As many of you know, particularly those of you who have spoken with me in the past, the concept pertaining to children's reading, whilst vast and filled with wondrous, creative stories, is not an easy niche to be in. For many, it takes a great deal of time and energy to get one's story out to the masses in the hopes that those that do pick up a copy in a bookstore, or discover a website marketing the book, will actually pull out their wallet and purchase a copy. This is further complicated by the fact that readers of children's stories, are in fact children who depend on their parents to purchase books for them and it is these parents to whom, we as authors, focus our efforts onto.
For those of you who have been following this blog, you will have noticed that that authors interviewed to date have written stories in the English language. Today I wished to introduce you to a wonderful author who has written her first novel in Maltese. Authors of stories in Maltese have had an even larger mountain to climb given the limited market to which these types of stories are catered to and it is for this reason that I wished to include this interview, and a few others to be tabbed into the planned articles, in my blog in order to support my fellow colleagues by exposing their stories to you. I certainly hope that for those of you living in Malta or those of you who are Maltese Expats living in another corner of the world, will enjoy reading more about this versatile author.
In terms of those of you who haven't a clue how to pronounce a word in Maltese, I would still encourage you to read through the interview and learn more about this wonderful story....it may just be the catalyst to get you or your child interested in learning more about the language.
Author profile section:
Country of residence: Malta
Favourite hobbies: Reading, walking, researching family history
Favourite song: Unwritten, by Natasha Bedingfield
Favourite movie: La Vita è Bella
Favourite Colour: Blue
A place you enjoyed visiting recently: Comino
A place you would like to visit one day: New Zealand
About your book:
What inspired you to become an author and how long have you been writing books?
Ever since I was a child I loved books and dreamt that one day I would write one myself. Then life took me elsewhere and for many years my dream remained just that, a dream. In 2014, while balancing a full-time professional career and a growing family, the outline of a story popped into my head, quite unexpectedly, and I started writing it. However, my busy life allowed me to go only as far as the plot-line and the first chapter. I realised then that there was no way I would be able to finish it unless I gave up my career. After months of agonising over the scary step I was contemplating and with the full support of my family I made my decision. I left my job and focused on learning about creative writing and writing my book, which became a dream-come-true in 2016 when ‘Fittixni’ was published by Merlin Publishers.
How did you come up with the idea for your book?
In the summer of 2014 my son had a summer reading project and he chose to read three of Trevor Żahra's adventure books, which I used to love when I was a child. As they were lying around in the house I decided to read them again, for the fun of it, and they took me right back to my childhood: it felt as if I had gone through a time machine. Around this time, I was ironing clothes on a hot Saturday afternoon and, as usual, letting my thoughts wander freely. With Trevor’s stories floating around in my mind, I had a vision of a boy my son's age rummaging in his grandma's house and finding an old photo which intrigues him. With a seemingly bottomless pile of creased shirts to go through, I set off a chain of questions to myself to build the story behind that photograph, and by the time I'd finished my ironing I had a rough story-line mapped out in my head. Then I rushed to my computer and typed it all out. That was the beginning of Fittixni.
Can you provide readers of this article with a short synopsis about your book?
The plot-line of Fittixni is driven by the story of a young English woman named Jessica, who drowned in rough seas off the coast of Malta in 1937. She died holding on to a box in which her little daughter lay sleeping. Many decades later, the spirit of Jessica wants her story and that of her daughter to be unearthed and made known. This is where Jack comes in: a 12-year-old Maltese boy who, while bored out of his mind at his grandmother's house, finds an old family photograph which features a little blonde girl he knows nothing about. Helped by his friends, he gradually pieces together the identity of the little girl, her incredible story and a secret from the past that had never been told to anyone.
What do you think readers will find most appealing about your books?
I trust that readers of Fittixni will be as fascinated as I am by the sheer beauty of the Maltese language. While writing Fittixni I rediscovered the onomatopoeic richness of the language and its abundance of colourful expressions, and at the same time I found out that it is very pliable and not as limited as it is made out to be. It is really an amazing language which we should all be proud of. As one of the characters says in Fittixni, “Maltese is a piece of music waiting for you to compose it. It is not meant to be written and spoken, but to be sung and danced.” Of course good use of language alone is not enough to make a compelling read. Many readers are enjoying the book’s intriguing plot that keeps you guessing until the very end.
Tell us about your main characters.
The main characters of the story are also its narrators, namely the spirit of Jessica, and Jack. They represent the past and the present respectively, and in many ways they are opposites but they buttress each other very well. Jessica is a feisty risk-taker with a rebellious streak, whereas Jack is a timid, good-natured boy who doesn’t like to cause trouble. Both characters develop over the course of the story. Jessica recounts how she found a new dimension to her outlook on life when she became a mother, while Jack finds himself ready to open up and show his creative side to the world.
Tell us about your illustrations.
The cover of Fittixni is the work of the brilliant artist Moira Zahra, who managed to bring the book’s key ideas into life, beautifully. I love the striking colours, the movement of the waves, the mysterious figure stepping out of the rough sea with the sinking ship in the background, the handwritten title giving it a personal touch, and my favourite feature: the rough shape of a heart formed by the billowing waves.
What do you hope readers learn from your book?
I would hope that readers take home the message of the poem which the spirit of Jessica writes in the clouds for Jack. It is about coming out of your shell, believing in yourself, chasing dreams, and learning and helping others along the way.
What other books have you written?
Fittixni is my first novel. The manuscript of my second novel has recently been announced as winner of the Literary Contest of Novels for Youth, and is due to be published in the coming months.
Are you currently working on any other writing projects?
I am currently working on my third book, another mystery/adventure for young readers.
How can readers discover more about you and your work?
Do you have any words of advice to parents who may have children who do not readily look to picking up a book to read?
Sadly I have reluctant readers at home too. I go along with the English saying ‘you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink’, so I never force my children to read. But I also believe in surrounding the horse with so much water that it can’t help but take a sip or two from time to time. Occasionally children will take an interest in a particular subject or trend, and it’s then that you have to seize the opportunity and encourage them to read up. It can be stories with a particular theme that interests the child, such as football or ballet, or the sort of humorous reads that are particularly appealing to teens, or non-fiction books such as biographies of their celebrity idols or indeed reference books about wild animals. My suggestion is that, on the rare occasions that some sort of reading material tickles reluctant readers, humour them - even if you’re not exactly enthusiastic about their choices.
Do you have any suggestions or tips to children when choosing a book to read?
Over the years I have developed my own method for choosing a book, and I will gladly share it so children can use it too! First of all, I browse, a lot. I take time to wander around the shelves, pick up books, look at covers and read blurbs. Some books will go right back into their place on the shelf. Others seem to stick to my fingers, and I can’t let them go. Sometimes I put a book back on the shelf and I walk on, but it calls me back to it. I stop browsing when I have three books in my hands. Almost always there is one of them that inspires me the least, and I can put it back. Choosing between the last two is always the most difficult part. If you really need to have them both, my suggestion is to try and negotiate an increase in your spending budget – you never know, you might get lucky!
A message of thanks is sent out to Antoinette for that insightful article about her novel and the wonderful tips she provided to parents and children about the wonderful world of reading.
I certainly hope you enjoyed reading through this article. For those of you who are able to read in Maltese, and those who would like to attempt to, I hope you will consider purchasing and reading Antoinette's novel. It comes highly recommended.
Until the next posting....
Happy Reading to all!
Would you like to win a copy of Antoinette's novel Fittixni? Click on the link below to enter!