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Tags:   Career,   Books,   Culture

By The Swag Team   -  April 06, 2015

   Career malta,  Books malta,  Culture malta,  Encounters with Authors: Pierre Mejlak malta, Lifestyle malta, Swag Mens Online Magazine Malta

Every book of his has been a huge hit, both with critics and also with readers, who even when not fans of Maltese literature flocked to his inimitable style of evocative, sensual and haunting writing. Pierre J. Mejlak is possibly one of the most unique writers on the contemporary Maltese scene. Dak li l-Lejl Iħallik Tgħid, his collection of short stories that won the European Union Prize for Literature and the National Book Award, is now available in English. SWAG sat down with the writer ahead of the Waterstones’ launch of 'Having Said Goodnight'.



For those who haven’t yet read the original Maltese version, what’s ‘Having Said Goodnight’ about?


‘Having Said Goodnight’ is a collection of 13 short stories, all dealing with the power of memories. It’s a book about the lengths we go to in order to relive memories, get rid of them or manipulate them – like the young man who ruins a night-out with his mother in order to have one less beautiful memory of them together after her death. It’s also a book about storytelling as for most of the characters stories are a means of survival, of filling an awkward emptiness, of being able to wake up to yet another day. It’s a book about stories, sometimes within other stories, a book full of masterful storytellers, who can only see themselves in the stories they create.



There is also a small surprise for those who have read the work in its original version. What is it?


We are including three previously unpublished short stories: The Ironing Board, The Crow, and The Parrot’s Cry. These stories fit in nicely as they’re also about people at a crossroads, torn between past and future, centre and periphery, real and imaginary. In these new stories a woman is overjoyed at the news her husband has been found dead, a crow breaks into a young couple's flat, smashing perceptions and assumptions, and an old man tries to get rid of a damaged ironing board, ending up where he doesn’t want to.



How was the experience of being translated?


My publishers at Merlin brought together an exceptional team working on this project. I was lucky to have two excellent translators, who were already very familiar with my work and knew me as a person. Antoine Cassar, who had already translated many of my stories, and Clare Vassallo, managed to convey the atmosphere, the style and the voice. The translators worked in tandem with two professional editors, Mary Ellen Kerans and Irwin Temkin, and I’m very pleased with the final result.



Waterstones is launching your book in Brussels on April 23rd in what is a first for Maltese literature. What are your expectations?


I’m looking forward to the launch at Waterstones. It will be my first book available to foreign readers and I’m curious to see what the reaction will be like.



How did the EU Prize for Literature help you reach new audiences?


One of the benefits of winning the EU Prize for Literature is that foreign publishers are encouraged to apply for EU funds in order to translate your book and to, eventually, publish it. It’s not an easy task as it’s difficult to find translators who can translate directly from Maltese. But the reactions from foreign publishers have been encouraging.



This month you are also being anthologized by W.W. Norton in one of their anthologies of short stories from around the world, alongside big names such as Czeslaw Milosz. What does this feel like?


Being anthologized by W.W. Norton is exciting as they print in large quantities, distribute their books widely and keep all their books in print. The story they chose appeared in my first collection of short stories – Qed Nistenniek Nieżla max-Xita – and is about a Maltese man who brings home his Russian girlfriend and everything goes smoothly until their neighbour brings them a statue of the Madonna to keep it for a few days. I’m very fond of the characters in my stories and the idea of them travelling makes me happy.



In the past your work has been widely translated into Serbian and this December your latest book will be published in Bulgarian. How does it feel to be translated into languages you don’t speak?


It can feel a bit weird as, very often, I’m hardly able to recognize my name. But each translation involves long chats with the translator to clear possible misinterpretations. Knowing the translators and the publishers helps you realize they are handling your work with love and attention.



As winner of the Sea of Words European Short Story Award and the EU Prize for Literature, you had the possibility to read your work in many European and Middle Eastern cities. What was this experience like?


I feel privileged to have had the occasion to travel with my stories and to share them with people of different cultures. I always felt honoured to have people willing to come to listen to my stories. These were very motivating experiences, encouraging you to write more. Above all, though, they were fun and some of the experiences I enjoyed most as a writer.



One of your most popular books is Riħ Isfel. What’s the novel about?


The novel is about the disappearance of a little boy from a typical Maltese village and the mobilization of relatives and police to search for him and bring him back home safely. But it’s not just about that. It’s mainly about a village torn between concern for the missing boy and happiness at the fact that there’s something new to talk about. The main character is not the missing boy, but the village itself.



What made you decide to write?


As a child I fell in love with books. Writers were the people I admired most and I wished I could become one. I started writing at an early age and I kept nurturing the passion.



What inspires you?


It’s not always easy to put your finger on what inspires you. It could be something you see on a street, a song you hear, a face you notice … It could be another story, a sentence in a book, a memory …



Any advice for aspiring novelists and writers?


My advice would be, primarily, to read a lot. Then, to write a lot. And to share your writing with other people whose judgment you trust.



'Having Said Goodnight' is published by Merlin Publishers and is available from leading bookshops and online from Merlin Publishers.



For more information, take a look at the writer’s website.


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