BY PHIL FITZPATRICK
THE STRATEGIC PLAN for developing the Crocodile Prize in 2012 includes a proposal to establish a Papua New Guinea Society of Writers, Editors and Publishers.
You might wonder why editors and publishers are included with writers.
So here is the case for editors.
If you send a manuscript to a publisher and the publisher likes it, the next step is usually a prolonged period of editing.
This involves the manuscript being bounced back and forth between the writer, an editor or editors, and the publisher.
Many writers loathe having their work edited. What they send to the publisher is usually something they’ve nursed and refined until they think it is just right.
Other writers dislike the drawn out nature of the process. When you put down your pen or turn off your computer, the last thing you want to do go back to square one and start again.
Other writers rely on editors to polish their work for them. They know that writing, rewriting and revising a manuscript, especially a long one, eventually makes them blind to its shortcomings. Big time writers often have a team of editors and researchers.
Editors also has a difficult task. They take a unique piece of work and try to improve it without altering the things that make it special.
The publisher, on the other hand, wants a manuscript that will appeal to as wide an audience as possible who will buy it and read it.
Publishing is changing very rapidly at the moment. Self publishing and digital publishing are speeding up the whole process and good editing is going by the board.
This is a disconcerting trend and, quite frankly, it shows.
Before cheap digital printing made self publishing easy, it was referred to as vanity publishing – writers who couldn’t interest a publisher in their work would pay to publish it themselves.
There are a few success stories - A B Facey’s A Fortunate Life springs to mind - but generally self published books are terrible.
In a country like Papua New Guinea, where English is most often a second language, I think editing is very important.
It is made more so by decreasing literacy in schools. The universities are now full of otherwise talented people who cannot string together a coherent sentence in English. How often do you hear of children being taught to read and write in schools where the teachers themselves are barely literate?
In The Crocodile Prize competition we have had mostly competent entries in English – only a few are great but, by and large, all are adequate. We have also seen entries which come from clearly talented writers who are struggling to express themselves in English.
It is my guess that the competent stuff is the cream off the very top – those people who have mastered English, through whatever means, and are very comfortable with it.
What of the others, talented as they are, but who clearly need help? Is there anywhere they can go to get the help they need? I can’t think of any place except the already besieged literature departments in the universities.
This has created a dilemma for the competition; or for me at least.
I’m happy to receive entries and then correspond with the writers for a while until their work achieves its best possible form.
It is a tricky thing to do because you don’t want to force changes on people against their will but, as we all know, there is a timidity and reluctance to engage in potential conflict among many Papua New Guineans and you never know whether they are accepting changes to be polite or because they see some merit in them.
And, of course, you run the risk of disadvantaging those writers whose work is entered into the competition largely unedited.
It also poses a fundamental question about the competition and its aims. Is the competition there to merely hand out prizes or should it have the broader but ultimately more difficult goal of mentoring and nurturing the writers who submit their work?
If we accept the latter proposition, and the expected deluge of entries ensues, we probably need a few more editors on board.