Thursday, February 25, 2021

Birdsong and unconventional heroes: an interview with Mercedes Rosende

Kia ora and haere mai, welcome to the latest weekly instalment of our 9mm interview series for 2021. This author interview series has now been running for over a decade, and today marks the 220th overall edition. 

Thanks for reading over the years. I've had tonnes of fun chatting to some amazing writers and bringing their thoughts and stories to you. 

My plan is to to publish 40-50 new author interviews in the 9mm series this year. You can check out the full list of of past interviewees here. Some amazing writers.

If you've got a favourite crime writer who hasn't yet been featured, let me know in the comments or by sending me a message, and I'll look to make that happen for you. Even as things with this blog may evolve moving forward, I'll continue to interview crime writers and review crime novels.

Today I'm very pleased to welcome award-winning Uruguayan lawyer, journalist, and author Mercedes Rosende to Crime Watch. She is the author of the darkly comic thriller CROCODILE TEARS, a devilish tale of heists and betrayals set in the author's hometown of Montevideo. That book - her first translated into English - won the LiBeraturpreis in 2019, a German literary prize that celebrates the best books from female authors from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Arab world. It was made available for English-speaking readers this year thanks to Bitter Lemon Press and translator Tim Gutteridge.

I've read several Latin American crime writers over the years, from a variety of countries (even Bolivia), but CROCODILE TEARS was my first ever from Uruguay (a country where I farewelled 2007 and said gidday to 2008, during four months in South America). As I said in a review earlier this month, CROCODILE TEARS is "a real cracker. A darkly comic story of weak men, strong women, and a heist gone horribly wrong. A sort of Latin American calamity noir; shades of Fargo - though shifted to the grimy heat of Montevideo rather than the icy climes of the American Midwest."

As part of winning the LiBeraturpreis in 2019, Rosende - who also lives in France - received financial support to help implement a literary project for women or girls in Uruguay. She has won several other prizes for her novels and short stories, including the Premio Municipal de Narrativa for ‘Demasiados Blues’ in 2005, and the National Literature Prize for ‘La Muerte TendrĂ¡ tus Ojos’ in 2008. 

But for now, Mercedes Rosende becomes the latest author to stare down the barrel of 9mm. 


1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
I have several crime fiction heroes but one of the first that really fascinated me was Georges Simenon’s detective, Maigret, who I initially read as an adolescent and I’ve continued to reread (or rewatch on TV) ever since. Later, I became more Latin American in my tastes and I was also drawn to less conventional heroes, people living outside the law, women. And that’s how I came up with Ursula, the protagonist of my own novels. But Maigret will always have a place in my personal pantheon.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
I read books for younger readers that were generally translated into or, at best, written in European Spanish, which is not the same as the Spanish we speak in Uruguay. My first “grown-up” book was Montevideanos by the great Uruguayan author, Mario Benedetti, and it showed me it was possible to write in “Uruguayan”, in the language I used with my friends and family.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) - unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
Before I wrote my first crime novel, I had written short stories – but hardly any of them were crime stories – and I’d published one book.

4. Outside of writing and writing-related activities (book events, publicity), what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I love having free time, I cope very well with having nothing to do, I enjoy it without either feeling guilty or having the urge to fill every minute with activities to replace work. I enjoy gardening, I like watching movies with friends, and I really love travelling. I also do occasional work for an NGO monitoring elections in other countries. It’s completely different from my work as a writer and I really enjoy it and put a lot of passion into it.

5. What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
The best time to visit Montevideo is in early January, when the city is silent and abandoned, there are no cars on the streets, no people on the pavements. It’s the summer holidays and a lot of people leave town for the beach, although Montevideo also has its own beaches. In fact, I’m answering these questions in Montevideo in January, and every day I’m woken up by the deafening sound... of birdsong.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
It would need to be a Uruguayan actress because I’d like them to talk like me, in my local language.

7. Of your writings, which is your favourite or a bit special to you for some particular reason, and why?
My most recent book is always my favourite, so just now the one that feels special to me is a collection of short stories called Historias de mujeres feas (Stories of Ugly Women).

8. What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?
I was walking down a street in the centre of town, my first book had just come out, a book of short stories called Demasiados blues (Too Many Blues). I went past a small bookshop and there it was, sitting in the window. I was amazed but I also felt like a bit of an imposter. And I still feel like an imposter, like someone who’s passing herself off as a writer.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
Taking part in the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2018 and 2019 was one of the most amazing experiences of my life: I went from a tiny fair, in Montevideo, to the largest in the world. Without any stopovers in between!

Thank you Mercedes, we appreciate you chatting to Crime Watch. 

You can follow Mercedes on Twitter here, and nab a copy of CROCODILE TEARS here

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