CARMEL G. CAUCHI
Interviewed by Marie Benoit for The Malta Independent on Sunday — 15 Nov 2009
How I write
How I write depends on what I am writing. If I am writing short stories for children I need a plot before anything else. Most often my stories for children are contributions for periodical magazines like Saghtar and Xehda Ghasel. So I have to deliver in time.
This plot searching phase sometimes takes painful days, if not weeks, and it is all the more painful if I am running out of time. But fortunately I have quite a good power of observation and I don’t lack immagination. So an object or an incident that strikes my eye would set my fantasy alight. Most probably it would be an object or an incident that would interest nobody else, but for me it would be heavenly sent because it sets my mind rolling. On other occasions it would be something I hear that inspires me to draw up a plot. This starting point could be a joke, a comment in idle conversation, a news item on the radio… or even just a distant noise.
On the other hand something I do lack is a good memory. Sometimes I even forget the names of the characters I am writing about, or mix them up with those from previous stories! To make up for this I jot down every idea that crosses my mind lest I forget it. And I do this wherever I am, be it in the street, on the bus or even in bed. (But then I have to be careful not to forget where I put the scraps of paper with my jottings!) On rare occasions ideas crop up in bunches, one leading to another, and I would need to jot them down quickly before they dismiss themselves abruptly from my mind. Thus I would have potential plots for several short stories or different chapters of a full length adventure story.
Speaking of full length stories, there are occasions when I don’t have the full plot in mind, and I start writing without knowing where the story line would lead me. The end of the story would then come along as the writing proceeds.
This preliminary mental work I have been speaking about is, more or less, also the case when I am writing prose for adults. Writing poetry is however much different. Writing poetry in my case does not usually involve going running after ideas. Ideas come to mind rather unexpectedly. Once again they spark off from the same sources of inspiration mentioned above. Ideas generate ideas, and I am often inspired by ideas from a book I am reading or a conversation with a friend. There is no time limit for a poem to be written (unless I am entering it for a literary contest… which I no longer do). So I have all the time I need.
I very rarely turn a thought into a poem and put it down on paper as soon as it crosses my mind. The process is often a much longer one. The thought keeps coming to mind at irregular intervals and each time I knead this raw material and work on it until it is fully developed and ready to be put to paper. And even then I keep reading and revisng it, changing a word here and there until I am fully satisfied.
But let me go back to prose. I spoke about the initial mental process I go through to develop a plot for a story. But what about the actual writing of the story? I confess I very rarely write a short story, or a chapter from a longer one, in one sitting. I don’t have the time to do it. I have to make the time, stealing moments and minutes between other commitments. In contrast to what I used to do in the past, I now do all my writing directly on my computer, and I do it always in my study. When I am hard pressed for time, or when I am very keen on a project I am working on, I rise early in the morning, say at 4.00 or 4.30, make a strong cup of coffe, (just one cup will do, just to get started) switch on my computer and work on till it is time to start my normal day routine. I find this the best time for writing and, having a fresh, alert mind I am usually very productive at this early time. I like this particular time mostly because I am completely surrounded by silence. That’s how I like to write. In silence. Even a little soft music in the background would annoy me and completely distract me.
I had to work during these early hours on two particular occasions when I was given a task on commission, which I don’t usually do. In the first case I was asked by the Mental Health Association to write three different booklets intended for children who have someone in the family with a mental illness. Some time later I was commissioned by the National Commission for Persons with a Disability to write four other booklets regarding children with physical disabilities. This was not fiction writing and in both cases I had to do a lot of research and rewrite each book for several times. It was hard work, but I don’t regret it because I am sure something good has come out of it.
Carmel G. Cauchi © 2009. Cahda |