Following her tremendous success with Gramma, a novel that deals with the crucial issue of anorexia, Leanne Ellul speaks to Clifford Jo Żahra about The Malta Book Festival and why writing and translation go hand in hand.
The past 2 editions of The Malta Book Festival were quite eventful; you were announced winner of the Youth Literature Contest in 2014 and Gramma went out in 2015. How do you look upon The Malta Book Festival?
The Malta Book Festival always brings along a hectic and exciting week, and being involved in the respective events makes it even more special. In 2014, when I was announced Prize winner, I remember myself running around managing events and attending others! It was the first time I had a book of my own released. That was also when I said to myself “why did I write this book?” Last year’s Malta Book Festival was an overwhelming and a one of a kind experience, and having Merlin publishing Gramma was just the icing on the cake.
You seem to have set your sights on a young readership. Teresa and Gramma, your most recent publications, are both aimed at a relatively young audience. Why?
Not knowing what I want to become might be the reason why I target a young audience. I feel a strong connection with them. They face a lot of “I don’t want to know about that” and “I do not want to face the music” and “hell yeah, why not?” and they are bombarded by the big realities. However, targeting young adults certainly doesn’t exclude an older audience. Gramma and Teresa both have a life of their own. Gramma is something I started from scratch whilst Teresa is Deborah Abela’s work with a collaborative process of translation between Clare Azzopardi and myself, so the processes involved are different.
You translate foreign literary works into Maltese and write your own original work in Maltese. Which is the one you enjoy doing most, and why?
When translating a work you end up absorbing so much of it that in the end you end up making it ‘your own’. The translation itself is an original work, since it’s the result of a very tough process. When writing my own work, I’m like its master; I make characters say what I want them to say, I make them cry or laugh, and I can make animals speak too. So the storyteller inside me would say that I prefer writing, but on the other hand, my curious self would opt for translation.
You’re relatively young. How did you manage to get to the top of the Merlin most-sold-books during last year’s edition of The Malta Book Festival?
Well, truth is I simply don’t know! But to be honest I believe my age is secondary here. Gramma’s topic wasn’t written much about in Malta; it is a book that can be read in a few hours, and it has a cover by which it can be easily judged. The book presents us with the fact that anorexia is an end in itself but also a means to an end. Moreover, Gramma is not only about anorexia, so many people do find something they can relate to. Having it published by Merlin is already marked by quality, but having won the Prize has surely left an impact too. I guess there’s no answer to this. I know I put a whole lot of work into it, but I also believe in the right place and the right time.
One reason why no one should miss this edition of The Malta Book Festival.
Having a collection of thousands of books in one place isn’t something one would want to miss out on. Is it?
Organised by the National Book Council, the 2016 edition of The Malta Book Festival, will be taking place at the Mediterranean Conference Centre, in Valletta, from November 9th to November 13th. Visit www.ktieb.org.mt for further information.
© 2016 – VIDA Magazine – Clifford Jo Żahra