Santiago Roncagliolo: It is basically a short novel of black humour. Of maybe desperate humour. Its characters are trying to find love in the more unexpected places: a hot line, an answering machine or, in the case of the assassin, his own victim. They have lost contact with humanity. For them, the only thing left is the phone.
The book also includes three short stories. I would say they are sentimental horror stories. I write about fear. But real ghosts and monsters are not supernatural. They are inside our minds and hearts.
IFOA: Much of the collection is written in dialogue. Why did you choose to tell your stories this way?
Roncagliolo: We spend more time talking on phones than with people. Go to any restaurant and see couples or families, each one communicating with someone anywhere else. In fact, characters of “Hi, this is Conchita” could be sending whatsapps instead of talking. It is the most sophisticated form of loneliness. The last wave of isolation. It is a bit scary. Don’t you think?
Roncagliolo: I can be an awful person while writing. I need total silence. You can not talk or move or breath next to me. So I bought a little studio in Barcelona, where I live. I decorated it with grotesque toys I bring back from my travels, like zombie dolls or an Edgar Allan Poe action figure. Other than that, it is a very boring place: no TV, no landscape—not even an elevator. If I want to go for coffee, I must remember that afterwards I will have to step up five floors. So I work. Because there is no choice. And then I go out from there and I turn into the normal, easy-going person I usually am.
IFOA: Is there an author you have read recently whom you could recommend to our readers?
Roncagliolo: A.S.A Harrison’s The Silent Wife. Lovely domestic noir novel about a mid-life crisis. Plenty of sharp remarks about daily life, manhood and marriage. I love writers who can grasp the suspense and tension involved in ordinary life.
IFOA: What’s next for you?
Roncagliolo: My next novel is set in the violent Peru where I grew up. It is a coming-of-age story set during a war: bombs, kidnappings, killings and four teenage nerds trying desperately to lose their virginity. When you live in hell since childhood, you don’t stop to think whether life could be different. You just live.
Santiago Roncagliolo is a Peruvian novelist and investigative journalist. His first novel, Red April, won the Premio Alfaguara in 2006 and the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2011. In 2010 Granta named him one of its 22 Best Young Spanish-Language Novelists. Roncagliolo presents Hi, This is Conchita: And Other Stories, a virtuosic comic novella told entirely in dialogue, about men pushed past their breaking point—and the women who drive them crazy.