Carmen Posadas

The opening sentence should give a shock, the reader should be caught by surprise and want to know more.

The Uruguayan writer Carmen Posadas will take part in the Night of Ideas on 27 January 2022 in Madrid. Winner of the Planeta Prize, author of fifteen children's books and twelve novels translated into some thirty languages, she talks about her nomadic childhood, the beginnings of her literary career and her current projects. 

Published on 24/01/2022

5 min

Carmen Posadas
Carmen Posadas © DR

Born in Uruguay, you have lived in Spain since the age of twelve. But as the daughter of a diplomat, you spent long periods of your childhood in Moscow, London and Buenos Aires. Do you think that this time abroad has influenced your writing?

There are two types of children of diplomats. There are those who, having followed their parents around the world, changing schools, friends and countries often, are apprehensive about change and do not want to move. And then there are those who cannot stop travelling and become nomads. I belong to this category. This is invaluable for a writer because you realise that there is not just one reality, but thousands of different realities.


Which of these different languages and cultures has had the greatest impact on your writing?

We went to an English school in Uruguay. When I arrived in Madrid, I didn't really adapt to the Spanish school, and I was sent to boarding school in England. So the way I write, and the subjects I'm interested in, are very much linked to the Anglo-Saxon world.


Is there an author who has particularly influenced you?

If I had to name just one, I would choose Charles Dickens. He has the quality of appealing to both a popular and a more intellectual audience: I have always wanted to follow this path.


In your own words, your first book was written in secret to avoid being seen as "a housewife who calls herself an author". What prompted you to write at that time?

Usually people start by studying, then they work and then they get married. I started by getting married. It wasn't until my daughters were already at school that I began to think about what I wanted to do. I had always been a great reader because my father was a lover of literature. His main way of communicating with us, his children, was through books. So I started going to a writing workshop, but I didn't tell anyone I was writing until I published my first book. I was lucky enough to win a national award for children's literature with that book.


How did you transition or jump from writing for children to writing for adults?

I started with children's literature because I didn't have a university education and I thought it would be easier to write for children. Although I found this reassuring, in reality it is very hard to write for children. But it has served me well in my career. The advantage is that if you know how to capture a child's attention, you can capture an adult's too. I still use many of the tricks I learned when I was writing for children in my novels.


Could you reveal some of these literary tricks?

There's one that Hemingway called "the stomach punch". The opening sentence should give a shock, the reader should be caught by surprise and want to know more. Another rule of children's literature is that action is more important than philosophy. You cannot start a book with "it was morning, the sun was shining and the little bird was singing in the tree...", because after two pages of birds and clouds, you won't have any readers left. 

They think that by talking about the problem they are doing something useful, but they are not. The only way to change the world is for every one of us to change ourselves.

What impact has the growing recognition of your work had? Do you feel it as encouragement, a burden, or a springboard to greater freedom?

I was fortunate not to experience runaway success at the start of my career, because I wouldn't have known how to handle it. Although I started out with a national children's literature prize, I didn't win the Planeta Prize (a literary prize for novels in Spanish) for my first book. That would have blocked me completely.


What are you currently working on and what are your plans for the future?

I'm writing a novel at the moment, and I have three novels that are being adapted into films, produced by major studios in the US and Spain. There will probably be many changes to the texts, but I'm very excited to see what I've created on the screen one day.


You are taking part in the next edition of the Night of Ideas in Madrid, whose theme is "(Re)building Together". This event offers a reflection on the notions of resilience and reconstruction of societies facing singular challenges, solidarity and cooperation between individuals, groups and states. What does this theme mean to you?

It seems very relevant to what we are going through at the moment. My only wish is for all of these reflections to have some kind of impact on ourselves. It seems to me that one of the serious flaws of our time is that everyone talks about the big issues of the day, whether it's climate change or migration crises, but all they do is talk. Nobody acts, they think that by talking about the problem they are doing something useful, but they are not. The only way to change the world is for every one of us to change ourselves. 


For the Night of Ideas, you will be in conversation with another writer, Finland's Sofi Oksanen. Women play an important role in her novels, for example, when talking about the major changes in the countries of the former Soviet Union. In a way, your points of view converge. What do you expect from this meeting with her? 

It should be very interesting for me because she was born in 1977 and belongs to my daughters' generation. I am curious to see how this generational difference can lead to a different approach. It always inspires me to be confronted with intelligent points of view that differ from mine. 

The Institut français and the writer

As part of the Night of ideas and the French presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2022, the Institut français organises 13 dialogues between European personalities. Theses dialogues will take place in European capitals during the evening of the night of ideas (27 January 2022). Carmen Posadas will be in Madrid to debate with the finalndese writer Sofi Oksanen. 

An annual meeting devoted to the free movement of ideas and knowledge, the Night of Ideas is coordinated by the Institut français. 

Learn more about the Institut français cultural programme for the French presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2022.

L'institut français, LAB