A few readers have asked me how much research goes into the writing of a book.
How much do you have to read in order to write?
It really depends on the project, of course. And I’m sure it’s different for everyone. I tend to read quite a lot. Partly because I love to read, and doing a book or an article gives me an excuse to dig into a subject. You never really know what sort of obscure fact or insight will prove to be useful.
I’m working on a book about the 6 years I spent living on the island of Malta.
I had a quick look through my book list, and this is more or less what I’ve read so far (in alphabetical order):
Abela, Ruben. The Zejtun Roman Villa (2012)
Banfield, Edward. The Moral Basis Of A Backward Society (1958)
Blouet, Brian W. The Story of Valletta: A Companion to the City (2009)
Boissevain, Jeremy. Factions, Friends and Feasts (2013)
Boissevain, Jeremy. Saints and Fireworks: Religion and Politics in Rural Malta (1965)
Bonanno, Anthony. Malta: Phoenician, Punic, and Roman (2005)
Braudel, Fernand. Memory and the Mediterranean (2001)
Brockman, Eric. Last Bastion: Sketches of the Maltese Islands (2002)
Burgess, Anthony. You’ve Had Your Time (1990)
Cassar, Carmel. A Concise History of Malta (2000)
Camilleri, Mark. A Materialist Revision of Maltese History 870 – 1919 (2016)
Cavaliero, Roderick. The Last of the Crusaders (2009)
Crowley, Roger. Empires of the Sea (2008)
Dalli, Charles. Malta: The Medieval Millennium (2006)
Dennis, Nigel. An Essay on Malta (1972)
Durrell, Lawrence. Bitter Lemons (1957)
Durrell, Lawrence. Prospero’s Cell (1945)
Durrell, Lawrence. Reflections on a Marine Venus (1953)
Ellis, Ian. Richard Ellis: Malta—Portrait of an Era 1860 – 1940 (2014)
Fenech, Natalie. Fatal Flight: The Maltese Obsession With Killing Birds (1992)
Freller, Thomas. Malta: The Order of St. John (2010)
Hastings, Max. All Hell Let Loose: The World at War 1939 – 1945 (2011)
Henwood, Jonathan and Emmet McMahon. The Malta Coastal Walk
Hughes, Quentin. Fortress Architecture & Military History in Malta (2001)
Lawrence, D.H. The Letters of D.H. Lawrence (1932)
Mattei, Emma & Jon Banthorpe. Uncommon Malta & Gozo (2011)
Mifsud, Stephan D. The Maltese Bestiary (2014)
Mitchell, Jon Ambivalent Europeans: Ritual, Memory & The Public Sphere In Malta
Norwich, John Julius. The Middle Sea: A History of the Mediterranean (2006)
Norwich, John Julius. The Normans in Sicily (1992)
Norwich, John Julius. Trying to Please: A Memoir (2010)
Randon, Stanley Farrugia. Comino, Filial and St. Paul’s Island (2006)
Rosenblum, Mort. Olives: The Life & Lore of a Noble Fruit (1996)
Spiteri, Stephen C. Fortresses of the Knights (2001)
Theroux, Paul. The Pillars of Hercules (1995)
Trump, David H. Malta: Prehistory and Temples (2002)
Wettinger, Godfrey. Aspects of Daily Life in Late Medieval Malta and Gozo (2015)
Zammit, Ray Cachia. The Victoria Lines (1996)
I’m sure I’m forgetting several, but that’s a quick list.
I’ve also followed the main English-language Maltese newspapers daily for at least the past 5 years. So I could draw on a large clipping file of articles, chiefly from The Times of Malta, Malta Independent, Malta Today, and Daphne Caruana Galizia’s Running Commentary blog.
I’ve found the comment sections of those articles to be especially interesting for getting insights into people’s general attitude, how they phrase an argument, their critical thinking and analytical abilities, and the way they reason.
The main articles will tell part of the story, but the reader comments will fill you in on the backstory. As an outsider you won’t ever know what really happened in these cases, but you’ll have a clearer sense of just how much is going on below the surface, and you’ll know who to ask and where to start digging.
Of course, a certain subset of people tends to comment in newspapers, so you can’t put too much weight on it. But people in Malta are very political, and they love a passionate argument.
Finally, all the reading in the world isn’t enough. It can only give you some context. You’ve got to go out and live those experiences.
My island book is only partly about Malta. It’s really about what it was like to live there.
What did I learn?
How did I change?
How did the landscape and culture affect me?
Lawrence Durrell called this the Spirit of Place. He believed that a reciprocal influence operates between people and places.
Landscape is not a projection of the psyche — an interpretation of your surroundings based on your interior — but a tutelary spirit that guides the growth of personality and art.
He also studied the ways in which particular environments or landscapes stimulate or stifle creativity, the way the landscape acts upon a writer’s conception of himself and nature.
Six years is a really long time.
I cannot say that our lives would not have taken the shape they did if we had not lived on the island.
But an island is a curious thing. It can isolate you, and turn you into something else.