The Malta Independent 22 October 2020, Thursday

‘Storja ta’ Storja’: A time-capsule for present Maltese literature

Karl Azzopardi Sunday, 30 August 2020, 08:00 Last update: about 3 months ago

‘Storja ta’ Storja’ is a newly released eight-part TV series, executively produced by the National Book Council (NBC), that documents the creative process of eight of Malta’s most renowned authors by giving life to their literary creations in an audiovisual manner. The Malta Independent on Sunday spoke with these literary masterminds who described this project as being an initiative to bring Maltese literature closer to the public, while also serving as a time-capsule for the present status of this kind of literature.

Since the release of the first episode on TVM on 8 August, 'Storja ta Storja' has seen three other episodes aired by-weekly every Saturday and this process is set to last until 26 September, when the last episode is aired. Episodes are also being uploaded to the NBC's Youtube channel - 'National Book Council MALTA' - to catch up on the series or revisit your favorite episodes.


The first author to take the floor was Dr Alfred Sant with his novel Silġ fuq Kemmuna, who was then followed by Loranne Vella's 'Il-Kikkra' from her collection mill-bieb 'il ġewwa, Immanuel Mifsud's 'Il-Ħadd' from his collection Stejjer li ma kellhomx jinkitbu and Claire Azzopardi's 'Lily' from her collection Kulħadd ħalla isem warajh.

The second half of the episodes will showcase Alex Vella Gera's novel Is-Sriep reggħu saru velenużi, Lou Drofenik's novel The Reluctant Healer, Maria Grech Ganado's poem 'Bolero' and Walid Nabhan's 'Sodda No. 18' taken from Lura d-Dar u ġrajjiet oħra li ma ġrawx.

What got you to participate in 'Storja ta' Storja', and what was the experience like for you?

Dr Alfred Sant: "I've done interviews like this before, only this time there's been a longer period to look back over, as the shadows have lengthened. The writing of fiction and personal experience interact with each other in any writer's life. It is not easy to understand or communicate how this happens."

Loranne Vella: "It was an honour for me to have been asked to participate. Writing is mostly a solitary exercise, and projects such as 'Storja ta' Storja' invite readers from a much larger public to take a closer look at the person behind the writing."

Immanuel Mifsud: "I believe it is important to listen to writers talk about literature (not necessarily their own) because chances are they give a different perspective of literature to that of the readers and, well, the critics. No matter how many times you've heard them speak, writers always come up with something new, about literature, their work and their life."

Claire Azzopardi: "It is very normal to accept interviews. If you write and close yourself, no one knows you and no one buys you. You want to promote yourself all the time and talk about what you have wrote and why. It's nice to see the work take a different form and being transferred to another medium and see how other people interpret your work."

Alex Vella Gera: "There was the honour in being selected but also a certain joy in that such a program was being done, regardless of my participation in it. It was a pleasant experience as it is good to speak about your writing life and when the interviewers are open to you, that makes for an easy comfortable two or three hours."

Lou Drofenik: "I thought it was a worthwhile exercise to promote Maltese literature. As for talking about my writing, it is always a reflective step you take as a writer, you kind of stop and verbalize what goes on in your head to an outsider, which, I suppose, is a way to make sense to your own Self."

Maria Grech Ganado: "I'm not exactly shy when it comes to sharing various aspects of my creativity. Apart from being the only writer in this group who, until recently, has only ever published poetry, I write regularly in both English and Maltese, so having a filmed version of an English poem with 'Bolero' is a new and exciting experience, as is forming part of a project like this at all. All the authors are stalwarts of Malta's literature."

Walid Nabhan: "I am always available when it comes to spreading light and illumination. I believe in the power of words more than anything else as there is no alternative to speaking to each other and sharing personal experiences. In this regard, I have nothing personal to hide because all my experience comes from being a member of ordinary people who never stop complaining that life could be better."

Do you think that the Maltese literary world is dissipating in today's world? If so, how and why?

Dr Alfred Sant: "Maltese literature has an extremely small pool of readers which might be growing smaller as people get attracted towards other forms of expression. As an art form in the Maltese language, writing also must come to terms with the prevalence of other much stronger literary currents written in other languages. Additionally, while publishing has become more creative and professional, it has also become more focused on what it wants, less on what the writer can deliver. All this unfortunately reinforces the perception of most Maltese that 'literary' writing is just another hobby or pastime."

Loranne Vella: "Today there is more of everything and anything that has to do with Maltese literature than ever before, including literary groups, events, councils or associations promoting Maltese literature, and more and more people who read Maltese literary works today. Also, thanks to the various translation funds in place, Maltese literature is not confined to our shores any longer but is now read in translation and has its own place on the international literary scene."

Immanuel Mifsud: "If you are asking whether literature is ending or if contemporary life has put literature aside, then my answer is a resounding 'no'. And with Maltese literature in particular I dare say that today's writers have carried on the tradition of their predecessors; they write about very pertinent issues the same way the first generations of Maltese authors did in their time."

Claire Azzopardi: "It is true that it is an ongoing battle to encourage children or adults to read and getting them to read in Maltese is an even greater battle. But it does not mean that Maltese literature is disappearing. Considering the small size of our country publishing houses publish a large number of books per year and many known names are also being published offshore."

Alex Vella Gera: "Was it ever not dissipated? It has always been a third/fourth tier world in the hierarchy of needs of a nation of largely non-readers. There is also a lack of truly brilliant Maltese writers who are capable of capturing the nation's imagination. You can't just blame it on the lack of readers. Readers need to read good writing."

Lou Drofenik: "I really cannot speak about the Maltese literary world from here. I know that the NBC is doing amazing work to promote Maltese literature. Here in Australia, we have a very strong reading culture. I think the love of books starts from very early childhood. Primary schools have a strong role to play here too."

Maria Grech Ganado: "I don't think so at all. In fact, I believe that the Maltese literary scene has never been so vibrant. It is enough to view the list of published books submitted to the National Book Prize for this year's awards. Every year it becomes more and more difficult to predict a probable winner and I find this very exciting in itself because it evidences the growth of interest in Malta's literature."

Walid Nabhan: "On the contrary, I believe it is passing through revival and revitalization. Readership has increased remarkably in the last two decades reflected in the number of audiences attending big literary events. Undoubtedly, COVID-19 has affected most literary and artistic events around the world, but writers haven't stopped writing, perhaps it was their golden chance to produce their best work even if their audience was merely themselves."

In what ways do initiatives like 'Storja ta' Storja' keep the literary world alive? What else can be done to incentivise people to explore reading and writing?

Dr Alfred Sant: "Personally, I think that rather than focus on the writers, one should focus on their works, work by work. When people follow a soap opera, they do not care who wrote it. They want a good story. So, to get more people to explore reading Maltese literature, they should be made aware of the very good stories that writers have been supplying and that the public has been missing on."

Loranne Vella: "Perhaps this project is a prod to make Maltese literature more visible, more accessible and more attractive to a largely non-reading audience. There is so much going on in the Maltese literary world, pity most of it ends up going unnoticed by many. Another incentive, and perhaps a more important one, would be to first promote Maltese as a spoken language - which would then lead to the attraction for Maltese as a written language and a literary one."

Immanuel Mifsud: "One has to applaud the NBC for coming up with this initiative. Only books and their readers can keep literature alive, but programmes like 'Storja ta' Storja' add value to what is written and read, especially in a visual era such as ours."

Claire Azzopardi: "Such a project helps people get to know about the book. And when they watch a tiny film and interview, they can intrigue themselves to buy it. There are a lot of things that still need to be done. Reading and writing must become an absolute priority in schools. Our education system relies more on exams rather than critical thinking that can be brought about by vigorous reading."

Alex Vella Gera: "Storja ta' Storja is a great initiative, not necessarily to incentivise people to read (or write), but as a record of the present time. We will all die, so such a programme goes some way towards creating a time capsule which may be of interest to people in the future."

Lou Drofenik: "You have to hope that these initiatives will keep literature alive, and you are not just speaking to that circle of people who already love books. As an outsider may I ask these questions? Can those who are on the minimum wage afford good books? Are your librarians fanatic readers and disseminate a love of reading to their clients? Do your public primary schools have state of the art libraries, which are cheerful and inviting?"

Maria Grech Ganado: "I think this project's main attribute is that it awards a degree of recognition which invites attention. Thanks to the NBC's allocation of state funds, Malta's literature now has categories for different ages with varied expertise increasing every year to fields which have already stretched beyond my reach, insofar that they also encompass technological factors. I am amazed at the response of many young people to so much inventiveness."

Walid Nabhan: "The only way to incentivise people to read and possibly write is to engage them in what you write; in other words: you have to be their voice and a spokesman for them. Today's writing can't be cut off from what is happening to us in reality. It has become so difficult to convince a reader of a text out of everyday reality."



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