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“We are not publishing such fiction” – Sleep with Lisbon by Fausta Cardoso Pereira

I was not suppose to write about Lisbon. The city is everywhere, around and inside me. I don’t have the necessary distance with the subject of my writing. But, is the other way around better for literature? A writer shouldn’t dive deep into his characters knowledge? I must live in Paris to better write about Lisbon? 

I feel love, hate, anguish, curiosity, sorry and happiness for this place. I wake up in the morning and welcome the sun, the eléctrico (tram) coming up and down the street, the salty river, the red bridge, the stones in the sidewalk, the little coffees where the traditional coffee still cost less than 0,70€. 

Lisbon (image by Pixabay)

I wake up in the morning and regret the slowness of tourists that makes me arrive late to work, their baggages occupying seats in metro carriages that should be to old people and pregnant women. I regret the new big buildings full of glass built where once were palaces and small squares. I feel sorry for the traditional pastry – really, doesn’t taste the same as when I was little. 

I want Lisbon just for myself. I don’t care if this is selfish. And I want to know her. As with any other person, perhaps I made up an image of this city, perhaps I feel her the way I want to and not the way she really is. 

I spent two years lining words and sentences trying to find the perfect melody for this city and doing that, alone, just me and the computer’s white screen, felt perfect. But to accomplish my task I also had to read, to walk on the city, to talk to people and to spy them, to ask for theirs secrets or try to read their minds. I abandoned my romantic space. I saw monsters and had to accept them. Lisbon identity, as with any other city, is multicultural, is diverse and very difficult to define. It’s a never-ending travel, a never-ending research, an open window for any curious mind. I love it.

Lisbon (image by Pixabay)

I wrote “Dormir com Lisboa” to have the city just for myself, but also to know her better. To be born here and to live here doesn’t mean everything. And in the end I have just one certainty: Lisbon is a woman and to get to know her is like to sleep with someone else, a relation of power and seduction. 

Once the book finished, this created city or discovered (I don’t know which) demands for more space that the one I can provide. I can’t hold her. I want to share and to shake the readers minds or just to make them dream and desire Lisbon.

I sent the manuscript to Galicia, Spain, and it won Antón Risco Prize for Best Fantasy Novel. But my book, even prized, cannot be purchased in Lisbon, unless you have a device with internet connection. My book only has distribution, in portuguese language, in Galicia. I tried to convince portuguese publishers, I sent them emails with the book pdf and for some, I delivered the book in hands. “The book is too risky”; “we are not publishing such fiction”; “we prefer Historical novels or non-fiction”. I received many reactions, when they reply, more frequently the silent is the only answer I get. 

“We are not publishing such fiction”. And I asked “What’s wrong with my fiction?”. “Oh, your fiction is fine, you write marvellously. The problem it’s not you or the book. The problem is the market. Fantasy novels are not selling well”.

Lisbon (image by Pixabay)

The market is the problem, nobody else in particular. Of course I am used to the market concept, I have a marketing degree. And I know that companies, as any publisher with monthly paychecks, should have profit. Marketing professionals can give two quick answers to companies that want to be lucrative in a capitalist world: to give what the market wants, or work to build new needs, new desires in the consumers mind and to provide the product for their satisfaction. And then, the problem starts to complicate. This last task, in the cultural industry, can be too big and to complex just for one player and to work in a solution means to cooperate with several players in a strong commitment and vision for the cultural market future.

We want people to read more? And to read more fantasy? We want readers with eclectic taste and critical thinking? We want them to choose a book instead of a Netflix film? Instead of video games? Is this possible? Are the Portuguese Ministry of Education and Ministry of Culture with all its players and influence creating desire for literature? Do they have a vision? Do they have goals? And a strategy to get it? If you look for, you will find all the answers. Unfortunately, not in business language. Goals and strategy start to became a labyrinth in political speeches; beautiful words, good intentions, sometimes good plots that came from creative minds, you can even see some fiction there, some speculation, cyber punk, historical novels and so on.

Lisbon (image by Pixabay)

I don’t want to blame just one player. I want to blame a complete system. I want to blame a homogeneous vision (if I can call it that), incapable of empowering readers with diversity, with the ability to interpret texts and transform them in new narratives, in new supports, in new thinkings. Education and culture players should work also with publishers that are an important way to reach readers. But… if there is no common strategy, this doesn’t mean that publishers must wait for someone to make the first move.      

Since I won one prize in Galicia, I started spending some time there. Talking with Galician editors, they explained me that fantasy literature is used to increase children, teenagers and young adults reading habits. Teachers and school libraries use this kind of fiction as a hook and because of this practice, fantasy literature in Galicia has a restrict reputation, as something only to minors. Editors are working to open the public mind to this genre and the prize that I won its just one example of their efforts. To be more precise, one publisher created a network to make this prize possible, to increase the number of fantasy readers. It is also true that Galician folklore and traditional literature is full of strange things like the Netflix series. I suppose this bond is an inspiring motto that encourage the investment in new talents and not just business as usual with the easy profits from international bestsellers, namely, international bestsellers adapted to films.

Lisbon (image by Pixabay)

I am surrounded by sci-fi novels and fantasy and cyber punk and magic realism readers. But I know they read just in english and Amazon is their favorite bookshop. Portuguese translations arrive late (when they arrive) with poor translation or poor edition. To be up to date as any voracious reader, their option goes for english. They read in paper and in electronic devices, for them the most important is to have the text, to read it. So, continuing with my practice of questioning without answering, I ask if portuguese publishing houses are really making their work in what these genres and readers concerns. And, just a final question (who knows if it’s not the most stupid of all my questions): what if the market doesn’t buy these genres because publishers don’t sell them with a proper investment in timing, translation, cover, editing, marketing? I am just asking.   

We can be lead to think that in Portugal there is no new talents writing other genres than historical novels, biographical novels and non-fiction. It is not true. Small publishing houses are working these genres and promoting portuguese literature. Their efforts goes beyond publishing and they organize every year events with portuguese and foreign authors. They invest, take risks to promote “marginal literature” and for sure they are trying hard to create new publics. Their companies are not one million-dollar businesses and are managed by people with more than one job. But they have a positioning and a commitment with a genre that through the years have built worlds that people may think as absurd but are in fact very real and important not only to creativity but to critical thinking. As Neil Gaiman put it in Fahrenheit 451 Introduction “the heart of the book remains untouched, and the questions Bradbury raises remain as valid as important”. These small companies with little space in bookshelf’s and no space at all in supermarkets where, in fact, literature sells in Portugal, are dealing with a responsibility that should be shared with others. In the end, their investment is much more than business.       

Perhaps I was not supposed to write about Lisbon. Not in this way. Not in such way, a fantasy way. But I really believe that if I won a prize, and if this book was mentioned as one of the best portuguese novels from the XXI century, by one important portuguese writer as is Rui Zink, it is because I wrote about Lisbon this way. In such a way. In a fantasy way. Even if the book is not available in my country, in my city, the one that is the main character of the story, I don’t regret the journey. 

By Fausta Cardoso Pereira

Fausta Cardoso Pereira is an award winning writer and project manager. “Dormir com Lisboa” her third book was awarded with Antón Risco prize for Best Fantasy Novel in Galicia, Spain. She is also the writer of  another fiction book “O Homem do Puzzle” and the travel book “Bom Caminho”.

As a project manager, Fausta believes in education through the arts and has combined both in several projects in Portugal and portuguese speaking-countries. As Head of Health and Education Development for Portugal Telecom Foundation, she created “Comunicar em Segurança” that trained children, young adults and teachers through corporate volunteers, how to safely use new technologies and social media. Fausta was recognized for this work at 2012 by The Portuguese Confederation of Volunteers. She also created “Os Filmes do Recreio” for Cartoon Portugal to train children and teachers how to make animated films. Two films were prized in Animated Film Festival of Espinho – Cinanima at 2002 and 2003. 

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