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Euskal Idazleen Elkartea

Ur Apalategi Idirin > Extracts

Narrative (short story and novel)

Story of the Story Competition |

I started to win story competitions three years ago. In fact, I won nearly all the ones I entered. I even managed to surprise Gotzon, who has long been a fellow literature lover. He did not know I had such a gift for writing. To tell the truth, nor did I. When we were at school Gotzon and I used to enter many stories for all kinds of competitions, but mostly with limited success. And I am bound to admit that on the rare occasions there was any success, fortune always smiled on Gotzon. He used to win the occasional second prize, whereas I never got anything. My stories used to be, on the whole, more insipid that his. It seems I was not daring enough to charm the panel of judges or at least seduce them. My writing style was weak -I am perfectly aware of that now-, both with respect to my style and the topics I chose. So he was completely taken aback when I told him I had turned up at the weekly staff meeting of the culture services of the Basque Autonomous Community Government in possession of a cheque I had received in that erotic story competition (the first one in which I won anything).

I invited Gotzon and his wife Rosa, one of those demanding teachers of Basque, to dinner at the most expensive restaurant in the city. They were extremely suspicious. No sooner had the three of us sat down around the table at one of the restaurant's most beautiful rooms overlooking the sea than they fired thousands of jealous as well as sceptical questions at me. Naturally, I took them a copy of the story, which they each read one after the other, without making any comments at all. The story's misogynist, raw touch apparently hurt Rosa's feminine sensitivity. But it was the indisputable quality of the story that hurt Gotzon (even though he did not let on). Under normal circumstances Gotzon and Rosa's reaction would have been stronger, but, of course, as I was treating them to such a dinner, they were left with no alternative but to remain within the bounds of politeness.

Shortly afterwards, while we were in a bar where those of us in the office go for our mid-morning coffee, I told my colleague that I had won a competition for fantastic stories. When we were at school, Gotzon used to accuse me of a lack of imagination. At that time we had got into the habit of giving each other "constructive criticism", even though he was nearly always the only one to pass any judgement. And to tell the truth, he was perfectly justified in doing so, as I was able to ascertain when I reread those narratives of my youth. I did not invite them to dinner on that occasion. What the hell did it matter? I put the money aside to travel. I went on a pilgrimage I had long had in mind to St. Petersburg to visit Feodor Dostoyevsky's apartment and the area at the same time. But from there I did at least send Gotzon and Rosa the most beautiful postcard I could find. I don't think they found what I wrote at the end very amusing: "I have immersed myself in the white nights of this place in search of inspiration for my next competition. Kind regards, Joxemanu."

Not long after I had won my tenth competition, some publishing companies got in touch with me with a proposal to publish a collection of my stories. As I did not know which publishing company to chose, I asked Gotzon and Rosa for their opinion. It goes without saying that the choice I made went against their advice. At that point Gotzon's health began to fail. Without any protest he swallowed the insult I had just offered him and came to my office one morning very humbly asking me whether I would present his stories to the publishers I had just chosen. I said I would, as I patted his back, which the illness was starting to bend. Of course I would, adding that it would be difficult, because gone were the days when everything written in Basque automatically got published. The poor guy did not have the strength to respond to my irony.

He died of cancer three months later. Together with the usual wreath I offered Rosa a new story as a tribute to Gotzon; it was about death and it had also won an award.

I included the story, dedication and all, in the collection of stories that came out that spring. The book is turning out to be successful. Not surprising, in view of the high standard of the stories. And I am not saying that because I am proud. On the contrary, I declare objectively and proudly that the stories in the collection are excellent. Because they have been written by the best writers in the Basque language. And perhaps because I am also good at suggesting topics, selecting texts and camouflaging them; for that, at least, I can give myself some credit.

Everything occurred to me three years ago over my usual morning coffee while Gotzon was telling me about the new job he was working on. In order to get people to contribute to the magazine Administrazioa euskaraz (Administration in Basque), he was responsible at that time for setting a topic for a story and for paying them. One day when he was away on holiday, I went into his office and started going through everything. I helped myself to a model of the letter he sent to writers, and the stationery and forms in order to make the payments, even though I did not yet have an exact idea about what I was going to do with the materials. I sent the first letter to Ramon Saizarbitoria asking him to write an erotic story for the magazine, and, surprisingly, he sent me a story three weeks later. I won the first competition with that story. Thanks to a few changes -the names of the characters, for example, or the title of the story- I soon accumulated texts, and the payment did not pose any problems, either. In fact, I always paid the writers what they had been promised and resorted to any old excuse to explain why the story was not going to be published in the magazine after all. In any case, the money I made through the competitions was much more than what I had to pay the writers. Further explanations were not required.

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