THE WRITERS’ WORKSHOP in Port Moresby sponsored by PNG Attitude and the PNG Post Courier and hosted by the Australian High Commission is not far off now and the time seems ripe to float a few ideas.
The grand theme of this first workshop is the future of literature in Papua New Guinea.
As one of the organisers of The Crocodile Prize I’ve been pre-occupied with the subject for a while and have evolved, for better or worse, a few ideas which I want to share in the hope of kicking off the debate.
The first and most urgent thing that needs to happen is the establishment of a new Papua New Guinea Literature Board.
If the government cannot be convinced of the value of such a board, the alternative would be a Papua New Guinea Literary Foundation.
The establishment of a board, while allowing for a sound funding base, might be open to political meddling, propaganda and other problems, such as those now bedevilling the National Museum and Art Gallery.
The establishment of a foundation would be dependent upon finding a couple of large sponsors, not an easy task as the quest for sponsors for The Crocodile Prize demonstrated; we got there, but only just. The risk here would be not so much political as commercial interference.
I reckon K1million would be needed to set up the organisation. Running costs might be in the vicinity of K300,000 a year.
I would envisage a small group of trustees, a director and deputy director, and a small staff. The trustees and staff would be gender even.
Given the limited opportunities for publishing in PNG, the organisation would have a small publishing arm.
This is not a difficult thing to organise these days. Small publishers in Australia often operate from home offices. My publisher has an office on a yacht moored in a marina in Cairns.
The publishing arm should aim to produce about six books a year, probably Papua New Guinea’s capacity at the moment.
Given the paucity of bookshops in PNG, I think the organisation should be equipped with an online store to market its products. This would include the ability to provide both print-on-demand hardcopy books as well as e-books.
The capacity to produce this sort of material already exists in PNG through companies like the Birdwing Group and Moores.
I’ve thought long and hard about the idea of the physical distribution of hard copy books in PNG and have come to the conclusion that it is unfortunately too hard, unreliable and cumbersome to work effectively.
While the organisation should have an editorial committee there needs to be some clear and unequivocal rules about the type of material published. This is a very difficult subject but here are some observations.
In the process of organising the literary competition, I researched and perused previous literary endeavours in PNG, particularly from the halcyon days of the 1970s.
I found a lot of the works to be fairly heavy going, politically themed and academic in nature; in other words, boring.
I think this was a product of the momentous times and the fact that the impetus for publication was coming from the University of Papua New Guinea. All credit to Ulli Beier and his compatriots, but most of the stuff was not what your average reader in PNG now wants to read.
There was no real development of what could be termed ‘popular fiction’ at the time. Here I’m thinking about the sort of stuff you see in airport bookshops around the world; spy novels, crime novels, fantasy novels and so on.
While I’m not advocating pulp fiction as an ideal for PNG, I think a healthy middle-of-the-road approach somewhere between Harry Potter and the academic stuff might be a good idea. In other words, exactly the sort of material that we have seen in The Crocodile Prize contest and which appears in the anthology. I think we are on the right track there.
A key function of whatever organisation evolves should be the perpetuation of The Crocodile Prize and the continued publication of an annual anthology of original work.
I think we have demonstrated that these are easy enough to organise, get plenty of support from writers and readers, and are a worthwhile things to continue doing.
I have other ideas but perhaps this is enough for starters.
There is plenty of willing help in Australia and the wider world and accepting this help for a while should not compromise national pride.
Australian writers in particular work for a pittance and are used to doing things on shoe-string budgets. Most of them write for the love of it and are happy to share their experiences and expertise. This asset should be capitalised upon by PNG.
Affiliation with the Literature Board of Australia and the Australian Society of Authors might be a good idea too.
If you have thoughts on the subject now would be a good time to make them public so we can go armed to the workshop ready to get things moving.