Sunday, June 3, 2012

Maintaining ownership of their craft

Two women, driven by the power of the pen, decide to write things that mean a great deal to them. But as we look at their work closely we realize the amount of courage that these two have in jotting down on paper what they truly believe in, indeed the legacy that makes up not only what they are as individuals but also all of us as Papua New Guineans.

In their musings these two women, Emma Wakpi and Regina Dorum, remind us of the musings of that other woman writer, the Australian Drusilla Modjeska, who says that in order to write good literature one must have “the courage to write from the heart – and to return to draft after draft.” That is their craft. That is what they maintain as truly their own and in so doing make the rest of us proud.

Storyboard is pleased to bring to its readers parts of these women’s work. Emma Wakpi wrote about three men of influence in her life. Only one of them, the uncle, is represented in this article.

What my uncle taught me
The most fun you will have in your life is when you take the time to make life fun for others. 


AT A TIME WHEN THE FOCUS of the world is upon Papua New Guinea and its attitude toward women, I have been reflecting upon the male influences in my life.
I know there are good men in PNG and we need their support and encouragement in order to create a safer more equitable society for both sexes. I want to introduce to you three such men who have impacted my life - my grandfather, uncle and father.
These men influenced me in unique ways and the lessons learned were not from longwinded lectures (although they were prone to those too) but rather from observing how they lived their lives.
My uncle Dau was always looking for ways to make life interesting and fun for the children in his family.  He didn’t need money or sophisticated gaming devices; his props were long bamboo sticks, an old trap made from a mishmash of chicken wire and wood and his own self.
I recall on twilight evenings squealing with glee as he would cut bamboo poles to our size and race around wildly with us hitting at small bats that came out just before dusk, flying low over our huts. If we were successful in catching any he made them seem like the best “snacks” we’d ever had.
Other times we “helped” prepare his trap and he would make a great ceremony out of it. We would take it to a “special” place and stand some feet back whilst he would sneak further with exaggerated caution then dramatically chant a loud rhyme (usually thought up right there) and set it.
The fun was in preparing the trap, if he caught something we all rejoiced if he didn’t we were disappointed but it was always the affair of the preparation that got us all excited.  And oh he could tell stories.
His stories engrossed us. Some were fables and rhymes, others he just thought up but it had him singing, crying and gyrating in the dim smoke filled hut grabbing our imaginations and flinging them to far of places where mythical beings and men lived, fought and died.
Sometimes his stories were epics and would be told night by night. At such times he could get us to do anything to ensure that the story would be continued in the evenings.
Like my grandfather he too has left us but the simple act of bringing fun and wonder into the lives of others is a legacy which I cherish.   

A tribute to Papua New Guinean writers of old


MOST OF US TAKE THIS COMPUTER AGE for granted. I couldn’t help but admire those authors from the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. Man, talk of using typewriters and handwriting drafts! It must have been a pretty mega headache with more time spent on dictionaries and libraries.
They are hardworking and committed people and we the current generation must appreciate their work fully and truly. For such men as Vincent Eri, Sir Paulias Matane, Sir Albert Maori Kiki, Sir Ignatius Kilage, John Kasaipwalova, Russell Soaba and others where English is but a second language, I cannot help but admire them.
As Papua New Guineans, we truly should be proud of them. They thought and thought and searched and searched. The library became their home and the dictionary their bible. The countless hours of work they did for us, their future generations, so we could have an insight into their lives and appreciate their work.
I always thought that writing a book is easy, just like reading it—especially fiction. Now I will never look at it the same way again. You simply have to appreciate every word written, its uses in descriptive writing that captures your imagination and draw the authors view into your mind.
Most times when I read books, I just read for the story that it tells but not with a writer’s eyes.  I never really valued their evocative words that embed the picture into my mind.
Now that I am almost in the middle of my book, I went back to re-reading my novels— this time with a writer’s eyes— and I am overwhelmed with the play of words and their proficiently in the turns and twist of events.
The first time I entered the Crocodile Prize, I mentioned that anyone can be a writer, but I take back those words. Anyone can, but you have to learn and grow each time you write.
You have to put your thinking caps on and express yourself in a way that your readers will fully comprehend what your intentions are. Anyone can be a writer, but then, not just anyone. It takes a lot of self-discipline and courage and a lot of brain-wrecking moments.
When I started writing my book, I just wrote as the words came and I was sort of full of pride—at first. But then as I wrote on, pressure built up. I had to research to describe everything from my character’s clothes to their houses to food to everything that we take for granted.
Man, it was hell of a job and still is. Sometimes I would stare into space for hours just thinking and looking a bit lost, even in between conversation. My friends thought I was on my way to Laloki Mental Institute!
I went back on re-reading my books; I found out that my first ten thousand words were rubbish! Yes, I got the story, but hell, I was not descriptive enough! I had to re-read, rewrite and re-read and re-write! And as I wrote on, new characters entered and my location changed and villages had to be made into cities and east had to be west! Directions and maps gave me the biggest headache.
From one article I read on writer’s guidelines, there are no laws when you write a fiction. You can write whatever you please but you cannot lie or break your own rules either. Some things had to be true so that you capture your reader’s attention and make them want to find out more. I had to make my characters and their lives real and it is very frustrating.
Once I was reading a Stephen King novel and at the end, he gave insights into being a writer. He mentioned how he had to write his drafts thirty times to finally get it right. God help me if I will write my book thirty times! I have not even completed the first draft!
I would like to thank the writers of the past for this inspiration and hope that many Papua New Guineans use the opportunity we have and be like them, or even greater. And I would like to express my sincere gratitude to PNG Attitude for giving us modern and young PNG writers  inspiration and assistance. No dream is bigger than us.

You play with words, in your minds.
So that we may comprehend
You wrote them down
So that we may recollect
You put inspiration into our hearts
So that we can be like you
You sat up sleepless hours
So that your dreams may come into life
Now you are our shining star
So we are grateful
Thank you.

Thanks to PNG Attitude for permission to reproduce parts of Regina Dorum's and Emma Wakpi's work here.