Q&A: Antonio Garrido, author of The Scribe

Antonio Garrido is the author of The Corpse Reader and his most recent novel The Scribe was published in the US in Dec. 2013. I’ve been given access to an exclusive Q&A with the author, so if you enjoy historical mysteries, you’ll definitely want to check out the book!

thescribeAllow me to start with the obvious question: How did a car designer decide to write a historical novel?

I must admit that I have always been passionate about the genre, but I believe I would have never started “The Scribe” were it not for a casual conversation I had with a stranger I met in Germany eight years ago, during an automobile convention. At that time the stranger I met told me about an interesting historical fact, and I was so intrigued by it that it prompted me to investigate it, and later, to write this story.

Do you mean Constantine’s manuscript?

That’s right. The document that allowed a hesitant and defenseless church to arm itself with tremendous power and rise up to be the absolute ruler of Europe’s destiny.

A document that, as you relate, concealed a terrible secret.

One that you’ll allow me not to reveal out of respect for the readers.

Then it is not a tale of knights and princesses?

The Middle Ages is much more than castles and wars. At the end of the eight century Europe was a corpse, the barbarians its maggots. Religion and darkness took possession of its soul. But the most important fact, the one that shaped what the West would later become, from the Crusades to the Inquisition, is what this story is about.

Nevertheless, though the novel is based in fact, some of the characters you include are not, is that correct?

Like in all historical novels, real and fictitious characters coexist in The Scribe. Charlemagne, his minister Alcuino de York, Pope Leo III or Irene, and Bizancio’s empress, are all faithfully portrayed, as are the majority of events depicted. But the weight of the plot falls on a young girl, a scribe apprentice, who will experience and live through dire perils and adventures.

The Scribe reveals a wide work of documentation. How did you achieve that?

I must admit it took tremendous effort. Taking into consideration that I am not a historian, that did not impede me from infusing the novel with credibility. That is why I frequently visited Wurzburg and Fulda, where the story takes place, in order to investigate its fortresses and abbeys, its museums and libraries. I consulted as many bibliographies as I could find and, of course, relied on the experts.

thecorpsereaderSince it is so difficult for a new author to have his book published, how do you account for the fact that your first novel has been translated into German, Russian, Italian, French, Portuguese, Hungarian and Polish; and the rights are under negotiation for ten more languages, as foreign as Japanese, Taiwanese or Chinese?

I am surprised of course. I suppose that I have been somewhat lucky, and Carmen Balcells, my literary agent, does a very good job. Furthermore, The Scribe is a story that exudes suspense, love, ambition and mystery, one in which exciting characters intermingle in a plot comprising two empires. But, perhaps, the most important factor is that without neglecting a solid historical base, the story is pure entertaining intrigue. Currently, The Scribe has been translated into 17 languages.

Speaking of the characters, I felt there was no way to tell for sure who were the good ones and who were the evil ones.

Such is life; nothing is completely black or white. My characters make mistakes, age, love and hate, experience envy, get confused, cry, kill or get killed depending on the moment. This mutability is the magic that creates a flesh and blood character.

The year is 799, and King Charlemagne awaits coronation as the Holy Roman emperor. But in the town of Würzburg, the young, willful Theresa dreams only of following in the footsteps of her scholarly father—a quiet man who taught her the forbidden pleasures of reading and writing. Though it was unthinkable for a medieval woman to pursue a career as a craftsperson, headstrong Theresa convinces the parchment-makers’ guild to test her. If she passes, it means access to her beloved manuscripts and nothing less than true independence. But as she treats the skins before an audience of jeering workmen, unimaginable tragedy strikes—tearing apart Theresa’s family and setting in motion a cascade of mysteries that Theresa must solve if she hopes to stay alive and save her family.

A fugitive in the wilderness, Theresa is forced to rely on her bravery, her uncommon education, and the compassion of strangers. When she encounters Alcuin of York, a wise and influential monk with close ties to Charlemagne, she believes her luck might have finally changed. But the biggest secret lies between Charlemagne and her father. Theresa moves ever closer to the truth, bent on reuniting with her beloved father, only to discover that her family’s troubles are inextricably entwined with nothing less than the fate of an empire.

About the author:
A native of Spain, a former educator, and industrial engineer, Antonio Garrido has received acclaim for the darkly compelling storytelling and nuanced historical details that shape his novel The Corpse Reader. This fictionalized account of the early life of Song Cí, the Chinese founding father of forensic science, represents the author’s years of research into cultural, social, legal, and political aspects of life in the Tsong Dynasty, as well as his extensive study of Song Cí’s own five-volume treatise on forensics. In 2012, The Corpse Reader received the Zaragoza International Prize for best historical novel published in Spain (Premio Internacional de Novela Histórica Ciudad de Zaragoza). Antonio’s previous novel, La Escriba, was published in 2008. Garrido currently resides in Valencia, Spain.

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