The Malta Independent 18 June 2024, Tuesday
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‘Ors fl-ispazju’

Wednesday, 19 August 2020, 10:18 Last update: about 5 years ago

The Malta Independent on Sunday met author DEBORAH ABELA

You are very well-known in Malta for two books for the 10+ age group, Teresa and L-Ispettaklu Stupend Żanżan Kelma. This is a departure from those novels as it is a picture book aimed at a younger age group. How is it different writing for a younger reader?

In some ways, it's much harder. My main aim as a writer is to create an engaging story with characters that children will love. In a novel, I have time to develop storylines and characters and their relationships, but in a picture book, I have to do all that in only 500 words.



Ors fl-ispazju [Bear in space] is a touching story that we wanted to read over and over, and that didn't leave a dry eye in the office. How did this particular story come about?

Firstly, I am so pleased that you enjoyed the book. Thank you.

In 2015, Marjorie and I went to Tarongo Zoo, Sydney for a writing and illustrating day. It was here that we saw Mr Hobbs, a bear who'd been rescued in Cambodia after his mother had been taken by poachers. He'd been deeply affected by the separation and found it hard to relate to the other bears. Marjorie drew a bear happily floating in space and it made me think of all the children I've met as an author and teacher who are different and often feel excluded because of that difference. I asked if I could write Bear's story and when I showed it to Marjorie, she said she had chills. Turns out, I'd written about her son, who as a young boy was obsessed with space and also, often felt on the outer.


Was this your first collaboration with illustrator Marjorie Crosby-Fairall? What was the experience like?

Brilliant! Marjorie and I have been friends and colleagues for many years and because the story spoke to both of us on a personal level, we each felt very connected to it from the beginning. We worked together to create the initial thumbnail illustrations and fine-tune the story before we showed it to the publisher, who luckily fell in love with the story too. 


How important is it to tackle issues such as diversity and inclusion in books for such a tender age?

For me, it's as important as food and shelter and books and love. When kids are young, they're like little sponges, soaking up everything around them. The adults in their lives are essentially helping to build little human beings, who hopefully will be generous, kind and understanding. I wanted to write a story where difference is celebrated and to let kids know that what makes them different is also what makes them unique! Ors fl-ispazju is about being true to yourself and finding friends who love you just the way you are. 


You're one of Australia's most popular children's authors and seem to have a strong connection to Malta - beginning with a Maltese surname. What's the story there?

My dad was born in Rabat in a shelter in 1942. After the war, he and his family migrated to Australia. This story inspired Teresa and left me with a deep fascination with this small country with such a momentous and important history. When I first saw a photo of Malta as a small child, I knew I would travel there and when I visited for the first time in 2005, I cried. I knew Malta would be beautiful, but I never anticipated feeling so connected to a country I'd never been to before.


And finally, what's next for author Deborah Abela?

I am currently working on a few series ideas for younger readers and two novels for middle grade children. And talking a lot about bears, space and rockets.  


And a final question to Chris Gruppetta, director of Merlin Publishers: Why did you choose to publish this book in translation?

We are proud to be Deborah Abela's Maltese publishers. She's hugely loved in Australia, and reading her books it's not hard to see why. After two novels for older children, it was intriguing to publish one of her picture books in translation. And publishing the Maltese translation simultaneously with the original Australian edition was a milestone and an honour for us. But beyond all the logistics, this book has a special place in my heart as it's an emotional tour de force for anyone who has experienced children feeling different for any reason.

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