We recently had the opportunity of interviewing our Maltese-Australian author and Melitensia writer Rupert Grech, whose second book Musings and Mutterings of a Maltese Misanthrope was released by Hope and Life Press in September. Here is the interview for your enjoyment.
1) When did you first start writing?
Must have been when I was about three years old and my mother tried to teach me to write my name. No, just kidding. Actually, I had to do a lot of writing of reports, policies, programs, submissions and that kind of thing while working as a school principal, albeit it being more factual, rather than creative writing. Sometimes, however, it did have to be a little on the creative side of things, if you catch my drift. Often the writing had to be clear, articulate and persuasive. While at one small, regional school in the countryside, I had to write a piece every week in the school newsletter. This newsletter was as close as the town had to a local newspaper and was read by almost the entire adult population of a few hundred. I wrote in that newsletter for six years and I believed that in trying to make it interesting every week, I also honed my writing skills to some degree. They even had a mailing list of expats to whom they sent the newsletter. When I left that school to take up a principal position at a larger school, I received a lovely letter from a regular reader; fan mail! I would also get regular feedback about my contributions from the locals. I also wrote a weekly column in a local newspaper in the Blue Mountains area for a couple of years where I reviewed live bands that performed in my hometown. My first attempt at purely creative writing was when I started on the first draft of my first book Stories My Parents Told Me: Tales of Growing Up in Wartime Malta. That was around 2011, I think, and the book was published in 2013.
2) What is the story behind your latest book of satire, humor and reminiscences Musings and Mutterings of a Maltese Misanthrope?
A grumpy, middle-aged man moves house and during the process gets his old record player working again, after it had been inoperable for many years. While listening to cherished LP’s of his youth and polishing off an entire bottle of good red wine, certain songs and record albums retrieve dear recollections of formative events in the past and memorable people known. Meanwhile, funny and frustrating days keep occurring in his contemporary life that often expose a very Maltese set of sensibilities.
3) What motivated you to become an author?
The reason I started writing was to record a story that my mother had told me about when she was a young girl in Malta during World War II. I always thought it was an amazing story, but when I told it to people, I rarely got the reaction from them that I thought the story deserved. I figured that I must not be doing the story justice by narrating it orally, so I decided to flesh it out and write it down as a short story. I encouraged my parents to tell me other stories about their childhood during the war in Malta and wrote them down as well. It is very satisfying these days to hear people say how moved they were by my mother’s story as this was the original motivation for writing it down.
4) What is the greatest joy for you in writing?
Following on from the last answer, by far the greatest joy I experience is when I receive feedback from readers who tell me they were moved to tears or were made to laugh, or just plain enjoyed the writing enough to contact me and thank me. That is just great and I love it when that happens.
5) Do you recall the first story you ever wrote? What was it like for you?
The first time I started writing creatively was cathartic for me. I had been thinking about all the stories my parents had told me for some time. Then, one day during my Christmas holidays, I woke up and decided that I would make a start by writing them down. I became obsessed. I wrote all day and most of the night, only taking short breaks to eat, sleep and take a walk to clear my head from time to time. I wrote the first draft of all seven short stories of my first book in six days. Even now, when I start a short story, I do not stop until the first draft is finished and find that I lose all sense of time. Later, I revise it many times over until I am happy with it.
6) Where did you grow up? How did that influence your writing?
I grew up in the poorer neighborhoods of inner Sydney as a very young child and later we moved out to the working class suburbs of far western Sydney. Ironically, I moved back to the inner city when I attended university. I suppose everyone who writes has their background reflected in their writing to some degree. This last book, my second one, certainly illustrates a lot of personal foibles, values and attitudes.
7) How do you spend your time when you are not writing?
I like travelling and reading. I also play guitar, bass and sing. Mostly, I have a very relaxed lifestyle these days. At night I like to listen to music. When I am living in Valletta, Malta, I go out several times a week and listen to the plethora of live music available there.
8) What do you read for pleasure?
I like to read a wide variety of books. Both fiction and non-fiction. I enjoy reading biographies and memoirs of people with extraordinary lives and I enjoy short stories as well. I just finished reading Fortress Malta- An Island Under Siege 1940-43 by James Holland; I am currently reading Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis and have just ordered a book of short stories by an author I have been wanting to read for a long time: Where I Live Now by Lucia Berlin.
9) What are your plans for the future?
Well, doing more of the things I enjoy: travelling, reading, playing and listening to music. I am considering a trip to Japan next year, a place I always wanted to visit. I am also thinking of tackling something other than short stories in my next book; possibly a novel or novella. And continuing to spend each year between Valletta, Malta and the Blue Mountains in Australia.