It has been a while since I took a holiday in Malta - six years to be exact. While I was there, I realised that the atmosphere I tried to capture in my first novel is all but gone. The Malta I wrote about in 'Death in Malta' hardly exists anymore. One has to drive into the inland areas and seek out places that are imbued with the ambiance I tried to capture for Gregory Worthington, the protagonist.
He loved what he found: little villages reached by rickety buses, built around surprisingly magnificent churches. They were populated by a motley bunch of characters, headed by the parish priest, the local teacher, a plumber, the president of the band club (there must be a band club) and the owner of the local hardware store. The men gathered in tiny pubs and the women gossiped on the church forecourt.
Does this Malta still exist? There was no trace of it on my last visit, and my guess is that it is even less evident today. Perhaps in parts of Gozo, Malta's sister island, the landscapes and scenarios I invented for my novel are still there. They are part and parcel of what Malta means to thousands of emigrants who left the islands after World War II for economic reasons: employment was scarse. Agriculture eked a scant living. They took off in droves to places in the new world, where everything was bigger and potential still existed. Little did they dream that Malta would blossom into the thriving affluent place it is today.
Tourism, the free port, manufacturing and value-adding have made of this tiny country in the European Union a veritable mecca for tourists, and it is packed almost year-round by thrill-seekers. This is not what my protagonist wanted at all. He sought a quiet place in which to revive his flagging career as an author. And he found it in a tiny nameless village that still had dry-stone walls, prickly-pear hedges and a formidable church, on whose steps he discovered hints and suggestions that led him to writing his new novel.
The Malta my protagonist fell in love with is possibly still there, but readers of my book will need to search for it, just like Gregory searched for secrets and mysteries surrounding the disappearance of a little boy. They will certainly find it in my book: it is there to be felt, experienced, and perhaps missed by those who remember it so well.
Locations in fiction is a fascinating subject. See more about it here.