The idea to write City of Shadows – which back then was a mere ‘mystery thriller’ idea in my head – was born from Lupus in Tabula. I learnt to play the game in China (many years ago), which then made a hit when I taught it to my friends in Malta. A match used to take about 40-60 minutes (sometimes even more than that), and we used to play like 3-5 matches in one evening! During those long nights, I was always left in awe by how psychologically intriguing each match was.
‘I wish I could write a novel as effective as this game,’ I would tell my friends.
That was more than 7 years ago.
So I started my first attempt at a short story. I always found the Victorian era best for mystery and intrigue, so I chose it for the setting. A small village somewhere in England or the U.S., a series of murders and a detective sent to investigate them (I must surely admit I was influenced by Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, which I love). Everything followed the Lupus in Tabula‘s setting… until the word count increased to the point where, as an author, I had to seriously consider whether this was going to stick to being a short story or a novel.
‘It got too complicated,’ I said to myself. ‘And I have no historical background.’
And I gave up.
Time went by and friends changed and the Lupus in Tabula matches decreased in frequency… But the flame of creativity kept bringing me back to my story and its plot and all the possibilities. One fine day, a friend and an avid bookworm (you don’t find too many like us in Malta) recommended I set the story in Malta. My first answer was that I do not have enough historical knowledge to do that. But we should always ignore those ‘first answers’.
Because when you want to achieve something, no answer opposing it will suffice (no answer should!)
So I followed on my initial choice of the Victorian era. Simply because I have always held a certain fascination with the absence of electrical lighting and the way people dressed and spoke – as if to forget the dark and sinister world surrounding them. Besides, the World Wars are amongst the most common theme and setting in Maltese novels and non-fiction, while very little is written about Malta during its Victorian era. That made it even more interesting, let alone original.
Initially, the decision to move the novel’s setting from a small village somewhere in Malta to Valletta was, mainly, because it is Malta’s Capital City – and, knowing that this novel would have me do a lot of research, Valletta was my best shot at finding enough resources (and even that was not easy!). Besides, I always had a fascination for the City and how it managed to keep its character despite the passing of time. Walking through its narrow lanes always felt like being back in the early 20th Century. My research included taking more of those walks, and I soon started to discover it wasn’t just fascination I had with Valletta, but a form of ineffable love.
Not many weeks had passed when I came to know Valletta was officially chosen as the European Capital for Culture 2018. And that sealed my decision.
In the meantime, life happened. I got married in 2016, and by year’s end I was still settling into married life and routine. Before long, the far-away 2018 soon wasn’t so far at all. Earlier this year, I was still 1/4 of the way of completing the novel and I honestly started to fear my dream would never come true. But thanks to my wife’s constant encouragement and my love for Valletta and the novel, I made an effort and a promise to myself: to start writing every day. I started by sacrificing my lunch-breaks at work, and this bore fruit because working on it every day made it easier to write even outside. In turn, this decision turned out to be one of the best of my life.
And here I am today, weeks away from my official book launch and from finally holding City of Shadows in my own hands. I hope reading it will give you the same joy I had in writing it. As I understand you may be as excited as I am, you can already get your free sneak peek of the novel from here.