Is-Sriep Reġgħu Saru Velenużi (The Vipers’ Pit, Merlin Publishers, 2012) – a sins-of-the-father story flitting from the turbulent ‘80s to the post-EU noughties and taking as its fulcrum a fictional assassination attempt on Malta’s firebrand post-Independence prime minister Dom Mintoff – was Vella Gera’s first foray into conventional publishing. Published by Merlin and subsequently winning the National Book Prize in 2013, Is-Sriep has also been adapted into a feature film and was released in the summer of 2021.
Is-Sriep marked something of a break for an author whose previous works were all self-published, beginning with the collaborative poetry collection Ħbula Stirati (2007) and continuing on to the short story collections Lil Hinn Mill-Jien (Beyond the self, 2009) and Żewġ (Two, 2009), as well as his debut novel L-Antipodi (Antipodes, 2010). It was a path informed by both the DIY ethic that animated his time as an indie rock musician for the band Hunters Palace, as well as the financial stability brought about by securing a job as a translator for the European Union, first relocating to Luxembourg in 2005, and subsequently to Brussels, where he lives and works to this day.
But perhaps the most publicly defining moment of Vella Gera’s career as a literary author came in 2009, upon the publication of his short story “Li Tkisser Sewwi” in the student newspaper Ir-Realtà, edited by Mark Camilleri. The explicit and unforgivably bleak deep-dive into the mind of a misogynistic, sex-addicted bus driver fell foul of Malta’s censorship laws, and nearly landed both Vella Gera and Camilleri in jail. The case, however, became a rallying point for the (ultimately successful) attempt to reform Malta’s antiquated censorship, blasphemy and obscenity laws some years later, as advocated by affected parties in the theatrical scene, other cultural players and concerned activists and citizens. Vella Gera and Camilleri were acquitted of all charges in February 2012.
And although Is-Sriep Reġgħu Saru Velenużi was to follow just a few months later – and, as fate would have it, launched precisely two months after the real-life death of Dom Mintoff – Vella Gera credits his subsequent novel, Trojan (2015) as being the more direct response to both his critics and supporters in the whole debacle. Since 2015, he has been sporadically working on ‘two big novels’.
Written by Teodor Reljić
Project co-ordinator: Clare Azzopardi
With the help of: Kirsty Azzopardi, Leanne Ellul and Albert Gatt
Proofreader: Dwayne Ellul