FOR most people the idea of writing a book is downright scary. The prospect frightens even the most seasoned writers.
For goodness sake, books are much too long to even contemplate. Think of all that hard work, the dedication and resolve, the sacrifices to be made; not to mention the lost sleep and constant invasion of thought. And, worse, the solitariness of the process.
I could never write a book, you conclude.
And yet there are an increasing number of Papua New Guineans who are doing it. Go figure? What motivates them? All that work and not even a fair prospect of finding a publisher.
And in a country with a notoriously low rate of literacy and a miniscule reading public. All that work for no real discernible monetary return. Why on earth do it?
I don’t know the answer to that last question. I don’t even really know why I write books, let alone why other people do. I have some suspicions though.
Let me air them by examining the four authors who have entered the Ok Tedi Mining Book of the Year Award in this year’s Crocodile Prize.
I know that Kela Kapkora Sil Bolkin has a deep concern about the loss of his people’s traditions and way of life. For Sil the recording of these traditions and folkways is crucial, both for identity and the future, and authorship provides him with the means to do this.
For Francis Sina Nii there is a deep and abiding concern about the breakdown of society and the anarchy that has resulted from the too rapid adoption of some of the worst aspects of westernisation. Francis holds up a mirror to these ills so people can imagine and think about the consequences. And he finds he can do it best in a book.
For Leonard Fong Roka (pictured) the stimulus is the massive injustice done to his people by outside forces beyond their control. Leonard writes books because he believes the story of those times has to be told so such terrible things don’t happen again.
Michael Theophilus Dom? Well, I’m not sure what motivates Michael. There is a deep frustration with his fellow Papua New Guineans, especially its politicians, and there is an intellectual perfectionism driving him that manifests in an almost obsessive dedication to the genre in which he writes.
I don’t really want to ask Michael about his motivation because he probably has no satisfactory answer anyway.
Literature is a powerful medium but it is one that past and present governments in Papua New Guinea, their snouts buried deep in the public trough, have ignored.
It’s ironic that within a generation or so no one will remember most of these politicians. But people will remember Sil, Francis, Leonard and Michael for generations to come – and read their words.
Convinced yet? Want to have a go? No! Okay try this. Enough of the esoteric, let’s be practical.
A Papua New Guinean book doesn’t have to be a blockbuster several inches thick. Neither does it have to be The Great Melanesian Novel.
Literature in Papua New Guinea is still very much in an evolutionary stage and, for so long as that situation prevails, there is not much point churning out thick and dense tomes.
One hundred and fifty pages or less, about 75,000 words, will do the trick. That’s what readers want and that’s what you should give them.
Published writers like Paulias Matane, Russell Soaba, Steven Winduo and Bernard Minol know this. Matane and Minol’s books are mostly quite thin. Vincent Eri’s ground-breaking novel ran to only 178 pages.
This is not to denigrate the efforts of these writers because what they were doing is negotiating that tricky step across the great divide between an oral literature and a written one. When crossing such a colossal gulf it is wise to be careful.
But all these people are special, you may say, they have immense talent whereas I am unsure and uncertain about my skills as a writer.
There is a great rejoinder to that argument. I’ve had something to do with the work of some of these writers and I can tell you that some of their earlier efforts were nothing to write home about.
Their work was cumbersome and laboured and full of inconsistencies, not to mention grammatical atrocities and hideous spelling.
What they did have, however, was a recognisable spark and spirit and a personal belief in themselves that shone through all these faults. The faults were technical issues that a bit of judicious editing and practise on their part easily solved. Michael, the perfectionist, of course, did his own thing.
So don’t believe you aren’t up to it. The only thing stopping you is starting. Do that and the rest is easy – well, not easy, but certainly easier.
If you have a belief in yourself and have something to say, what better way to express it than in writing. And if you want to embed your message permanently, a book is the ultimate medium.
So get to it!
Photo: Leonard Fong Roka holds the three books he has had published this year