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Maltese literature through portrait: Pierre J. Mejlak

By: Ljiljana Samardžić

One of the most popular destinations on Earth is small packed-up paradise called Malta. Sea, stone, beaches, blue lagoon, heat, not a single drop of a rain during summer, amicable and polite Maltese people, fiestas and a lot more gave Malta its recognition. But nature, colours, sound of sea waves and, as I’ve noticed, strange energy mixing up in the air weren’t the only things that inspired award-winning Maltese writer Pierre J Mejlak to make his recognized stories and books.

It is known that Mejlak has published books for children, adaptations, a novel and two collections of short stories and also won numerous awards, including the Malta Literary Prize, three National Book Awards, the Commonwealth Essay Writing Award and the Sea of Words European Short Story Award.

His short stories have been translated into English, French, Catalan, Portuguese, Arabic, Spanish and Italian and were read at numerous literary festivals around Europe and the Middle East.

It could be said that Maltese literature is scarcely known in Serbia, so Mr. Mejlak did his best to remove its veil of secret by revealing some basic characteristics of Maltese literature:

“Well, I think that literature says a lot about the country that produces it. You can get to know a country better by reading the books its writers write. Malta is quite a young nation. We became independent in 1964 and I believe there is quite a contrast between the literature that was written before, when Malta was a colony, and afterwards. It’s risky to generalise but before independence I believe many Maltese novelists were more concerned with comparing what is Maltese to what is foreign.”

Things started to change with Independence and with a new crop of young writers experimenting with new rhythms and concepts. Malta became independent and there was no need to encourage readers to feel patriotic. There were real problems that needed to be solved by the Maltese themselves.

Placed in new situation, new role and modern social flow, Maltese literature changed accordingly:

“Nowadays, I think that Maltese writers are doing what most other writers in our region do. We are basically putting our identity under the spotlight, trying to understand what makes us Maltese, how to define ourselves, what makes us different from other people, what concerns us most, where is our place in the world.”

“How on Earth did Mejlak get us to read books in Maltese?” asked one critic. So, what on Earth did she mean by saying that? It sounds like judgment of Maltese language.

“I think what that journalist wanted to say is that for quite a long time it was rather uncool to be seen with a Maltese book. However, I believe it wasn’t just the writer that made the difference. Publishers helped a great deal in packaging Maltese literature in an attractive way.”

As it is already mentioned, things which inspire tourists to visit Malta and hunger after prolonging their stay don’t put pencil in Mejlak’s hands:

“I write for various reasons. To start with, I write because I dream of having a book published and to have one you need to – at some point – write it. I write to remember moments. I write to create a little world in which I feel happier. But, I guess, I mainly write because I love writing. It’s also one of the very few things I might know how to do relatively well.”

And the greatest inspiration can be placed in such a small word that embraces more than eye can see or mind can hold:

“I mainly write about people … how people meet, how they discover each other, how couples fall in love and then out of love, how people fight, miss each other, betray each other, what people think about when they’re alone, what worries them most, what scares them, what makes them look forward to another day … It’s the most fascinating subject to talk about – people.”

Popularity in Malta doesn’t seem to make life more interesting:

“In a small country like Malta being popular doesn’t mean anything. In a way almost everyone is popular. Sometimes all it takes to become popular is to say something silly on TV. Popularity in Malta needs to be placed in a context.”

So, he is going back to Belgium, where he still has his job and he prefers that way –  to live a slightly more anonymous life, where things can be slightly more unpredictable. I think such an atmosphere would help me be more productive.

Every youngster or newish writer wonders and asks itself about recipe for good, successful book, story and poem. Mejlak claims that there is no recipe. “I think you have to believe in the story you’re writing. Make it completely yours. See yourself in it. My biggest advice to young writers would be to read a lot. It’s like a car – no matter how good the engine is, it needs petrol. It’s the same with us writers. Then, I would suggest young writers to write a lot – not necessarily with the aim of publishing their writing, but just to write and develop a style. I would also suggest that they read books in a slightly different way – not just for the story (which is important) but also to see how the writer is building the story.”

He also mentions that new writers should not be afraid of share their work with others. “At the end of the day you need readers to read your work, to tell you what they liked most and what they would have preferred to be different. It’s healthy to interact with your readers and you can learn a lot from them.”










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1 comment

Berislav Blagojevic 28/09/2011 at 12:03

Well done Pierre! Wonderful writer!!

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