PORT MORESBY - Any criticism coming from another person is hard to digest. We all have blind spots about our own work and find it hard to accept challenges from other people.
Our argument tends to run along the lines of “what does this person know about my experiences and the recollections of these experiences in my writing”.
I have written on other occasions that sometimes I don’t like what Phil Fitzpatrick writes. He can deliver general aspersions about our Papua New Guinean attitudes - and it hurts.
I have felt offended by some of his comments. Even his review of my novel, ‘Man of Calibre’ and ‘Sweet Garaiina Apo’, struck deep within me. Phil can be very dispiriting.
But then, in retrospect, that is the very thing in the literary world that writers strive for and live off.
Critical comments by another should be a catalyst enabling an improvement in writing in all areas - be it word placing, plays on words, sentence structure, paragraphing, the flow-on of ideas, the theme of the story, and crowding too much into one paragraph.
Wordsmiths and puritanical critics will pick on these literary misdemeanours like keen eyed hawks.
Good prose should take the reader to some other land and this is what Phil in his rather odd way is struggling to tell us and that is what the writer in Papua New Guinea needs to listen to. We surely can write our legends in such a manner with a little manipulation.
Most of our legends are smooth sailing on how a thing happened, to explain an origin of something, without any heightened suspense.
Most modern writing has conflict and suspense and climax and resolution. That order of writing is soon to be achieved by Papua New Guineans and I say that with hope as I have seen short pieces by Joycelin Leahy, Hazel Katkue, Caroline Evara and Gen Hobden who have shown they will blossom in that genre if they continue writing.
When I first wrote ‘Zymur’ (published by Oxfords in its Pacific Readers Series), it was a contemporary story on a scary subject drawn with my imagination. I wrote it in the smooth and flowing way we told legends.
At the time, I didn’t know how to string a good story for Papua New Guineans. My writing had flaws and stated obvious things that a Papua New Guinean already knows.
There were supposed to be mysteries in that story that I totally missed bringing to readers. I wasn’t certain what to leave in the reader’s mind that would conjure up more than what I had written. I realise this now but that was not evident when I was starting to write.
I mentioned the four women writers. I have tried to get their style into my own short stories as you will see if you care to read my anthology ‘Antics of Alonaa Volume One’, it is still a far cry from what I would like to achieve.
I too need to get to thinking about the rules of short stories that can be appealing to both PNG and international readers. But in Port Moresby, I have not met anyone I could discuss my writing with. It is really, really difficult in Port Moresby to call people together on the weekend and at a safe suitable place.
Still, I aim for that ultimate eureka moment when I write prose that a Papua New Guinean will find difficult to put down. I need to sound that out with like-minded writers. Maybe that will give me my eureka.
Phil Fitzpatrick’s comments and intents are good and should be a guiding beacon for us towards our ultimate nirvana in writing. Phil’s clarion call is most times unheeded and our inertia is the slug that kills the spirit of writing.
Our biggest problem, a gathering of like-minded writers on a Saturday, seems next to impossible, so how can the writing community work to tackle this problem?
The entire current crop of PNG authors including me can self-publish our work on CreateSpace or go through Pukpuk Publishing. But you cannot go past the first paragraph before you see the glaring mistakes we have missed for want of an editor. That will put off the most dedicated Papua New Guinean advocates – our readers.
Do we need editorial assistance from the likes of Phil and Ed Brumby? Yes, but I think it should be in the final stage and not in a working document. The working document should be by the author. I suggest a writing cell.
I was hurting when I was told I have a two-page long repeat section in ‘Sweet Garaiina Apo’. Oh gosh, how did I miss that? How did five people read my proof from CreateSpace and yet this pops up? (No offence to all who help me, it was my mistake – I published an earlier version.)
Anyway, this is now corrected with the second edition of this book was published early last month. Mistakes do creep in where English is not our mother tongue, and it is a soup for stirring comments.
I agree with Phil that PNG writers provide half-baked manuscripts. Anybody wanting to ask another person for editorial assistance must make sure that assistance is not to rewrite the work. The manuscripts must not pain the editor to that extent.
It is not an easy task going over your work again and again, whether yourself or the editor. I have refused to work with some writers when I found I had to rewrite.
The comments point out so many flaws but no suggestion is advanced as to how to correct these things Phil alludes to. Do we roll around in the suggestion that Papua New Guinean writing should be cocooned only for PNG? Why don’t we strive for the readers outside? Why can’t we pique their interest in our writing?
While Phil calls us out from South Australia, it is for us in PNG to rise to the call and help ourselves. We can start by enquiring about the Crocodile Prize. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.