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Criticism has good intentions but by gosh it hurts sometimes

Baka BinaBAKA BINA

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 crocprize@gmail.com.

Comments

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Michael Dom

That's good Caroline.

I'm in touch with Marlene and this year have my weekends available in Lae.

Thanks Baka, I thought the judging was under control.

It's now a bit late in the year for me to commit time to assisting but if you're really dropping dead let me know what the numbers are and I might take a few off you.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Listen to the ladies guys!

They actually know how to organise stuff and make it work.

(Might work in parliament too?)

Caroline Evari

Gentlemen, if I may jump in.
One of things we hoped to see after the recent writers conference that the My Walk to Equality contributing writers hosted on September 8 was to run a monthly writers meeting for us Papua New Guinean writers. I know in Chimbu we have Francis Nii, Marleene Dee Gray in Lae, Alphonse Huvi in Bougainville, a few in other provinces plus several of us in Port Moresby who can all run the meetings wherever we are. It all comes down to collaboration.. Let's start mid October. Please email me on caroline.evari@gmail.com to start brainstorming.

Baka Bina

Michael and Michael - Yes we need writing cells and discussion groups to critique each others work. A quick look on the internet like San Antonio Writers Guild website has a page on that.

This can only be done by people coming together and be willing to make and receive critiques to their own and others work.

We can only be as good as the inertia that we must be prepared to shed.

The Crocodile Prize needs volunteer editors to work through our maze of applicants. Email on crocprize@gmail.com

Michael Geketa

Bina Baka, yes being criticised naturally is not acceptable. Before, I thought it carried elements of jealousy on the part of the critic. Now, more than ever I accept being criticised as long as it is done for a purpose of redirecting me. It is a measure of one's current negative situation and being criticised is actually asking one make amendments and be more positive.

When my writings are criticised, the reader is saying good but you either over said it or said little which need adjustment.

Otherwise, a good piece of writing.

Jordan Dean

"To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing,and be nothing" - Elbert Hubbard.

Daniel Kumbon

"I love to go to bookstores and say, 'Hello, I’m looking for a book called ‘Rejection without Killing.’ Do you have it?’ " (comedian Stewart Francis, Readers Digest, February 2015)

Bernard Corden

'A healthy loyalty is active and critical, not passive and complacent' - Harold Laski

Michael Dom

Jordan, no one responded to my email nor called the mobile number I gave.

Busy? Rather, it shouldn't be necessary for anyone to go out of their way.

Meeting in a group should be an enjoyable part of being a writer.

I used my two days in POM to deliver books to my two alma mater and had some copies to give away to anyone else I met.

Small losses.

Jordan Dean

Michael said to meet up but never did. Busy I guess. We Pom based writers need to catch up and discuss about marketing & promotion strategies as well as future literary events.

Seems like the ladies are better organised and will be hosting their first meeting this Friday at the National Library. I got an invitation to attend.

Philip Fitzpatrick

With regard to my comments I think what we have going on is a clash of cultures Baka.

It is not a traditional thing in Papua New Guinean culture to come right out and criticise another person. In Papua New Guinea criticism comes through the back door, usually via several intermediaries.

In Papua New Guinean society avoiding direct confrontation is the norm. When two people actually confront each other, you know its pretty serious.

In contrast, in Australian society people tend to come out and say exactly what they mean. They do this in the knowledge that there are enough controls in play to make sure it doesn't get out of hand. In most cases the serious confrontations take place in courts.

That's changing a bit - we now have stuff like road rage to deal with. That's a sure sign things aren't as well as we think.

This all makes criticism of Papua New Guinean writing and the literary scene difficult. How to get the message across without upsetting someone.

What I could do is tell Michael Dom to tell Emmanuel Peni that Baka has doubled up on a couple of pages in his novel and hope that Manu eventually tells you. That would be the Papua New Guinean way.

I've actually thought about this for a while and I've tried both approaches. What I find is that the indirect approach doesn't work too well while the brutal approach seems to get results.

By the same token I don't mind being criticised by other people, except perhaps by that little band of zealots who maintain that everything in Papua New Guinea is wonderful and I should be ashamed for thinking otherwise.

Strange as it may seem, I don't judge anything I've written well unless I've stirred a few people up and got a reaction. That's why I find your comments refreshing. We can now get down to the nuts and bolts and work out where to go next.

And on a more positive note and against my better judgement I can say that I still regard 'Man of Calibre' as a classic; closely followed by Manu's feminist novel 'Sibona'.

And its great to see the Crocodile Prize progressing so well. I thought it would crash but you guys have proven me wrong.

Daniel Kumbon

I have bought a book each of Leonard Roka, Baka Bina, Francis Nii, Jimmy Agwal and Phil Fitzpatrick. Except for Phil’s ‘Inspector Metau’ the other books are written in the same PNG style.

I realise my style hasn’t changed since the 80’s.

I agree, Baka, the writing skills of the younger generation are far superior. We ought to mentor our youth so they may publish something saleable.

Some names you’ve mentioned - Joycelin Leahy, Hazel Katkue, Caroline Evara and Gen Hobden - are writers we must watch.

Alexander Nara is another writer that comes to mind.

And when I provide words of encouragement and especially criticism of other people’s work, something I learnt in the hausman must always be borne in mind:

"Once you’ve shot an arrow, it will be irretrievable and penetrates so deep, that the wound takes time to heal and leaves a permanent scar."

Michael Dom

Writing cells is exactly what we need.

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