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Teaching universal love – it starts at home | Moira Scicluna Zahra & Mark Scicluna

Teodor Reljic speaks to Moira Scicluna Zahra and Mark Scicluna about Mamà, allura din imħabba? – a new picturebook which gently celebrates the universality of same-sex parenthood. Malta-born but currently based in Scotland, writer-artist duo delve into the challenges of such a comparatively risque project in the current Maltese publishing landscape 

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
10 July 2017, 7:56am
Mark Scicluna and Moira Scicluna Zahra
Mark Scicluna and Moira Scicluna Zahra
What was your initial spur for this project? And how did you first get going in setting it up?

We had been meaning to publish a children’s book together but we wanted it to be meaningful, to inspire change. We thought, what are some of the social matters Malta is struggling with at the moment? When the Civil Union Act was introduced it was definitely a light bulb moment, specifically when we noticed the divisive response to same-sex adoption. That’s how we came up with the scenario for the book about Oliver and his two mums. This then led us to the topic of love, which stemmed from diversity and acceptance. Initially we considered crowdfunding the project, but then decided to get in touch with Merlin Publishers to see if there was a possibility of getting the book published. This would mean we could focus on the script and illustrations rather than marketing/printing/distribution as well, each of which requires substantial effort.

Was it important for you to address this subject, and how did you think about the ways in which you could present it? Did you try it out in different drafts?

It was definitely important for us to address this subject. There is nothing more disappointing and infuriating to us than a society which is angered or upset by the introduction of further rights. Why wouldn’t anyone be happy for a couple who is about to celebrate their union, who is getting married and adopting a child? Does the sex of the couple really matter? Why is it the business of people outside that relationship to decide what rights this couple should be given, and to publicly criticise their position? 

At the same, we thought we did not want to make our main character’s parent’s union the topic of the book. This would emphasise that their union is indeed different than other heterosexual unions and marriages. We thought instead to find a subject (such as love) that could help explain to both children and parents that same-sex parenting is just as loving and accepting. The script draft changed slightly after being edited by Clare Azzopardi. [Publisher] Chris Gruppetta also showed it to teachers and parents to go over the nitty gritty. That said, the structure of the story pretty much remained the same throughout, and ultimately our aim was to get the message out there.

The book was meant to be written by Moira and drawn by Mark, generally it makes sense for a book to have one visual style
The book was meant to be written by Moira and drawn by Mark, generally it makes sense for a book to have one visual style
How was the work divided between you, and what was your working schedule for this project like? 

The book was meant to be written by Moira and drawn by Mark, generally it makes sense for a book to have one visual style. It took a bit more than two years to finalise the book and get it published, so the schedule was sporadic to say the least. During the process of writing and illustrating, our employment situations changed, we moved from Malta to Scotland and so we both proceeded to work on script ideas and illustration depending on the time available to us. The illustration is still in Mark’s style and the script was largely written by Moira, however by the end of it we were both involved in each aspect of the book.

Do you see more similar collaborations between the two of you in the near future, and on that note, do you hope that more Maltese writers/illustrators will start tackling the same subject?

More collaborations could be possible, we are interested in creating books that promote acceptance and understanding. We do hope that Maltese writers and illustrators particularly, will start tackling such topics in order for Malta to keep growing more open socially. This involves taking some risks, and we feel there are writers who are already taking such risks. What we wanted to do in this book though is to take the risk but to avoid being confrontational by presenting the message as a warm, lovely project. We hope this will help readers open-up and understand the reality of the situation. 

There is nothing more disappointing and infuriating to us than a society which is angered or upset by the introduction of further rights
There is nothing more disappointing and infuriating to us than a society which is angered or upset by the introduction of further rights
What’s next for you?

Moira is starting an artist in residence role at Edinburgh College of Arts. She will be working on the topic of identity and multidimensional identities as well as showing her commercial illustration process to students of ECA. Mark is presently focusing on his full-time job as a video game illustrator at Rockstar Games, but more projects are in store in the near future

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...
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