The Malta Independent 17 November 2019, Sunday

Local authors carving their niche and lighting the way to a Maltese fantasy and sci-fi genre

Giulia Magri Wednesday, 6 November 2019, 09:43 Last update: about 11 days ago

Today marks the opening day of the 2019 Malta Book Festival, which kicks off with "Strange New Worlds", a conference on sci-fi and fantasy literature, which is organised by the National Book Council.

The conference will bring together local and international authors who all have created their own fantastical worlds in their works. These include Loranne Vella (Malta), Joan Courtenay Grimwood (UK), Kali Wallace (US) and Dave Rudden (Ireland). The conference will be monitored by translator and writer of It-Tawmaturgu: Il-Hmura ta' Filghaxija Mark Anthony-Fenech. The Malta Independent contacted Mark to discuss the conference and its importance on sci-fi and fantasy fiction in Malta.

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What are you expecting from the conference itself, given that there are four other authors who have created their own different fantasy worlds?

I am looking forward to hearing about each author's years of experience, knowledge and their take on the worlds they created, as well as their own ideas on what is essential when telling a sci-fi and fantasy story. I'm also keen on their take on the standing of genre literature vis a vis literary fiction; whether this fixation with pigeonholing stories is a fruitless exercise since some works transcend boundaries; whether it is an exercise in snobbery, or if this helps authors and readers discover science fiction and fantasy.

The science fiction genre dates back hundreds of year, during the time of great advances in science and technology. Yet in most recent years there has been a rise in sci-fi and speculative fiction, as more authors question what the future will look like.

What do you think is the reason behind this rise and what attracts authors and readers towards this genre?

One might say that the "Epic of Gilgamesh" is one of the first, if not the first fantasy epic. Of course, mythology might be seen as the precursor of fantasy, that is a testament to the human imagination, creating stories and other worlds to make sense of their own.

More recently, the likes of Mary Shelley, Jules Verne, H.G Wells, JRR Tolkien and others have spearheaded both science fiction and fantasy, with sci-fi keeping pace and running ahead with the scientific discoveries of the time and the angst they caused.

The age of the internet, Dungeons and Dragons, Game Workshop and the rise of blockbuster franchises such as Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe have made the genres more accessible and fired the imagination of millions. There are many reasons as to why an author writes in such genres such as the lure to create an alternative world, it's like playing chess with history and the future.

Apart from the language, do you believe Maltese local sci-fi and fantasy literature has a different theme and style when compared to international titles of the same genre?

It is too early to determine the voice of Maltese fantasy and sci-fi, but the present authors are carving their niches and lighting the way. Maltese literature as a whole is fledgling compared to English, American, French and Italian literature to name but a few. There is a beauty to this in that the authors are establishing the rules of the genre within the local setting for others to follow, and are shaping the language to the stories they create.

Which authors and events inspired you to write Tawmaturgu? 

Where to start? Warhammar 40,000, Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, and movies such as Event Horizon, have all been great influences. Authors who have left a great influence would be  JRR Tolkien, Frank Herbert, Dan Abnett, Aaron Dembski-Bowden and Graham McNeil to name a few. On the local scene, Trevor Zahra's Meta Jaqa C-Cpar was probably the first Maltese sci-fi book I've read and an interview with the author was essential in inspiring me to write when he encouraged would be authors to read.

I started writing It-Tawmaturgu after translating excerpts from Dan Abnett's Prospero Burns and Aaron Dembski-Bowden's Soul Hunter into Maltese for my MA in Translation dissertation. This showed me that not only was sci-fi in Maltese possible but that the language was malleable enough in the creation of neologisms and in telling a story with jargon related to military, astronomy and technology set in the far future. An excerpt from It-Tawmaturgu was edited by Joseph Sultana and Kit Azzopardi.

John A Bonello, National Book Prize Winner and author of Il-Loghba Tal-Allat trilogy and the Irvin Vella books, was my mentor and editor; who was extremely helpful and it was all thanks to him that I published the novel. I would like to call him the Master Jedi with me being the Padawan here.

What are you expecting from the Book Festival? Do you believe it is an important event and why?

I hope it would encourage people to read and maybe write their own work. There are many different worlds and stories out there waiting to be discovered. I hope the presence of illustrious authors like Loranne Vella, Dave Rudden, Kali Wallace and Jon Courtenay Grimwood help shed light onto the genres of science fiction and fantasy and be inspiration to their audiences.

The Book Festival is a very important event, it encourages people to read, be more critical in their everyday lives and be more active citizens. I cannot stress enough how important or praise the stellar work of the National Book Council in promoting literature in Malta and the rights of authors.

What is your advice to inspiring authors or those experiencing writers block?

I have only written one novel and still have much to learn and will always do. My advice though, such as it is, would be to read, not only in the genre they're writing in but outside their comfort zones. They should be ready for criticism and should always have beta readers to read their work before submitting their work for publishing. As for writer's block, it comes and goes. Sometimes it's good to stop for a while, to let the work rest and start again after a break. That said, writing is mostly discipline, there is no such thing as the muse or waiting to be inspired- otherwise you would never finish anything.

What is next for you? 

Translating It-Tawmaturgu into English (this has been a long time coming), and writing the sequel which is called It-Tawmaturgu: Il-Hmura ta' Filghodu (The Thaumaturge: Red Sky at Dawn).

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