Home & away: fragments from an old photo
Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

The writers who are forever more to write


“I write a lot & always have plenty of ideas, drafts, storylines, even planned sequels.... I’ll be writing for evermore in the future, if I can find time” – Baka Barakove Bina

In 2015, when Baka Bina published his novel, ‘Man of Calibre’, Phil Fitzpatrick described it as “an instant classic” and “a landmark novel”. And this week Bina repaid Fitzpatrick’s prescience by becoming the first Papua New Guinean to make the shortlist of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize for his story, ‘What must have happened to Ma?

Reviewing ‘Man of Calibre’ for PNG Attitude, Fitzpatrick had declared “it marks a significant turning point in the maturity of Papua New Guinean literature, and, indeed, the wider world”, adding that the novel should immediately go onto the curriculums of PNG’s high schools and tertiary institutions”.

Well, that wasn’t going to happen because there may never have been a nation so disregarding as PNG of its authors, poets, essayists and other creative writers. But in that year, 2015, there was reason for some optimism. Indeed in the previous year, the Crocodile Prize had been confident enough to establish its first Book of the Year Award, won by Leonard Fong Roka for a book with a title as exquisite as its name, ‘Brokenville’.

In 2015, when there was a record number of entries for Book of the Year, and any qualms we had about whether a Book of the Year Award could be sustained, ‘Man of Calibre’ swept all before it. And now, seven years later, Baka Bina has delighted us all over again. And by ‘us’ I place at the head of a reasonably short queue the author’s mentor and amanuensis, Ed Brumby. Another grand champion of home-grown PNG literature and the unbending writers who create it, Phil Fitzpatrick, explains – so much as he is able – the compulsion that shapes and propels the true author - KJ

A rowlingTUMBY BAY - This compulsion to write is a real mystery, as Baka Bina understands. In effect it has all the hallmarks of an incurable psychological disorder.

Or, if you are inclined to superstition, it is a veritable curse.

Neither failure to find a publisher nor lack of commercial success seems to matter.

It gets worse as you get older. I’ve got three books on the go, two on my computer and one still in my head.

Anything that interferes with their progress is resented. Hugely.

When I had to work to make a living, I resented it. Now I’m retired with more time to write, I resent any intrusion.

Even something as satisfying as running Pukpuk Publications and helping Papua New Guinean writers eventually turned into a burden that took me away from writing.

I read a lot of autobiographies by successful writers, but none has ever satisfactorily explained what drove them to write.

Many suffered financial penury for years before they saw success. And when it came they struggled to explain why that first best-selling book struck a chord with readers.

Tracking down the point when this writing disorder first manifested itself is an interesting exercise and doesn’t necessarily start when you first put pen to paper.

When I was about five I concocted a yarn about my impending birthday and the party my mother would plan.

My birthday is in June; this was sometime in December.

My elaborations were imaginative and I developed them over several days with my school friends.

Imagine my surprise when on the day I had chosen to nominate as birthday party day, several of these friends turned up on our doorstep bearing gifts and ready to party.

Fortunately my mother played along with it and hastily conjured up the makings of a party, nowhere near as fantastic as I had elaborated but close enough to suffice.

It was a most uncomfortable experience. I waited in dread for a dressing down from my mother after my friends had left.

I did receive a lecture and forfeited a month of pocket money, and this outcome did curtail my imagination for a while, but the urge to improve upon life’s banality resolutely resurfaced.

In time I fully mastered the art of putting ideas to paper and thinking twice about the possible ramifications of what I said or wrote.

A mannCuriously, in old age, those consequences seem to matter less, and I say and write what I feel and to hell with the chain reaction.

Also in old age, with physical and mental capacities degenerating, the world of my imagination is impeded by nothing. In fact, it has expanded considerably. I have some sensational dreams.

While I can’t remember what I did 10 minutes ago and forget people’s names instantaneously, my imagination is as subtle, as luxuriant and alive as it was when I was five years old.

The only infuriating aspect is my inability to remember key words when I need them.

The timeworn hard drive in my head is so chockers, so bursting with ideas, it sometimes takes an hour to rummage through the detritus stored in my brain to find what it needs.

That other world in our head that insists upon being heard is a powerful phenomenon.

It has intrigued philosophers, psychoanalysts and psychologists since, well, forever. Not one of them has come up with a satisfactory explanation.

Phil Fitzpatrick

Not that it bothers me. Some things you have to accept and enjoy.

When I’m close to putting a book to bed, I’m already thinking about the next one.

And I’ve never re-read a book I’ve written.

When it’s done it’s done.


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Philip Fitzpatrick

Irish artists of every kind - performers, writers, sculptors, musicians, the lot - are nervously waiting to hear if they will be among the 2,000 people to be allocated a basic income for three years.

The Irish government has announced this pilot program for artists impacted by the pandemic – billed as a New Deal and a once in a lifetime policy intervention.

Could we, and would we, do it in Australia? Or is Ireland, where culture is so embedded in identity, a unique case.

And in other news Sinn Fein has come out on top in the recent Northern Ireland elections. A united Ireland may actually happen before I die.

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