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Wednesday 21 December 2011

Words Beginning with P, like Prozac, Piracy, Plagiarism, Planet and Publicity

This morning The Guardian reports what El Pais reported yesterday and some have tweeted: Spanish novelist stops writing novels because of piracy.

The Spanish have an unenviable record as some of the world’s leading download pirates. Behind this item of news is a recent judgement in which a young software designer called Pablo Soto was absolved in a trial brought by various publishers of music, film and books. Indeed the publishers had to pay all the costs. They have appealed.

But this is also a personal story. Lucia Etxebarria (1966) is the novelist involved. She came to fame in 1997 with a book called 'Amor, Curiosidad, Prozac y Dudas'. (Love, Curiosity, Prozac and Doubts).

By using Prozac in the title she was, of course, at least alluding to Elizabeth Wurzel’s 1994 novel 'Prozac Nation'.

According to the magazine Interviu, she did more than allude. In 2001 the magazine accused her of plagiarism in that book and in Estacion de Infierno where she had borrowed from Spanish poet Antonio Colina. In 2003, a court ruled that the magazine had reported ‘what was true'.

In 2006 Lucia settled out of court with the psychologist Jorge Castello who claimed she had used material from an article of his.

None of this changes that she does have talents, has been a considerable seller, has an honorary degree from the University of Aberdeen and, among other prizes, won the Premio Planeta in 2004. I have blogged on this ‘prize’ before. It is in fact an advance and is awarded in time for Christmas – it has been a tradition for years in Spain to give the winner as a present, usually to fathers. ‘Better than socks’ is the phrase.

What is interesting is the passions Lucia can raise. I checked on Wikipedia before writing this. The English version was temporariy nobbled. What in Spanish is 'escritor' (writer) was rendered as ‘plagiarist’ in English. She has been verbally assaulted by many pirates on the social networks. The vehemence and the hate are impressive.

The Spanish like to think their Indignados started the Occupy movement. Her critics are more than indignant. There are some as dumb as the girls in last summer’s English riots who thought small shopkeepers were ‘rich’. Others appear to be weighed down by the Generation X factor – there but for the cruelties of fate go I. Somewhere between stalkers and trolls they behave as if they own her.

But I suspect some of them feel betrayed, saw her as leading the way. No, I don’t think this is a novelist being hoist on her own petard. Yes, it appears her latest book (not in ebook) is not selling as well as previous productions. Actually that is a pretty common case. Spain has just acquired and there are signs that what has taken years in other countries is being implemented very fast. Javier Marias mentioned that a worried bookseller had told him that he had shifted just 12 copies of his best-selling novelist in 14 days.

So this is 'un toque de atencion'. A kind of ‘pay attention’. It’s about publicity more than piracy.

This blog is hardly Christmassy but I suppose it adds up to a stocking filler.

Have a Happy Christmas everyone!

Monday 12 December 2011

Defrosting the Bird and Killing the Sprouts

When I was young I remember an Italian visitor to our house describing British Christmas cooking as ‘defrosting the bird and killing the sprouts.’

Years later, when I lived in Spain the story was very different. Around the end of November, live turkeys would begin to appear on the verandas along the street as families fed them up in preparation for Noche Buena (Christmas Eve). About a week before Christmas I got into the lift with an eleven-year-old neighbour and asked her how their turkey was coming along. Nice and plump, she said. She seemed quite excited. Then she told me it would be killed the next day. Ah, I said. And who does that? She turned to me with a spine-chilling, gleam in her eye. ‘I do,’ she said. ‘I do it every year.’

I got out of the lift feeling quite disturbed. She was actually looking forward to the killing. I had no trouble gutting and jointing a bird, but would not fancy wringing its neck. Then I asked myself if we had all become too squeamish. The meat we eat must be killed. We are happy to eat it, but only if someone else kills it, preferably out of sight. Perhaps my young neighbour’s attitude was really more healthy. She was taking part in a matter-of-fact, life-death-food ritual.

My reflections on our relationship with blood and guts were rekindled soon after Christmas. We were in England spending a few days with relatives, when the doorbell rang. I opened it to find a neighbour holding up an, enormous, gleaming, salmon trout he had just caught. “For you!’ he said. My relative recoiled at the sight. The fish she normally bought from the local supermarket was rectangular shaped, frozen, wrapped in plastic, and came without bones. I sat her down in a comfortable chair and then went to the kitchen to deal with the neighbour’s generous gift.

When I took her a cup of tea next morning, I couldn’t help noticing, on her bed-side table, the lurid cover of the bloodthirsty crime novel she was reading.

Bertrand Russell said that he read murder stories to stop himself from murdering people, which seems a good reason. I sometimes wonder what became of my little Spanish neighbour. I do hope she developed a taste for crime fiction.

Sunday 4 December 2011

Lost Children Found

Earlier this year I blogged about Spain’s ‘Robbed Children’. During the Franco regime and for some twenty years after his death in 1975, a large number of new born children were removed from their natural parents and ‘sold on’ to adoptive parents. Doctors and member of the Church were involved in this business and the real parents were told their child had died.

The BBC produced a documentary on the distress caused and showed it last October. (See my last blog post about this). Amongst the cases they followed was an American citizen living in Austin Texas called Randy Ryder. He is now forty but only found out his parents were not really his parents twelve or thirteen years ago. One of the difficulties for children seeking their real parents is that documents like birth certificates were systematically falsified. Adoptive parents were recorded as the biological parents.

The documentary followed him through DNA testing to see whether or not he was the lost brother that a family were trying to track down. The DNA test showed he was not.

It’s a tough set of circumstances and the DNA register set up to help is necessarily limited. Of the roughly 1,500 legal cases opened only 6 so far have resulted in a DNA match.

In today’s El Pais it is reported that Randy has now found his mother. There is a twist. For a start she is not Spanish but South African and now living in London. Nor was he ‘robbed’. For an aspiring, 25 year old actress in Malaga, his birth was inconvenient and she gave him up for adoption. They are going to meet soon.

I am certainly not going to judge anyone but will also say that over 200 of the cases have been ‘archivado’ – shelved – because the mothers were found to have collaborated in the sale of their children. That’s how things are.

El Pais however also gives a case in which a mother and daughter (who have chosen anonymity) have been reunited through the DNA register. At first the mother was both upset and incredulous. She had been told she had given birth to a stillborn son. Indeed, she refused to accept the results of a second DNA test. It wasn’t until she agreed to meet her daughter that she saw the person claiming to be her daughter looked pretty much like her other daughter.

It would be nice to say this rare success had immediately gone well. But the mother is now as it were grieving for the child she did not have for thirty seven years, while the same but now adult child helps her through confusion and distress. That’s also how things are.