In Spain, the prestigious Planeta literary prize had, on Friday October 15, an exceptional vintage: in the presence of King Felipe and Queen Letizia, the competition celebrated its 70e year of existence and is became the best endowed literary prize in the world – 1 million euros for the winner and 200,000 for each finalist, ie more than what the Nobel Prize for Literature collects.
But that’s not all: after the announcement of the name of Carmen Mola, winner chosen by the jury, the public was able to applaud not a woman, but three men who came to get the little statuette from the hands of the king and pocket the important check for the novel The Bestia (” the beast “), to be published by Planeta editions.
Jorge Diaz, Agustin Martinez and Antonio Mercero, screenwriters for Spanish television, are therefore the three authors of this historical novel whose plot tells of the murders of children during a cholera epidemic in Madrid, in 1834. May Carmen Mola be a pseudonym, few readers doubted it in Spain: the author had always fueled a lot of mystery around his identity. Despite the sale of 400,000 copies of his first three books – the detective series Elena Blanco, one volume per year since 2018, of which the first two sections were published in France by Actes Sud -, impossible to find a photo of the author or any precise biographical elements.
“Spanish Elena Ferrante”
That it is in fact a group of three men a rematch created a big surprise. On the website of the representative agency, Carmen Mola is illustrated by the photograph of a woman in black and white, her back turned. She is described there as “An author born in Madrid” and qualified as“Spanish Elena Ferrante” – in reference to the successful Italian writer, who has also used a pseudonym since her first novel in 1992. In an interview published by El Comercio, it is written that Carmen Mola was born in 1973, is a teacher and lives with her husband and three children.
“Truth or lie? It’s a mystery “, then commented, little fooled, the journalist Veronica Garcia-Pena. “Carmen Mola is not, like all these lies we have told, a teacher”, revealed Jorge Diaz receiving the Planeta award, before explaining: “We are three friends who, four years ago, have decided to combine our talents to tell a story. “
In an interview daily El Pais, the day after the ceremony, the trio denies having voluntarily chosen a female pseudonym: this would have “Took a minute and a half tossing names in the air, names of men, women, foreign sounding …” before choosing Carmen Mola, according to Agustin Martinez. “We did not hide behind a woman, just behind a name”, adds Antonio Mercero.
Mandatory pseudonym lifting
The three reject any communication strategy behind the construction of the character, “Even if it escapes no one that the idea of a teacher, mother of three children, who gives lessons in the morning and writes ultraviolent and macabre novels works rather well in marketing, as we have seen”, allows himself to underline El Mundo. The authors have put forward the advantage of anonymity and the unexpected success of their first novel, at the origin of “A wave do not [ils ne sont] no longer managed to get out ”, a proxy holder Jorge Diaz.
The choice to unveil the mystery on the occasion of the Planeta Prize is no accident. Its rules are atypical in the world of literary prizes: the proposed manuscripts – 653 this year – must not have been published and the candidates agree to accept the proposal of the Planeta publishing house if successful. To pay The Bestia, this should be the case: the novel will not be published by Penguin Random House editions, as for the first three books by Carmen Mola, although the two companies are in strong competition in Spain.
Another Planeta Prize rule requires any pseudonym author to place their identity in a sealed envelope, with organizers promising not to reveal anything before the ceremony – and only if they win. On this point, the trio lied again, writing the pseudonym of Sergio Lopez in the envelope before, finally, revealing their journey during the ceremony.