Proving that there’s always something to laugh at, London-based Maltese writer and stand-up comic Steve Hili talks Jo Caruana through the hilarious premise behind his recently released book, State of the Nation.
Malta has a way of getting under your skin. Most Maltese will attest to the fact that, no matter where they are in the world, our island home has a hold on them – whether they are pining for pastizzi, sharing horror stories about the public transport system or regaling others with unbelievable anecdotes on the way our country is run. It makes us feel closer to home.
Now, most of us are happy to tell these observational tales in conversation when the opportunity arises. But not comedian Steve Hili – he has chosen to take things to the next level by penning a book packed full of stories about his Maltese homeland, and each chapter joyfully pokes fun at life here. The result is a riotous page-turner that promises a multitude of titters and guffaws.
Hili, who now lives in London where he works as a stand-up comedian, explains that he found himself missing Malta when he moved away in 2014. But, because he has stayed in constant contact with the island because of local projects that include his adult summer panto and the Comedy Knights Christmas show, he still feels very connected to it.
“I was thinking about home one day and it dawned on me that there were no fun, comedy books about Malta,” he says. “I don’t mean funny fiction books but books that are just a reflection of a comedian’s thoughts. So I wrote one.”
I was thinking about home one day and it dawned on me that there were no fun, comedy books about Malta – so, I wrote one
Unlike some authors who spend years producing their perfect manuscript, Hili says he banged his book out in mere weeks. “I’m quite lucky in that my work day is split in two,” he explains, adding that he is either performing comedy or writing comedy.
So, he looked on the book as a comedy-writing project, similarly to the way he would look on the script for a show or writing jokes for himself or other comedians. “Writing the book was a very enjoyable job. I kept motivated by doing little things, like keeping an eye on my word count and watching it grow. I would make a note of it every day and felt chuffed whenever I hit a significant number.”
He also shared the process with his wife, Kat, by calling her at work every time he wrote something that made him laugh out loud. “She would usually laugh too, and that gave me the gratification to keep going,” he smiles. “However, there were many occasions when I interrupted an important work meeting of hers and I got upset because she wasn’t laughing (while she tried to explain that she was in the middle of a massive presentation).
“In many ways I am like a big kid, so I used to ‘reward’ myself every so often with treats – cake, chocolate, or granting myself five minutes to Google Victoria Secrets’ models.”
Hili chose to split his book into bite-sized chapters, each with a different theme. He says one of his favourites is the first one, which details his take on Maltese politics – a topic he loves but is also very cynical about. “There’s also a chapter about gentlemen’s clubs and the Maltese massage parlour phenomenon that I think bring fresh perspective to both of them. Then there’s one about our island’s obsession with a particular page on Facebook…,” he says.
Looking back on the process, the comedian stresses that none of the chapters were particularly difficult to write but that one did feel a little different to the others. “It’s the chapter in which I talk about my secondary school days. To be honest, it wasn’t an especially happy period for me. I went to a school where corporal punishment was a thing and I was petrified of being whacked in my first year or two (by Form 3 it had happened a few times so I was used to it!). It’s not a sad chapter or anything like that but, when I was writing it, I remembered how I used to feel and I was surprised that I had forgotten about it.”
And it seems that the formula has been a success, with copies flying off the shelves over the festive season and some local bookshops even selling out. Did the author expect that to happen?
“I’m absolutely thrilled by the reaction to be honest. There does seem to be a lot of interest so far, and people are even asking if it’s the start of a series so, who knows? It’s become a platform for me to share my thoughts and was something I really enjoyed… and it even made me a tiny bit more patriotic! It’s great to be Maltese with all our wonderful perks.”
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