IN 2010 I wrote a number of articles for a trade magazine about the state of literature in the South Pacific region, including Papua New Guinea.
I sent a modified version of the Papua New Guinea article to Keith Jackson and he published it in PNG Attitude.
My research for the article revealed that the vibrant and dynamic literary scene of 1970s Papua New Guinea was in serious decline.
What little was being published was sporadic and, with a few notable exceptions, of very average quality.
As someone who had watched the burgeoning literary scene in the 1970s, I was filled with dismay. Tiny nations like Samoa were leading the way while Papua New Guinea seemed to have fallen by the wayside.
Keith and I discussed this sad state of affairs by email and out of that the Crocodile Prize was born.
I can’t remember which of us came up with the idea but that is of little account. As the idea developed we realised we needed a vehicle in which to permanently place the work produced by the writers entering the competition.
The idea of asking people to write without providing a decent publishing opportunity seemed ludicrous.
So, from that concern, grew the annual Crocodile Prize Anthology.
In the first two years of the competition we tried to do the right thing by PNG and arranged to have the anthology produced locally. For various reasons this proved unsatisfactory, especially when we realised the printing was being done in China anyway.
We started looking around for cheaper and more efficient alternatives.
At the time digital publishing, and especially print-on-demand technology, was taking off worldwide. The days of having to store boxes of hardcopy books that may or may not be sold was coming to an end.
Then the behemoth of Internet book retailing, Amazon, set up its printing and distribution arm, Createspace, and we saw a light at the end of the tunnel.
There were other similar options offered by other large publishing companies, mostly based in the USA or Europe, but Createspace and Amazon provided the best distribution network.
We had attached a Pukpuk Publishing logo to the 2011 and 2012 anthologies and this was continued with the first Createspace anthology published in 2013. In that year we adopted Joe Bilbu’s cheeky Frangipani crocodile (pictured above) as our logo.
Prior to 2013, I had been experimenting with Createspace and had published one of my own novels, Inspector Metau and the Case of the Angry Councillor, using the system.
At the time I had just finished working with Crawford House Publishing to get Sil Bolkin’s book, The Flight of Galkope, published. The contrast between the ease of using Createspace for Inspector Metau and the trials and tribulations spent in getting Sil’s book published was glaring.
I was in the process of absorbing all this when Francis Nii contacted me to discuss the publication of a new edition of his novel, Paradise in Peril.
I suggested that we try using Createspace and, before we knew it, Fitman, Raitman & Cooks: Paradise in Peril was on sale on the Amazon website and Francis had a shelf of hardcopies to sell.
Shortly after that Leonard Fong Roka enquired about publishing his first book, a poetry collection, The Pomong U’tau of Dreams. Two more books, Moments in Bougainville and Brokenville, by the prolific Leonard quickly followed.
At about the same time an old kiap, Chips Mackellar, whose work I had admired in the Papua New Guinea Association of Australia journal, Una Voce, conspired with Bill McGrath at Pacific Bookhouse to print a very limited edition of his short stories in a bound A4 format.
Chips had been trying to have his excellent material published but had run into the inevitable lack of interest in Papua New Guinean writing among the established publishers and the prohibitive costs of conventional self-publishing.
I suggested to Chips that we could use Createspace to produce a good quality paperback at minimal cost. Out of that arrangement the Pukpuk Publications version of his book, Sivarai, was published.
Createspace and its counterparts are essentially printing and distribution services. That is where they make their money. They provide free tools to design and format your book and then sell it to you at a wholesale price for you to dispose of in any way you like.
Some of these companies, especially Amazon, also pay good royalties on the hardcopy and ebooks they sell on their website.
Anyone can set up an account with Createspace and publish a book. Baka Bina is doing it and so are a few other Papua New Guinean writers.
However, many writers find the technology intimidating and others don’t have reliable access to the Internet or the necessary banking arrangements to order the books from overseas and pay for them.
The other big issue is editing. Every writer needs an editor and this is something we do at Pukpuk Publishing. Those factors make up the niche that Pukpuk Publishing has fallen into, however inadvertent that may have been.
What started out as a way of cheaply publishing the Crocodile Prize anthologies has turned into something resembling an editing and publishing company.
And I can tell you it gets pretty busy at times.
In fact, for someone who is retired and only occasionally works, it has become an interesting and enjoyable hobby. With all my other ‘hobbies’, I am busier now than when I was working fulltime.
The big difference is that I now enjoy what I do, even though it costs me money and I make no profit; just like Keith and PNG Attitude.
What I particularly like about Papua New Guinean writers, apart from their considerable skills, is the way they dip into their rich cultural heritage to background their work.
This is what makes Papua New Guinean literature distinctive and appealing. You can see this with other South Pacific writers but nowhere near as pronounced.
The result is a school of literature clearly identifiable with the country.
As for publishing books by old kiaps, well I’m one too and it gives me a chance to reminisce.
The current Pukpuk Publishing catalogue includes these titles:
A Bush Poet’s Poetical Blossom by Jimmy Drekore is a collection of 100 poems written in Jim’s earthy and pithy way. Jimmy is an award-winning poet and has been writing for many years but this is his first book. Coming soon on Amazon
Brokenville by Leonard Fong Roka. This is Leonard’s memoir of growing up in war-torn Bougainville. It is an exciting and significant work already lauded by the public and academics alike. 248 pages, paperback $9.00, Kindle $3.08. http://www.amazon.com/Brokenville-Leonard-Fong-Roka/dp/0987132199
Crocodile Prize Anthology 2011, edited by Phil Fitzpatrick. 180 pages, paperback $7.22, Kindle $4.92. http://www.amazon.com/The-Crocodile-Prize-Anthology-2011/dp/0987132105
Crocodile Prize Anthology 2012, edited by Phil Fitzpatrick. 362 pages, paperback $10.98, Kindle $4.98. http://www.amazon.com/The-Crocodile-Prize-Anthology-2012/dp/0987132113
Crocodile Prize Anthology 2013, edited by Phil Fitzpatrick. 178 pages, paperback $9.00, Kindle $4.68. http://www.amazon.com/The-Crocodile-Prize-Anthology-2013/dp/0987132172
Crocodile Prize Anthology 2014, edited by Phil Fitzpatrick. Coming soon on Amazon
Fitman, Raitman & Cooks: Paradise in Peril by Francis Nii. This novel is an acute social commentary about drug dealing and its ramifications in the Highlands. 270 pages, paperback $10.00, Kindle $4.98. http://www.amazon.com/Fitman-Raitman-Cooks-Paradise-Peril/dp/098713213X
Inspector Metau and the Case of the Angry Councillor by Phil Fitzpatrick. A novel about an honest cop, an enthusiastic young constable and a talking dog who together set about tackling corruption in Port Moresby. 286 pages, paperback $11.40, Kindle $4.98. http://www.amazon.com/Inspector-Metau-Case-Angry-Councillor/dp/0987132121
Moments in Bougainville by Leonard Fong Roka. This collection of short stories demonstrates Leonard’s skill at the raw and edgy writing that has become his trademark. 150 pages, paperback $7.20, Kindle $3.00. http://www.amazon.com/Moments-Bougainville-Collection-Short-Stories/dp/0987132156
Pomong U’tau of Dreams by Leonard Fong Roka. A collection of poetry largely inspired by events in Bougainville. A pomong ‘u’tau is a traditional clay cooking pot. 140 pages, paperback $9.50, Kindle $3.16. http://www.amazon.com/The-Pomong-Utau-Dreams-Bougainvillean/dp/0987132148
Sivarai: memories of Papua New Guinea by Malcolm (Chips) Mackellar is an irreverent collection of short stories by an old kiap and magistrate. Prepare to be shocked! 302 pages, paperback $10.06, Kindle $3.15. http://www.amazon.com/Sivarai-Memories-Papua-New-Guinea/dp/0987132180
All these books can be ordered from Amazon through the links provided and follow the prompts to complete your transaction. Your purchase will be in your hands, hot off the press, in a week or so.
Pukpuk Publications has more titles in the pipeline. Their release is only dependent upon my time to get them ready. Read PNG Attitude, keep your eyes open and support Papua New Guinean literature.