When writing for a young adult audience, Ellul is fascinated by and attempts to explore sensitive topics, such as terminal illnesses and psychological disorders. For example, the protagonist of Gramma (Gram, Merlin Publishers, 2015), her first novel, suffers from an eating disorder. Her forthcoming novel centres on self-harm. Ellul’s treatment of these topics is subtle and injected with humour and wordplay – especially through the use of punning. Through such stylistic devices, she avoids the clichés that tend to infiltrate this genre, not least the fact that the treatment of young adult problems is practically a foregone conclusion in fiction intended for this readership. While she resists the idea of literature as a tool to moralise or teach, she is nevertheless conscious of the indirect role that literature can play in raising awareness. Her work is partly intended to address the lacuna in Maltese literature on certain topics. Through her stylistic inventiveness, Ellul’s treatment of disturbing topics becomes an exploration of the fragility and vulnerability of human relationships.
In contrast to her writings for young readers, which temper the seriousness of the subject matter with humour, Ellul’s writing for adults is rooted in painful events relating to family, love, loss and the sea. On the one hand, there is Nanna Girasola’s lightheartedness, inventiveness and love of music in the children’s book L-Istorja ta’ Seb it-Tieni (u ta’ Seb l-Ewwel ukoll) (The Story of Seb the Second (and of Seb the First as well), Merlin Publishers, 2019). On the other, there is the portrayal of the loss of her own grandmother, receding in a wail of ambulance sirens in her poetry collection L-Inventarju tal-Kamra l-Kaħla (The Blue Room Inventory, Merlin Publishers, 2020). And yet, no matter who her intended readers are, Ellul’s characters take on a life of their own and are always endowed with an element of playfulness, both in the way they are described and also in the way they speak. What is left unsaid, the spaces between words, matters as much as what is written.
Ellul treats writing as an instrument that opens up a space for her to explore current themes and discourses. She describes her writing process as a series of editorial cycles. A disciplined writer; her editing process forces her to engage with the minutiae of language, which she approaches as raw material for her to mould. There is a liberating sense of exploration in Ellul’s work, and this marks her writing and identity as an author.
Biography written by Stephanie Xerri Agius
Project co-ordinator: Clare Azzopardi
With the help of: Kirsty Azzopardi, Leanne Ellul and Albert Gatt
Proofreader: Dwayne Ellul