A potted history of Malta, so you know what I'm doing here:
Settled first by Sicilians, who built miraculous temples of huge monoliths a thousand years before Stonehenge and worshipped a short fat woman who sleeps a lot. My kind of people. From then on, it's a Mediterranean hit parade of all the usual gang - Phoenicians, Ulysses (spent seven years in a cave on Gozo - no doubt eating crunchy bread and honey with Calypso the naughty nymph), Romans, Arabs, Normans. Then the Knights of St John, who'd been thrown out of Rhodes by the Ottomans, were handed the islands (they tried to hand them back - they'd have preferred a small European nation). They built the great fortress cities and set themselves up as pirate crusaders, that is, they took Muslim slaves and gold as a way of getting back at the Barbary states. In 1798 Bonaparte arrived, Nelson in his wake (and my imaginary pirates).
Most of what I knew about Malta, before I started researching the books, was about the World War 2 experience (I remember Mum telling me how everyone in Malta was so brave the king gave them each a medal - actually they got one to share, but they remain the only country ever awarded the George Cross). They got the hell bombed out of them, and nearly starved to death - and no wonder so many migrated to Australia after the war. The British influence is still evident in the classic '50s orange Bedford buses with names like Lady Diana and Vera Lynn and, rather
surprisingly, "Toon-Gabbie NSW".
I was shown around a palazzo which was built by one of the Knights and is still inhabited by Maltese nobility (my host was the Ninth Marquis, Nicholas de Piro). Oh the books. Oh the furniture. Oh the library. Oh the gilded sedan chair in which one would be carried by one's slaves to the palace next door - and up the stairs to the drawing room as well. And under the palace and all its 17th century glories are the WW2 bomb shelters, and the ubiquitous unexploded Fascist bomb that fell through the house one morning.
I spent all day yesterday back in Mdina, the Old City, since my guide the other day only thought we need an hour there, whereas I spent eight. Lots of pirate research there, as my books' narrator, Lily, and her crew have a few adventures there and I had to retrace all their steps I had made up. Luckily it all makes sense, and in fact it's a perfect pirate town. The laneways twist and turn, a bend every ninety paces, as that's the usual flight of an arrow, so you can fight a running battle in the streets.
This afternoon I've been out on the water, checking the fortifications from below (impossible, impenetrable - don't know how those pirates are going to break through).
Trip notes continue here.