Photo by César Nuñez Castro
John Carlin home
I arrived here 11 years ago. I was working in Washington for the London Independent, when El País offered me a very nice job as their senior international correspondent. I was sent out to do a story in Barcelona and Sitges by the Independent in 1997. I decided then I would love to live in Sitges at some point in my life, but I imagined I would have to wait until I was a little old man.
I feel more British than Spanish. Even though I prefer living in Spain, I studied English literature and have continued to read in English all my life. After writing in Spanish, which I do most days, writing in English is like going on holiday.
I fell into journalism by chance. After university, I spent two years running round South America with very long hair, doing things like climbing Machu Picchu and teaching English. I then got a job at the Buenos Aires Herald and discovered writing was something I might be good at.
I was based in South Africa for six years. There was some terrible violence going on even as they were working towards peace and I was convinced there was a hidden hand working behind the scenes. […] I became obsessed with it and wrote two or three big stories which made quite an impact. I think Nelson Mandela liked me because I gave flesh to accusations he was making.
I knew Mandela about as well as a journalist could hope to know him. We had many interviews and lots of chats during the glory years. The day he approved the plan of my book Playing the Enemy* [the story of how Mandela used the 1995 Rugby World Cup to unite South Africans], was the equivalent of a footballer scoring a winning goal at the World Cup.
Invictus is faithful to the spirit of Mandela and South Africa at that time. Morgan Freeman had been wanting to play Mandela for a while, but the autobiography was too unwieldy for a film. When he saw my story, he liked the narrative, showed it to his friend Clint Eastwood and once he said he liked it, everything happened very quickly.
I was named Food and Drink Writer of the Year at the British Press Awards in 2004. After my whole trajectory running around covering wars, massacres, and Christ knows what, I suddenly get this prize for writing about food. Very strange.
I don’t see myself as an investigative reporter. It’s taken me a long time to figure this out, but what I’m best at is what the Spanish call ‘reportaje’; going somewhere and getting a sense of the the place through its people, sights and smells. I’m much better at that than muckraking.
*Playing the Enemy, first published in 2008, has been made into a film, Invictus, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. It is set for release here on January 29th, 2010.