Antonio García Ángel talks about his year as a Rolex protégé
What was your most important artistic achievement before you began participating in this programme?
Publishing my novel – finishing and publishing my first novel.
How did the mentoring year progress?
Very well. When we started, my second novel was in the early draft stage, and I was very insecure. Now, I’m almost 300 pages away from that moment and working constantly, feeling very sure and very happy with what I’m doing.
What was the best part of being a Rolex protégé?
I travelled to different countries, most of them new to me. It’s good to come out of your little provincial shell and see the world. That, and working with such a master as Mario Vargas Llosa. Working with him: that was the best thing. And the pages that came as a result.
Is there one incident or remark that sums up or typifies your relationship with your mentor?
I wouldn’t want to mention only one. But the first time we met in person, he told me that he had read my novel and the other texts I had sent. I could tell then that he had read it in careful detail, and that he was very interested in helping his protégé to do a good job. I felt that if he picked me, we would already have made a good start. The tone of the relationship was given by that first encounter.
What was the single most important lesson or piece of advice your mentor gave you?
The discipline. The discipline to write always, and to maintain a constant routine of writing.
Is your work similar to or different from your mentor’s?
Of course the work is different! Literature is very personal, a very intimate response to your own ghosts, your inner obsessions. In art it’s not a matter of whether you work by hand or with a computer. What’s important is the inner drive, which depends more on your soul than on your method. But the differences are very interesting in work like this, because they give you new points of view about your writing.
Did you learn from your mentor any lessons beyond the practice of your art?
Yes. I got the sense that you must really be faithful to what you think, and defend your point of view, no matter how many enemies you make or fights you get into. I’m talking about politics, ethics, and ways of thinking. Be coherent.
Can you describe in two or three sentences the most beneficial aspects, for you, of the mentoring year?
It gave me the time to focus on my writing, which otherwise I would have had to do at night when I’m really, really tired. So that’s the first thing: having the time, free from worry. And it gave me a strong commitment to discipline, to a sense of my duty. It gave me a real focus on what I am doing.
Has your approach to your writing changed or developed during the mentoring experience?
I am more disciplined, and I’ve gained a wider knowledge of literature. So reading was important. But most of all, my ambition has grown. My view is wider. Before, my goals were very near to me. Now I put my goals far, far in the distance. I want to make greater things.
Now that the mentoring year has ended, which direction will your artistic career take?
I’ll keep writing. I will not stop. I want to grow as a writer. I want to write work that is richer and more deeply researched, in ways that are new and original. And I want to reach more readers.
Is there any other comment you would like to add?
I’m very grateful to Rolex and Mario Vargas Llosa. He’s been the best teacher I’ve ever had – not because of who he is, but because of how he works and how he thinks, how he focuses the process and the goal of making you better.