It is a new path, but the experience is being very intense and addictive.