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'Why We Write': Scunthorpe Hasta La Muerte author Inigo Gurruchaga

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When Alex Calvo Garcia arrived at Scunthorpe in 1996 from the Basque Country, he was a complete unknown at a time when foreign players rarely featured at British clubs. Eight years later he was leaving an Irons legend, having made 236 league appearances and scoring a winner in the 1999 play-off final against Leyton Orient. 

This led acclaimed Basque journalist Inigo Gurruchaga to tell Alex's story, which is part biography and part social history. The narrative embraces the history of football, of Scunthorpe, of the religions, social ideas and stories that shape the followers of a club in North Lincolnshire with a funny name.

In the latest instalment of our 'Why We Write' series, Inigo describes his motivations behind chronicling this beguiling story.

In 1985 the French newspaper Libération published for the Paris book fair a special edition in which they asked 400 authors the question to which I will now respond. In the introduction, 'Libé' explained that the original idea came from the group of surrealists who met at the Café de Flore. In 1919 they presented the answers of 75 writers to that same question in three issues of their magazine, Littérature.

The editors -- Breton, Aragon and Soupault -- had been inspired by a man always dressed in black, who sat in silence at their bistrot table. Intrigued by his presence, someone in the group asked him one day why he was there. And the quiet witness to their artistic conspiracies responded: 'Why do you write?' Why do you write is a question from a man of few words, dressed in black.

Samuel Beckett gave a brief and exact answer: 'Only good at that.' The French Dubliner abandoned a secure job in academia to immerse himself in experimental wordsmithery; he stripped James Joyce's ambition of wholeness to embark on the opposite direction to his mentor and to reflect the stark ignorance of humans about themselves. In the last years of his life he could claim to have done a good job of it.

Could I replicate Beckett's answer? I am a journalist, a correspondent in a foreign country. My writings are a vast collection of half baked 'refritos' -- the Spanish hacks' jargon to describe articles made by refrying the work of others -- analytical pieces judged by clarity and wisdom in approaching a sequence of events and stories framed by what is considered to be newsworthy, limited in their length and depth by newspaper layouts and edited by others. Good at what exactly?

I have written a few books. My first, El Modelo Irlandés (The Irish Model), written in 1998, is a long reportage on the Irish peace process, up to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. I would rewrite big chunks of it now. I worked on the book long into the night. That is a good recipe for verbosity. And I do know with hindsight that it contains errors as well. Talking to Terrorists. Making peace in Northern Ireland and the Basque Country' which I wrote later (2009) with John Bew and Martyn Frampton, holds as a good analytical work.

'Staff', a literary memoir that I published in Spanish -- first as a gift to readers and later as an ebook -- of my time as a hotel night porter when I first came to London, has sold just one copy. But my brother in law, a well-educated reader, did like it. I was shaken when in a casual meeting in a street of San Sebastian, our home town, he said that he had thought of it as a good novel. Wow! Dissatisfaction may be a good thing to improve at what you do and perhaps another side of it is not being at ease when receiving compliments. But I do like the raw celerity dispensed in 'Staff', to cruelty and to love, and felt content about somebody whose opinions I respect reading it as I meant.

The Spanish edition of Scunthorpe Hasta La Muerte received a few good reviews and comments on social media ,and the same is happening now with the English edition, translated by Matthew Kennington and published by deCoubertin. In Spain it had ephemeral fame when a TV documentary based on the book was broadcast. But sales were modest. It was always going to be challenging to sell a book with a title that people cannot pronounce, and one that is expensive at a time of economic hardship for so many.

I understand Scunthorpe Hasta La Muerte as a travel book. I worked around Alex Calvo Garcia's wonderful itinerary in English football, my own voyage of discovery into the town, the club and the history of the game. I see it as a hybrid text, a combination of journalism and essay, with the dramatic denouement of a novel. Good at that? I would like to be judged by the success or failure of the meandering structure and by the speed and austerity of the narrative. I am not a fan of sports writing's recidivism into hyperbole when a beautiful cascade of factual details would do.

Marguerite Duras responded in 1985 to the question, 'why do you write?' with another question: ‘why not to write?’ I think that if my family's basic economic needs were secured I would stop working as a journalist, a job that for all its limitations and strenuous demands I still like. I would read less about current affairs and more literature and history. And I would still write. Why? The answer is more difficult when money becomes more irrelevant.

Writing is physically draining. It is not good for your back. It keeps you away from the great outdoors. And I do not need fame. I feel loved by those whom I love. Beckett seems to have been an amicable but private man and that sounds right to me. In the political agitations of Spain in the 70's I rose to a few platforms at a very young age to incite the overthrow of dictator Franco's regime and left that stage forever immuned to the attractions of leadership or the adulations of the crowd. I would happily work for newspapers with no bylines or publish books with a pseudonym. I would like to live in a world where conversations about books and stories flow but nobody asks anyone for a dedication or an autograph.

I think that I would still write because I have daydreams, because I have played in my mind with plots, characters and words through my adult life. And when I sit down with the scattered broken pieces of a story and start typing to give them unity and coherence I am fully absorbed by that endeavour. Why to publish the result? It must be something to do with a tendency to loneliness and to seek empathy in a world beyond my circle of family and friends by the public exposition of those dreams in the most perfect form that I can achieve.  

Iñigo Gurruchaga is the London correspondent for the Basque newspaper, El Correo.

Scunthorpe Hasta La Muerte: The Extraordinary Journey Of English Football's Spanish Pioneer, written by Inigo Gurruchaga and translated by Matthew Kennington, is available through our website here: http://www.decoubertin.co.uk/scunthorpe-hasta-la-muerte-the-extraordinary-journey-of-english-footballs-spanish-pioneer/


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