Indeed, together with her writing partner Simon Bartolo, Vella helped make Maltese literary history with the Fiddien trilogy back in the early aughts, which broke all sales records and gave Malta its own Young Adult fantasy mini-boom right at the cusp of Potter-fever.
Her forays into speculative fiction continued with Magna™ Mater (Merlin Publishers, 2011) and indeed, Rokit – both of which explore imaginary dystopian scenarios involving the Maltese islands, with the latter moving away from the YA aesthetic to embrace a more sombre and layered time-travelling tale of revolution and shifting identities, which won the National Book Prize in 2018.
Not that Vella is an author who can be easily pigeonholed either way.
Now working as a translator in the European Parliament, Vella cut her professional teeth as a teacher in St Aloysius College, subsequently also teaching Theatre Studies at the University of Malta for five years. Vella was a founding member of the Aleateia theatre group, whose independent-minded approach and commitment to producing original work on the Maltese stage in a scene still sadly better known for its staging of imported English-language scripts, remains notable to this day. It is certainly a thread Vella continued to pick at when she helped form the Barumbara Collective with a group of fellow performing arts practitioners in Brussels. Vella’s short story collection, mill-bieb ’il ġewwa (Ede Books, 2019), which features a collaboration with photographer Zvezdan Reljić, was the basis of an interdisciplinary Barumbara Collective production, staged at Valletta Contemporary in 2018. An English-language translation from the UK-based micro-publisher Praspar Press is slated for release in 2021.
She reunited with Simon Bartolo to pen the lyrics to his play Il-Ħanina Maddalena, a high-profile period piece staged at the 2018 edition of the Malta International Arts Festival. In collaboration with artist Trevor Borg and in conjunction with his contribution to the Malta pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2019, ‘Cave of Darkness’, she wrote a storybook for children entitled Smajna isimna taħt l-art.
Vella has also translated over ten childrens’ books into Maltese for Merlin Publishers, and continues to produce work for the Barumbara Collective.
Written by Teodor Reljić
Project co-ordinator: Clare Azzopardi
With the help of: Kirsty Azzopardi, Leanne Ellul and Albert Gatt
Proofreader: Dwayne Ellul