Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Guest Post: Five places my character Jane visits in Letters from Malta by Mary Rensten

Today it's my pleasure to welcome author Mary Rensten to the blog to give us an insight into some of the places that her character Jane visits throughout her debut novel Letters from Malta which was published last month.

Malta is a small island, only 16 miles long, and Jane, staying in Mellieha Bay, has a hire car, so she can drive anywhere in a short time. Most of her travel is confined to the north and centre of the island, visiting the places where the novel is set.

1. Mdina and Rabat (chapter 4 onwards)
Mdina and adjoining Rabat are the central places in the story, and Jane keeps on going back to them. Mdina is the old walled city, lovely and cool on a hot day; thick stone walls and tall buildings, some of them ancient palaces, once the homes of Malta’s aristocracy, protect the narrow streets from the fierceness of the sun. She considers a ride in a horse-drawn karozzin, but instead has lunch, in a restaurant high on the wall, and from Bastion Square she looks out over the patchwork of fields to the military cemetery at Imtarfa, where her father is buried.

Clive Vella © viewingmalta.com

Rabat, which adjoins Mdina, is where Anthony and his lovely wife Maria live. (I don’t want to give away the plot by saying here who Anthony is!) Jane enjoys sandwiches and gossip in Maria’s kitchen, and she feels very much at home here. Pawlu, Anthony’s twenty-something son, owns a garage in Rabat. The receipt for the petrol that Jane buys there turns out to be very important.

2. Ta’ Qali Craft Centre  (chapter 4) 
After her first visit to the cemetery, Jane follows a sign to the Ta’ Qali Craft centre, which is nearby. It’s November 1995, and the place is deserted. (The Centre is a huge, thriving concern now – you can see craftspeople at work, glass blowing etc. and also visit the Aviation Museum.) It isn’t crafts Jane is looking for. This had been Ta’ Qali airfield in World War II, humming with Spitfires and Hurricanes, constantly under attack from enemy planes. Her father Peter, and Tom, who brought her up, had been here then, both of them in the Royal Artillery. This place is hugely significant for her.

3. The Blue Grotto (chapter 11)
Jane decides to be a tourist for a few hours; she goes to the Blue Grotto. So beautiful, so peaceful. Sitting in a blue and red rowing boat, she trails her fingers in the water, sees them glow a glorious turquoise. (Remember that old TV ad for Milky Way, with the cliff diver jumping 30 m. into the sea? It was filmed here!)

Mario Galea © viewingmalta.com

4. Mosta Cathedral (chapter 9)
Mosta Cathedral, famous for the German bomb that fell there but did not explode; the ‘Miracle of Mosta’ it’s called. Jane goes there with Ken, her ‘holiday lover’. They admire the art and the architecture and they see the place where the bomb fell; they marvel at the miracle … and then go out into the sunshine, and Jane tells Ken about another wartime miracle, how children were saved from eating poisoned enemy sweets by a brave Maltese man who tasted one, then with his friends picked them all up before the children, many of them hungry, could be tempted to eat them.

Mosta Cathedral © viewingmalta.com

5. Mellieha Beach (chapters 11 and 19)
Mellieha Beach now is huge, probably the best beach on Malta - fine sand, shallow water, water sports, cafes, plenty going on - but when Jane was there in 1995, it was a small beach; lovely and sandy but small. Jane goes there at night with Ken; they stand at the water’s edge, the moonlight ripples on the bay, the only sound the gentle lap-lap of the water as it touches the shore; she feels at peace, as if she could stay there for ever. She goes there a second time with … someone else, more important than Ken, so for her the beach is a special place.

Clive Vella © viewingmalta.com

When Jane Thornfield finds an envelope hidden in her mother's bedroom drawer it heralds the beginning of a journey of discovery. Long buried family secrets are unearthed and Jane is forced to question her very identity.

Jane's search for the truth takes her to Malta, where she learns about the harsh realities of life during the Siege of Malta in the Second World War. But her attempts to unlock a fifty-year-old secret are met with suspicion and a wall of silence.

Letters from Malta is about a woman's quest to make sense of her present and her past. The setting of Malta is brought vividly to life in this moving, perceptive tale of love and loss.

The perfect summer holiday read.


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