Worldcon 75 (draft!) schedule

They keep insisting that it’s a DRAFT schedule and that it’s subject to cataclysmic upheavals at any given moment, but it gave me something of a pleasant rush to discover that a progamme for Worldcon 75 is now out.

I’ll be on two panels, which are the following:

programme

The ‘European myths’ one should be fun, while the latter is bound to be informative and somewhat cathartic (at least for me).

My own fractured European identity has provided me with plenty of subconscious fodder for fiction — the most significant of which is still forthcoming, I suspect — while my more direct use of Maltese folktales in Two is actually folded into the story in a way that obscures rather than illuminates the original work… which will be fun to reconsider, and potentially discuss with others.

With regards to ‘Coping Strategies’… I’m actually hoping to learn more from the others present, as I feel that the discussion has been somewhat exhausted in the Maltese sphere. Much like the geographical limits of the island, it tends to run in a churn of “Our audiences are small –> Translation options are limited –> As are international publishing networks –> Repeat.”

Having hovered over my co-panelist’s bios, it seems as though this year’s Worldcon is already living up to its promise to connect participants to a wide, international network of writers. Also, I must admit that sharing desk-space with the great Hal Duncan is something of a fanboy thrill.

Hope to see a lot of you there!

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My visit to and participation in Worldcon 75 is supported by Arts Council Malta – Cultural Export Fund

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Two – Now on Amazon

My debut novel, Two, has finally made its way to Amazon (UK).

Two by Teodor Reljic. Cover by Pierre Portelli

Cover by Pierre Portelli

Published in March 2014 by Merlin Publishers, Two was a culmination of a total of three years of work, starting out as flash fiction piece for Schlock Magazine, evolving into a Nanowrimo project before finally being beaten into the shape of a parallel narrative — whose main trigger stemmed from Haruki Murakami’s Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, though the content could not be more dissimilar — that is part coming-of-age story, part love letter to Malta’s evocative landscapes (both urban and maritime) and part a vindication of the love of books.

I spoke about a significant three-year anniversary recently, and it seems as though 2014 was a fairly significant year for me. The subsequent years have been rather more experimental — which was a necessary and enriching step — and I hope that a lot of the non-novel projects that I have been working on (comic book, film-related and other media work) will yield some fruit pretty soon.

In the meantime, I surprised myself by starting to work on something else on the sidelines. Something which is not distant from Two in both form and spirit…

Click here to order Two 

Click here to find out more about Two

Three Years

Three years ago today, I asked a compelling and beautiful woman to accompany me on a trip to the flea market.

The place was Birgu — which I’ve written about before but whose charms have diminished somewhat over the years — and she has since confessed to me that, after I had alighted from the bus stop on which we had agreed to meet up and made our way to the dusty football ground that hosts the weekly assortment of the trash-and-treasure, that she did not understand a word of the small-talk I mumbled along the way.

I’d like to think that I’ve made something of a better effort to speak more clearly in conversations with her since then, and that her agreeing to marry me at the summer solstice this year is something of a validation, in that regard.

Virginia is a keenly intelligent but also delicate creature — who often cracks at the cruelty and mediocrity of the world, partly because she refuses to put up a shield — or, as has become something of an unfortunate trend recently, a wall — against the realities that she cannot help but process through an always-attuned anthropological eye.

It often hurts me to see her hurt, but I also know that forcing her to suppress that very same source of pain would mean asking her to compromise. To compromise on her desire for a healthier, more just world. For more reasonable and humane solutions to the problems we all face day to day.

Learning to speak more clearly with her also meant learning to articulate my own responses to her pain in a way that makes sense. ‘Makes sense’ is a loaded term here, and I guess what I mean by it is — ‘In a way that can bridge our viewpoints and perspectives, and not make them collide. In a way that will mark us out as collaborators, not isolated specialists.’

Of course, I’m still learning. As with most things that matter, I suspect that there will never be a true ‘end point’ to this education. I just hope that, three more years ahead, the bridge will be even more robust than it is now.

DSC_2332

June 21, 2017 – The Pub, Valletta. Photo by Paolo Monteforte

Summer

I never look forward to the Maltese summer. It’s both a popular and unpopular statement, or stance to take — depending on the level of commitment and intensity involved. Many will jeer at me for being a party-pooper, for missing the wood for the trees and even — which is both fair and unfair — for being ungrateful: other countries don’t get to enjoy this much sunshine, and neither to they have our abundance of easily-accessible beaches to dive into when it all gets a bit much.

I’ve come to understand the other’s position a bit more now that I’ve recalibrated my life in a way that suits me better; i.e., now that I am a remote-working freelancer and am at least spared the morning (and equally punishing, evening) commute to work on crammed buses whose air-conditioning is either malfunctioning or too strong: strong enough to give your body a system shock that will doubtless lead to a nasty summer cold as soon as you step out of the vehicle.

Yes, summer is in many respects a beautiful time of year — a culmination of all that we look forward to in our leisure time here: the ability to go for a swim in the sea that is readily available and abundant for us, and the ability to enjoy balmy summer evenings with friends — be it at an open-air event of some kind, or a rooftop barbecue…

But in other ways, it’s a time of year that grinds everything down. Makes it soupy, ugly. Leisure-time in summer is great — or at least, lends the impression of being postcard-perfect great — but the daily routine still remains (we’re not in schooltime-Kansas anymore) and work is compromised by the stifling heat. The heat that signals to you that you should, above all, seek shelter and rest.

But of course, the system we all operate under does not allow for that. But it should. There is something beautiful in the notion of us meeting summer the way it demands to be met. For us to let the heat consume us and — to use a phrase beloved by self-help gurus/websites — to ‘listen to our bodies’ and do what it will.

In the way that it short-circuits human efficiency, summer is a reminder to us to remain humble, because we are at the mercy of the elements — the heat being the most predominant element in Malta. Where the milder climes allow themselves to be shoved aside to facilitate our attempts at economic survival, ingenuity and the comfortable pursuit of our ambitions at our own pace, summer forces all that to grind to a halt.

Summer demands worship. But we are continually barred from simply prostrating ourselves.

iGaming island

Malta is an iGaming island. Everyone works in iGaming, and those who don’t are the drifters on the wayside, the detritus that remains after the steel ship has ripped the land to little flakes and established itself as the new citadel from whence all the riches shall flow, henceforth.

They are affable though, these iGaming people. They pay well and treat their staff well. They give out menus to their new employees – even the Maltese ones. And the Scandinavians that run these companies – most of them will, inevitably, be Scandinavian – are not like the ‘bad’ foreigners that come here.

No, they’re not like the Africans who take our jobs, or the Eastern Europeans who cause trouble. No, they are affable and kind and – strikingly, unignorably – good-looking. The latter part is important. One of my (Maltese) friends said recently – half-mockingly, half-exasperatingly (for he was married) – that he is now working in an office with “five or six solid pieces of ass”.

They are trendy, too. The men with their hipster beards and the women as attractive as we’d just said. They are bohemians, but they’re clever bohemians. No slaving away in the shadows on obscure creative work for them.

Instead, they will funnel any impulse for creativity they have into promoting colourful, fun digital slot games. Games whose inspiration may come from any quarter of civilization. Hollywood or fairy tale. Myth, or history – inevitably, there’s a game about El Dorado, and the psychotic colonial leader Pizarro is interpreted as an endearing, bumbling cartoon fool.

The iGaming people know that they are engaging in an elaborate dance of money for all to see. Their hosts know it too. The euphemism of ‘gaming’ to say ‘gambling’ is the first trot, then come the colourful games – like we said – and then comes the increase in rent. Yes, the iGaming people can afford to come to Malta because it is their own El Dorado, and one with very little dangerous wildlife to machete through. Parking and traffic will be a problem, of course, but this is why we’ve created offices for them in the most sensitive, easily reachable places.

After the election – after nasty rumours spread by ‘traitors’ began to percolate – the Prime Minister himself paid a visit to the steel ship in the hopes of tamping down any fears about Malta’s uprightness and viability that the iGaming people may have had. The ramp from the steel ship descended, and the plump, ginger Prime Minister flashed a trademark smile that hid away and fear or hesitation. This was a man ready to do business, now as ever.

This was a man who could calm the choppiest of waters – or so his smile signaled. The hand that greeted him betrayed no such over affections and affectations, but what the people then saw was a photo opportunity that will warm their hearts and reassure them that, all will remain as it was. Normality will prevail. The rents will keep rising and construction will blot the land but apart from that, normality will prevail.

The picture showed the Prime Minister in the inner recess of the steel ship. This was a world onto its own. The citadel had, of course, its own trendy cafe. Brown walls and hanging lights and a bar whose white lick of paint appeared to be perpetually fresh, as if a crafty young employee – a marketing executive by profession, a carpenter by passion – would extricate himself from his desk every now and then and funnel his skills into ensuring the bar looks fresh and ‘genuine’ at every turn.

The Prime Minister is smiling, with a cup of tea or coffee in his right hand. He is looking to the left, not facing his interlocutor.

Not facing the leader of the iGaming people, into whose mothership he was just allowed. A man as young as our very own Prime Minister, but who – despite his Nordic provenance – does not have a ginger beard like our Prime Minister. The Prime Minister, who is not used to holding cups of tea or coffee with his fingers but who would prefer to clutch Styrofoam cups or large mugs and take long, generous glups.

But he’ll make an exception this once. As will we all.