How I write – Gorg Peresso

I have often heard, and sometimes quoted, this phrase by Georges Simenon: ‘Writing is not a profession but a vocation of unhappiness.’ An American writer, Edna Ferber, takes this fact further, saying that writing can be interesting, absorbing, exhilarating, racking, relieving but never amusing, and adds with a bit of sarcasm: only amateurs say that they write for their own amusement. She goes on comparing writing to a mixture of ditch-digging, mountain-climbing, treadmill and childbirth. Well, I have never dug a ditch, or climbed a mountain – not high mountains at least – and I have never been on a treadmill, and least of all have I experienced the pain of childbirth – although I was a dumb, helpless witness on three occasions. Yet I still believe that writing is anything but a sadistic vocation of unhappiness or devoid of amusement. Maybe I am an amateur writer, notwithstanding that I consider writing as my way to put some butter – cholesterol free – on my bread and a means of keeping my tax collector a bit busy. But what’s wrong with that? I mean, what’s wrong with finding writing an amusing art? The verb ‘to amuse’ is defined as ‘to gaze meditatively, ponder, reflect’ and ethymologists remind us that it is derived from the Old French muser, to waste time. Well, judging by the remuneration we get, it can be rightly called by pragmatists and economists ‘a waste of time.’

Yet writing is an amusment, a pleasure, to see your idea turned into written material, perhaps even published. (Oh the wonderful odour of a new book!) And perhaps even bought, borrowed and read and sometimes reviewed with elaborate words and far-fetched adjectives and metaphors as a mini, hollowed, masterpiece. (Most books published in Malta are acclaimed as mini-masterpieces!)

Years ago I embraced the romantic idea that writing is a burning crucible, a via crucis towards a self-imposed Golgotha, a flagellation of the spirit. A noche oscura. That was many years ago, when I was naïve, but now that I write a lot of naïve literature – especially poetry – I try to experience some amusement while I write… for my own pleasure (and gratified vainglory) and hopefully for the pleasure, and the killing of time, of others. I fully agree with Cicero in his unique defence on the freedom of writers, that a book is a faithful companion, any time, anywhere.

Writing has often been described as escapism. But from what? From boredom, perhaps? Well then I agree. I prefer the world which I create in my books than the real one in which we live.

We writers are not the solution to the various problems whether existential, philosophical, social, romantic, religious and so on, which we write about. Very often we are the problem. A writer with no problems cannot write at all and should refrain from writing. Literature which is cold and pure is “very dead,” I would say, with Sinclair Lewis. Writers have one dominant factor in common with scientists: they write about things of which they are not completely sure. There is nothing stipulated as irrevocable in what writers say – except perhaps when they write poetry. And not because, as Quintus Ennius (c. 239 BC – c. 169 BC) and Cicero (106 BC – 43 BC) say, a poet is endowed with divine inspiration, but because a poet is an eternal restless child, amazed and amused, with no fixed moment in which he/she can be defined and catalogued. Poets escape static positions.

I have been writing since…well I am too old to remember, but old enough to worry about what I have written and have not yet written.

And while I am at it, allow me to promote my two latest books. One is called It-Tifel tan-Nanna (Grandmother’s Boy), which is about my childhood, and the other L-Istejjer tal-Istorja (Stories from History), about the childhood of my country. Both books are published by Horizons.

There is something about growing old that makes you yearn for your childhood. Simplicity, innocence and nostalgia have nothing to do with childhood. Saki’s stories on children and the renowned book Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee prove my point. Childhood, at least my childhood, was beautiful because it was an experience in fascination, an exploration of new things, day after day. My latest books could not have been written without this sensation of marvel which sustained me through my childhood…and still does in my old age.

I was brought up listening to stories and eating sweetened porridge. Today I still love listening to stories – and that is why I write them in different forms. Even the shortest poem is a story. And occasionally I love a bowl of porridge, to taste the origins of myself, the man and the writer, as a child

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