Garcia Marquez admits to one year of writer's block

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The Nobel Prize-winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez, pioneer of the school of magical realism and probably the best known contemporary author in the Spanish-speaking world, has confessed to suffering from that most humble of literary problems: writer's block.

"I've stopped writing. 2005 has been the first year of my life when I haven't written a line," the Colombian storyteller who revolutionised Latin American literature said in a rare interview with a newspaper at his home in Mexico City.

Garcia Marquez, who galvanised the world with his 1967 epic One Hundred Years of Solitude, is to be guest of honour at Britain's Hay on Wye international literary festival, which opens today in Colombia's Caribbean port of Cartagena, the writer's birthplace. "In practice, with the experience I have, I could write a new novel without any problem, but people would realise that I hadn't put my heart into it," he told Barcelona's La Vanguardia newspaper, which will publish the interview on Sunday.

Garcia Marquez's first volume of memoirs, Living to Tell the Tale, became a bestseller when it appeared in 2002. It was while working on the second volume that his creative juices dried up, he admitted. He blamed personal problems - now 78, he has been suffering from lymphatic cancer since 1999 - and, more prosaically, computer difficulties.

He may be slowing down, but Gabo, as he is known, has not slackened his political commitment and is finding no shortage of causes to devote his time to. Last month he acted as mediator in talks in Havana between the Colombian government of Alvaro Uribe and the rebel National Liberation Army (ELN) in an attempt to end the country's perennial guerrilla war.

"I've always been a conspirator; I've been conspiring for peace in Colombia since I was born," he said, claiming to have put right injustices in various countries with what he calls "parallel diplomacy... much more effective than signing protest manifestos".

A hero in his homeland, Garcia Marquez's legacy is cherished in the sleepy jungle village of Aracataca, his model for the imaginary Macondo of A Hundred Years. The village lies in the heartland of guerrilla territory, today's manifestation of Colombia's seemingly endless civil war that formed the political backdrop of the author's greatest novel.

The house where young Gabo listened to his grandmother's fantastic tales of exuberant family life was declared a heritage site in 1982 when he received the Nobel Prize for Literature, and is now a museum. But Aracataca's mayor, Pedro Sanchez, aspires to a more spectacular homage. He proposes the village be renamed Aracataca-Macondo to focus international attention on this backward spot, and lift it from poverty.

"Gabo's raw material is here; Colombia's only Nobel Prize-winner is from here. This is the cradle of magic realism," proclaimed Mr Sanchez last month, adding with characteristic local pride that the community of 53,000 was a microcosm of all Colombia.

Mr Sanchez has canvassed local opinion (with mixed results: some consider the two-handed name ugly) and mobilised politicians of the regional assembly. Regional deputies meet next month to decide whether Aracataca should become Macondo, so this corner of real life may more accurately reflect a magical world.