The Malta Independent 23 August 2019, Friday

Regenerating young adult’s thirst for Maltese literature

Tuesday, 19 June 2018, 08:54 Last update: about 2 years ago

Author Antoinette Borg speaks about her second young adult novel, (Ri)generazzjoni, which deals with the process of growth and renewal we experience during adolescence, which is one of the most difficult transitions humans go through, generation after generation. And while the author’s latest book has won the Novels for Youth prize, she feels it can also be enjoyed by adults, since we’ve all been teenagers at one point after all

Merlin Publishers has just published your second young adult novel (Ri)generazzjoni. What's with the brackets in the title?

The brackets allow a play on the words 'riġenerazzjoni' and 'ġenerazzjoni', both of which, together, encapsulate the running theme of the novel. (Ri)ġenerazzjoni is mainly about the process of growth and renewal we experience during adolescence, which is one of the most difficult transitions humans go through, generation after generation.

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On the face of it, the story is plotted around a group of teenagers who find themselves in a police station after witnessing a traffic accident. One of the teens has a feeling that there's more to the accident than meets the eye and, being a keen fan of investigative series, she decides to do a bit of solo sleuthing. To her surprise she finds out that one of her friends knows a lot more about the accident than he is letting on. Meanwhile the police also decide to delve deeper into the dynamics of the accident, and eventually the truth comes out. (Or does it?)

But the story is also about six young people, each of them fighting a different battle. It is about two quirky policemen whose attitudes towards the teenagers are diametrically opposed, while each thinks his way is the right one. It is about the little gecko at the police station, which observes everything silently while struggling for its own survival...

 

Who is the target reader for this series? Is it a book for teenagers only?

The key target group for this book is young adults - as a manuscript it won the Novels for Youth prize, and its publication was part-sponsored by Aġenzija Żgħażagħ, along with the National Book Council - but I think the novel can also be enjoyed by adults; we've all been teenagers after all!

So far you've only written novels for young adults. Is there a particular reason why you chose this genre?

There is no particular reason. Normally, at least until I finish a first draft, I don't like to write with a target reader in mind as this tends to interfere with my narrative tone. Rather, when I have a story in my head I try to find the best way to carve it out and give it shape, and then worry about target age group later, normally at the editing stage. The stories that I have published so far have turned out to be best suited for the young adult category. But it won't be like that for long, as at the moment I am working on projects for readers from primary school children to adults.

 

Both your books have won awards - does this put pressure on you?

When I first started writing, it was an experiment in chasing a dream, and although I put my heart and soul into it, my hopes went only as far as having my book published; the possibility of being considered for awards was so remote that it didn't even cross my mind.

When my work started getting recognised and awarded, I was overwhelmed and, yes, I did feel the pressure and it did affect my work. The harsh critic in me got even harsher, and I was continually worried that whatever I was writing would never be as good as my first. Lately, though, I've started to relax and be a little easier on myself. "Big Magic" the book by Elizabeth Gilbert has helped a lot. One of my favourite quotes is: "You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures."

 

Are you a full time writer? What made you give up your day job for writing?

Yes, at the moment I write full-time. I had dreamed of writing a book for as long as I can remember, and one day I realised that life won't wait for me to fulfil my dreams in my own time. I was also well aware that my busy professional career at the time and a growing family left me no free time I could dedicate to writing. I wasn't prepared to give up my few remaining sleeping hours, so I had to decide how badly I wanted to write. I mulled over this for months, constantly supported by close family and friends, until I finally shut my eyes tight and took the plunge.

 

Can you run us through your writing day? Are you very disciplined? Do you make yourself write a certain number of words per day?

My writing day starts at about 8am, when I return to an empty house after my morning walk. I am usually at my desk until about 2.30pm, and then pick up writing again for another couple of hours after 9pm. As for the content of my writing slots, not a single day is like another. I write, yes, but most of the work I do never makes it to a page: such as the truckloads of research, and the crossing out and the starting over a million times. When actually writing, I am extremely self-critical, so sometimes I spend ages going round a sentence or paragraph that doesn't sound quite right. Indeed, there are days when I delete more than I write.

So for me writing is much more complicated than reining in the muse and typing away a set quota of words per day. Still, in spite of my chaotic writing ways, sometimes it happens that I open the manuscript I'd have been ploughing through for months, read it, and realise that hey! I've got a draft!

 

Do you have good days and bad days when it comes to writing? Do you have any superstitious rituals?

Yes, different days yield different levels of writing satisfaction. The best days are when I am fired up with enthusiasm about the story I'm writing; the worst are when I read the same story the following day and think that it's unpublishable rubbish. Luckily I love a good challenge and I hate unfinished business, so I always grit my teeth and persevere for as long as it takes. So far I have managed to make this work without the need for any superstitious rituals.

 

How does your family react to your reading and writing?

Sadly no one in my family is as enthusiastic about books as I am. But thankfully they don't complain about the books creeping up on them from everywhere, and they are definitely my biggest supporters. I run through many plot points and twists with my no-nonsense husband, and my son is my trusted advisor for teen speak and teen ways - dishing out advice (in a resigned tone of voice) such as "No, Ma, forget it! No one would ever do/say something like that!" My younger daughter wasn't a great book lover to start with, but now she seems to be well on her way to catching the book bug! Happiness is when I find her rummaging through a bookshelf, or reading a book in a quiet corner...

 

Do you subconsciously write about people you know? Do you think authors tend to do that?

Rather than writing about people I know, I tend to pick from them some personality trait I'd noticed, a piece of their life story, a peculiar habit or an unusual passion, and then use these to mould the characters in my stories. I think every author is tempted to write about the stories and people he/she knows well, especially in the early days of writing. My feeling is that, as an author grows, he/she will use less of these "props" and be more open to writing about what lies beyond his/her comfortable patch.

 

What inspires you? Who are your favourite authors - Maltese and foreign?

I am inspired by the idea that through my work I can make a difference in people's lives: uplift their spirits for a bit, reassure them, encourage them, hopefully inspire them as well. In other words, I love being able to give back some of what great writers have given to me.

I am always at a loss when asked to name my favourite authors: so many of them have moved me in so many ways over my reading life! At the risk of leaving a couple of hundred out, here's a few off the top of my head: Daphne Du Maurier, Neil Gaiman, Donna Tartt, Roald Dahl, Gabriel García Márquez; and Bill Bryson when in the mood for non-fiction. For Maltese inspiration, I devour anything written by Trevor Zahra, Clare Azzopardi, Immanuel Mifsud and Pierre Mejlak.

Do you feel Maltese authors should speak out more on current political events and be more alive as voices for the community like authors abroad tend to be?

I believe that authors, like everybody else, have a responsibility to make a positive impact on the community around them. Many authors abroad engage themselves in political conversation and are widely respected as influencers and shapers of global thinking.

In Malta, unfortunately, discussion about the current political environment is a deeply polarised, loud and toxic place that tends to crowd out (and in the process unfairly label) voices that try to put forward well-reasoned opinions, ideas and arguments. I believe this is why you won't find many Maltese authors on the frontline of controversial political discussions. Rather than entering divisive territory with counterproductive effects, many prefer to stay between the lines and focus on other ways of contributing to a better society, outside of the public arena. I feel that as a country we have a long way to go before we're ready for mature political discourse.

 

Do you think the world would be better place if people read more books? Or is the online reading that most people are doing these days more than enough?

Most definitely, reading books enriches people in so many ways that online reading does not. For me, the greatest merit of books is that they help us develop more empathy. When we read about other people, we immerse ourselves into their world and we imagine how it feels to be in their position. Being able to understand others makes us better at being human.

 

What's in the pipeline for us readers?

Oh, loads of exciting stuff, for young and older readers alike, all thanks to the wonderful team at Merlin Publishers! The most imminent are two stories I wrote for the series Tikka Qari, to be published shortly, and a picture book for children next in line. Then, still on my workbench, there is my third novel for teenagers, with a first draft already in good shape, and a co-authored collection of short stories for adults. Keep hitting the refresh button!


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