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Let me introduce you to Writeatoullie: Anyone can write


An entry in the 2016 Crocodile Prize

PEOPLE who see the title of this article for the first time will wonder if there is any such word as Writeatoullie in any of the world’s languages.

Indeed the word is not to be found in any modern dictionary for it is a word I created after watching Brad Bird’s 2007 Academy Award winning animated film, Ratatoullie.

Ratatoullie is a French dish prepared by expert chefs and the movie tells the story of how a colony of rats in Paris could cook Ratatoullie too, proving restaurant critic Anton Ego wrong when he disagreed with the title of a cookbook, ‘Anyone Can Cook’.

The critic was adamant until, when he finally tasted what the rats cooked, he had to concede that anyone can cook.

After watching the movie, I felt inspired to share my story about how I got interested in writing. And I gave my experience the name Writeatoullie, ‘Anyone Can Write’.

Writing was never part of me. Like many educated Papua New Guineans I used to think that the art of writing belonged in the hands of the gifted; clever and brainy individuals who mastered the English language in its entirety.

My high school education reached only Grade 10. As an average student, I wasn’t good in English. That was evident in the ‘C’ I scored for the subject in the final Grade 10 examinations.

Back then colleges accepted Grade 10 school leavers, so I applied and got accepted into the Bulolo Forestry College while most of my bright colleagues went on to Grades 11 and 12 at various national high schools.

The Bulolo chapter of my education broke new ground. The courses offered were forestry orientated science subjects blended with extensive practical field work. English and mathematics surfaced again, taught in the first year possibly to polish and prepare us for the core forestry subjects.

After three years at the college, I was employed as a resource forester with the Department of Forestry. My work environment was mostly confined to the bush, forest and jungle. Active reading and writing were absent.

Also diminished on my lips were the style and fluency of the English language. The nature of my work and my postings did not warrant its regular use. Tok Pisin was the daily communication lingo. Good English was gradually slipping away from me.

The only time English became useful was when I had to prepare a report or communicate with my expatriate supervisor. This continued for 10-15 years after I left college.

Only newspapers kept me close to the English language. Although I did not have access to them each day, they consumed some of my leisure time followed closely by occasional popular magazines that crossed my path. I guess those publications kept me close to the English language.

Literature in general was a foreign subject until November 1998 when I was on a duty trip to Milne Bay. In Alotau, something caught my eyes that was to open the door to literature and set me on a path of unveiling a literary talent that had lay hidden in me for many years.

Melbourne Storm was in its maiden year and had made the NRL finals. One Saturday I travelled from Ulabo to Alotau to watch the weekend finals game on TV.

As I was going in and out of the Alotau shops that morning, I passed a table selling second-hand books and something caught my attention. On the table was a book entitled, ‘To Serve with Love’, authored by Sir Paulias Matane.

I wasn’t a book lover nor an avid reader but when I saw Sir Paulias’ book, I instantly got attracted to reading it because he was popular on TV in those days and strongly advocated that Papua New Guineans write books.

I was flipping through the pages and the thought of purchasing the book and reading it during my weeklong stay struck me. So I bought it.

It took me less than two days to finish reading the book and, with nothing else to do, I re-read it, this time more slowly absorbing the content. I became enthralled, moreso by the writing than the story.

Two things in ‘To Serve with Love’ beguiled my attention.

First, the simplicity of the writing style and the everyday vocabulary Sir Paulias used in his writing amazed me. Second, touching and reading a book written by a Papua New Guinean like Sir Paulias Matane presented some kind of a challenge to me.

If Sir Paulias Matane could make use of everyday English to write a book, nothing was impossible, I said to myself. That premise was the fire that set alight my interest in writing.

I made my first attempt at writing by contributing an article to my employer’s quarterly newsletter, Gadona. The reaction from readers was good. Many were impressed. I was also impressed when I read the article. I discovered I could write like others.

It was the start of my much writing I undertook for Gadona while I was locked away in the forest.

Every time my writing appeared in Gadona, I was elated and reached a stage where I felt I should go beyond the newsletter. So I decided to write articles for the Post Courier’s Weekender section. I penned my first short story for the Post Courier in late 1998.

I continued writing until one day, beyond my expectation, I realised the pages of the manuscript I was working on had greatly increased. I realised that my writing would no longer be the anticipated short story but something different.

I found the isolated and lonely logging camps the most ideal place to write and continued to work on the manuscript wherever I camped.

Due to extensive travel and heavy workload it took me nearly three years to complete the book.

It took me another 12 months to go over the manuscript, fixing, adding, subtracting, arranging chapters and everything else I deemed necessary to be done.

A Bride's PriceAnd so I edited my own work, which was now entitled ‘Dark Side of a Woman’. Later I considered this to be offensive to female readers, so changed the title to ‘A Bride’s Price’.

Satisfied, I allowed the manuscript to be read by friends. But strangely not many took the time to read everything or make any critical comment that would either denounce or improve my work. Maybe the thickness of the manuscript (110 pages of A4 size paper) scared them.

Nevertheless, a few friends managed to spend some time reading the whole book and offered invaluable comments and recommended it for publication.

I got excited at the prospect of getting it published but this was another new area and posed a challenge for me. As a stranger on this unfamiliar turf, I got stuck. I knew nothing about publishing and I didn’t know where to send the manuscript or to whom.

Sir Paulias crossed my mind but I was not sure if he would assist me. I looked up his number in the telephone directory and called him one morning from Kimbe.

I had never known or talked with Sir Paulias before but he sounded friendly over the phone. After introducing myself I notified him of my manuscript. Sir Paulias sounded pleased and asked me to send it to him.

Two weeks later, while on my way to Open Bay in East New Britain on a business trip, I fronted up at Sir Paulias’ Takubar office armed with the manuscript. It was my first time to meet Sir Paulias and I felt a bit nervous as I was led to his office. But it was different when I finally met him.

Sir Paulias greeted me as if he had known me for ages and I felt welcome the moment we shook hands. He directed me to a seat and, after settling down, I presented him my manuscript. I told him that I wanted his overview of my work and possibly help in finding a publisher.

Sir Paulias expressed surprise. He said many Papua New Guineans called him and expressed their interest in writing but none had showed up with a manuscript. He said I was different. Well done, he said.

That kind of compliment from a master writer inspired me. His words were the ammunition I needed to keep the fire of writing burning in me.

He told me to check with him after a week by which time he would have gone through the manuscript. When I returned a week later after my Open Bay stint, I fronted up at Sir Paulias’ office. He greeted me with a broad smile the moment he saw me.

He said he was impressed with the story and wanted a soft copy. I sent him a copy as soon as I returned to Kimbe. Sir Paulias then advised me to expect a letter direct from the publisher.

I knew my work was now before a publisher and kept my fingers crossed hoping that the publisher would accept it and publish it.

Two weeks later I got a letter from CBS Publishers in India advising me that my work would be published and they included all the costs I had to facilitate.

I later realised that this was the same publishing house that published Sir Paulias’ books. With a foreword written by Sir Paulias, 500 copies of ‘A Bride’s Price’ were printed.

The book was launched before a packed crowd by the late Sir Alkan Tololo in September 2003 at the Kokopo Secondary School Hall. Also launched at the same time were Sir Paulias’ book ‘Ripples in the South Pacific’ and a book of poetry by Sam Mutuaina.

Sir Paulias was instrumental in organising the launch and there I began to understand and appreciate fully his genuineness in advocating PNG literature.

I had not seen or touched a copy of ‘A Bride’s Price’ prior to the launch date. There was a delay due to some technical reasons associated with shipping. My book was due to arrive late.

Sir Paulias again stepped in and brought 10 copies into the country just for the launch. It was at this time that I first sighted a copy of my book.

When I picked it up and held it in my hands, I realised I had achieved something very few Papua New Guineans achieved in their lifetime. I had written a book that I previously thought was only possible for the trained and gifted hands. I was an author.

The experience was like a window curtain being opened. In the process of writing ‘A Bride’s Price’ and in communicating with the editor of CBS Publishers to prepare the manuscript for publication, I had learnt many things about writing, publishing and how the publishing industry works.

I had learnt to create and develop my own writing and editing skills and even how to go about conducting research for my writing.

Elep ReturnsImmediately after ‘A Bride’s Price’ I started on a new manuscript and went on to publish my second book, ‘Elep Returns’.

In 2005 my entry in the 2005 national literature competition took out first prize in the short stories for dramatisation category. In 2014 my entry in the Crocodile Prize competition won the prize for heritage writing. This was followed by the first level Val Rivers Prize two months later. I am currently revising and editing my third book.

I started writing only 18 years ago. Considering my educational background and where I come from in a literary sense, I am a total outsider, an absolute stranger in the literary field.

But after two books and currently working on a third and winning three top level prizes in three different national literature competitions, I can confidently herald Writeatoullie –Anyone Can Write!


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Daniel Kumbon

Arnold, Thanks for 'Elep Returns'. In it I found that 'Kumbon' is the name of an Aidpost in Kandrian. Kumbon, my father was named after the Bird of Paradise with two long white tail feathers.

The bird used to live on Mt Kondo near my village of the same name but its gone now. When all the forests in PNG are gone, all the birds and animals will all have disappeared. RH and others must not be allowed to continue logging.

Elep Returns should be in all schools in the country to understand that plants and animals are living things. Once they are gone, human beings will be no more.

Arnold Mundua

Hi Jael, good to hear from you again. I had a long talk with Bryan over the phone this year and found out that you are now living in the US.

Its good to know that you visit this site. This is were you will find many writings about PNG.

Elep returns could not have been published if generous hands like you were not around.
You have been acknowledged for your contribution in the book. I hope you do have a copy. Let me know if you do not have one.

Thanks for youf kind words.

Jael Girard

Hi Arnold, I enjoy reading your articles here and pass them along to my father, Bryan Girard, in Kandrian to read as well.

I remember reading the story of "Elep" when you were in the early stages of editing it before it was published! So interesting to read about your history and journey to becoming a published author.

Arnold Mundua

Hehehehe....never thought about that but...yeah, good suggestion, Paul. Let the English scholars decide on it. Thanks agai., Paul.

Paul Waugla Wii

As the others have commented,Mr Mundua, your story is fantastic.Having said that, I am particulary interested in 'Writeatoullie'. You have invented or coined a word that is and can be added to the English language.
And let me tell you that that is another skill you posses although you may or may not have realised it.

Arnold Mundua

Thank you Ed, Gary and Joe for your supportive comments.

Ed, I found out that in writing you don't work alone. You need someone for advice and encouragement and you have been doing that to many PNG writers.

I thank you and hope you will want to have a look at my current manuscript that I hope to finish by early next year.

Gary, Leo Keta was a former Provincial Forest Officer for WHP. Yes, in forestry all students are introduced to and thought subjects that are foreign to anything taught in high schools.

There are courses like Silviculture, Botany, Wood Science and a lot more. Tree identification is covered in Dendrology where all trees and plants are identified using scientific names.

Yes, Gary, forestry is indeed an interesting career and l agree I learnt a lot of thing around me when I entered that college.

Joe Herman

Arnold, your story is encouraging. Thank you for sharing.

Garry Roche

Arnold, you say you studied at Bulolo Forestry College. I have never been there, but my encounter with someone who I think had been a student there left me with a good impression.
I have been interested in the Melpa (Hagen) language. The Hagen people seemed to have names for all the different plants and trees. Then I met a man called Leo Keta from the Kopi clan near Hagen, he was working in Forestry. He gave me a list of over 36 species of trees with scientific names, common name and Melpa names.
He could give the full scientific description of all those trees, the Order, the Family, the Genus, the Species, the Trade Name, and the Melpa Name. For example he said the Hooped Pine which in Melpa is called Waima, is classified, Coniferales, Araucariacae, Araucaria, Cunninghamii, Waima, Hooped Pine.
There is the Oak tree in Western Highlands called Kuang, and one type which he classified as Amentiferae, Fagaceae, Castanopsis, Acuminatissima, is called Kuang Rokoua. And a type of Southern Beech, he classified as Amentiferae, Fagaceae, Nothofagus, Pullei. In Melpa is called Kraip-Kentetpe.
I was amazed as his ability to remember all the scientific names.
Arnold, your study at the Forestry College probably gave you a keen mind and memory and helped in your great ability to read and write.

Ed Brumby

A simple but profound (and well-written) tale, Arnold and worthy encouragement for all (not just Papua New Guinean) writers. You also confirm my own belief that to be a good writer you need to be an avid reader, to be resilient and persistent and to be patient. That it took you 3 years to write your first book was no surprise: one of my favourite authors, Richard Ford took 10 years to write his last book ('Canada') - and he was already a Pulitzer Prize winner!

Having a mentor/guide/critical friend is an asset that all of us crave and you were indeed fortunate to have the support of Sir Paulias, for whom I also have the highest regard, having met and worked with him, at the behest of Ken McKinnon, on the publication of his very first book which he wrote after a study tour in Africa in the early 1970s.

One of the great joys of my current life is helping, in a few small ways, the likes of Baka Bina, Marlene Potoura. Busa Wenogo and, soon, Rashmii Bell to craft their stories, both short and long. It is through them and the friendships born of our collaborations that I have developed a much greater understanding of what it is and means to be a Papua New Guinean - which, of course, is a fundamental reason why it is so important for Papua New Guineans to be writing for other Papua New Guineans.

Arnold Mundua

Angra Baka....you are absolutely correct. There are thousands of stories out there but simply we cannot write them all. One of the reasons that I think puts a blockage (I should say) to come up. With more writeatoullies is the incentive attached to writing. If incentives provided for writing is much like that provided for Sports and other recreational activities I am sure PNG will come up with more writeatoullies.

Angra, can you provide me the mailing addres for PNG Book Depository? I will forward 2 copies of my books as soon as I get the address.

Arnold Mundua

Bro, Daniel....I totally agree Sir Paulias Matane is a true nationalist. Sitting and talking with him is like sitting with one of your own family member. He offers remarkable advice and i particularly remember his advice on how to make maximum use of time.

I asked him: 'Sir, I know you are a busy man. But every year you seemed to be launching a new book. How do you found time to write amidst your busy schedules to write?'. And he said: 'There are 24 hours in a day and that's alot of time to accomplish many things in a single day. I start my day at 4.00am and finish 8.00pm' He then went on to break up his day into activities and I was amazed and pleased with this great man. Amidst his tight scedules he still had time for writing between 4.00am and 6.00am every morning.

He truely is a great statesman and author. I admire him.

Arnold Mundua

Phil....i have copies of A Bride's Price here with me. If you can send me your postal address I will forward a copy to you via express mail.

You did a wonderful review of Elep Returns sometime back in PNG Attitude that I failed to acknowledge back then due to internet problem we had here in Kndiawa at that time. This is a belated 'thank you' for that review. After receiving encouragement from Francis, Daniel and others I am thinking of republishing both books with Createspace. I will advise on that at a later time.

Thanks again.

Arnold Mundua

Thank you Robin, Daniel, Phil, Iriani, Lindsay and angra Bina. Travelled to Goroka yesrerday morning from Kundiawa and returned very late last night so I could not acknowedge all your good comments on time yesterday. But I thank all you once again for all your encouraging comments and remarks.

In any lonely endeavor it is through such comments/remarks that keeps the fire burning and the spirit alive. After winning the 2005 National Literarure Competiton that carried a prize money of K150.00 I quitted from writing. I realized that there was no reward in writing. I could not find buyers. I had high hopes that tje Education department would take a keen interest in my books, especially Elep Returns that I purposely wrote for school children.. But. When that was not evident and the top prize money in the 2005 NLC was not at all attractive I quitted writng.

But after we formed the Simbu Wriuters Association in 2014 I picked up the pen again to contribute towards the Crocodile Prize. In doing so I also manage to work on my abandoned manuscript that had collected dust for close to 9 years.

Thank you all again, and thank you Keith and PNG Attitude.

Baka Bina

Angra, Great words of encouragements and a good pep talk to us. Thank you

We can tell our stories best our own way. Our parents have been doing that for ages.

You do tell good stories.

I grew up having 50 versions of the same legends told in a different way each time and it was different as each teller would tell it differently. It was never boring (though they put us to sleep really quick).

Only this time the mode of telling has to be different. And the audience differ. Our stories are now competing with videos, video games, mobiles and texting.

We want to tell our stories to Papua new Guineans and yes we can be a Writeatoullie.

You can be the big Writeatoullie and lead us on with more books.


Kate Duetrom and Sir Paulias were helpful and OUP did edit a lot out of my book Zymur to fit their page requirements.

I now self publish with CreateSpace. I was fortunate for Phil to recommend me to Ed Brumby for him to provide editorial assistance. That is the other pressing issue - to find good editorial guidance (please note my indiscretion not to call Ed an Editor, he has guided me through my stories with much aplomb than I can give credit here).

The message out to us, everyone, Angra, is that we need to to spread the message of writing to all. If we cannot write contemporary stories we need to capture the multitude of legends poems and songs of every and all communities.

The stories have been told. We just need to write them down and then worry if they conform to the English grammar, syntax, sentence patterns later.

I fear for our nation. I bear a surname that is also a language name in Central Province. At last count, it was stated that there were only two speakers of the Bina language still alive.

The rest either died off or were assimilated into the surrounding tribes. Not only were the race of people lost, the stories associated with these group of people are lost also.

The language genocide is happening en-masse. When you see children speaking pidgin first before their mother tongue, then you wonder what stories are told in the house at night. We don't need to die off for the stories to be lost forever. Just refusing to speak and tell legends and stories in the lingo is killing off our stories.

We have a lot of Writeatoullie in waiting out there. We need to encourage them to write to tell these stories in the structure we tell, the English nuances are hard to copy so if you are creating a new story, it is trying.

Writing can be done by writing one line at a time on a paper. Great writers have been doing just that. I try to emulate that by writing one line at every opportunity that I find. I go along with the mantra that anyone can be a Writeatoullie like you, let me cheer you on and me self along.

It is encouraging that you are working to publish your third. Let me congratulate you in advance. I would like to also get in the literature world to publish some more books and hope to shortly self publish with CreateSpace my next tittle Antics of Alonaa Vol One (an anthology of six short stories) and another novella (my take on the Sandline invasion) that I have been struggling to complete for the last 13 years.

Angra, let me use this forum to once again also remind authors of the obligation to give to the PNG Book Depository, 2 copies of their published works.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Thanks Keith, I've ordered a copy.

Lindsay F Bond

Arnold, you are a hero. Aspirants, as with Daniel, ought read and read till thoughts effervesce, out-pour ideas, unwrapping from words.

Iriani Wanma

Happy to see and read this article/story today as I'm currently reading Elep Returns! It's pretty good, and like Phil, I think it's the first book I've read from a tree's POV. I'm looking fwd to reading A Bride's Price.

Had the pleasure of meeting Sir Paulias Matane in 2013 at the Croc Prize awards; he's pretty cool (if I can say that). Good to see PNGeans helping each other out. I'd like to read To Serve With Love, will check if my library has any of his books.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I've read 'Elep Returns' Arnold and was quite enthralled. It's the first and only book I've read where the main character is a tree.

I think you do yourself a disservice in claiming to be an 'anybody' when it comes to writing. Your articles for PNG Attitude and the Crocodile Prize Anthology are terrific. Clearly there is a mastery of English language in evidence.

I'd like to read your first book, "A Bride's Price'. Where does one get a copy?


Daniel Kumbon

Like always, great story Arnold.

I was also assisted by PNG’s greatest statesman Sir Paulias Matane when I was struggling to find a publisher for my recently released book ‘I Can See My Country Clearly Now’.

Sir Paulias asked me to send the manuscript to him and he in turn passed it onto Kate Deutrom, the Oxford University Press representative in Port Moresby. He also introduced me to the same CBS Publishers in India.

Kate wrote to me and said she could only adopt the first chapter as a Supplementary Reader for Grade 6 – 8 students in PNG and Pacific Island schools. She said the rest of the manuscript was suitable for high schools, universities and for general reading.

And Kate recommended some publishers to me but I was not successful with them until I bumped into PNG Attitude in 2015.

But back to Sir Paulias, the great man. I had thoroughly enjoyed one of his first books ‘A New Guinean Travels Across Africa.’ Later, when I saw him selling some of his other books at Boroko from the boot of his car, I bought 'To Serve With Love' which he signed for me. And that’s how I met him and got his address. He was my inspiration.

He later led me to Kate Deutrom of Oxford University Press. Sir Paulias Matane is a very generous man, a true nationalist who has assisted many of us Papua New Guineans. Such man live long.

Of your two books Arnold, I am beginning to enjoy ‘Elep Returns’ and I will read the other after that. I have also enjoyed reading Roka’s Brokenville, Francis Nii’s ‘Resonance of My Thoughts’, late Regis Stella’s ‘Moments in Melanesia’, late Sir Ignatius Kilage’s ‘ My Mother calls Me Yaltep’, late Vincent Eri’s ‘The Crocodile’ and Dr Steven Winduo’s ‘Savannah Flames.’ All these precious books I have in a small collection in my house.

I bought a book at the recent Brisbane Writer’s Festival by John Birmingham titled ‘How To Be A Writer’. He skilfully uses many useful quotes and two of these are:

‘You should write because you love the shape of stories and sentences and the creation of different words on a page. Writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of how to write.’ – Annie Proulx.

And William Faulkner says ‘Read, read, read. Read everything – trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.

Arnold, you did the right thing to read newspapers and magazines on your travels. And to kill time in Alotau, you read Sir Paulias book To Serve Sith Love.' which eventually led you to meeting the author himself who showed you the way to success – and prizes.

And I agree to your newly invented word 'Writeatoullie'

`Robin Lillicrapp

A great story, Arnold. Congratulations.

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