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Of women and their plights

Despite a marked increase in the number of local female writers, Malta still lags behind when it comes to female literature, especially prose. Author Clare Azzopardi shares her thoughts with Stephanie Fsadni.

If there ever was a Maltese writer who took female issues at heart, Clare Azzopardi must be the one. Yet, she does not consider herself a feminist author.

Clare Azzopardi loves to write about women but she is also known as a children’s writer. Photo: Virginia MonteforteClare Azzopardi loves to write about women but she is also known as a children’s writer. Photo: Virginia Monteforte

“If the choice of subject makes me a feminist writer, then perhaps I am one. But I don’t consciously belong to any feminist school of thought,” Azzopardi says. “At the moment, however, I’m emphatising more with women and their plights, and so I choose to write about them.”

Women feature prominently in the recent works of Azzopardi, who is also known as a children’s writer. In recent years, she published Kulħadd Ħalla Isem Warajh, which features eight short stories, each one a tale about a different woman, and Frejp, about two girls with completely different social backgrounds, one of whom is fraped and the other one who does not even have a Facebook account.

Besides, in 2013, she wrote two plays in which the protagonists were women: In-Nisa Jafu Kif, about six women who only share one thing in common, motherhood, and Pretty Lisa, which tackles domestic abuse.

Azzopardi feels it is important that women write and that they write about things that “men decided to ignore in the past”. She says that unfortunately, despite an increase in the number of local female writers, Malta still has miles to go when it comes to female literature.

It is important that women write and that they write about things that men decided to ignore in the past

“The majority of female writers are poets, and I believe that Maltese poetry is being rewritten thanks to them. But prose, both that aimed at children and adults, seriously lags behind and I’m concerned that many of us are simply imitating the men that came before us or contemporary ones.”

Despite there possibly being various reasons, she attributes this mostly to the fact that Maltese women may still be happy with their traditional role of parenting: “I think children give them enough satisfaction in life, and therefore they don’t feel the need to explore other avenues to express themselves. Good literary works need a lot of patience, time and determination, a lot of reading and much more writing...”

Azzopardi says she has not been influenced by any particular writer but by good writing and interesting studies.

“Some works have undoubtedly affected the way I think and, naturally, what I write. I admit, however, that recently, English novelist and journalist Angela Carter and Canadian novelist and poet Margaret Atwood left a big impact on me. But there are many more...”

Just as the author chooses to write about women, she chooses to write in Maltese.

“Maltese is my native language and even if the market is small, I cannot imagine writing in any other language. It definitely helps express the tales I narrate better.”

The short stories of Kulħadd Ħalla Isem Warajh, which Azzopardi took five years to complete, are inspired by women the author knew or with whom she lived, in Malta or abroad.

“I cannot say there’s a woman among these eight I know well. I know little of them and fragments of their lives, and I used this genre to write about them.”

The stories tackle some of the challenges women face in modern society.

Among the characters are Camilla, who like Rapunzel, lets her hair down from the balcony so that a man climbs up to her bedroom, and Polly, who is always looking for empty bottles to maybe find her child among them.

“A child maybe Rumpilstiltskin stole from her?” ponders Azzopardi.

There is Rita who spends the day peeling potatoes; Margaret whose name was stolen and replaced by that of a man and who was made to wear a veil and thick clothing to hide her femininity; and Roża, who is simply waiting to die.

“These are all portraits more than anything else, which I cannot really call nice, because their content is other than pleasant. However, they’re fascinating because the way they’ve been depicted makes them different, unique and technically interesting. They make one stop and think and each time one does so, one’s bound to find something new.”

Some of the characters have strong personalities, others don’t and react differently to their everyday problems.

“In some way or other, they all survive their ordeals, but some suffer more than others. Some of them, like Sandra and Roża, have absolute control of their lives and the people around them. Others, like Polly, have always been controlled by others.

“Everyone needs to fight to get along in this frenetic life. But there are some who are more naturally apt than others to do so... a little like in The Hunger Games.”

Women are bound to feature in more of Azzopardi’s works. In fact, she is currently penning a novel featuring three female protagonists.

“Now don’t ask me whether it’s a conscious decision or not!” she quips.

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