Taking a leap into the dark | Trevor Zahra

Malta’s literary national treasure Trevor Zahra welcomed the Halloween season in style: by launching a short story collection which picks at the blurred lines of reality and dreams, love and death. He speaks to us about the Merlin-published Vespri, while also pitching in his 2c on the local literary scene

Trevor Zahra:
Trevor Zahra: "Certain writers would benefit immensely if they wait for the fruit to mature"

How does it feel to be releasing yet another short story collection, and with Merlin too? What keeps you excited about this process, year in and year out? 

I published Penumbra, my previous collection of short stories in 2010.  When this book was undergoing production, I wrote Jesabel and Jack & Jill, the first two stories that appear in Vespri. That means it took me five years to compile this new collection of short stories. During this period I worked on other projects as well, primarily the thematic picture dictionary Stampakelma for which I had to draw more than one thousand pictures. But stories are always hovering in the stratosphere of my fantasy. Bizarre characters keep knocking on my door imploring me to provide them with a body. And I’m always glad to oblige.

Coupled with the fact that the book was launched on Halloween day of this year, would you say that a ‘liberal’ interpretation of the confines of reality – and an equally liberal approach to the magical, surreal and bizarre – are the hallmarks of this particular book? What led you to focus on these themes and motifs?

In his analyses of the motifs of this collection, during the launching of Vespri, Dr Mario Cassar remarked that the themes that surface continually in this collection are Love and Death. I consider these two motifs to be interlinked… one by-product of the other. If it wasn’t for Love, life wouldn’t be worth living; and if it wasn’t for Death life would be unbearable. Everybody experiences them but we don’t understanding their mechanics… and that makes them magical and surreal.  I went through both experiences quite early in life… when I lost my mother and my young wife. Both experiences have stamped me for life.

Do you think the story is particularly conducive to such subject matter? Why?

I believe that characters are the crux of the narrative, but a good plot is an added asset. It pushes the story forward and keeps the reader engaged. Stories dealing with Death sound creepy, but intriguing characters can mold the bizarre into fantastic reading.

Maltese literature appears to be largely averse to the fantastical and abstract. Do you agree, and if so, why do you think this is?

Yes… up to a certain extent. There was a time when the “fantastical” and the “abstract” were confined to folktales and children’s stories. But I notice that we have a small crop of young writers that are pushing these genres into new territories.

On a similar note, you have seen the literary scene in Malta evolve first-hand. At what place would you say it finds itself now? And what would you change about it?

As I have just stated, we do have a surge of some very good quality literature.  But occasionally one meet writers who don’t really possess a good command of the Maltese language and thus produce work that is lacking in idiom and syntax.  I think that certain aspiring writers will benefit immensely if they wait for the fruit to mature and sweetens its sap, before they move into the harvesting season.

What’s next for you?

Now I’m looking forward to resume my research on a children’s book that I’ve been planning for quite some years ... and which I have unjustly neglected.

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