Born in Teruel in 1968 to a Valencian mother, Sebastián Roa is one of the best Historical Novel writers from Spain. With six published titles, several prizes and the admiration he awakens in other recognised authors endorse it. Roa, however, downplays it: “I do not believe it!” He exclaims. “The thing is that I have very good friends,” he maintains with such a sincerity that disarms you.
He is not lying. Although he looks away when talking about it, his timidity and humility are what speak. His pen, on the other hand, displays a somewhat different image from that which Sebastian Roa projects being au naturel. It is in past epochs where Roa finds the conflict that Literature demands of him. He feels comfortable with it, even translating it to the answers in the current interview.
Valencia, the city where he has lived since 2002 and where he plans to stay, is present in almost all his novels. In it, Sebastián Roa has spent long hours researching, reading, writing and making the most of the advantages that the capital
of Turia offers him: “Valencia is a perfect city because it is not too big, but its size is sufficient to have everything. The weather is perfect, too. And it’s also very close to Teruel, where I have my family”.
If you had to choose a corner of Valencia for a novel?
The current Public Library. Apart from its cultural content, it provides some hints to a fantastic and disturbing history. The edifice was built at the beginning of the 15th century and became the first psychiatric hospital in the world. Let us imagine the moment, in the middle of the Valencian Golden Age, with the city full of go-getters, artists and bohemians, bringing together the best of the Mediterranean and pointing to the transition between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It is worth visiting the Library, which still retains the original layout, and evokes the atmosphere of six hundred years ago, so far from the current silence and calm.
If you had to relive an episode of your years here?
When I discovered the L’Iber museum in 2009. I attended a literary workshop and, without a clue of what I was getting myself into. I was surrounded by antiques in a medieval mansion, the largest lead soldiers’ museum in Europe and a multicultural centre.
If you had to place a scene at a Valencian festivity?
To set the “Mascletà” a little bit aside, I would place that scene in the middle of San Juan night, between fire and salt water. A passionate crime in the bonfires’ lights and all summer to investigate it. In fact I already used its medieval precedent, the Al-Andalusian Mihrayán, to set a scene for a novel.
If you had to recommend a typical dish to one of your characters?
My best character who is an eater is Pedro II from Aragón, hero from the “Navas de Tolosa”, womaniser and drinker. Knowing him, I would remove him from the thirteenth century and I would invite him to All i Pebre as a starter and a duck paella in El Palmar. With La Albufera in sight and a good Utiel-Requena wine.
If you had to write about a Valencian character?
I waver between two Andalusians before Jaime I. The poet and diplomat Ibn al-Abbar appeals to me, a sensitive and intelligent man, because of the era of radical changes in which he lived and for how he was able to adapt to them. And I have always liked Muhammad ibn Mardanish, the famous King Wolf from the twelfth century. A friend of the Christians and a tireless fighter against the Almohad fundamentalism. It is said that he built a beautiful palace for his daughter Zayda in the suburb of Marchalenes. In time it became a Christian convent and today it no longer exists, but the place is still known as “Llano de la Zaydía”.
If you had to describe Valencia with adjectives?
Luminous, thunderous, shameless, even sensual, and above all surprising.