John Bonello is a Technical Communicator at GFI and a published author of award-winning fantasy works. Angelica Micallef Trigona interviews him to learn how he bridges both worlds.

John at GFIsml

John at his GFI desk

Q: You are a Technical Communicator at GFI, working on manuals, handbooks, help files, localization projects and the like. What attracted you to this line of work?

In my previous job as an Applications Consultant/Implementer, I used to create user and administrator documentation for every new installation we carried out. This was part of the preparation for training new users. I really enjoyed this aspect of my work and decided I would like to try it out as a fulltime occupation. And beneath all that, my love for anything written.

Q: What do you enjoy most about your role at GFI?

Being part of a team, able to share new ideas in a very dynamic environment makes it all worthwhile. There is great respect between people here and there is an energy shared by everyone that gives me motivation to do my job in the best possible way.

Q: And what is the most challenging thing about it?

Changing technologies mean one must keep up-to-date. Also, the constant stream of new work means it is never boring. As a team, we aim for constant improvement by exploring new ways of delivering information to our users, adopting current trends and researching technologies that can help us achieve better results.

Q: What background or qualifications do you have that is relevant to this role?

I hold an Advanced Diploma in Computer Studies and a number of Microsoft certifications, that have been useful from a technical aspect. I’ve studied languages and am also a certified proof reader which helps with the writing aspect. I believe I’ve managed to successfully combine these two areas of study, which made it possible for me to pursue this role.


John receiving the National Book Award

Q: You are also a published author. What do enjoy most about creating works like your award-winning fantasy trilogy, ‘Il-Logħba tal-Allat’ (The Game of the Gods), and your latest novel, ‘Fil-Mergħat tal-Impossibbli’ (In the Pastures of Impossibility)?

Creating means expressing my inner thoughts, reflections and feelings. I wrote my first novella when I was 15, but never published it. At that time, I was more interested in painting (I had been studying art since I was eight). In 2007, I abandoned my brushes and picked up a pen (literally, since all my manuscripts are handwritten). I was determined to write a fantasy novel for publication. I plotted out a trilogy called ‘Il-Logħba tal-Allat’, and self-published the first book, ‘It-Tielet Qamar’ (The Third Moon), in June 2008. This was followed by ‘L-Aħħar Ħolma’ (The Last Dream) in 2010 and ‘Is-Sitt Aħwa’ (The Six Brothers) in 2012, both published by Merlin Publishers. My latest novel, ‘Fil-Mergħat tal-Impossibbli’, is a surreal thriller.

Q: What inspires you in the creation of new worlds, and in the building of plausible, believable characters within them?

Everything is an inspiration, from my own personal experiences and those that others care to share with me, dreams and stories, movies and music. I believe everyone has a story to tell and that is what I look for in other people: Their story and how they tell it. New worlds are just containers for these stories. They are often crafted according to the plot I have in mind.

Q: What is your preferred time to work on your novels?

Definitely late night, generally from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. On average, I manage a two-hour session every night – this might be writing new material or editing previously written words. A power-nap helps give me the energy and focus I need. In the morning, before work, I go for a 40-minute walk and I tend to brainstorm ideas for the next session of writing. I write a memo as soon as I’m home, lest I forget!

Q: How does your thought and writing process differ in relation to your technical writing and works of fiction?

The processes are quite different, in fact. Technical writing tends to be more structured and logical, the boundaries are tighter. You analyze the requirements, gather the information and set out a plan to document what is needed. Fiction demands more experimentation, juggling ideas and possible plots to make the story as interesting and gripping as possible. You also want to avoid repeating yourself too often.

Q: You perform your work at GFI in English and primarily use Maltese for your novels. What challenges, if any, does this present?

Rather than being a challenge, I think this fact helps me define a boundary between work and home. I write my novels in Maltese because I love my language and feel I am doing my part to preserve what many believe is a dying language (I do not agree – I believe that a language dies when it stops evolving). On the other hand, I use English at GFI because it is a requirement and also because English is so widely used that it’s only logical. So perhaps, switching between the two languages also helps me switch between different frames of mind.

Q: Which mode of writing do you prefer?

I think the two modes co-exist in my world and one helps the other. The boundaries and rules of my technical work help me be freer to experiment in creative writing. I also believe that no matter what people think, I would not want to write novels as a job. I haven’t published my books for the money – actually, the financial reward is next to negligible because the market is so restricted and Maltese readers are very limited in number.

John signing one of his novels

John signing one of his novels

Q: Any plans to have your works translated?

Not at this time of my life, although I have had offers to have my works translated into Spanish. I would not say the idea does not interest me, but I don’t think the time is right yet.

Q: Are you working on a novel at the moment?

Yes! I am currently revising a crime novel I wrote in 2010, with the intent of having it published. In the meantime, I have just delivered the second draft for the sequel to ‘Fil-Mergħat tal-Impossibbli’ – it’s called ‘Jien, Wieħed Minnhom’ (I, One of Them). I sent this to my publisher/editor and now await feedback to start the next stage. I have also completed a children’s detective story (Dirk Gently style) that will be published later this year. I have also been offered the opportunity to collaborate on a philanthropic project that aims to promote culture and traditions, and work on this should start soon.

Q: What music do you listen to while writing facts and does that selection change when you are writing fiction?

Music is important, as long as it does not distract me. So I tend to listen to soundtracks while writing and not songs with lyrics, otherwise I tend to focus on the words being sung. My current favorite is the Hobbit film soundtrack by Howard Shore.

Q: Any other special interests?

I read a lot, which is directly related to writing, because it’s where a writer finds most knowledge and ideas. I enjoy any good sci-fi TV series or movie and children’s animations (which I can watch with my two sons). And of course, weather permitting, I enjoy outdoor activities such as walking, swimming and gardening.

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