Carlos Acosta: Ballet dancer on debut novel “Pig’s Foot”….
Cuban dancer Carlos Acosta has won dozens of awards during his ballet career, including the Olivier for outstanding achievement in dance for his performances at Sadler’s Wells in 2007.
But his latest accolade is a first: The 39-year-old has been named on the Waterstones 11, an annual list of the most promising debut novels.
His novel, Pig’s Foot, is set in Cuba and charts the island’s history from the 19th Century to the present, through the war of independence, dictatorship and revolution.
It is actually his second book – following his autobiography, No Way Home, in 2007.
There, he told of his upbringing as one of four children in a cramped Havana apartment (although he had seven other siblings), before his father sent him to ballet school aged nine, mainly out of fear he was becoming a delinquent.
He went on to win the Gold Medal at the Prix de Lausanne in 1990, and danced with the English National Ballet, the American Ballet and the Royal Ballet.
As his novel was added to the Waterstones shortlist. Acosta discussed his conversion from ballerino to biro.
Hello, Carlos. Congratulations on the nomination.
Thank you, I’m very surprised myself!
You’ve won many prizes before – but for dancing. How does it feel to be recognised for your writing?
I was very surprised, because I began writing it with very low expectations. I didn’t think anybody was going to care.
I didn’t think I had it in me to actually create a whole world that made sense, with all these separate characters. So I was very surprised when Bloomsbury read it and decided to take it on.
What do you make of the reaction?
Like I say, I’m a dancer. I’m not going to pretend to be a writer. I mean, I can maybe tell a story for you to have fun, and slide through this story and these characters and this world I’ve created. But I’m never going to be Gabriel Garcia Marquez or people who do something to push the boundaries of literature. They did it from when they were young. They write to live.
Your first book was an autobiography, and your ballet Tocororo was loosely based on your story. How difficult was it to make the transition into writing fiction?
I didn’t expect anything by it. I just wanted to write something by the name of Pig’s Foot, which is Pata de Puerco in Spanish. I liked that title and I began asking myself what it could be. And then I imagined that it could be a hamlet or a little village in the remote regions of Cuba, really disconnected from everybody. And maybe place the beginning in the 1800s when the Cuban and the Spanish War, The 50 Years War, was happening.
So I began writing and writing and after three years I had a sort of story that made sense, a bit. And a few people here and there started to work with me and to pull the text into shape. That’s how I did it.
The book was originally written in Spanish. What was the process of translating it like?
It’s been a great, great pleasant experience. Frank Wynne is a wonderful translator.
Wynne has won awards for the English translations of Atomised by Michel Houellebecq and Holiday in a Coma by Frederic Beigbeder. Did you let him just get on with it, or did you supervise the translation?
I read [the translation] and I’m still reading it and making some adjustments and things. Frank is just brilliant but there are a few things in terms of Cuban slang and things like that, that we need to type up. It’s only normal.
I’m very pleased to read it in English to see the voice and it really reads great. He’s done an magnificent job.
It’s interesting that you came up with the title first. Often it’s the last thing an author writes.
I didn’t even know how you write a book. Sometimes people have an outline, a backbone where you have these characters and you’ll connect events here – so you know what’s going to happen. I didn’t have any of that. I just had the title.
I didn’t know how you did it. I just did it.
This is my first book. Maybe if I ever decide to ever write another, I will have learnt something.
So you have no plans for a sequel?
No, no, no. I have a one-year-old daughter. No time to sleep, no time to write. But in the future, maybe. Who knows? We’ll see.