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10 Questions for Maria João Medeiros

“I have an idea hanging from my head. It’s been out there for ages. Everything suggests it’s a bad idea.”
—from “Animal Stomach” by Rui Cardoso Martins, translated from Portuguese by Maria João Medeiros, Spring 2019 (Vol. 60, Issue 1)


Tell us about one of the first pieces you translated.
My very first translation into Portuguese was Daniel Defoe’s The Political History of the Devil, a treatise written in 1726. Since I’m not a professional translator, it was a make-or-break project. So now, whenever I accept a translation job I always thank the Defoe Devil . . .

What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
My earliest influence was Conan Doyle’s character Sherlock Holmes—as a child, I devoured every single story of the saga and its pioneer profiling methods; then came Hitchcock’s films, especially Dial M for Murder, with their unique portrayals of simple people becoming superlative by having to deal with evil; next came Puccini’s opera Tosca and its elegant crisscrossed obsessions. Also crucial were Eça de Queirós’ realist novels and Vaz de Camões’ lyrical poems.

What did you want to be when you were young?
Deductive reasoning is my favorite sport (along with swimming). When younger, I believed a scientific career might be the best way of keeping fit, so I enrolled in Marine Biology to study a scorpion from the Solomon Islands—but then art crept up and stung me with even more venomous effects.

What drew you to write a translation of this piece in particular?
When Rui asked me to translate his story, I immediately said No!! to myself. I had never written retroversion before . . . But then Rui’s telluric tale worked its charm in disquieting me and I began digesting its content. Besides being such a startling piece, “Animal Stomach” had another allure: it is set in the Alentejo, where my ancestors’ bones are buried and where my soul will one day be freed.

Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
A city aquatic. With waves forcing me to navigate words and discover uncharted literary archipelagos. Writing is much more intense when the seascape seizes my senses and the ocean breeze infiltrates the work.

Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
When editing I prefer utter silence. When writing: Bach’s Goldberg Variations and anything by Händel; also Celtic music and, more recently, Satie’s Gnossiennes (maybe because I’m practicing No. 1, which makes listening to it all the more stimulating).

Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
When not near the sea, I always seek the sun. Plus, when writing important texts by hand (black ink only) I use my talisman ballpoint pens—and for the extra-special pieces, my ultra-splendid fountain pen.

If you could work in another art form what would it be?
I’m determined to direct a documentary drama about a female outlaw from the 19th century, who committed a horridly romantic deed, about whom one the first Portuguese Gothic novels was written; to turn this story into a photonovel would also be quite a challenge.

What are you working on currently?
I’ve just finished researching and writing the short biographies of 25 world heroines, all assembled in one small book to be published by Guerra e Paz; I have to come up with 365 jokes for a children’s book (which, of course, is no laughing matter); I’m translating one of Disney’s Gravity Falls books; I’m trying to pitch the documentary idea (an even more serious matter).

What are you reading right now?
Currently, I am studying Phillip Freeman’s Searching for Sappho: The Lost Songs and World of the First Woman Poet, as well as rereading Joseph Conrad’s Victory and revisiting one of my favorite Portuguese short stories, A Pesca do Sável (Fishing the Allis), by the 4th Count of Ficalho—also set in the heart of Alentejo’s darkness.


MARIA JOÃO MEDEIROS is a writer, scriptwriter, and translator. She coauthored The Regicide Dossier and wrote Portuguese Oracles of the Twentieth Century. She translated Daniel Defoe’s The Political History of the Devil and Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince. She also republished an 1877 Portuguese gothic novel, Henriqueta —A Hero of the XIX Century, and is currently developing a documentary on the subject.

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