Rita Saliba | The challenges of micro fiction as a genre

Maltese writer Rita Saliba, winner of best short stories at the National Book Prize 2023 for 'Tbajja’ tax-Xemx u Stejjer Oħra għad-Dell' talks to LAURA CALLEJA regarding the challenges of micro fiction, and how growing up bilingual inspired her work 

Rita Saliba
Rita Saliba

Could you tell us about your trajectory as a writer or researcher?

The fact that I grew up on an island with a rich historical evolution deeply influenced me to express myself through writing. Our language continues to fascinate me—it's a product of many different cultures that assimilated and blended with the life of this island.

Though in my childhood we were all bilingual—Maltese and English being the two official languages of the country—I always wanted more stories than those that I had to read. I was always surrounded by books mostly in English, as we didn't have much choice in Maltese children's books. I used to listen to many historical novels being read on radio or television, and was fascinated by the imagery of words and idiomatic expressions. I wanted to tell my own stories. I started writing at a young age. Writing was a hobby that grew with me. Now I can say that it has become a part of my life.

When I write, I need to plan well and do the necessary research, not only but I also ask: for whom am I writing? If I have to write about universal themes, I often feel that I have to stretch beyond my comfort zone. On the other hand, I feel that in what I write, I expose Maltese life as we live it today, the relationships we live every day, what deeply moves us within, what we care for, what reminds us of an innocent childhood. This is just a fragment of the mosaic that I can only give through writing.

What was the process of crafting your award-winning book like?

I always found micro fiction challenging. It’s a genre which requires skill to develop a complete narrative in a minimal word count. The limited number of words demand precision and clarity of thought.  I had to start with a clear idea and build a narrative around it, selecting emotions and decide which imagery I had to portray – all in a consise manner. Drawing a parallel to writing poetry, I had to carefully select each word to convey depth and make every word count. Dialogues had to be used sparingly. Also the number of  characters in these stories had to be kept to a minimum.

How did it feel to win the National Book Prize in 2023?

As to the fact that I won a prize: that of course, gives a boost, as it means that my book is getting noticed, and even as an author, it will spark interest among eager readers and those looking for new talent/names in the literary field. I feel that the Prize is just the beginning. It's good to be recognized for your work, but one shouldn't stop there. I feel there’s a lot more to write and how to master new writing techniques.

Who are some of your favourite Maltese authors working today?

As a reader, my favourite genre in Maltese literature is magic realism. It is a genre which blends realistic and fantastical elements in a way that challenges the reader’s perception of reality. This prompted me to try delve into this writing adventure. Magic realism enabled me to create memorable characters in a narrative and explore themes that are relevant to my audience. It helps me to enhance the atmosphere and create a sense of mystery or irony. Also it’s a very useful tool to contrast the mundane or emphasize the absurdity of a situation.

What do you think micro-fiction contributes to the Maltese literary scene?

In a world that’s changing at a fast pace, I feel that micro fiction is getting more popular in the local literery scene. Stories are happening all the time around us. News from around the world reach us in a fragment of a second. We need to tell stories. This genre allows for experimentation with structure and format. It breaks traditional storytelling norms by playing with themes and perspectives adding unconventional elements which allow writers to challenge and expand their narrative skills.

What’s next for you?

What’s next in store? I hope to embark on a different style of writing. This time it must be something with a bigger word count but nonetheless challenging.

READ ALSO: Murad Shubert | Going to raw and emotional places

In collaboration with the National Book Council, MaltaToday will be interviewing the winners of the 2023 National Book Prize and Terramaxka Prize for children and young adults. More information regarding the awards can be found at ktieb.org.mt/