Spanish author Désirée Matas published her debut novel, El Tercer Estado, back in 2015. Having taken the Hispanic world by storm, it was only a matter of time before the book, which is based on a series of fictitious events revolving around the French Revolution, announced its grand arrival in the English-speaking world.
A history buff and a staunch proponent of the historical-fiction genre, Matas firmly believes that the French Revolution is one subject with a lot of unexplored potential. Ameya had the opportunity to discuss at length what the future holds for the genre, what her forthcoming works will be about, and what she makes of her debut English novel, The Third (E)state.
The French Revolution is one of the most celebrated themes in history around the world. How do you explain the paucity of fiction novels about the subject?
Politically speaking, the French Revolution depicts a very complex era. There are, in fact, a lot of books and movies about Marie Antoinette and her execution by guillotine. However, everything that went behind the scenes – the revolutionaries, the social changes, the politics itself – is hard to adapt for a work of fiction. That said, there have been some really interesting developments of late, such as the video game Assassin’s Creed Unity.
How long did it take you to write this novel?
About two years.
What sources did you use to gather the information needed for this book?
(Smiles) Well, the French Revolution is one subject that I have been very passionate about since I was a child. Much of its story was already ingrained in me before I penned down El Tercer Estado. That’s because I’ve read and heard a lot about the subject over the years. The novel itself is a young-adult historical fantasy, not a traditional historical novel, so it did not need any exhaustive documentation or research. That said, I did have to turn to monographs on the subject for certain characters (for example, Marat, Sade, and even Francesc, who was inspired by Desmoulins).
There still aren’t a lot of fiction novels based on major historical events. Do you think we can expect this to change in the next few years?
I think the historical genre is quite prolific, and it will remain so. However, historical fantasy – that is, blending history and fantasy or science fiction – is not so common, probably because readers of this genre don’t take kindly to any interference by other genres.
Anything from the novel that you would like to share with your readers beforehand?
All I’m going to ask them is to forgive me for an event in the book…
What scene or part of this novel was the hardest for you to write? And why?
Precisely the one for which I’d like to apologize to my readers, but one that I’d rather not reveal.
What is your favorite character from this novel? And why?
My favorite character is François “Francesc” Safran. Although he came out of nowhere, he kept gaining importance as the story progressed.
What does the future hold for the characters? Will there be a sequel to this book?
El Tercer Estado is the first book in a trilogy. The second part is already written, and the third one is underway.
In your opinion, what are the essential parts or qualities of a good novel?
For me, as a reader, it is critical for the author to arouse in me an empathy for his characters. He needs to make them matter to me. I’m more permissive when it comes to rhythm; I don’t need it to be frenetic. A good plot doesn’t hinge on a lot of things happening. There are also novels that stand out for the author’s expressiveness, for his specific writing style. But the characters appealing to me is what matters the most to me.
What do your family and friends make of your passion for writing?
I reckon they see it as something normal about me, though I have more readers in my friends than in my family (smiles).
What is your notion of literary success?
Coming up with a work that people want to read on their own, without the wild clout often wielded by marketing campaigns.
Growing up, what did you aspire to be as an adult?
Umm, an astronaut or a pilot.
Do you believe in a writer’s block?
If you could choose your mentor, whom would you choose?
Tove Jansson or Amélie Nothomb.
Your favorite soccer club.
Sporting de Gijón.
A country you would like to visit at least once in your life.
A Scandinavian country.
Your favorite song.
Right now, Train by Brick + Mortar.
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