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Sir Paulias Matane turns 90

Writing’s always been my passion

Phil Fitzpatrick - "Shedding the jargon, verbosity and density of the bureaucratic writing style required real effort"


TUMBY BAY - Some people like messing about in boats but writing fiction has always been a passion of mine.

Unfortunately it’s very hard to make a living out of writing books in Australia and I’ve had to resort to other means of subsistence.

That’s why reaching retirement age is such a blessing.

Being on a pension means that I can indulge my passion in a leisurely fashion without worrying too much about not having enough money to pay the bills.

And, as Paul Oates has observed, for us oldies writing is good for the soul. And probably our mental health too.

Nowadays there’s no pressure, no deadlines, no demanding emails or telephone calls. When and how I finish whatever I’m writing is entirely up to me. A week or a year, it doesn’t matter.

And no more wrangling, weaselling and stretching words and sentences to support dubious and uncomfortable 2ideas.

Writing has always been a necessary and core skill in all the jobs I’ve had over the years, but it has required a certain amount of adaption to fit the circumstances.

One of the biggest challenges occurred after I left the public service. Shedding the jargon, verbosity and density of the bureaucratic writing style required real effort.

The bureaucratic style, much like academic writing, was definitely not conducive to the clarity required when I went out on my own as a consultant.

3And it was a major drawback during my early forays into long form fiction.

There are several cardinal rules I learnt writing fiction. They include brevity, simplicity of style and avoiding the temptation to preach.

These are important because you want the reader to keep reading, stay with you and think about what you have written.

Giving away too much detail is a sure fire way to deaden the suspense you need in a work of fiction.

4In addition, in this information age a lot of detail has become superfluous.

Back in the days when very few people travelled widely and had limited access to sources of information, it was necessary to include lots of details in a work of fiction.

If you don’t believe me try reading the Victorian-era writers.

Nowadays, instead of several long descriptive paragraphs, a simple word or two will conjure the necessary image in a reader’s mind.

5Along the way I’ve dabbled in writing non-fiction. Back in the day it was a real buzz to see both the fiction and non-fiction I wrote appear in various journals and magazines.

I had stuff published in a whole range of magazines, from New Idea to Penthouse. The only magazine I couldn’t crack was Reader’s Digest. Achieving the blandness they required was simply beyond me.

Nowadays the buzz comes almost entirely from my books and seeing my stuff appear on blogs like PNG Attitude.

If writers come with an inbuilt ego, as many critics contend, then I have to plead guilty.

One thing I discovered is that swapping between fiction and non-fiction requires certain adjustments and it’s still something I occasionally find difficult.

6With my fiction writer’s alter ego lurking in the background and telling me to keep the reader guessing I sometimes have to really think about what I should include in non-fiction pieces.

This is where editors like Keith Jackson come in handy.

As a journalist of long standing he’s attuned to the needs of different readers and can add just the right amount of detail to articles to make them comprehensible to his reading audience.

Writers in places like Australia, New Zealand, the smaller Pacific nations and Papua New Guinea are forced by circumstance to be adaptive.

To maintain a satisfying writing life it’s necessary to command as many styles as possible.

7The advantages enjoyed by international writers with huge pools of potential readers means they can churn out the same kind of stuff forever.

Indeed, many of them are recognised solely for their unchanging writing style.

When you’re on to a good thing, stick to it is their motto.

Which probably puts agile Aussie, Kiwi, Pasifika and Niugini writers in their own class.

Isn’t that a nice thought?


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Baka Bina

Eh Phil, yu gat planti moa yet stori long stori long mipela. Mipela laik harim long wokabout bilong yu long wok kiap.

Buk Bamahuta ino planti tumas stori taim yu bin stap planti yia long ples PNG.

Ol lapun bilong mipela i lus wan wan na ino tokim mipela ol stori bilong bipo na yu tu bai kisim ol stori bilong raun bilong tu igo wantaim yu.

Moabeta yu rait moa yet na putim aut moa stori long moa buk. Mipela olgeta igat despela wok long kisim stori tasol namba bilong ol mahn meri and pikinini husat bai raitim ol em sot trutru.

Ol mahn meri long rait insait long Pasifik igat stail bilong ol long rait na ino bihainim 'convention' i trutru tumas. Moabeta ol arasait lain iken luk save long dispela.

Nau yet wanbel istap long yu na KJ na tu long EB long wok yupela mekim long kirapim tingting long rait but na ating 14 or 15 is giving gut tingting long rait.

Klostu namba i stop long 15 tasol Ples Singsing i kirapim nupela lain long rait. Namba igo antap moa na 'serious writers' igo moa yet bai gutpela olgeta tasol mipela wet na lukim.

Daniel Kumbon

Thank you, Phil and Keith. You two 'tru tru wantok bilong mipela ol PNG' have helped, encouraged and shown us how and where to get our books published.

I haven't written a thriller yet but I'm currently working on my eighth book. My satisfaction is to record what I see as important for future generations. And to record them in a sure and secure place - a book.

The old House of Assembly building in downtown Port Moresby was replaced with the new 'Haus Tambaran' in Waigani.

Members of parliament will come and go but the books we Papua New Guineans have written will never be replaced - the words will remain.

And the names of you two gentleman - Keith Jackson AM and Philip Fitzpatrick will live on too.

Thanks for that, Daniel. There has been great satisfaction in working with such talented writers to keep the literary flame burning. One day politicians and other leaders will wake to the truth that a mature national literature will have an immensely positive impact on culture, education, literacy, politics, business, indeed most elements of national life - KJ

Philip Fitzpatrick

Thanks Chips. Brightened up a windy and wet afternoon in Tumby Bay too.

Chips Mackellar

Phil, while you have achieved fame as a a writer both of fiction and of non-fiction, I think that you have achieved an even greater fame as a mentor, editor and publisher of other writers' works, especially of the works of PNG writers, and in this context you share this fame with Keith Jackson.

Both of you have worked tirelessly and continuously for years to help budding authors to write and publish their works and your dedication to your own works of literature is matched by all the assistance you have given to other writers.

We are grateful for the assistance you have given us and we thank you sincerely for this.

Thanks for brightening up my afternoon, Chips - KJ

Keith Jackson

Phil has also provided me with this useful information, of special interest for self-publishers:

Along with several other self-publishers KDP Amazon now offers hardcover books.

They are case laminated, which means they have a format similar to a paperback but with a rigid cover. Dust jackets, cloth bound, and other hardcover formats aren't available.

Those writers who have used self-publishing companies in India or China will be familiar with the format.

It’s also possible to convert your current KDP paperbacks to hardcover.

They are not offered on KDP Australia or Canada and have to be done through KDP US or UK.

I haven’t checked out the pricing but I imagine it’s high.


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