It’s November. Where I am in the Northern Hemisphere, the trees have gone from brilliant to bare and the skies from bright and clean to leaden and crying. The season has turned serious.
Around this time of year, I start listening to soulful—sometimes perhaps even doleful—music. Somehow, it just feels right.* I feel like reading more and often I reach for books that are set in stormy, dark days. Reading about characters escaping the weather to warm themselves around a crackling fire in a pub with a pint of ale is far more satisfying in November than it is in June. I want more news. Even my podcast list turns more serious. I want the ones with in-depth political analysis. Is all this seriousness morbid? I don’t think so. There are seasons for different things, and for me, late autumn is a time for settling down into the depths.
*You can get one of my autumn playlists, by clicking on the image, below
Others seem to have a similar idea. I looked up a list of the specially-observed days in November, and it’s quite a grave list that, among a few happier things (world kindness day and international day for tolerance—hooray for them!), includes:
- World tsunami awareness day,
- International day for preventing the exploitation of the environment in war and armed conflict,
- Infant protection day,
- World science day for peace and development,
- World pneumonia day,
- World diabetes day,
- World toilet day,
- World day of remembrance for road traffic victims,
- International day for the elimination of violence against women,
- International day of solidarity with Palestinian people,
- Day of the imprisoned writer, and
- International day to end impunity for crimes against journalists.
Given its location, it is a landing spot for refugees trying to enter Europe (a recurring theme in my book). And it is rich, known as one of the world’s top tax havens, and with a golden passport programme which allows wealthy individuals to pay large sums of money to obtain a Maltese—and thus, EU—visa. With this general picture, it may not be surprising to learn that in recent years, Malta has become famous for corruption—and what is this but possession run amok? And this brings me to the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists.
In the novel, the protagonist and her two best friends come upon a funny wire tree, which they at first think is a strange public art installation. But it turns out to be something called The Tree of Justice, a protest in honour of Daphne Caruana Galizia, a journalist who was assassinated in 2017 in the course of her investigations into corruption in Malta (specifically, around the Panama Papers). You can see photos of Daphne’s tree here. As a supporting member of PEN International, I knew about Daphne's death, and about the subsequent heroic efforts by her sons (and others) to bring the perpetrators to justice and The Daphne Project which arose from those efforts.
I included a tiny sliver of Daphne’s story in my novel not only because it was relevant to the book’s location, and not only because it was timely (taking place during the period of my novel) and not only because the issue of corruption fit seamlessly with the themes of my book; but because remembering Daphne and telling her story is important. Her story is relevant to all who value truth and freedom.
Shortly after Possession was published, Daphne was once again on the front pages, but this time with a sense of some hope and justice. After a two-year fight, charges were brought against perpetrators and the Prime Minister of Malta was forced to resign.
When I was in Malta, I spent a lot of time searching for the location of The Tree of Justice, which was said to have been placed on the stump on an old holm oak that had been removed just outside the Upper Barrakka Gardens in the capital city of Valletta. This is quite close to where I set the family home in my novel, so I had prowled the area many, many times; but I was never able to find it.
Finally, I went into an Italian restaurant near where I thought the spot should be. Surely, they’d have seen it? They had, and they remembered it very well—and directed me to a spot underneath the owner’s car! With the tree gone, he had taken to parking on that spot, which is why I could never find it. It had been hidden the whole time, exactly where I thought it would be. The restaurant staff were kind enough to move the car off the spot so I could get a picture for my files!
If you’ve read Possession—or if you haven’t—I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of this. Do you turn serious in autumn, too? Do you enjoy hearing this kind of backstory of my novels? Tell me anything that’s on your mind!
If you’re searching for a Christmas gift for a young reader in your life, may I suggest The Berenice Bell? You can learn about it on my website and purchase it on Amazon. I’m donating all proceeds from the book to the Paul Hansell Foundation, supporting youth mental health. It would be lovely if I had a little bump in sales to send extra to the foundation over the Christmas season. As always, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out at email@example.com.