'Men like Martínez, Díaz, and Mercero have had their time in the spotlight and the thousands of real Carmen Molas are simply waiting in the wings'Illustration by Emma Hulse

It was in 1929 that Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” spelled out the copious difficulties faced by women who wish to pursue a career in literature. If Shakespeare had a sister with the same poetic capabilities as he, Woolf posited, we would remain none the wiser. The almost constant historical oppression of female autonomy has ensured that our authorial heritage is brief, our celebrated literary foremothers few and far between. This is why, when faced with successful women who manage to juggle a family, career, and authorial pursuits, a sense of collective, female pride is palpable.

Enter Carmen Mola, middle-aged mother of three and award-winning Spanish crime novelist. Mola is the author of the Elena Blanco trilogy, a series recognised by a regional branch of the Women’s Institute, and which recently won Mola the Planeta prize, a literary award worth 1 million euros. Seeing women succeed in this way, professionally and creatively, feels liberating, refreshing, and well overdue. This was until three men emerged from the wings to collect their winnings, not the all-accomplishing female icon readers were promised.

“The men behind Mola usurped space within the female literary canon”

Agustín Martínez, Jorge Díaz, and Antonio Mercero were enticed out of anonymity and onto the awards stage to the general shock of the many who had followed the career of Carmen Mola. Appropriating this distinctly feminine pen name, the men had masqueraded for years as a working and writing mother, wrongly encroaching upon female space and, whether consciously or not, assisting in the drowning out of the marginalised voices of those female authors who have long dealt with discrimination in both readership and publishing.

Pen names have long been used throughout literary history, affording authors anonymity and allowing their work to stand independently from any associations with their person. When used appropriately, they can act as shields, allowing a writer to write freely and unreservedly. Pen names have been especially and most famously adopted by women to protect and preserve their literary exploits. Mary Anne Evans, better known by the name George Eliot, for example, published seven novels under a masculine name in order to create without prejudice and widen her potential readership in a predominantly male-dominated literary world.

However, the impersonation which Martínez, Díaz, and Mercero engaged in cannot, and should not, be legitimised by the liberating history of pseudonyms in literature. The men were already established in fields of creative media, having published novels and worked as scriptwriters before forming the author-persona Mola. Therefore, the three cannot be vindicated through claims that the pen name permitted them access to the literary world as it did Evans and the many other female authors before her and after.

“What must come next is a movement towards real women who we can appreciate, read, and celebrate”

Instead, the men’s use of a pen name worked to target female audiences and provide a false means of feminine authorial representation in crime writing. Associating a woman’s name with the violence of their novels, the impersonators engaged in a deceitful marketing strategy. The figure of a regular woman leading a double life as an intense crime writer calls to mind authors such as horror writer and housewife Shirley Jackson, providing a curious backstory to the novels and drawing in readers through the elusive, double image of Mola.

What is more, the conception of Mola was not merely the creation of a name, but of an entire person. Mola appeared in interviews which discussed her fabricated life and career, authenticating her identity as a living, breathing woman with a lived female experience. Notably, the interviews also acknowledge the presence of a pseudonym, but claimed the use to be traditionally protective, preserving Mola’s apparent identity as mother and teacher. A pseudonym behind a pseudonym was thus created, profitably tricking readers into perceiving Mola as a woman utilising the tradition of pen names to allow her literary autonomy.


Mountain View

Evaristo at the Cambridge Literary Festival

This deceitful creation of Mola as an actual woman gave authority to the female voice in the men’s novels and allowed them access to female readerships and discourses of which they had no right to be a part. Through writing as a woman, the men behind Mola usurped space within the female literary canon, space which could have been assigned to an actual woman writer, who truly faced the adversary assigned to her with her gender, and who succeeded creatively nonetheless.

As the false sense of pride produced by Mola’s success crumbles to expose a backdrop of manipulation and dishonesty, what we must focus on is finding that pride elsewhere. The Mola controversy has succeeded in generating a cacophony of noise around the subject of female space in literature and so what must come next is a movement towards real women who we can appreciate, read, and celebrate. Men like Martínez, Díaz, and Mercero have had their time in the spotlight and the thousands of real Carmen Molas are simply waiting in the wings.