Carmel G. Cauchi
Interviewd by Chanelle Gatt
1. Why do you write?
I write because I feel the urge. This urge to write has been with me since my childhood. I write poetry and prose for adults to express my feelings and communicate them to my readers. I write books for children to provide them with reading material which will keep them gainfully and joyfully occupied. And I write because I enjoy writing.
2. How did you start writing?
As I already said, I felt the urge to write when I was a young boy and I used to write short rhymes. Then, in the early seventies my friend Trevor Zahra held a meeting for teachers of Maltese and urged them to write adventures in our language because Maltese children had little or no supplementary readers to complement the "Gabra ta' Ward" primary school textbooks. I was not invited to that meeting because I was a primary school teacher, but my sister taught Maltese in a secondary school and so she was eligible to attend, which she did. On her return she conveyed to me Trevor's ideas and I became very enthusiastic. I had already written a few humorous stories about my character "Pietru Pitravu", and I went on with them till I had written ten. These were published in 1976 in my first book about the said character. I had tried to find a publisher but I was unknown as a writer at that time and publishers were very reluctant to take me on. So I published that first book myself with the help of poet and author Victor Fenech and illustrator Frank Schembri. Children liked the character at first sight and the book was sold out in a short time. From then on publishers were willing to accept my work.
3. How do you feel when you are writing?
I feel most happy and enthusiastic. The fact that I am creating stories and poems makes me feel good. When I am writing I feel relieved of daily chores and problems.
4. From where do you get your ideas of what to write about and your inspirations?
Very often an idea just comes to my mind and I base a story on it. But a writer must have a strong power of observation. Things I observe give me ideas. Things I see, hear or read make me think and create plots for stories and artistic expressions for poems. For instance, I was once at the seaside with my MUSEUM boys and when they left their clothes on the shore in order to go into the water I noticed some seeds embedded in the sole of a boy's shoe. On asking the boy told me that he had been abroad with his family and the seeds got stuck on his shoes when they visited a park. Those seeds brought to Malta from a neighbouring country gave me the idea for my book "Ramon u Sardinellu" and its sequel "Sardinellu u d-Dar tal-Hares".
5. Do you consider writing as an art?
Yes, a writer is an artist as much as a painter or a sculptor. A painter uses paints and brushes, a sculptor uses hammers and chisels and a writer uses words. They all produce beautiful works of art.
6. Do you consider writing as a hobby or something you need, like an addiction?
It may start as a hobby, but as it goes along it will probably become a need, or an addiction. That is what happened in my case. Writing has become an aspect of my personality. I need to write. The last thing I want to lose is the ability to write. My greatest fear is that a time may come when I have no more ideas to write about, no more inspirations.
7. When writing a story, do you feel connected to the characters and plot?
Yes. I usually feel as I were a part of the plot… as if I were one of the characters. And, in a way, I fall in love with the main characters. Sometimes I even identify myself with a main character,
8. Which part of a novel is the hardest to write? The beginning, the end, or the ‘body’? Why?
I consider a novel as one whole thing. Of course one has to think of a beginning, a body and an end. Each part has its own importance. A novel must have a good starting point so that the reader's interest is caught straight from the beginning, a good well-knit plot to keep the interest throughout, and good ending that keeps the reader pondering for a while. I think that probably the ending is the hardest to write. In the end the writer has to tie up all the loose ends… or chose to leave the story open-ended. As for myself, I give the ending a lot of thought because, wheteher concluded or open ended, I would usually like to leave the reader in a thoughtful, soul-searching stance.
9. When you finish a story, does it feel hard to start another one?
It depends. In some cases one story leads to another, especially if I am writing about the same character, and this makes it easy. But at other times it feels hard to start another story because I have that ugly, painful feeling that I have said all I had to say and I have nothing more to write about. Then I have to pass through a very difficult time searching for new ideas which could be woven up into other plots.
10. When you write, do you plan exactly what you’re going to put down on paper, or does the story takes its own form? Why?
Before I start writing I usually have in mind what I'm going to put down on paper, not "exactly" but roughly. I have the main stages of the plot in my mind. On some other occasions I start writing with an idea in mind but then let the story lead me along as other ideas crop up. I started writing "Ramon u Sardinellu" without having the vaguest idea where the plot would lead me to. The same happened with "Roderick u Gridoro" and "Is-Sigriet ta' Ghajnejn il-Kobra" . But this procedure is only the exception, I would prefer to have the main points in mind before I start writing. I am afraid of the idea that I might not find a good way to conclude the story when I reach the end.
11. As time passes, do you feel that people are reading more or less or approximately still the same? Why?
I have no statistical means to sustain my opinion about this, but I think that people are reading more. Large numbers of books are being published yearly, as could be seen on a visit to the annual Book Fair. Book weeks at schools are also very popular with the children. Play stations and other computer games could be a modern way to distract children from reading, but I think those who like reading will not discard their books for these games. "Il-Kunsill Nazzjonali tal-Ktieb" is also contributing a lot towards adult readership, and I believe its efforts are proving fruitful.
12. Do you consider feedback important for an author?
Yes, very much important. One of the greatest satisfactions I get from writing is when I meet people, both children and adults, who speak to me about my books and tell how much they enjoyed reading them. I also welcome comments by other authors and book reviewers who constructively and genuinely show me the strengths and weaknesses in my writing. On very rare occasions I get destructive, unkind comments which I feel hurt about but do my best to disregard,
13. What, in your opinion, does an author search for in a reader and reviews received?
As I said in my answer to the previous question I, as an author, look for comments, both positive and negative as long as they are genuine and constructive. Destructive criticism could be very discouraging for a new author, but I am now a seasoned writer and can I can taken in destructive criticism without letting it discourage me.
14. Do you think that an author needs to read other authors’ work?
Yes. This will help him to keep abreast with what others are writing. But he must be very careful not to be influenced to the extent of copying other writers' style or ideas. Every author must keep his own style and be himself.
15. For a writer to be a ‘good’ writer, in your opinion, should s/he enjoy writing?
Yes, I think so. A good writer must enjoy writing… even though it could be painful at times. And writing what you like to write is much more enjoyable than writing on commission… i.e. what you are asked to write. I think that if one does not enjoy writing he would be neither a good writer nor a bad one… because s/he would soon stop writing and do instead other things which s/he enjoys.
16. What advice do you think would be best to aspiring young writers?
I would advise aspiring young writers to read a lot (without trying to copy other writers), to nurture a good power of observation, to jot down ideas lest they soon slip off their minds, to welcome genuine criticism… and to be ready to sacrifice themselves because they will have to renounce to many things they like in order to devote precious time to writing. Writing will give a lot of satisfaction, but only if it is taken seriously.