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Gabriel Schembri on the ‘Is-Saltna tal-Fiddien’ trilogy, its forthcoming cinematic adaptation, and an interview with one of the authors

Two Sundays ago, The Times included a small but jaw dropping story which undoubtedly fascinated all keen Maltese readers like myself, especially those who are big fans of the number one Maltese fantasy trilogy ‘Is-Saltna tal-Fiddien’ written by Simon Bartolo and Loranne Vella. The Trilogy, which includes ‘Sqaq l-Infern’, ‘Wied Wirdien’ and ‘Ġnien tad-Dmugħ’ will be delighting its fans once more as these will soon see their favourite characters come to life in a motion picture . Yes, yes, you got it right; ‘Is-Saltna tal-Fiddien’ will be transformed into a film produced by a leading Maltese production team, The Bigger Picture. For those who have never heard of the duo behind the production team, Matthew Pullicino and David Serge have produced over 40 commercials on local and foreign television as well as seven short films. Through the latter, The Bigger Picture won no less than 18 awards at national and international film awards ceremonies, including the award for Best Overall Production, Best Cinematography and the Local Jury award at the Malta international T.V short film festival where they were awarded for the short film ‘.303’.

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The first edition of ‘Sqaq l-Infern’ was published 3 years ago. Later, however, a second edition of the same book came out in 2008. As from the very beginning of its era on Maltese book shelves, the story’s novelty as well as its flowing Maltese made the book a very successful one. In fact, the first book, together with the second part of the trilogy, ‘Wied Wirdien’, were the two fastest-selling Maltese children books ever. ‘Sqaq l-Infern’ also made it to ‘Il-Premju nazzjonali tal-Ktieb’ for the year 2007. Not only were these first two books considered as being the best children’s books in Maltese, but the two were also translated into German and French. Saying that the final part of the trilogy would be a huge winner was a safe bet. Indeed, Bartolo and Vella came all the way from Brussels to sell more than 1500 copies of the final book ‘Il-Ġnien tad-Dmugħ’ in the first few hours of its release.

Lots of things about the book make it a one of its kind. First of all, the story revolves round an intrinsic combination of fantasy and reality, a fight between good and evil, prophecy and lies and ultimately, friendship. Secondly, it’s use of fluent Maltese, with conversations being written in everyday words, not so much like what we used to see in other Maltese novels. How many books in Maltese include abstracts from an MSN messenger conversation to whole pieces of a handwritten diary by one of the characters? Most certainly the creativity in this book is the secret behind its huge success. Yet I cannot but give equal merit to the plot that’s full of twists and turns as well as packed with mystery behind the characters’ lives.

I managed to contact one of the authors, Simon Bartolo to ask him a few questions regarding this fantastic news.

Have you ever imagined the book would be so successful? Ever thought that you and Loranne would be the lucky duo?

Having your book turned into a movie is an author’s greatest dream. When we were writing the first novel, Sqaq l-Infern, we didn’t even imagine that it could be accepted for publication, let alone become the first Maltese best-seller. However, after the huge success that the books have had, we weren’t really too surprised about it being made into a film. “The lucky duo” – I like that, yes you could say we’re lucky but there’s so much work ahead that I could also say that we sometimes feel that we are bound to this trilogy whether we like it or not and luckily we do like it. In 2006, I was on the verge of starting a Ph.D in American literature but I decided to wait another year to finish the book. The overnight success meant that we’ve had so much pressure to write the 2nd and 3rd that my Doctorate got forgotten along the way.

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Normally when watching the motion picture version of a book, it lets you down due to lack of loyalty towards the written story. Do you think this is the case with your book?

That’s a very difficult question to answer since the film hasn’t even been started yet. However we do trust The Bigger Picture completely. We have no doubt that their work will be of the best quality. Having said that, I am going to be the one to write the screenplay adaptation of the book, so it’s my responsibility too.

Do you have an idea if the film will be in Maltese or in English? Are there any particular actors that you imagine playing the main roles in the film? Any other hints about the movie?

I’m hoping it will be in Maltese with English subtitles. However, the language question is still being discussed. As for the actors, Having been a part of the local theatre scene for the past 20 years with our theatre group Aleatei helps because it means that we’re in touch with a lot of actors. But there will be audtions and a search for new, young talent. That’s a part of the process we’re really looking forward to. I’m certain we’ll find the right people to play the parts. In the books, we have always shied away from giving precise descriptions of the main characters, especially Jason, because we wanted to let the readers build their own picture of the protagonist. We even got in trouble with artist Lisa Falzon over the Fiddien’s appearance during the final stages of the third book because she was demanding more and more visual details and we weren’t delivering! She was right of course, she needed as much info as she could get to come up with the cover.

The news of ‘Is-Saltna tal-Fiddien’ being made into film, which is said to be released on December 2011, does not only dazzle Bartolo and Vella but also those fans that are surely eagerly waiting for next year’s cinematic Christmas present.

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