Interview - Anna Horner

July 31, 2009

Baltimore Literature Examiner

Félix Calvino, author of the short story collection A Hatful of Cherries, was born in Galicia, Spain, and lives in Australia, where he is undertaking a Master of Philosophy in Creative Writing at the University of Queensland. In A Hatful of Cherries, Calvino presents 16 short pieces and shows that stories do not have to be long to have sufficiently developed characters. The stories are beautifully written, with Calvino painting the scene so that you can picture it vividly in your mind. The prose is sparse, and each story is handled in a gentle tone despite some dark and melancholy themes.

Stories of note include "Basilio," a sad story of a man who picks up goods and sells them at market, traveling the dangerous post-Spanish Civil War roads while his wife worries about him at home, and "Sylvia," which follows two married men, best friends who share a lover. "Detour" focuses on a young man late to his engagement party when he detours to a more scenic route and his car breaks down in the rain. Calvino provides a shocking ending in just a few simple sentences. He also does a wonderful job making stories about everyday incidents interesting. In "Restless Hands," he tells the story of a man who quits smoking, and in "The Laundry Incident," the main character finds his clothes stolen off the line on Easter Sunday.

Here's what Calvino has to say about A Hatful of Cherries:

What was your inspiration for the story collection, A Hatful of Cherries?

In my childhood days back in my village in Galicia, during the winters, I was allowed to visit a school friend whose parents had much land, a big kitchen and plenty of wood for the fire. Eight or ten neighbours gathered there every evening.

At one end of the room the men played cards at a long table. At the other end sat the women on wooden benches by the open fire, telling stories, listening, knitting or dozing. Outside the dogs barked, the wind gnawed at the doors and window frames and the wolves howled. The fire cast flickering shadows on the walls as if in tune with the storytelling: tales of tormented animals roaming the earth, satanic envoys hunting for souls, men and women buried alive, children born with scales and tails, sold to circuses and freak shows, never to be heard from again.

Bernarda was my favourite storyteller. She was toothless and her voice sounded strange, unnatural. Moreover, her stories had a ring of authenticity about them: she always seemed to know someone who knew someone who had been present at the time...

I left the village, taking with me a love for the short narrative. I also took with me the genesis of many stories of my own. Some of these have appeared in A Hatful of Cherries and elsewhere, but many more, preserved by the exquisite pain of melancholic memory, are still waiting to be written.

Time passed and in 1998 as a first year Arts student at Melbourne University, I joined a writers' group and so began the pursuit, firstly of a clear, objective mode of expression in a language that was not my own, and secondly, of authenticity of voice, character, setting and other elements crucial to the weaving of experience and imagination into narrative fiction, for reality, in itself, does not make for good reading.

Do you think there is a theme that holds the whole book together?

I find it hard to look at my stories in-depth, but I sense an undertone of wistfulness and longing. I also think my stories create a new world for the reader. The villagers' quiet enthusiasm for living in the face of the challenges presented to them by a hostile universe is a constant theme throughout the collection.

In many of the stories that I have set against an Australian background, I have attempted to explore the plight of single migrant men, their loneliness, their fears, in their search for identity in a new land.

What is your favorite story in A Hatful of Cherries?

"Basilio." I still feel sorry for him and for Marta.

Do you have any plans to release another short story collection or maybe even a novel?

I hope to complete a novella in early 2010. I am also working on another collection of short stories.

If you could only own five books, what would they be and why?

Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes. For it's duality: we can laugh at Don Quixote, the mad, at times imbecile, and comic knight errant. Or we can watch him wander free through the grandeur and the misery of life like a force, like the shadow of human aspiration. And there is, of course, Sancho, the lazy, the "bagful of proverbs," with a peasant's down-to-earth reasoning to remind us of the real world.

Madam Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. Flaubert's novel is a brilliant portrayal of mediocrity and excellence. The former applies to the characters, the latter to the use of language. Both appear to be inseparable in the depicting of French provincial society of the period.

Short Stories by Anton Chekhov. For Chekhov's contribution to the genre and for his depicting of human misery alongside joy and pleasure.

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. I admire the simple use of language. And the main theme that human beings can retain dignity and honour in their struggle to exist.

A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Using pure "magical realism," Marquez mixes the fantastic and the factual to give us the magical world of Macondo. This book always surprises me.

"They Are Only Dreams," featured in Fast Forward: A Collection of Flash Fiction, Volume 2, marks his first appearance in a U.S. publication.

Anna Horner

Diary of an Eccentric