How I write – Alfred Massa
by Marie Benoit
How I write? That’s a good question. Generally I write when the Muses tease me. Something crops up in my mind out of the blue, I start thinking and rethinking about it, then when I feel that time has come to jot it down, I do so.
I said ‘Muses’ because I touch various forms of writing. True, poetry is my favourite, maybe because my first attempts at writing were poetry. This goes back to the early 1960s. And my first lines were in English as John Keats’ poetry attracted me very much.
Later I turned to writing in Maltese. At first I wrote short stories, then after finishing my two years at St Michael’s Teachers Training College at Ta’ Giorni, where psychology was one of the subjects taught, the subject I liked most, I wrote articles with a psychological aspect in local papers.
One day, the late Mons. Prof. Carm Sant who hailed from my village of Tarxien, a great family friend and my ex teacher of Scripture and Greek at the Archbishop’s Seminary in Floriana, gave me a private lecture on Dun Karm, our national poet. He also handed me some early copies of Il-Malti which I still treasure. Since then I became fascinated with our romantic poets like Dun Karm Briffa, Buttigieg, Pisani, and so forth.
I remember showing my early verses in Maltese to the late Reginald Vella Tomlin who was head teacher at Birżebbuġa primary where I rendered my first services to the Education Department. Mr Vella Tomlin appreciated my poems and encouraged me to carry on.
I regard myself lucky to have been responsible for the literary page of the daily Il-Ħajja since its birth until it closed down in 1987. During that time I met quite a good number of gifted writers of the 1970s and 1980s. I recall for instance Fr Harry Born OP who encouraged me to write drama. By the way, this year we are commemorating Fr Born’s birth centenary. On the other hand, Prof. Ġużè Galea asked me to have a go at a historical novel after I expressed my appreciation for his books Raġel bil-Għaqal and San Ġwann. In fact, I did and two of my 10 novels L-Istar ta’ l-Imgħoddi and Raħal Maqbud f’Tempesta fall in this category.
When I was still a teacher I used to write mostly during the summer holidays. Besides, I read a book every week. Now that I am a pensioner, I write when I feel inclined to do so and I read less and less. Maybe this is because my days are somewhat full of all kinds of activities.
At present I am concentrating more on poetry. I have been a member of the Għaqda Poeti Maltin since it was founded by Mons. Dr Amante Buontempo in 1975. Then in the year 2000 during a general meeting I was elected president of this Association, a post I still hold to this very day. The Għaqda involves a lot of work as we organise various activities every now and then. This besides other cultural work I do in my own village.
In the past my family used to spend the summer holidays at Marsascala. There I started writing two of my novels, besides poems and various literary articles. Whatever I write I first read it to my wife and take her criticism seriously. She reads a lot as reading has always been her hobby and therefore I consider her to be a good critic.
The last novel I wrote Raħal Maqbud f’Tempesta gave me great satisfaction. I had done a great deal of research about Tarxien in the late 18th century, especially during the turbulent times when Dun Tumas Cirillo Formosa was parish priest of the village (1752-1767). I consulted various sources like F. Ciappara’s Mill-Qigħan ta’ l-Istorja, Brian Blout’s The Story of Malta, E.B. Vella’s Storja ta’ Ħal Tarxien u Raħal Ġdid and Il Giornale Cattolico edited by Abate Antonio de Luca, to get a clear picture of life in Tarxien in those dark days of ignorance and poverty. With that background in mind I created a fictitious story, which was greatly acclaimed not only by many Tarxinizi but also by local literary critics.
The last literary piece I finished writing only a few days ago is an oratorio entitled Ħal Tarxien Iben Marija. It took me pains to finish it and now I am looking forward to the day when I shall see it performed.