Semana Negra was a mystery writing festival where everything seemed to come together for me. These photos show how this mad festival that attracts over a million visitors to its mystery panels and fairgrounds in Gijon, Spain during 10 days each year encompassed all the various interests and skills that I have practiced throughout my life. On the left I am pictured juggling 35 clubs at once...you cannot see the other 32 that are out of the frame of the photograph. I thank French mystery writer Jean-Hugues Oppel for taking all the photos on this page, but he'll have to be told off on that framing problem. I will undoubtedly never manage to juggle 35 clubs again. The street performer--one of many who perform during Semana Negra--who allowed me to use his clubs, was needless to say, impressed.
The white structure in the background is a tent on the opposite side of the canal that separated the festival grounds into two distinct areas; one side was literary madness, the other carvinal ride madness.
The photo on the right shows me at the precise moment that I passed the pole-sitter journalist in the third lap of the kart race that pitted authors against journalists. I overtook the man, a German journalist, and then proceeded to overtake for the second time several authors from around the world, who had no idea I wrote about Formula One racing for a newspaper, or that I frequently spend my pocket money on go-karting, as I was deprived of the pleasure as a child. There's no point in showing the enemy all your cards at once. I won the race and then proceeded to fall off a makeshift podium that consisted of a step ladder that could not hold even its own weight. I nearly paid for my victory with a broken leg. Served me right. (No lasting physical damage was done, though.)
The photo on the left shows me onstage during the final day of the festival, singing along with the festival's main singer. I had been caught sitting in the front row table singing along to Bob Dylan's "Blowin' In The Wind," and I was called up on stage. I then forgot the words. That's why the people at the table appear to be laughing. What you cannot see in the photo is the several hundred other people who were sitting under this, the main roundtable tent, during the final banquet lunch. They were amused by my failed efforts to read the words to the famous song.
The photo on the right shows me in the same tent as I drink a beer and listen very seriously to one of the many serious intellectual roundtable discussions about the mystery novel. Later, others would listen just as seriously as I droned on about the current state of the French mystery novel on the same stage, in the same tent.
I somehow did manage to get an encore after the singing of that Dylan song. Having been given a chance to clear my name as a former busker in the streets of London, I decided to sing a song I usually know the words to very well. It's a traditional Irish song called "The Raggle Taggle Gypsy." As you can see by the turned heads of the spectators in the front row, I managed to remember the words.
It seemed all that was missing for me at the festival was a stage for ventriloquism, and a circus ring for unicycling. But I had such a great time that I hope to return to Semana Negra next year. So I may yet manage to throw into the pot those very literary activities, and make next year's festival even more fun. For me, at least.
All photos on this page are Copyright © 1997 by Jean-Hugues Oppel.