Bird is the word | Gorg Mallia

Veteran literary fixture Gorg Mallia is back on the fiction scene with a new book from Merlin Publishers, which he both wrote and illustrated . He speaks to us about the dimension-hopping sci-fi tale Professur Ghasfur and insists that, while this ‘comeback novel’ is aimed at a young readership, pontification is not its game

Gorg Mallia: “Maltese literature is unfortunately too much of a ghetto at times”
Gorg Mallia: “Maltese literature is unfortunately too much of a ghetto at times”

How did it feel to return to writing after such a long absence?

In actual fact, I’ve been doing a lot of writing, but all of it was academic. It felt tremendous to get back to fiction, and even more so to return to my beloved fiction for children. I’ve been doing it for many decades, and this must have been one of the longest ever breaks from writing creatively. And it also feels great to be working with Merlin Publishers. They’re professional and have a love of books that can be felt in their productions.

What led you to take this particular theme and style for your literary comeback? What was the appeal for you in this kind of story?

I have always been crazy about fantasy and science fiction, and most of my children’s books touch on those areas to some extent. But this actual book started with a sketch, which, as it turns out, is the one of the Professur that is on the cover of the book. He almost spoke to me, telling me his character and how he was capable of (casually) creating wonderful, fantastic things.

And the story just told itself from then on. I did consciously want the main character to be a young girl. We don’t have enough children’s adventures with bright, young girls as protagonists. She’s a very rounded character that also wrote itself and shares star billing with the Professur himself. I also enjoyed drawing the 23 illustrations that are in the book, and it wasn’t the first time that drawing something as part of an illustration triggered sequences in the writing itself. In fact, I think of the illustrations as complementing the writing, with the story being told by both simultaneously.

Gorg Mallia illustrated, as well as wrote, Professur Ghasfur
Gorg Mallia illustrated, as well as wrote, Professur Ghasfur

Given that the book will be targeted chiefly towards a younger audience, what was the reason you chose the ‘multi-dimensionality’ angle? What kind of didactic knowledge did you want to impart with this particular aspect of the story?

None. Didacticism of this type was never the plan. I love the concept of space within space, which has been explored so much in science fiction, and it also gave me the opportunity to create my own worlds. If there are any lessons to be learnt, they’re incidental, but very much ecological in nature.

Two dimensions in the book are nightmares that might happen to us in the near future. One dimension is the idyllic dream that cannot be. But the whole point of writing the book was to tell a good story that will be enjoyed for what it is and not what it tries to “teach”. And I hope it will be. I think it’s an exciting little yarn that will keep its readers reading.

What do you make of the local literary scene? What would you change about it?

Oh gosh, now there’s a million dollar question! It’s unfortunately too much of a ghetto at times. And it’s not the writers and publishers who want it to be that, but the general public that often thinks of literature as not being for it.

We have some excellent writers, and a very few good publishers who are willing to put their necks on the block for the sake of expanding literature here, in spite of a market that is miniscule and difficult to break into with some types of writing. I’m also always extremely happy when there are “popular” events that are built around good, solid literature.

They show people good writing is not something to shy away from. Unfortunately we have very few of those and too many that tout kitsch. We’re too small to have both, and in most cases the kitsch always wins over the deep and wonderful.

What’s next for you?

Well, lots more academic writing is definitely planned. I’m working on a book that explores an instrument I developed for the analysis of visual narrative and am about half way through it. But Il-Professur Għasfur has got me back into children’s writing mode, and I have a few ideas I want to explore. Including (wait for it!) another Professur Għasfur book! If I may say so myself, the character’s too endearing to just let go of. There are also comics I really want to draw, and a fantasy for an adult readership that just won’t let go its grip on my mind. So the comeback is well and truly here to stay. I hope.

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