Wednesday, 24 May 2017

11 Things I Learned in Malta About Writing–Roundup

A few years ago my husband Michael and I went on holiday to Malta. Thanks to British rule before they became independent, much is like home. The main language is English and they drive on the left. But, in more than distance travelled, it's a whole different world.

I saw many things that could help me with my writing. As I wrote them out I realised I could say a lot more, so I expanded each point into a post of its own, which I have been posting over recent weeks. Here is a summary, and you will find the full blog post linked to each point.

Here is what I learned to help my writing:

1 Rain is a blessing

In Britain it rains a lot and we complain about it. In Malta it doesn't rain enough, so they welcome it. The weather was hot every day. I never thought I'd hope for rain.
If your story is always sunny it will be boring - you must have adversity to make it interesting.

2 Build with local stone

All the buildings in Malta are built from the local limestone, so they are all a creamy yellow colour.
When you write, don't pull things out of nowhere, use what's around you, even if you have to put it there earlier in the story.

3 Be creative

Although the buildings are the same colours, mostly apartment blocks and with flat roofs, every building is different. Some architectural details, especially in the balconies, make each building unique in its area.

Don't use the same old plots. There are only supposed to be a small number of unique plots, but be creative and find a new twist. Adapt a plot from a different genre, do something unexpected. That way your story will stand out from the crowd.

4 Everyone needs a balcony

Absolutely everyone has a balcony, and each building's balconies are different from the next. Balconies are cooling in the heat and you can enjoy the view. Your readers need to enjoy the view too. Make sure you have enough description to draw them in.

5 When it doesn't work, tear it down, but then build it better

Everywhere you go on the coast you see buildings derelict, being torn down or rebuilt. We asked a tour guide about it and he told us that city-dwellers have houses on the coast to escape to in the summer heat. When the children are grown the house is no longer suitable, so they tear it down and rebuild it as apartments so the children can use them for their families.

Much as we love our stories, sometimes they just don't work. Have the courage to tear it apart to make it better.

6 Rules are made to be broken

In Malta they drive on the left and have similar rules to Britain - in theory. In reality the roads are narrow and the drivers are crazy. Coming back from an excursion I sat behind the coach driver, and it was hair-raising. Even when not negotiating narrow roads and tight bends, we seemed to spend most of the time on the wrong side of the road. I don't know how we didn't hit something.

Some rules about writing have to be kept, like spelling and grammar, but rules on the structure of a novel are much less rigid. You need a lot of skill to break them and still be a success, but they will bend a long way. Don't be afraid to find unconventional solutions to plot points. If it means your traditional three act format turns into four acts, it needn't be a problem.

7 There's always a way up the hill

Malta has no mountains but is a series of steep hills. The roads don't all go round the hills. They like to build their amazing churches on top of hills, and they have been invaded so many times that they have fortified cities on high places too. They have found ways to build roads to them, some very creative.

When you hit a 'hill' in your writing - don't give up. Even if you have to lay a brick at a time, you can make it.

8 Build watchtowers

The Knights of Malta built watchtowers on every headland. In the days before radio or telephones, the first tower to spot invaders would light a beacon fire on top of the tower. The towers either side would see the blaze and light theirs. It’s estimated that the news reached the capital Valletta in ten minutes.

There are many things that can attack you and your dreams. Family and friends will tell you that you will never be successful, publishers will reject your manuscript, people you ask to assess your work will be cruel in their criticism. You need to know these things so you can guard against them.

Join a writer's group, either locally or online, watch what they do until you can trust them with your work. You need people to advise you about all aspects of writing and publishing, people who will give you constructive criticism of your writing, kind and helpful and supportive. They will be your watchtowers.

9 When life gives you cactus, make prickly pear jam

There is an old saying, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." This is the Maltese equivalent. Prickly pear cactus grows wild everywhere. The Maltese make jam and liqueur, as well as eating it.

What can you do with your prickly problems?

10 Relax!

The Maltese say, "No problem!" Remember - you write because you love it. Don't lose sight of that, ever.

11 Warning - 'It'll do' isn't good enough

When something needs fixing, the Maltese seem to have a very casual attitude to standards. The overhead electric cables strung from house to house gave an electrician friend a fit when he saw the mess, and we saw blocks of stone wedged into buildings as repairs. We even saw a dodgem ride on Bugibba seafront propped up on random piles of bricks - it didn't look safe at all.

It's not safe to ask people to read your story if it's not the very best you can make it. If you become known for shoddy work, people will stay away. 'It'll do' isn't good enough.

There's lots more detail in the individual posts. I hope you’ve had as much fun reading these posts as I have had in writing them. Any other questions, don’t be afraid to ask in the comments.

Ann Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Follow her at

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