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Travel to Malta with The Dust of Melita author Clare Hawkins

  • Submitted: 10th September 2023

Malta – The Dust of Melita – Clare Hawkins

Author Clare Hawkins is the newest member of the #AuthorsonLocation club where she talks about her novel The Dust of Melita.

Dust of Melita set in Malta - Clare Hawkins

Clare Hawkins

Clare Hawkins

BookTrail the locations in The Dust of Melita

My interest in this tiny Mediterranean holiday island was first sparked when my daughter fell for a young man from Malta. When they later married and I visited Malta, my fascination with its history turned into a desire to set a novel there.

The colourful story of Malta provided me with multiple possibilities for dramatic events and settings. Inspiration came from the extraordinary landscapes of the island, the evidence of man’s presence from pre-history and ancient times, and the cultural and physical legacies of successive invaders and inhabitants.

BookTrail the locations in The Dust of Melita

The photos in guide books do not lie. There are remarkable islands, a startling blue sea, megalithic temple ruins, the golden stone buildings, the spectacular Grand Harbour of Valletta and much more. The main island of Malta is the same size as the Isle of Wight. Yet, its strategic position has made it the focus of power struggles for control of the Mediterranean for many centuries.

Grand Harbour of Valletta:

BookTrail the locations in The Dust of Melita

The devastating Second World War siege of the islands by Italy and Germany is sadly, well-known. This led to appalling destruction and human suffering. The Maltese people and the defending troops were forced to the point of starvation.

The streets of Valletta:

BookTrail the locations in The Dust of Melita

For their endurance, the people of Malta were awarded the George Cross by the British. Contemporary. Images of the bombed buildings, bomb shelters and temporary relief operations are awful symbols of the tragedy of war.

BookTrail the locations in The Dust of Melita

This is the period and setting of the main story of ‘The Dust of Melita’. However it is interwoven with other separate tales of ordinary people caught up in past conflicts and invasions. Frank is a young British soldier stationed in Malta during the Second World War. He becomes fascinated by the island’s history and his experiences fuel his interest further. When sheltering from an air raid, he discovers a strange underground hideout. Later on, he hurtles through the countryside to the barracks on his bicycle. The landscape is barren, consisting of terraced fields separated by low walls of white sandstone, There is little vegetation, beyond shrubs, meagre clumps of grass, shrubs and prickly pears.

The Three Crosses monument in rural Malta

BookTrail the locations in The Dust of Melita

One group of the many invaders and occupiers of the islands were Tunisian Muslims from the 9th to the 12th  centuries. So, as I thought about the perils for the Christian inhabitants, I imagined the fateful story of a family forced to hide underground from the invaders. The Arabs left little physical evidence of their long occupation. However, their legacy remains in the Maltese language itself. This is a dialect of Arabic, though overlaid by the languages of subsequent conquerors.

The walls and defences of Malta:

BookTrail the locations in The Dust of Melita

As Frank labours with his comrades on the island’s defences, his reading about the island triggers more otherworldly experiences, leading to stories from the past. The soft limestone of the island of natural caves has lent itself to excavation by the people. Thus, an air raid shelter under a bastion of Valletta becomes a prison for slaves of the Knights of St John. They have to battle against one of the many incursions by the Ottoman Turks.

The ancient capital Mdina, named by the Muslim settlers, is the location of another episode in the novel. It has many delightful narrow streets and beautiful aristocratic houses. These are the contexts for the violent end of one of the characters in the episode during the French occupation of the island in the 18th century.

BookTrail the locations in The Dust of Melita

Frank marvels at the splendours of St John’s Co-Cathedral. It was decorated to glorify the Knights and Grand Masters of the Order of St John who settled on Malta from 1530 to 1798. The beautiful city of Valletta is the most stunning example of 16th century bastioned European military architecture. Frank’s last visit is to one of the ancient megalithic temple sites that pre-date the pyramids of Egypt and Stonehenge.

Malta has so much more to offer than I was able to capture and convey. This is based on the limitations of my knowledge and experience of the place. However, I have great scope for further visits and research and potentially more writing to emerge!

 

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