Photo by Pilar Aymerich
It is an understatement to say that Gloria Montero has lived a varied life. Born in Australia into a Spanish family originally from Asturias, Montero grew up on a sugar plantation near the Great Barrier Reef. She later lived for a few years in Europe, before moving to Canada and, in the late Seventies, to Barcelona with her Australian husband, David Fulton. She has worked as a singer, actor, radio and television presenter, playwright and novelist. She wrote her latest book in Castilian, Punto de Fuga (Vanishing Point), published by Meteora.
Why did you settle in Barcelona?
When we went to Canada, the idea was we’d work there, earn a bit of money and come back to Europe. Our real interest was in Spain but it wasn’t a great option in those days, so we stayed in Canada. We always maintained very close connections with Spain and came in the Sixties for a couple of years, living here with our children. And then we went back to Canada, but we were visiting all the time, until I was expelled and we had to wait until Franco died to come back.
Were you expelled because of your writing?
No, in Canada in 1970, a group of Spaniards and a few Canadians formed the Canadian Committee for a Democratic Spain. People everywhere were starting to talk again about Spain and we formed the Committee to call an international conference in Toronto. The aim was to inform people what was happening in Spain, because in those years there was tremendous movement in the country, the dictatorship was weaker all the time. It was a really successful conference and the Committee was asked to continue. I came in to Spain after that, and those activities had obviously been noted. I was here working on a film [when I got expelled] and those last years of the dictatorship, 1971-75, I wasn’t able to come in.
You’ve had a lot of success with your one-woman play about Frida Kahlo, Frida K. What interested you about the artist?
A close friend, the Catalan-Chilean painter Roser Bru, did an exhibition based on Frida Kahlo and gave me one of the works from the show. She told me. ‘This is a painter for us, you must learn about her’. I didn’t know then who Frida Kahlo was—very few people did outside Latin America. Roser talked to me about the duality of Frida: she was very much a New World child, of post-Revolutionary Mexico, but attached in many ways to Europe and the Old World through her German Jewish father, whom she adored. At the end of the Spanish Civil War, Roser went with her family into exile in Chile and knew that I too had grown up between two cultures.
Why did you write Punto de Fuga in Spanish?
I live here, and didn’t want only to be regarded as a writer in translation [Montero’s works are largely in English], which is why I wrote it in Spanish. I’ve just completed the English version. It’s very frustrating this business of having two cultures. Very enriching, that’s the part everyone sees. But it can be a bit of a pain in the neck—for a writer, the translation of your work is very often frustrating. It doesn’t have to be bad, but it’s not necessarily what you would have done.
The book’s main character is a war photographer, but it’s not just about war…
To me, it’s a love story. That’s what I set out to write. I happened to make the main character a war photographer. When I lived in Canada, I did a weekly television show of interviews and once we had on two photographers, and we started to talk about the morality of photography. The discussion was, ‘Is a photographer justified in being just like a voyeur or is the photographer always, as a human being, a part of what is going on?’ I’d never thought of that particular question, but it stayed with me. I always think that you write about things that you can’t make go away.