WHEN entries come into the Crocodile Prize we read them carefully and mostly lightly edit them if they look good enough to run in PNG Attitude and are likely candidates for the annual anthology.
If they are of great interest or show exceptional promise but have some sort of problem we do a heavier edit. Sometimes we send them back to the author for approval. But often, the volume of literary traffic being so great, we simply lack the time to do this.
We’ve never had an author criticise us for making their piece worse.
We don’t play favourites and treat each entry on its merits. It is part of the mentoring process that has become an integral part of the competition.
Many writers have expressed appreciation that, in comparing their original version with the published product, they have been led to understand how their writing might be improved.
We recognise that many Crocodile Prize entrants are writing in a language that is not their first language and that we always need to take account of this.
This is one of the elements that makes the Crocodile Prize differ from other writing competitions. We are in the business of finding talent and nurturing it, not just rewarding it.
Nor are we highbrow. While we want to see a sophisticated writing culture develop in Papua New Guinea we have nothing against popular writing. What we don’t want to see is writing become rough and ready, where close enough to being OK is good enough.
We want writers to always keep readers in mind. People don’t want to read rubbish and we don’t want to offend them by offering them material which is not as best as we can provide.
This year Keith Jackson is carrying the main editing burden; I had my turn in 2012 and, to a lesser extent, in 2013.
As you know, we are getting a record number of entries this year. The competition in 2013 was a bit of a disaster but disasters seem to be increasingly what is needed in Papua New Guinea before things come good, witness the renaissance of the National Museum and, more recently, the University of Technology in Lae.
What also comes with our mentoring activities is a bond of sorts with many of the writers as we watch their work develop and mature. This is one of the great pleasures for Keith and me.
Also, while we’ve met very few of the people whose by-lines you see often in PNG Attitude, we feel we know them personally.
We’ve observed that what also comes out of these relationships is a desire on the part of some writers to take their work to the next level, to the holy grail of literature, a book.
To this end we established Pukpuk Publishing. Initially we needed a vehicle to publish the anthologies and we later extended this to occasionally publish some of our more talented writers in book form. By default, Pukpuk has become the publishing arm of the Crocodile Prize.
All of this has been done on a shoestring budget, quite often coming directly out of Keith and my pockets. This is OK but by far our largest contribution is in time and labour. The Crocodile Prize is hard work. We’re not complaining; we chose to run the competition because we wanted to give back something to Papua New Guinea. And we enjoy the task immensely.
But here’s the rub. It’s getting too big for us. Despite our brilliance, natural acumen and heart-melting good looks, we sometimes feel the pressure. We aren’t getting any younger either.
We need some help. Not money, although if you’ve got any just lying around parcel it up and get the bank to deliver it. What we really need, though, is your conscientious labour. Free, unpaid and unstinting.
We know we have many talented readers, a large number who have backgrounds in teaching and the arts whether in Australia or Papua New Guinea.
What we would like to do is match you up with some of the promising writers as mentors, advisors and general shoulders to cry on.
Believe me, it will be a very rewarding experience.
We are open for expressions of interest. An email to either me or Keith setting out any special interests or preferences will do and we’ll try to match you up with a promising writer.
How’s that for a deal?