Everyone has an opinion about publishing. Who we should publish. What we should publish. How we should publish it. One practically pines for the good ol’ days of the publishers’ gentlemen’s club, where the grand elders decided the fate of authors, and forged the taste of readers, in stately drawing rooms surrounded by cigar smoke. No pesky Twitter feeds for them, screaming @bored_rdr WTF was bronte thinking?!!! Booooring. #WeHateJaneEyre
Social media indeed. So pity us, Maltese publishers, operating in a country of 400,000 inhabitants (yes, that’s less than half a million, and no we don’t have more boats than cars) across a territory the size of a small border town, where the infamous six degrees of separation comfortably contract to two or three, and everyone knows someone who knows your publisher. So if it’s not readers Facebooking their advice about how to market your latest title, it’s authors emailing their design suggestions. (And we love them for it, of course.)
Publishing in Malta is about all the things publishing worldwide is: sourcing manuscripts, discovering new exciting voices, nurturing young talent, moulding and editing, smoothing over differences and avoiding flare-ups, occasionally causing flare-ups, shouting from rooftops about how great our new books are. But publishing in Malta is also about negotiating the narrow alleyways that are interpersonal relationships, about working with authors who become your best friends and having to tell them their latest manuscript is flawed and unpublishable, about rejecting a debut novel only to find that the author is your new bank manager.
One of the many contradictions of our tiny island state in the middle of the Mediterranean (that dot—blink and you’ll miss it—between Sicily and Libya) is that we are the archetypal navel-gazing island, believing the world revolves around us, all the while having a colossal inferiority complex about the ability of our creative artists. Having been tasked with introducing Maltese literature to the audience of Words without Borders, we couldn’t have chosen a better or more representative trio of authors to dispel that complex.
Maltese literature has changed beyond recognition in the last forty years, and again in the last decade. In the seventies, eighties, and nineties, our master wordsmiths broke through innumerable taboos, experimented with style and technique, and treated us readers to the joys of words as an art form. And to represent them—it couldn’t have been otherwise—we have Trevor Żahra, the grandmaster of Maltese authors and easily Malta’s top-selling novelist ever.
In the last decade, a new generation of authors, unfettered by social conventions and religion, and emboldened and inspired by the travel and exposure to foreign cultures and lifestyles that membership of the European Union facilitated, have staked their claim to the twenty-first century Maltese novel (and short story—because curiously, Malta is the land of short stories, even as we publishers cajole, sweet-talk, and outright threaten our authors to deliver a full-length novel). Clare Azzopardi and Pierre J. Mejlak are, without a doubt, the standard-bearers of the millennial Maltese authors. Their manic attention to detail, their craftmanship and artisan touch, are admired and envied in equal measure. Repeat offenders in the award-winning category, they have both been published in Malta and overseas in various European and Middle Eastern countries. Mejlak won the Europe-wide Sea of Words Short Story Award in 2009.
The selected stories are a true microcosm of great contemporary Maltese writing. In an era obsessed with the politically correct, with faux-weighty writing, with ostentatiously social “themes,” the three stories presented here talk about a man and his daughter’s surreal repeat encounters with death, about a sensual journey to discover a father’s secret love life, about a trip on the London Underground.
This is ultimately what publishing in Malta is about. About discovering these amazing stories, about reading and editing and packaging them to help them look and feel and taste their best when presented to the audience. Publishing in Malta is, first and foremost, fun—the most exciting and creative way I could come up with, to spend my working life.