A common question writers are often asked is: how did you choose your story? The question is somewhat ill-asked. Writers, at least the passionate ones, never choose the stories they write. Their stories are, no so much imposed, as pieced together by random, variable forces they have little control over. The birth of a story is as labyrinthine as the birth of a species: one must consider environment, climate, competitive species, prey, fitness, etc.
This story, this novel which I am about to embark on, is no exception. The only thing I consciously decided was: I want to write a book set in Valencia. It is something I haven’t yet done, surprisingly. Valencia is a temple for me; more than a temple, it is a potential home, dream and incubator. It is the first non-Maltese city I ever saw, and I still remember what it was like emerging from the metro and seeing the bullring and the wide open avenues slowly reveal themselves to me. Back then, I thought: God this world is vast! It is a white city, floral, clean and sun-kissed.
The rest of the story came rather fortuitously. Poets would call it inspiration. But I don’t believe in inspiration, smacks too much of the supernatural. I’d rather call it a winning roll of the dice. After all, that’s what we writers do best: gamble, gamble with lies. There were some characters that had been brewing around in my mind for the past few weeks. And, via the sluggish glue of contemplation they came together into a distinct, palpable whole.
I am eager to unravel (to myself and to others) the story of Razia. I have written a short-story about her before; the half-Ukrainian half-Syrian girl who is obsessed with whales (find the link to the short story below). She is a mystical presence to me, I have spent a lot of time in her company. What I’ve learned from her, mainly, is how cruelly superficial our civilization has become. Razia wants nothing more than to be a marine biologist, spending her time studying whales and their habitat. But her mother forbids it. You see, Razia is a divinely beautiful woman. You know the type: tall, dark, well-structured, big eyes, small features. Her mother knows what it’s like to use beauty to your (her) advantage. She wants her to be a model. And, at the beginning of the novel, we all want her to follow her mother’s advice. But when she visits Valencia with a group of other models, things begin to change.
Then there is the obligatory Maltese character abroad in Valencia. His name has undergone a series of changes, from Pier, to Henri and finally to James. James Falzon (JF). He is a working-class macho who is going to Valencia to drink, gamble, and watch bullfights. He has his girlfriend in tow, but she, ay, isn’t she a downer, this Nadine? She’s not usually like that. She keeps bringing him down… but is partying really what James wants, or what society demands of a man?
This novel is all about opposites. It will be told from two points of views, that of Razia and James. The two characters are polar opposites. Razia is a nature-lover. James is an aficionado of bullfighting. Razia is a staunch atheist. James is a Catholic. Razia craves silence. James creates his own noise. Then, the novel will beg the question: can two people with such opposing characters fall in love? That is one of the central questions the novel will explore (not answer, never answer). The other is: are our dreams really our own, or are they what we’ve inherited from the noise around us?
The novel shall be written in a new style. In the manner of great novelists such as Herman Melville, George Eliot, and, more recently Milan Kundera, I will be using a digressional style. The novel will be as broad as the world we live in. The main story will allow for ventures into astronomy, biology, Spanish history, religion, bullfighting, conservation, Cervantes, dogs and so on. Novels are not mere entertainment. They are not encyclopaedias either. They are something unique, and what I want to deliver here, to quote Kundera, is a ‘novelistic essay’. To create an immersive world, as chic as it is burgeoning.
But of course, I must never forget Hemingway. Simplicity shall be key. It shall keep me rooted. After all, without The Sun Also Rises, I would never have had the courage to commit to this story.