Interview with Sonsoles Ónega, 2023 Planeta Prize: “I still feel that the word writer is too big for me”

In her very small free moments, when she is not playing the role of presenter in the afternoons on Antena 3, Sonsoles Onega sits down to write. In fact, the need to communicate through the written word came to him even before devoting himself to journalism. He cannot get rid of her, it is “impossible” for him.

Perhaps that is why, once her journalistic and literary career has been consolidated, she defines herself as “a journalist who writes.” It is proven that one facet cannot go without the other. She knows it and the public knows it, which includes her readers, the audience and specialized critics. And even more so now, when all eyes are on her.

With her seventh novel, The Maid’s Daughters, Ónega has won the 2023 Planeta Prize, worth one million euros. Grateful for this recognition, the author insists on the work and love that she has dedicated to writing the book, a project that has taken her three years and that she defends above prejudice and bad words – on several occasions she has had to emphasize that, when talking about awards, there is no “double meaning between TV and books” -.

Be that as it may, it’s not going bad at all. El Planeta comes to her after she received the Fernando Lara Novel Award in 2017 for her book After Love, Everything is Words, and on television she continues to obtain good results. Since the start of Y Ahora Sonsoles, she remains the queen of the afternoons, leading in this slot and overtaking Telecinco. If collecting the Planet was the “most difficult” for her, launching her program was the second. She tells us herself in a conversation that combines writing and journalism, journalism and writing. Because journalism is her “gasoline” and her writing is her “drive.”

Congratulations on this award. You picked it up holding back tears. What was keeping all that emotion contained?

SO: A lot of years of work. The novel had been in the making for three years, and the feeling of having brought it to fruition was what made me so excited and even made my voice tremble.

You have always had respect for defining yourself as a writer. When you receive an award like the Planet, can you still doubt it?

SO: I still feel like it’s a word that’s too big for me. I have not managed to dedicate all my time to literature. I thought that when I published my first novel I could dedicate myself to writing, but then I realized how complicated this literary world is. At the moment I am a journalist who writes, just like that.

So, beyond publishing books and winning literary awards, what does being a writer do to you?

SO: I don’t know, and I have searched a lot among writers who have written about this strangeness that is the literary and creative drive. I suppose it’s something you are born with, perfectly perfectable over the years. I have learned to write by writing, but the first drive to write is due to an almost religious vocation, even. You can’t live without writing, regardless of whether you publish. Then, when you start publishing and having your reader base, you dedicate yourself to them and learn to expand your audience. The more people you reach, the better. We work by and for others.

What led you to write? The maid’s daughters? Why this story?

SO: I’m always on the hunt for a good story, and The Handmaid’s Daughters comes from a true story. I am based on the exchange of some girls in the nest of a hospital in La Rioja. It seemed to me that there was a novel there, so to address the story I tried to scratch it as a journalist, but the protagonists did not want to speak and the story almost died in the headline. But it seemed to me that there was a book there. The origin is in that real story. The rest is a job, investigating.

In the novel you portray the situation of women who work at sea “without any recognition.” What can you tell about this situation?

SO: They are heroines, they still are today. You travel through the Galician estuaries and you continue to find women plowing the land, looking for clams or barnacles. Those women are there, and the situation of women in the factories has nothing to do with what I recreate in the novel, when rights for them did not exist. They are conquests that have been taking place little by little. These women find themselves with a circumstance that they have to fight, build. They are aware of the legacy. They defy their own destiny until the end of their days.

Does a good novel always have to be minimally political?

SO: Well, the novel, apart from being a moment of escape for the reader, or at least that’s how I conceive it when I pick up a book, has to have a vindictive part. In this case it is a vindication of memory and the past. But diving into women’s proposals has always enriched me a lot considering where we are today and where we come from. We women are today thanks to those who were. Those who fought for social achievements and rights in a world designed by men. The past always allows us to value the present.

Both your novel and the finalist, The blood of the father, address the relationships between fathers, mothers and children. What is it about these links that is so interesting in literature?

SO: The truth is that I do not know. Alfonso’s novel is wonderful, because it portrays Alexander the Great and the deepest relationships he has with his mother, the women in his life and also with some men. All the personal relationships are in Alfonso’s novel. I don’t know if talking about these links is essential, but in literature we tend to swim in human instincts. We heal our ills. For me, the relationship between parents, children and siblings is important to be in all my books.

You dedicated the novel “to women writers with children and to the children of women writers.” And about your sons, Yago and Gonzalo, you said: “When they find out (about winning the prize) they think that everything we have missed together has been worth it.” What things do you feel you have let go along the way?

SO: Every woman with a professional career knows that she has to give something up. If you don’t want to give up your family, as has been the case with me, there is some time you have to sacrifice. If not, there is no way to do it. Children are very absorbing, and it is good that they are, but there is a period of absence that only they pay for. Literature also expels the closest environment because it is an activity that you have to carry out in silence and alone. So I wanted to dedicate the book to the children of writers, because they are the ones who foot the bill, and to the writers, who have it very difficult sometimes.

Do female writers have it more difficult than male writers?

SO: Yes, but we also have to be very aware that this renunciation has also been made by men from home. I will never say that they have never suffered from being absent from home, because I don’t know. I know what it costs a woman. And we have to be very aware that everything cannot be done one hundred percent. We have to divide the times, the affections… But always giving ourselves to the children.

And in journalism, has there been any desire to resign? What is it about the profession that you always end up choosing it?

SO: I studied to be a journalist and started working at CNN+ in the absence of another career. And for me it is a direct communicating basis in literature. Journalism is the gasoline in my books. I think I am very much a journalist when I write, when it comes to knowing how to look for sources, to document myself… Life has taken me along paths that have allowed me to feed my journalistic thirst, not give it up. And literature has always taken me down paths in which continuing has always been a mandate, so I have never had the will to give up anything.

You started out doing parliamentary information, although a few years ago you got into social reporting. There are journalists who have gone through situations similar to yours, like Sandra Barneda. She said that entertainment is demonized too much, and that this had affected her personally. How did you manage this new role? What does entertainment give you?

SO: Entertainment was a discovery that I came to by chance and by decision of my bosses, not so much mine. It is a plot in which all the journalism and entertainment in the world can be done. Combine all the ingredients in a single format. But it has one great thing, which is that entertainment entertains, it keeps you company. And reaching homes and accompanying a woman who lives alone, or a family that learns by listening to you is great.

You recently apologized to Chenoa, admitting that the question you had asked him about whether he had seen David Bisbal’s documentary was “bullshit”, but is it really “bullshit” if the public is interested?

SO: Well, it’s a good question… Let’s see, the journalist’s only power is to ask questions. And the only power of the interviewee is not to answer them. I believe that when a topic makes an interviewee uncomfortable, we have to refrain from asking that question. I’m talking to you about characters from the social chronicle. You have to ask a politician everything, although curiously they are never asked about anything personal. So, I think there are some boundaries that we should not cross, such as the intimate lives of the characters. No need to dig if the character doesn’t want to show. Maybe that happened with Chenoa. She will be tired of being asked about Bisbal, and I realized that she shouldn’t have asked her about him. And she doesn’t make me blush to rectify live if the interviewee is not comfortable. I prefer to see a character who is comfortable behind the screen than someone who is upset.

But there are those who think that you don’t get good answers if you don’t get to the point of discomfort. In the world of the heart this is what happens.

SO: You always have to make the powerful uncomfortable. I have been involved in politics for many years and I have come to ask the unquestionable question if I considered it interesting, because the question always represents a counterpower in itself. Personally, I don’t care much about people’s privacy. I care about what they do, and I like that people come to the program who do things that can be constructive for the society we are heading towards. There are characters who make a living by telling their lives, but the character must be allowed to speak as much as he wants.

What do you think about those who consider that, to talk about public figures, you should also talk about your private life?

SO: I talk about mine respecting the people around me. I’m talking about me and that’s it. If my sister doesn’t want me to talk about her, then I won’t talk about her. And no one touches my children because if I don’t take out the katana.

A few months ago you told VerTele that you couldn’t explain what difference to And now Sonsoles of TardeAR because Ana Rosa Quintana’s program had not yet started. After some time, with both programs competing on the grid, what is your opinion about it?

SO: Well, they are programs with the same cut, magazine format. We deal with current events and social chronicles. I think the big difference is in the networks, one on Telecinco and another on Antena 3. And that’s it.

The fight over audience data is still there. What is your opinion of Ana Rosa? You insist that she is not your rival, but your partner.

SO: Ana Rosa always receives the highest praise from me.

You said that the speech when picking up the Planet was “the most difficult live show” of your life. What was the second?

SO: I would say that the start of And now Sonsoles, due to the expectation that there was in the program, which premiered in the afternoons on Antena 3, which from that moment on broke its programming of series and contests. I even physically felt the weight of responsibility.

You said the Planet was the prize you “never” dreamed of. However, you did it. Now, what are you after?

SO: For me success is working. To continue doing what we are doing, with a huge team behind us, and to be able to continue writing with the trust of readers, now that the novel is already in bookstores and libraries.