Nobel winner `copied woman's unknown novel'

A SPANISH schoolteacher once wrote a novel in her spare time and sent it off for fun to a prestigious literary competition. Her manuscript was returned months later, but when she read the winning novel, by Spain's 1989 Nobel prize winner, Jose Camilo Cela, she was horrified to discover it bore a strong likeness to her own.

Last month Carmen Formoso sued the grand old man of letters for plagiarism and the Planeta publishing house for breach of copyright. She wants no money, "just moral compensation and the return of what was stolen from me".

Mrs Formoso says Mr Cela's novel La Cruz de San Andres contains numerous similarities to hers in subject, plot, characters, historical moments, names, places and text that go far beyond mere coincidence. Mr Cela dismisses her claim as nonsense, and threatens to countersue.

Mrs Formoso says she bought Mr Cela's book "thinking I could learn a lot from it". She adds: "I nearly died of shock. How would I convince anyone I'd been plagiarised by Cela?"

She sent her novel Fluorescencia to Planeta in April 1994, and registered the copyright. The Planeta prize was awarded to Mr Cela's work in October 1994, the month before her manuscript was returned to her. Mrs Formoso thinks someone at Planeta passed on a copy to Cela.

Her sons, including her lawyer, Jesus Diaz Formoso, believe she had a case. So do three literature professors whose report forms the basis of her lawsuit. "The similarities can't be coincidence, because my mother describes her own life in that novel," says Mr Formoso.

Carmen Formoso grew up in the north-western town of La Coruna, and spent summers in Ordones where her father recovered from tuberculosis contracted while fighting during the Civil War. She recounts this in Fluorescencia. It is also described in Mr Cela's La Cruz de San Andres (St Andrew's Cross).

Mrs Formosa wrote Fluorescencia after discovering her grandmother, a cigar- smoking Cuban emigrant, had dabbled in the occult. It tells of a family of three generations of women from La Coruna who practise black magic until they suffer physical and moral collapses, with action in Buenos Aires, Ferrol, Havana, Morocco, Portugal and Africa.

In Mr Cela's La Cruz de San Andres a woman describes her moral collapse and that of her women friends from their membership of a satanic group that practises black magic. The action takes place in Coruna, with references to Buenos Aires, Havana, Ferrol, Morocco, Portugal and Africa.

Mrs Formoso details the rituals of black magic; so does Mr Cela. Her novel covers the 1930s to the 1980s, but concentrates on the post-war years and the 1960s and 1970s; so does Mr Cela's. Both novels describe the solitude and frustrations of those living in and around La Coruna in the grey years of Francoism.

The response was swift. "Camilo Jose Cela cannot be disturbed by nonsense like this, probably the most ridiculous piece of trivia that has occurred in his life," said his wife, Marina Castano. "We could countersue so this poor woman will have to work for the rest of her life to pay the damages."