Interview: "A Map of Scars" a Lesbian Love Story in Wartime, the first Novel of Moyra Sammut
Moyra Sammut is launching her first book this Friday 29th called “A Map of Scars”. Through this interview, she gives you more details that will make you want to discover the story of Georgina Parker.
To order the book, visit https://olympiapublishers.com/books/a-map-of-scars.
First, can you describe who you are?
“I had an unusual childhood because my mother is English and my father is Maltese so there are two very different cultures; My mom was more on the academic side and she made sure I could read fluently by the age of 4. I had a very unusual background because I did not grow up like a typical Maltese child because of this. My two biggest passions in life are food because I’m a chef and a writer. I do lots of other things too: I paint, I sculpt and whole load of other stuff. I think that happened because my parents could not afford to send me to University, I cultivated an insatiable thirst for knowledge and I taught myself most things. I grew up mostly in the countryside. My father had a great love for animals and I did a lot of foraging, he taught me all about the wild flora and fauna and in turn he taught me to respect what the land can give. I spent many hours talking to my mum telling her how when I grew up I was going to travel the world and explore it little did I know I would turn out to be a real gypsy roaming from one place to the other. When I was 18, I went off travelling the world. I started gaining a lot of experience speaking to people, you learn anthropology, culture, religion – its an amazing way to learn about life. There is the bad and there is the good everywhere, I didn’t think of the dangers rather I absorbed everything around me, I think you learn a lot as a human race, we have actually evolved and you learn to appreciate the creature comforts that you have once you see how simple most people live in say for example the Far East and Asia.
I was born in 1960. So basically, I grew up in an era which was really quite amazing because World War Two had only ended 15 years previously, people had gone through a huge
amount of suffering and it took them time to build their life again. When I was about 7 or 8 years old my British grandfather began to tell me stories about how he used to fight the war at the Battle of Anzio in Italy and my Maltese father was an ARP (Air Raid Personnel) he had his own horrific stories. So, I used to sit with both of my grandfathers, when my British grandfather came to Malta to stay for holidays, he used to tell me stories. My Maltese grandfather told me stories too, so I grew up with this culture of World War II, steeped in my veins and it turned into and a deep fascination. I used a historical background for the basis of my story but the character is fiction and she is an adventurer at heart fearless and strong.
The story starts in 1939 in the heart of the Island in Valletta and my character ‘George’ (Georgina), her penchant for dressing up in man’s clothing is something she doesn’t quite understand except it gives her the freedom afforded only to the man on the street. It makes her feel as an equal and regarded as such.
The story starts in the street of Strada Stretta. It was a place notorious for drunk sailors, transvestites, prostitutes and pretty barmaids. This was George’s haunt and hideaway, a place where she could be herself. But she is uneasy and ready to spread her wings. I have written the book as if I was living in that era myself."
You’re a travel journalist but, how appeared the desire to write?
“Yes, I used to be, I wrote articles about travel and a bit about anthropology, culture, food. I’m a huge foodie! There’s no food I can’t cook, because I avoided hotels and used to live with people.
My English, thanks to my mum, has always been impeccable, I’m very proud of that. I used to write a lot of poetry, I wrote short stories but never published them and now this book is an achievement.
Obviously, I had to work and I did various jobs in travel companies, restaurants I was also a tube train driver on the London underground.
I didn’t feel or believe I would stay in a job for a lifetime and then leave without having done anything in my life. I had already decided from a young age that I wanted to travel, to cook and to paint and I wanted to write. I did a lot of writing because I wrote features on travel mostly, poetry and then I decided on a book. I said “I have to write a book because I’m a storyteller!” and I started researching the book. It took me about 7 years because it was on and off. I’ve already started my second book as the A Map Of Scars is a trilogy."
From where did you get your inspiration? Your granddads only?
Why did you choose these topics?
“I would say from both of them because they started me off on the subject. Obviously, as I said, I was only born 15 years after the war ended. That is not a long time. And then I started reading a lot about our local history because we went through an awful lot of strife on the Island. We had a huge amount of history, all kinds of cultures coming to our island. A lot of invaders and colonial occupiers came to our island; they left a lot of their culture; the Phoenicians and Carthaginians who were traders, the Normans, the Arabs, the Angevins, the Knights of the Order of St John, the French, the British. The good thing out of all this we have a unique culinary culture.
Of course the stories I used to hear like how much the Maltese people suffered, and my travels around the world, the politics of it that makes you think “what the hell is the point of the war?”
The war is the background or canvas if you like and I wanted the book to have a lesbian theme but it’s more about :
Love in the time of war.
“A map of scars” would be obvious when the reader reads the whole book.”
Why the “lesbian girl”?
“We all identify a bit with George’, she has an element of adventure, an explorer of the heart, she wants to explore. If you speak to a lot of LGBTIQ+, you will find a little bit of George’ in everyone. I suppose I can say yes I do identify myself a bit with George you know.”
Can you explain why you illustrated the book this way?
“In the time of concentration camps in Auschwitz, the gay male prisoners of any race were given a pink triangle to sew on their camp rags. If a female was labelled as a lesbian or asexual or even a political prisoner, they were made to wear a black triangle. The very cleverly book cover designed by Julia Azzopardi represents the essence of the book – two triangles and barbed wire."
What’s the meaning behind “A Map of Scars”?
“ It will make sense when you will read the book.”
Why did you name the main character “Georgina Parker”?
“There is a song in 1960 that is named “Georgy Girl". It’s about a girl who’s not really interested just in clothes or even boys for that matter. Also, I read a lot of Enid Blyton and my favorite was the Famous Five series, The books had a character called George who was a bit of a tomboy and I just always related to her.
And I used the surname Parker as I wanted the British element in it but what I did is switched parents and in the book, her mother is Maltese and her father is British.”
How much time did you spend writing this book?
“A total of 8 years from start to finish but that was on and off. I finished the book from 2019 to 2021, I just went fast because it requires a lot of research, you have to be careful of what you put in the book when it comes to historical fiction. The book is called a Faction - historical fiction. The historical side to the book has been left in the background literally – I didn’t want readers to be bored silly by too many details it was more to make the story exciting."
Is your writing influenced by another author?
“My two favorite authors are Virginia Woolf, she was a great author
And I also like Radcliff Hall, she wrote an amazing book called The Well of Loneliness, I was impressed by the heaviness of this book, the pressure, the sadness.
This is my type, I love the British period history - Victorian, Edwardian era, plus of course my history. From 1900 up into 1960, that’s my huge passion.”
What do you plan for the future? Are you writing another book?
“I hope to live a little bit longer so I can finish my books, cooking, and do a lot of charity work. At this point, it is keeping me sane because of this pandemic. However, my full-time job is taking care of my parents.
My mentality, my mind is much younger. You can say at the age of 40 I stopped getting older. Reading, writing, cooking and when things will get better, I’ll travel. “
Do you want to write another story?
“I’m not going to stop writing stories, I’m a storyteller. And people who are in my life constantly inspire me as well to write stories. Their emotions, actions, and they are the best things for a story and drama because there is drama, tragedy, death, life. So, I’m constantly observing people, how they react, what they do.”
It’s really inspiring!
Do you have some advice to share?
“First of all, whoever you are, whatever you are, you stick to your true self. You know, people are not always going to agree with you.
Number two: always be honest. I know that honesty might offend people but at the end of the day, if you start lying, you’ll get caught out and that is the worst thing that can happen if you’re in a relationship or else. Always be honest and you’ll get a huge amount of respect.
Be compassionate. Remember that people might be gone through a lot of problems in their life. They might not be acting how they normally are. You have to try to understand, you sometimes need to have patience, especially in the times like today.
Last but not least,
Always go for what you believe in, always.
Whatever you’re doing in life, just ignore everybody, go straight ahead, do what you believe in, because it’s your life and people don’t know what’s inside you. They don’t know what’s in your head, in your heart or your soul. You just go ahead and do it. You might make mistakes along the way, it doesn’t matter, it’s the way you learn. You can always take a little bit of pieces of advice but do what your heart tells you, except don’t be stupid if somebody doesn’t love you, just walk away.
When it comes to writing, writing is really hard because I've been banging my head every week for inspiration, there was something that won’t come out. Just go away, go for a walk in the countryside, come back, take a deep breath and look at the paper. Write something. Eventually, it will fit and you can move on. But it’s not easy to write."
My Favourite Quote – Love one another, but make not a bond of love, let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your soul – Kahlil Gibran The Prophet
Thanks for the interview!
Other links to order from :
Interview by Alicia Modica, intern for Arc.