My next guest was born in Malta, emigrated to Australia, is widely travelled and embraces local cultures wherever those travels lead her. Fluent in three languages, she chooses to pen in English and has published five novels, six collections of short stories, and a book of collected poems…
Rosanne Dingli has at least 20 awards for writing credited to her name, mainly for shorts and poetry, but today she is completely focussed on her Novels. The latest, The Latin Cushion is sure to become a Bestseller adding to her already established and bulging list of awards…
Rosanne Dingli has long since conquered the art of writing professionally since starting out back in 1985. Her works have included; articles, short stories, reviews, columns, poems and novels. Drawing her experience from teaching, lecturing, leading workshops, editing; both for magazines and corporately, assessing manuscripts and from her passion as a heraldic artist, she is now set to win over readers far and wide as she joins me blogging today and runs the gauntlet of Simons 10 Q Interviews…
SD Q1: You were born and raised in Malta, a warm Mediterranean island packed with historical architecture and areas of natural beauty. I therefore must ask, what drove the decision making process to emigrate to Australia?
RD A1: When you are young, there’s a point when history, art, architecture, and natural beauty give way to adventure, risk, opportunity-seeking and sheer recklessness. Australia seemed like a good idea at the time … and still continues to be, even 33 odd years later. I probably wouldn’t have gone on to be an author if I had stayed in Malta. Although I’ve always been artistic, my adopted country has given me all the opportunities I was looking for.
A lot of inspiration, however, has come from missing the history and folklore. The island has proven to be an excellent springboard for a number of short stories and always finds its way into my novels. Malta makes a superb location for fiction. Still, I feel that nostaglia and history themselves lead me to write about situations, atmospheres, and locations that hardly exist any longer. Malta has changed enormously in the 33 years since I left, and each of my handful of visits back have persuaded me that writing about it as I do, in a combination of contemporary and historic settings, is necessary and important.
SD Q2: You discuss procrastination in your blog as though you were its greatest friend. Does the big ‘P’ simply apply to your writing or does it extend across other pursuits and what is the reason behind your procrastination, is it fear of your work not being accepted or something different?
RD A2: I never fear my work won’t be accepted – finding the right readers is not always easy, but it happens with time. Procrastination is a mad kind of patience, but it’s patience with a double edge. Experience teaches that putting off writing changes what one might put down quite radically, even if the writer thinks the “same idea” stays in mind. The mood, and the circumstances, in which one writes change the quality of the writing, and how it flows. It also might change the whole underlying premise of the chapter being written. One example is the pivotal scene in my second novel, According to Luke, which was first written without pressure, calmly, with plenty of time and – I thought at the time – with great composure, restraint, and style. Months later, when I re-read it, it felt cold and lacking in tension. I was stressed at revision time, and rewrote it amid a dozen interruptions, under enormous external pressure. The result was significantly different, but also infinitely better: there was all the tension and underlying meaningfulness it lacked before. If I had put off rewriting it even a day longer, it might have turned out differently, in another way. So I don’t always look at procrastination as time wasted, but as opportunity pushed along.
SD Q3: You have been involved in publishing since 1985, are a member of almost every writing guild and association available to you, both in Australia and further afield, and over the years you have amassed a substantial list of awards to your credit. At what stage in your career did you feel worthy and comfortable with the title ‘author’ and what tipped that balance for you?
RD A3: Oh – it was a decision I made early in the piece. It did not creep up on me – I was well aware of what I decided, and conscious I might change my mind along the way, and also aware that career authors need to do other things to keep regular money coming in. So taking on the roles of teacher, lecturer, editor, artist, and cook never really took away the fact I was a writer at heart. Even throwing my arms up and giving in every three or so years doesn’t affect the fact I will probably be a writer until the very end. Feeling a bit uncomfortable is probably good for authors – I don’t know that any career author ever feels entirely at peace, or the urge to write won’t keep coming. It comes at the oddest of moments, whether one is in a writing phase at the time or not. New writers think it’s about getting ‘ideas’ one must jot down. It isn’t really – it’s embracing a premise, one that skirts the peripheries of one’s thoughts for months, like a gathering storm. It shows itself, and then hides, shows another aspect and hides again. Finally, it erupts, sometimes quite savagely, and it sits, fully formed, in the centre of one’s forehead, like a third eye. An author looks at everything through that premise for a while, until it’s written. Finally, there’s room for more, for an actual story in which to wrap it nicely.
SD Q4: As an author, as opposed to writer, your work is extremely varied; you have published Novels, Short Stories and Collections of Poetry. Which style do you prefer and what has been the most difficult to promote?
RD A4: What I prefer is what seizes me at the time. I have not been seized with a poetic frenzy for quite a while. One would think that when one has less time, one would write poetry, and when the weeks stretch out ahead, there’s room to write a novel… but it’s anything but. Time has very little to do with the length of what one writes.
I used to love the short story, because it’s such a lovely, complex, condensed form – and believe me, it’s much more complex than a novel, where the author has the breadth to include aspects by actually mentioning them. In the short story, a lot is tacit, hinted at, conjured without words, so that the reader is presented with an instance in time that is made out of the meaningfulness of what went before and the magic of what is to follow. There’s less of that condensation in the novel. So if you were to hold a gun to my head, I’d say, “The short story, Simon! I choose the short story as my favourite.” Reading Andre Dubus, Annie E Proulx, and Raymond Carver, not to mention Katherine Mansfield, Tillie Olsen, Alice Walker, Kate Chopin, and Stephen Crane made me understand the form. It made me understand how difficult it is to create characters, atmosphere, circumstances, consequences, backstory, and premise in under 6000 words. It’s possible, but it takes a lifetime of practising and coming close. People tell me there are nuances to my short stories they love, and yes, sometimes I see what they mean years after I wrote the thing.
Everything is extremely difficult to promote. It’s easy to write, and publishing is falling-off-logs stuff. Anyone can do it (and they’re doing it as we have this conversation). The hardest thing in the world is – and has always been – getting anyone to read what you have written, whether it’s in manuscript or book form. Whether it’s an agent, a publisher, a friend, a family member, a book blogger, a reviewer… it doesn’t matter what and it doesn’t matter who. Persuading someone to read what you have written, poetry or prose, fact or fiction, will remain one of the hardest thing to do for authors.
SD Q5: You are extremely well travelled, indeed you are fluent in three languages. Of the languages you speak and the locations you have visited which are your favourites and why?
RD A5: I’ve seen only a tiny bit of the world I want to see. And the languages were an accident of family and fortune. One cannot grow up in the kind of family I did, on an island like Malta, without being steeped in a cultural confluence. We spoke only English at home, and I became fully tri-lingual by the age of eleven because of proximity to Italy, and of course Maltese is the national language and inescapable. I love language and studied literature in those three languages and French, so that by the time I was nineteen I had grasped a few of the basic concepts of European literature, but it wasn’t until I came to Australia and gave myself a good course in Australian literature that I could place it in a useful context. When I started to write, it all finally fell into place, and I am still finding useful links and kinks that surface in what I write.
English – or the quirky colonial English spoken in Malta – is my mother tongue, and my favourite of course. The language in which one curses, prays, counts, and makes the most pungent jokes is one’s mother tongue. But I can say some pretty colourful things in Maltese, which is a language and a half. Its history is amazing, and what the Maltese have linguisitcally stolen and bent to their own purposes is a book in itself. Italian is the most beautiful language I speak, and I am most thankful that I could read some Italian poets and novelists, such as Manzoni and Leopardi, in the original, and can really understand the words that the librettists put to the operatic works of composers such as Verdi Culture is transported on language, and it forms a great part of why and how I write.
Locations? Venice, I must say, is one of my favourite places on earth. I love even the streams of obnoxious tourists that crowd it and pollute it without really understanding where they are. I just love Venice. I also like a couple of Maltese villages, and a couple of places in Belgium. And I have a real love for my home city in Australia, Perth, where some of the most significant events of my life have taken place. An important place, this is, and I haven’t written enough about it, so I suppose that is yet to come.
SD Q6: You are sent to lecture in a university and are contemplating how best to inspire your students. Whilst musing the dilemma in a local coffee shop, you overhear a scientist bragging to the waitress about his new time machine. Struck by a flash of inspiration you approach him and quiz him about said machine. The scientist, so delighted that somebody might believe he has indeed created such a marvel of engineering, whisks you away to the nearby machine. Then, applying logic to your dilemma, he suggests travelling together through time to find three individuals you consider to be; The Best Novelist, The Best Poet and The Best Short Story Teller of all time to take with you to your lectures and successfully inspire the students…. Able to travel to any place and time in history, whom are the three authors you will choose and why?
RD A6: Most definitely I will choose AS Byatt, a superb novelist whose premises are legendary. She wrote Possession, a haunting novel I’ve read three times. She successfully threads historical episodes into contemporary stories, which is difficult to bring off, and for which she will be remembered as a great writer. But she will have to fight for her place with John Fowles, of course. The best poet is much harder to decide upon without getting boring and saying Giacomo Leopardi, so I won’t. I’ll say John Keats, because of his long narrative pieces whose core and meaningfulness are comparable to short stories. The Eve of St. Agnes is a chilling yet heart-warming piece that lodges in one’s memory for life. And I suppose I’ll have to take Andre Dubus along too – his short stories are quite incredibly good.
One can’t really inspire students – they either have the fire and know where to look for their springboards, or they do not. This was my greatest dilemma when lecturing in Creative Writing. Such courses tend to come laden with the presumption or promise that one would be successful in a writing career after one graduates, but there couldn’t be anything further from the truth. The reality is that there is as much chance that someone who has never had one single lesson in writing can come up and become unbelievably successful. I do not think that any household name authors spoken about today have writing degrees.
SD Q7: You list over 20 awards on your website, mainly for poetry and short stories. What is the most prestigious award you have won to date and knowing of most awards available for your given genres, what would make a career fulfilling award for you and why?
RD A7: I think winning the Patricia Hackett was pretty amazing and quite a coup. It’s a Perth prize for the best piece submitted to the literary journal “Westerly” each year. That kind of thing doesn’t happen twice in a writer’s career. I don’t think I’ve exploited the fact I’m a Patricia Hacket winner to the extent I could – and part of the reason is that it’s not well-known enough anywhere else but in Western Australia. In any case, awards are transient short bursts of glory, although they are great when they happen, and the money is nice. The best award in the world by far is an email from a reader saying something I’ve written has moved them or meant something in their life. The best award is to have someone recognize the premise that anchors a story … and it rarely happens.
SD Q8: Given your own knowledge of languages, do you believe it is possible to convert a complex storyline without altering the writing style and how, still at the draft stage of the proceedings, would an author be able to confirm that a thorough and accurate portrayal still exists post translation?
RD A8: Translation is a minefield of difficulty. Context, culture, and idiom are such knotty things to tackle. There is an infinity of nuance built into everything an author writes, and “intent” is hard to capture accurately and authentically. Some of the best modern translations to be found are those of the novels by Arturo Perez-Reverte, the Spanish author who wrote The Flanders Panel and The Nautical Chart. Somehow or other his various translators, especially Margaret Sayers Peden, have managed to capture the essence of this ex-journalist’s fiction. But the works of Jules Verne, which were translated in the 1940s I think, were not very well done, are notoriously inaccurate, and still set my teeth on edge (better ones were done after 1980). But then, I remember listening to Les Miserables by Victor Hugo being read on the radio way back in the 1970s, in Maltese translation, and that was remarkably good – I know because I had read it in the original French and then in English. Look – I could write more than three of these boxes on this subject, but I won’t.
I’ll just say that I would never attempt to translate any of my own works. My mind just doesn’t work that way.
SD Q9: You agree to swap places and live out the rest of your days in the era of the oldest inspiring author you have travelled back in time to collect. What era would that be and given the opportunity, what three personal items would you take back with you?
RD A9: I was definitely placed in the 20th and 21st centuries by mistake. I’m really a Victorian aristocrat. So I would probably be a good companion to Nietzsche, Rilke, Lou Sandreas-Salome, Freud, and Christina Rossetti or R D Blackmore, even though these people would have treated aristocracy with a hint of suspicion. I could make you a list of companions from that time. I don’t think I’d swap with anyone, but simply join them; and I would not choose a novelist to accompany me – I’d live with Nietzsche, even though people thought he was a grump. Philosophers are excellent companions because they are largely introverts and tend to leave you alone. Great.
I’d take back a big box of modern writing paraphernalia, of course, such as a good word processor, a nice stapler, some good gel pens, etc. I’ll count that as one thing. I would really need something to play music on. And I’d need jewellery. Lots of it. And oh – one of those great wand food mixers to make my own mayonnaise. Is that too much to carry?
SD Q10: There seems to be an on-going battle between Traditional and Indie publishing. Where/When do think it will end and in your opinion what is the likely face of the outcome?
RD A10: It’s not a battle, but a true and verifiable split. We shall look back on these very significant and memorable times and say they were when writing formed its “great divide”. Trad publishing will continue regardless, and will always be something a certain kind of writer aspires to. Trad publishing was such an important establishment, historically speaking, that it won’t lie down and be written off just like that. Its backbone is still needed in some vital areas of publishing, and the models it established are hard to kill in a commercial sense. They are physically established models whose evolution will take a while to wind down to ones that are workable enough to endure, because live on they must, at least in my lifetime.
Self-publishing has always been important. It went from necessity-driven publishing, to the revolutionary kind, and then to the digitally-driven variety. That is, authors first had to do it. Later, some revolted against the status quo and gatekeeper-ridden establishment and did it. Now we do it because we can. And it will stay this way – technology makes it all possible, so it happens. The products being produced are capable of delighting all possible sectors of the public, so there’s a market for almost everything and anything that comes close to being described as ‘a book’.
The creation of two streams – this amazing split that can almost be called a schism – is not fully apparent to those who are only readers and know nothing of what’s happened in publishing. Some people think it’s all because of electronic publishing, but we know it’s much, much more than that.
Two streams they are, however, and with a bit of overlap. How this will go on to develop no one can really tell, but I foresee it forking off a little wider with time, and then joining up again. The zip did not outdo the button, you see, and we still have wooden spoons despite the advent of the food processor. It might be hard to visualize, but everything can co-exist, and even if one becomes much smaller than the other, there is no real reason for either trad or indie publishing to totally disappear.
SD Comment: Rosanne, yet again, I find myself in awe of an interviewees knowledge and experience. Every day on Simons 10 Q Interviews provides me with a new education, and your answers certainly give one much to think about. Many thanks for your time and best of luck with your novel The Latin Cushion. Thank you.
If you would like to read any of Rosanne’s novels prior to the interview, follow the links below…
The Rosanne Dingli interview took place on 01st November 2013.
Simon Duringer © 2013.
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