If there was any justice in fiction writing, Phil Fitzpatrick’s Hari Metau series would have sold a million copies and be into its third movie by now. Instead, Phil is putting the final touches on the fifth book in the series and I – and many others who have grown to love the stories of the honest, hard-working detective hard at work in steamy, corrupt Port Moresby – will be grateful but unable to make Phil richer - KJ
TUMBY BAY - As far as I can work out I learned to read somewhere between my third and fourth birthdays.
By the time I was five I had worked my way through many of the popular children’s books then available, including James Barrie’s Peter Pan or The Boy who would not Grow Up.
The reason I remember that particular book is because my sister was born on my fifth birthday and I had presented a case to my parents to name her Wendy, after Wendy Darling, the heroine of the story along with the fairy Tinkerbell.
If you’ve read the story you’ll know that Wendy was the girl who sewed Peter’s shadow back on after it had become dislodged and then went on to share his adventures in Neverland.
Alas, my parents didn’t agree with me and my poor sister had to be called Maureen instead. Curiously, she became a great seamstress and pursued it as a career for many years. How many shadows she sewed back on I don’t know.
The reason I mention this early reading period is because during a recent idle moment I was trying to work out roughly how many books I have read so far.
I based this on my reading rate of about one book a week. There have been very few days in my life when I wasn’t reading at least a couple of chapters from some book. Being caught bookless somewhere is one of my greatest phobias.
The calculation was simple. Seventy two (my current age) minus 4 years before I could read, times 52 weeks in a year. The end result came out at approximately 3,500 books.
Reading all of those books, much more so than any formal literature studies I have undertaken, was and continues to be how I’ve learnt to write.
There were books that I didn’t read however. Certain genres failed to interest me, although I have occasionally had reason to seek them out for specific purposes.
One of those genres was crime fiction, detective novels and the like. Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple never did much for me and neither did Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.
What brought me to read some of those books was related to an experience described on PNG Attitude by Lydia Kailap, who was dealing with a particularly troublesome ward councillor who was accusing her of profiting from a school she had set up for the kids in the squatter settlement at Kaugere.
I went to visit Lydia and her husband Peter and check out the school on my way back from a job in Gulf Province and after talking about some of the problems decided to write a novel to raise some money for the school.
It was thus that Inspector Metau was born. Lydia actually wrote a large part of one of the chapters and I took it from there.
I was relatively naïve in my approach however. I made two incorrect assumptions. The first was that Papua New Guineans buy and read books and the second was that Australians and people in other countries were interested in Papua New Guinea.
The inundation of royalties never occurred and the exercise was a dismal failure.
Inspector Metau, however, had caught the imagination of a few people and I figured that if I couldn’t use him to raise funds I could at least make him live through free PDF downloads on PNG Attitude, which Keith Jackson generously allowed me to do.
That was all quite a few years ago but I am currently writing the fifth book in what has become the Inspector Metau series.
Strangely enough, while he’s never made much money, the redoubtable policeman has built up a fan club of sorts and I often get emails asking when the next book will be available.
And, of course, I now read police and detective novels. At the moment I am working my way through a backlog of such books by the South Australian crime fiction writer Garry Disher and learning a lot along the way.
Just about every book I read is a learning experience. No matter how bad or good a book is I invariably pick up a lesson or two, things that work and things that don’t work.
I do have a confession though. On a proportional basis I read a lot more books by men than I do by women. That is not to say that there aren’t some women writers who I don’t look out for and buy or borrow their latest effort.
I’m not quite sure why that is the case but it has something to do with the fact that men and women, despite views to the contrary, are different creatures with different priorities.
That’s not an argument I care to get into however.
Instead, I would reiterate that if you want to be a writer you must read as much as you can in whatever genres you find interesting, be it macho blockbusters, corny chic lit or even, heaven forbid, literary fiction.