The Italian novelist Andrea Camilleri accepted the prestigious Pepe Carvalho prize for lifetime work at the BCNegra noir literary festival in Barcelona last week. And he made it clear that, at 88, he’s still got a lot of crime writing left in him [link in Spanish].
Camilleri was born and raised in Sicily and writes in a mixture of Italian and Sicilian. His novels are populated with a host of characters and settings, including corrupt politicians, illegal trash dumps, goat herders, the underground sex trade and, of course, the Mafia. Camilleri’s alter ego is Inspector Salvo Montalbano, the protagonist of more than a dozen novels published in English by Picador and Mantle.
The fictional Montalbano also lives in Sicily. Born in 1950, the fictional Montalbano is getting on in years too. And, like his creator Camilleri, he has no plans of retiring.
“He feels older than he is because he’s spent his whole life surrounded by imbeciles,” Camilleri told the Madrid newspaper ABC [link in Spanish]. “That’s what 90% of criminals are, and if you live surrounded by imbeciles, life isn’t very nice, but he’s terrified of retirement. What will he do? Walk the dog?”
Camilleri told his Spanish audiences that he writes every morning in his home in Sicily, sending his aging protagonist into battle. And he has a unique method for fighting writer’s block.
“When I don’t have any ideas I might write a letter, for example, to a man I’ve just encountered at a kiosk. It’s a letter I know I’ll never send, but it serves as an exercise. Without that, you get stuck. What’s behind writing? It’s not that the artist writes when he gets inspiration -- it’s the work of each day.”
The Pepe Carvalho prize is named after the protagonist of the Spanish writer Manuel Vázquez Montalbán’s detective novels. At it happens, Camilleri named his protagonist after Montalbán.
Los Angeles writer Michael Connelly won the prize in 2008, and other previous winners include P.D. James and Henning Mankell. In granting Camilleri the prize, the jury called him “an authentic representative of the Mediterranean noir novel,” the Madrid newspaper El Mundo reported [link in Spanish].
Reviewing Camilleri’s most recent novel, “The Age of Doubt,” the Daily Telegraph wrote of the fictional Montalbano: “It’s hard not to like a man whose main loves are wry humor, eating and womanizing -- even though his advancing years are causing him some self-doubt with the latter. And, as always, his next favorite pastime is antagonizing his superiors”