WRITTEN BY…LANI WENDT YOUNG

‘Pacific Tsunami Galu Afi’

This is a non-fiction book that commemorates the devastating tsunami that hit Samoa in September 2009.

Although a harrowing read, it is deeply moving, very informative, and extremely interesting. The survivor’s memories and the interviews with those who came to rescue them have been amazingly woven together, giving readers a thorough account of that horrible day.

For who: For non-fiction fans. For people interested in natural disasters. For those who appreciate literary craft.

‘Afakasi Woman’

This collection of twenty-four short stories gives readers fascinating insights into the lives of women in Samoa.

It is both light-hearted and serious, funny and sad, cheerful and thought-provoking. It’s a female voice from the Pacific region – strong female voice that touches on some of the most difficult issues. Definitely not to be missed.

For who: For all the people who think that women are important. And for those who prefer short forms.

The Telesa Series

The trilogy, which has its roots in Samoan mythology, revolves around a young American girl who initially comes to Samoa to meet her family, but ends up discovering her true self.

These are fantastic books! Excellently written and engaging, they transport readers into the world of ancient myths and legends, letting them discover the unknown side of the Pacific.

For who: For teenagers who love fantasy novels. For teenagers who hate fantasy novels (after reading these, they’ll love them). For adults who think they are too old and mature to read anything that’s a mix of imaginary world and romance.

‘I am Daniel Tahi’

This short novella is a companion book to the Telesa series. It tells the same story but from the male point of view.

Lani Wendt Young created a narrative that’s not only compelling, but also fun to read. Having been written in a very ‘manly’ manner, it is pretty enlightening (for us – girls) and often quite hilarious. A truly fantastic read!

For who: For girls (and women) who are dreaming of or looking for their Mr Perfect. Warning: you may suddenly heighten your expectations! Also, for all the females who think that Mr Perfect doesn’t exist – he does, at least in Lani Wendt Young’s books.

The Scarlet Series

The author’s newest series focuses on Scarlet – a young woman who, while coming back to Samoa to attend her sister’s wedding, learns that homecomings don’t always mean love, hugs, and happiness; especially when secrets from the past are involved.

Despite the seemingly light-hearted and humorous nature of the books, they broach some very sensitive topics, making the whole story multidimensional and unique. Fantastic, believable characters (with Scarlet taking the lead here) only add to the greatness that these novels are.

For who: For everyone who has already celebrated his/her 18th birthday. Probably a bit more suitable for women than men.

‘FREELOVE’ BY SIA FIGIEL

‘Freelove’ is Sia Figiel’s latest novel. It is set in Samoa in the 1980s and revolves around the first love experiences of a seventeen-year-old girl.

FREELOVE

Summary

Inosia Alofafua Afatasi, an inquisitive student from the Village of the Sacred Owl, is sent by her mother to the capital to buy three giant white threads. As she’s waiting at the bus stop, her young teacher of Science and Math, Mr Ioane Viliamu, stops to offer her a ride in his car. Sia just knows that the minute she steps a foot into the truck, her life will change forever.

Review

Sia Figiel is one of the best and most renowned Pacific writers, so whenever she publishes a book, you expect it to be at least very good. It was a long wait for ‘Freelove’ but, let me assure you, oh-so worthy, because the novel certainly does not disappoint.

It’s not a secret that Ms Figiel just loves breaking cultural taboos. She had done it in her earlier works and she did it again in ‘Freelove’. When it comes to the Pacific cultures, there are few greater taboos than those concerning human sexuality. Now, a person not familiar with Samoan or Pacific ways of being might think that this title is a coming-of-age story about young girl’s sexual awakening. But the truth is, this is just the outer layer – the most prominent one, yes; the most easily noticeable, yes; the most important, absolutely not.

The main characters’ relationship, although graphically described and thus attracting readers attention, serves a higher purpose. It’s nor there to shock people or make them blush. It’s not a cheap entertainment. It’s not even an attempt to contradict Margaret Mead’s studies. It is a way of showing the constantly changing culture, where tradition fights with modernity even though the two have already become closely intertwined – just like Sia’s and Ioane’s bodies.

The author managed to wonderfully expose Inosia’s journey in discovering her own identity, as both a Samoan and a woman. We observe her trying to remain a dutiful daughter while at the same time following her heart. It’s not easy to fulfil social expectations when you have your dreams and desires. Or maybe it’s not easy to fulfil your dreams when you’re restricted by social expectations.

Ioane, on the other hand, is a guide who leads Inosia through her journey of discovery. Not only does he show her a completely unknown world, he also throws a new light on the ancient traditions of the Samoan people. Ioane is Sia’s lover, soulmate, friend, teacher, and motivator. He encourages her to indulge her passions, but also reminds her to never forget her cultural roots.

What you might not see at first is the fact that the book is an encouragement for a dialogue. Sia Figiel created two truly fascinating protagonists, through whom she tried to convey her wisdom. By giving us Inosia – a somewhat naïve yet enormously clever girl with ambitions, who’s doing all she can to find herself in a collectivist society – and Ioane – a young but experienced man willing to sacrifice his future so that the girl he loves can lead the life she wants and deserves – she makes us ponder on the value on individualism and self-realization in a culture where ‘we’ is still more important than ‘I’.

The story itself is told in an unconventional and very poetic manner, which for some people might be a little overwhelming, if not purely irritating. The powerful prose indeed leaves readers in awe of the author’s talent and skills, but the occasional flowery descriptions might be unappealing. I should also mention that those of you who are not particularly romantic may find the second part of the book – where Sia and Ioane exchange love letters – quite annoying. I mean, how many times can you read somebody’s love confessions, especially if they are a bit exaggerated?

All in all, ‘Freelove’ is a wonderful novel, definitely worthy of your time and attention. It’s a highly perceptive, enlightening piece of literature, which provokes thinking and reflection on love, sex, personal growth, and – most of all – the importance of culture in a person’s life. It is a fairy-tale, but I won’t tell you if it’s with or without a happily ever after ending. You’ll have to find out for yourself.

FORGET GREY. BEST BOOKS FOR VALENTINE’S DAY

‘I am Daniel Tahi’ by Lani Wendt Young

‘I am Daniel Tahi’ is a companion novella to Lani Wendt Young’s well-known Telesa series. As it shows Daniel’s point of view, it is written in a very ‘manly’ manner. It’s casual, funny, and…quite hot. You think Christian Grey is a guy for you? That means you haven’t met Daniel Tahi yet. And believe me, you do want to meet him.

‘Sons For The Return Home’ by Albert Wendt

Albert Wendt’s cross-racial love story follows a young student, the son of Samoan migrants, who falls for a pakeha girl. Amidst the troubles and difficulties, the two lovers discover the world of intimacy and relationships, quickly realizing that it’s not always easy to love someone from a different culture. The plot of this book is filled with desire, lust, sexual tension, and…overwhelming longing for what’s not there but could be.

‘Conquered’ by Paula Quinene

This historical erotic romance revolves around Jesi, a young Chamorro girl who, in the most dramatic circumstances, meets the man of her dreams. The story will make your heart beat a bit faster than usual, and the couple’s intense relationship will make you green with envy…or red in the face (if you know what I mean).

The Scarlet Series by Lani Wendt Young

Sometimes girls just wanna have fun, right? And, trust me, no one does it better than Scarlet, the main character in the series. Especially when a very handsome man appears on the horizon. Although this very enjoyable book may seem light-hearted on the surface, it has a real plot full of secrets. And if you’re looking for some romance, you will definitely find it here!

‘A Farm in the South Pacific Sea’ by Jan Walker

This title is a little more ‘serious’, more ‘mature’. It recounts a true story of June von Donop, who comes to the Kingdom of Tonga to find a purpose in life but ends up finding her true soulmate (while at the same time having a romance with a young Tongan man). This is the most beautiful love story, told with great passion, that you’ll want to reread as soon as you finish the last sentence.

A CHAT WITH… MAUREEN FEPULEA’I

Maureen Fepulea’i surely is an extremely talented person. Not only is this Samoan-born lady an award winning playwright but also a very gifted writer. Her short story, ‘A Samoan Wife’, was one of the top stories in the Samoa Observer Tusitala Short Story Competition and thus was included in the compilation ‘Our Heritage, The Ocean’. But Maureen is also someone you should listen to. Her wise words really make people think. So, are you interested in getting to know more? Read on.

maureen-fepuleai

Pasifika Tales: Why did you decide to enter the Samoa Observer Tusitala Short Story Competition?

Maureen Fepulea’i: I decided to enter the Samoa Observer Tusitala Short Story Competition because I had a story to share. It also helped that there was prize money involved 🙂

PT: Did you have any idea that your piece would appear in the compilation? What was your initial reaction when you learnt about it?

MF: I found out that ‘The Samoan Wife’ was going to appear in the compilation, after the judging had been completed. I was very excited and at the same time, pretty surprised that my piece was to be included, considering the high calibre of the winners entries.

PT: As you’ve already mentioned, the story we are talking about is entitled ‘The Samoan Wife’. What does it mean to be a Samoan wife?

MF: I can only speak from my personal observations and experiences throughout my lifetime. Being a Samoan wife is to be strong in the face of adversity; to sacrifice self in the name of peace and harmony in the family; to submit to the will of your husband whether good or bad; to lose your precious status as ‘feagaiga’ because you are now married; to obey; to smile for the world to see that all is well in your aiga, regardless of whether it is or not; to clean up the mess made by your husband, your children, your in-laws, your parents; to love, cherish and honour your husband above all till death do you part; to be treated like the Princess that you are; to be honoured and respected for all that you do; to be a fierce, beautiful and intelligent and empowered individual.

PT: I’d say – and your story shows it quite clearly – that Samoan wives are strong enough to carry on with their duties no matter what happens behind closed doors. Would you agree?

MF: From my observations and also personal experience, I strongly agree with that statement. I wrote a play – ‘e ono tama’i pato’ that illustrates this very well. Unfortunately, the cost to the ‘Samoan wife’ is too high; mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

PT: You wrote a story that’s – apart from being very moving – extremely uplifting. Did you want to give women the courage to say: ‘It’s not OK the way it is’?

MF: I actually started writing ‘The Samoan Wife’ based on an experience my Mum had immediately after my Father died. Mum had brought Papa’s body back from Samoa to New Zealand and we were preparing for his funeral. I remember my Mum called out from her room and when we rushed in, her nose was bleeding and she said that she had seen my Father in the mirror. As my writing progressed, it developed into a story of empowerment for women but at the same time, illustrated the powerful conditioning of the Samoan wife’s mind to loyally protecting the image of ‘aiga’ at the expense of her truth and her personal dignity. I agree that I wanted women to know that “it isn’t OK the way it is” as well as for our Samoan women to know that they are not alone in what they are going through. Despite the masks we wear, we can all empathise to some degree, with what goes on behind closed doors.

PT: Domestic violence is a big problem throughout the Pacific. Actually, in ‘Our Heritage the Ocean’ there is another emotionally charged piece – Sina Retzlaff’s ‘Unborn Child’ – that deals with the same subject. Do you think that talking about it openly can bring about some changes?

MF: I think that talking about it openly is always a good thing. My concern is that it usually ends at the talking stage, until the next workshop or fono or “domestic violence awareness event”. I believe that it is like the scripture in the book of James – Faith without works is dead. So is talk without works. I believe that churches need to take a greater responsibility in teaching and educating families about the feagaiga of respecting for, taking care and protecting our wives, husbands and children. I believe that our Matai and Family leaders need to take a stronger lead and set premium examples of how to treat one another. I believe that our children need to have their voices heard in their respective aiga. We are an oratory culture – we are also a culture of action and service. This needs to go hand in hand when it comes to addressing and deleting family violence from our collective mindsets. Don’t get me started…

PT: So now getting back to you… You are an accomplished playwright, but do you plan to write more? Publish a book maybe?

MF: I so plan to write more. I have many stories lined up inside my head bursting to come forth. Whether they come out in poetry form, song form, script form or story/book form remains to be seen. All I can say for now is, “watch this space” auuuuuuuuu lol.

PT: Would you encourage your fellow Pacific Islanders to become tellers of tales? There are so many talented people from the region, aren’t there?

MF: ABSOLUTELY!!! Your life is your story! Your observations and experiences are the content of your manuscript! You don’t have to be formally trained or educated to share your story. Your story may be exactly what somebody else needs to read to be inspired or motivated to take the next step for empowering themselves. Your story may come out as drawings, sculptures, song, poetry, script, written story or performance theatre…however you choose to share your story, please do!

‘OUR HERITAGE, THE OCEAN’

‘Our Heritage, The Ocean’ is a compilation of the top stories from the 2015 Samoa Observer Tusitala Short Story Competition.

our-heritage-the-ocean

Summary

What’s life like in the beautiful Pacific? Is living in paradise happier, more joyful, less stressful? Are smiles broader and tears less burning there? Sometimes, yes. Other times, no. Just like anywhere else in the world.

The loveliness of the islands doesn’t shield people from the trials and tribulations of everyday life. There are troubles, doubts, decisions one needs to make; and a constant conflict between the values of the ancestors and the modern world. Because when the past collides with the present, everything’s a little bit harder to do.

Review

This book is an undeniable proof that there are so many talented writers among the Pacific Islanders. And thanks to the Samoa Observer Tusitala Short Story Competition, some of them finally get a chance to shine.

To say that this collection is good would be an understatement. It is truly exquisite. Actually, when you start reading it, you just can’t put it down.

The stories presented in the compilation are as varied as the islands of the Pacific they focus on. Some of them are serious in nature, others more light-hearted. Some might make you furiously mad or saddened, while others will surely bring a smile to your face. But they all have one thing in common – they touch on the issues important for the Pacific peoples.

The most distressing tale is narrated by an unborn child who – while still in the mother’s womb – endures physical abuse. This spectacular and uncommon way of showing the problem of domestic violence has never been seen before. It’s a literary masterpiece I dare to say only someone from the Pacific region (in this case, it was Sina Retzlaff) could create.

Another story that brings up a similar topic concentrates on a Samoan wife – dutiful and ready to stand by her man no matter what. Good reputation is all that counts. The rest stays behind closed door.

Domestic violence is not the only problem the Islanders need to face. Reconciling traditional ways of being with modern lifestyles proves to be an enormous challenge as well, for young and old alike. And then there’s this long-lasting antipathy towards those who belong to a different race, who are not of full blood. As it turns out, migrants in the Blue Continent struggle to feel accepted no less than the Islanders living in foreign countries.

Yes, this is the Pacific shown in its truest colours.

The stories vary greatly in themes explored but not in quality, which is a very rare thing. Usually, when a compilation includes works by various authors, the level of one’s reading enjoyment fluctuates wildly depending on how good a particular tale is. But this book is different, as not even one story is less interesting than the others. They are all exceptionally well written in a style that stirs the imagination and engages all the senses. Vivid descriptions – so important in some of these narratives – help convey the message, making the truths hidden between the lines perfectly visible. Because this compilation is not only entertaining, but most of all thought provoking. It encourages critical reflection and deep thinking – something only the best pieces of literature are able to do.

‘Our Heritage, The Ocean’ is a book I wholeheartedly recommend. Seventeen stories – all equally good, seventeen authors – all worthy of attention. Robert Louis Stevenson surely would be proud.

THAT ONE BOOK

My Pacific Literature adventure began when I first read Albert Wendt’s book. I read it and I fell in love – with his creativity, writing style, talent. Then, years later, I discovered other authors from the region: Lani Wendt Young, who is the voice of contemporary Pacific women. Tanya Taimanglo, a very gifted lady whose tales accompany me in my daily life. Epeli Hauʻofa, for works of whom I reach whenever I need a bit of laugh. There is also Sia Figiel (The greatest). And Célestine Hitiura Vaite (Oh how I regret she hasn’t written anything since her charming Materena Mahi Trilogy). And Stephen Tenorio Jr. (Joyce, Hemingway of the Blue Continent?). And Chantal T. Spitz (She proves that poetry can convey a powerful message). And Lehua Parker (I had never thought I’d be interested in the adventures of a teenage boy, but I was!). And… I could go on and on about the writers from the South Seas. All outstandingly talented, most virtually unknown.

But if there is one author and one book that truly touched my heart, it’s Sieni A.M. and her ‘Scar Of The Bamboo Leaf’. This is such a superb novel, that it’s impossible to simply describe it, as no amount of words could ever truly show its beauty.

The (love) story of two young people, both physically or emotionally ‘flawed’ (I hate this word!), is technically aimed at young adults. However, it should be read by all – regardless of age, sex, social status, etc. At this moment you are probably wondering why. Let me explain.

Sieni A.M. created a moving narrative and filled it with extraordinary, extremely believable characters. Especially Kiva, the heroine of the book, is someone we should look up to. By modern standards, the girl is not perfect. Her visible limp makes her less worthy. She gets laughed at; she gets called names; she gets bullied. Just because she doesn’t meet the standards of beauty. What is beauty anyway? Well… Beauty is Kiva. A girl so strong, so understanding, so compassionate that you can’t help but be amazed at her fortitude. She proves that nothing can break you unless you let it. That you are not ‘without your strengths’, even if you ‘have flaws and insecurities’. That each and every one of us ‘belongs to something greater than our physical body and the physical world around us’. That if we can ‘walk, crawl, or limp toward our dreams, it is enough’.

How often do we forget about this? How often do we ask for more than we already have? How often do we treat ‘people like Kiva’ with not enough respect? ‘Scar Of The Bamboo Leaf’ is a wonderful reminder of what’s really important in life. It lets us understand that if we are good people, we are all perfect – even if the rest of the world keeps telling us otherwise. The colour of your skin, the structure of your hair, the length of your legs don’t matter. Dream, fulfill your potential, and help others do the same.

I have already read this novel quite a few times and it’s still not enough for me. I know that this book will stay with me till the rest of my life. Because it is beautiful, thought-provoking, inspiring, and moving. Every time I immerse myself in this story, it touches my heart. It gives me hope and encouragement. And it makes me cry (and you must know that I am not an easy crier – quite the contrary).

Such phenomenal piece of literature could have been created only by an enormously talented writer. That’s Sieni A.M. – a truly perfect woman.

A CHAT WITH… JUNE PERKINS

June Perkins is a writer and a poet, who has just published a fantastic collection of poems for children called ‘Magic Fish Dreaming’. This lovely lady took time to answer a few questions regarding her book. If you are curious what she had to say, read on!

june-perkins

Pasifika Tales: ‘Magic Fish Dreaming’ is a collection of poems for children. Why did you write it?

June Perkins: I began writing the poems that became ‘Magic Fish Dreaming’ when my children were young (the youngest was four and eldest eight) and we lived in Far North Queensland.

I started a community arts project called ‘Ripple’, combining poetry and photography for National Poetry week and ran workshops to encourage people of all ages to write and recite poems for poetry week.  This was funded by a regional art development fund grant from my local council.  Many of the workshops were with children in schools, and as I prepared them I realized there weren’t that many poems reflecting the lives of the children I was visiting, so I began to write some especially for them and often with them. I loved these school visits and the germ of an idea for a place based poetry book that children of Far North Queensland would see themselves represented in was born, even though I didn’t realize it at first.

Every now and then I had a poem published in a regional anthology, the title poem of the book was accepted into an anthology of Queensland Writers. I began and maintained a blog called ‘Ripple Poetry’.

I worked on the text for the book for over eight years, but it was the move to Brisbane, Queensland, away from Tully, Far North Queensland, and back into a city environment, as well as missing our old home’s more natural environment, that motivated me to finish this project as a tribute to our old home and our life and community there.

PT: Is this book only for children?

JP: The book is by no means only for children, and nor is it for children of a specific age. I wanted a book that parents, grandparents and teachers could enjoy as much as their children, and perhaps read it at another level. I dearly wanted to create a book children could grow up with, and gain more understanding of some poems over time by revisiting them.

Some of the poems are for readers to perform together, and this can be people of any age who like dialogue or participatory poems. I came across a lot of these when preparing my workshops for schools and was also influenced by Owen Allen, a poet from the Tablelands. He creates sound scape poems with the noises of the rainforest as a backdrop provided by the audience and they are just amazing.

I liked the idea of making poetry more accessible to people who might have lost their love of it through the magic of a picture book format.

PT: It’s not a secret that children are a very demanding audience. Weren’t you scared that the book might not suit their tastes?

JP: I like, not fear the fact, that children are so honest with their feedback. But I think for anyone to face a fear of writing for children, I think you just take your poems or stories to children whilst you are writing them, and listen to them and immerse yourself in their imaginative way of seeing the world.  As well as being a mum, I did a bit of teacher aiding whilst living in Far North Queensland and that gave me confidence that I was on the right track with the poems. I ran a creativity lunch time club that was a lot of fun, and we went questing for stories and poems.

I was lucky to find an editor, Matilda Elliot, who worked in early childhood at various points during her career, and she strongly believed these poems would work with children.  We would talk about which poems to include and which to leave out. Yes, there were many more poems than those that made the final cut. Some poems I included underwent several edits until I was completely happy with them and felt they would have a lovely almost musical beat for children to respond to.

We looked at taking children on a journey through the poems, so that although each poem was distinct, the poems could be arranged in a sequence that made you interested and intrigued. Helene Magisson, the illustrator, added the dimension of an illustration that would open a door into the poems that might be a little more demanding. When she came on board the project I just knew in my bones it was going to work. You can read more about the collaboration with Helene here.

And then, to top it all off, was the work our designer Heidi Den Ronden did, who got the text to do things I could never have thought of, so you can see her skills at work as well. She visually transformed text to be playful for children. You can find out more about Heidi here.

I had a chance to test this out further at an event in Brisbane called the Big Draw, where illustrators and writers share their work with the public. The response of the children to the three poems I chose to read them was really intriguing. They checked out the illustrations closely and loved the detail and humour in the words, and the art.

PT: What makes this book special?

JP: I think two major things – its setting in Far North Queensland and that the poems and art are in equal balance, without one being more or less important than the other. It is a sincere collaboration with an illustrator who adds an extra dimension to the work with her interpretation of the poems through her illustration.

Although I have written poetry for a very long time I never expected my first solo book to be a fully illustrated children’s book. And yet as it unfolded it felt like a special book I was meant to write.

PT: Could you share what the poems are about?

JP: When I read a poem aloud in public, I tend to give it very little introduction and let a poem speak for itself, although with this book the illustrator also plays a vital role.

I might ask: Have you lived in Far North Queensland?  Do you know what a cassowary is? Have you ever seen a Ulysses butterfly? Have you ever been on a fishing trip with your family and there was someone that just wouldn’t stop making noise? With this book I can also show them in the illustration what it is so they can have a picture to help them if their answer is ‘no’.  I like to ask people, especially children and youth, what they think it means and see what their interpretation is.

The key to understanding these poems is that they work at a literal level, and tell a story, about children on a hot day in classroom, or a mother bird waiting for father bird to return home, or the magic that might be possible if a fairy’s tooth was discovered and could grant wishes.

They have another level where they explore questions like what can a teacher do with a restless classroom to help children learn, what will happen to a tree if too many people visit it as a tourist attraction, and what lies beyond this life – after the caterpillar becomes a butterfly and then all too quickly disappears. The poems don’t necessarily give an answer to the questions they pose, but they invite the reader to think, imagine, explore, and discover.

PT: That is certainly true that every person can interpret the same poem differently. But is there a message that you – as the author of the book – wanted to convey?

JP: I don’t think I intentionally set out with a specific message, but I do care about trees, plants, people, and that probably comes across in the poems.

I’d love there to be more respect and understanding of the diversity of the people in Australia and the world; so it was important to me that the illustrator also respected that diversity and could show it with sensitivity. I think Helene captured the diversity of Australia, so children of many backgrounds can see themselves on the poetry quest of this book.

I love poetry and creativity, and feel that in life we can find poetry and beauty almost everywhere if we look for it and find where it is hiding.  A poet and an artist can then bring it into focus and make it dance. That might be something that is embedded in the poems, now that I think about it.

PT: There’s a lot about nature. Was it your aim to make nature ‘fun’ for kids? Or to teach them that it’s important to respect the environment?

JP: I think both. I wrote about nature a lot because I felt so connected to it when living in Far North Queensland, and I never wanted to forget that feeling of connection.

Nature in that space seemed to me like a beautiful gallery of art, just appearing before me and my children when we went on walks in the rainforest, at the beach, or through the fields of cane.

‘Hunting For A Poem’ was inspired by going for a nature walk with an artist and carer for the environment, who was to become a very good friend. She would take children for nature walks and also teach them about art. My daughter got to know her and went to art workshops with her. I think nature is not only fun but can inspire art and creativity.

PT: Now, your book was published thanks to crowdfunding. Do you think this is a good option for authors?

JP: I think if you have a vision of a very specific book that you don’t think a publisher would want to take a risk on, but you think the world needs your book, go for it. But be prepared for the roller coaster ride it will be.  Do make sure you find out a lot about the publishing process, and gather a professional team with a designer, editor, and if you need them illustrator.

It helps if you have a lot of support for your project through the community for which you are creating and do a lot of linking and networking prior to going for it. This increases your chance of success and helps you to gauge the potential response of the audience for the work you are creating. You are crowd funding, so you need a crowd to respond.

PT: What advice would you give to those writers who consider crowdfunding?

JP: I wrote a whole article on this you can find at the Queensland Writer’s Centre here.

My main advice would be to prepare well, prepare your product well, make a good video, and have a realistic timeline for your project. Do lots and lots of preparation. It might be a good idea to do some Kickstarter training courses. I did one with the Children’s Book Academy, and my mentor for this course was a brilliant support in the lead up to and during my Kickstarter.

You can learn a lot from studying crowd funding efforts of others in your genre and think about what made their project successful – this really helps a lot.

PT: Do you have plans to write more?

Whilst crowd funding my book, I applied for and won a mentorship with the Australian Society of Authors to work on picture book manuscripts that I had also been writing since moving to Brisbane. I had had some of these critiqued by Write Links,  a group that is especially there to develop the craft and opportunities for authors for children and young adults, prior to this application. They were big supporters of my crowd funding efforts.

Whilst I pack my crowd funded book I have been working on several picture books and next step is to send these to traditional publishers, and also think about if any of them might be a more crowd funded project. I am open to working independently or with a publisher.

Publishing requires a lot of work and sometimes takes too much time away from my actual writing. It would be lovely to have the support of a publishing company, although doing my own project has given me a lot of confidence.

It was a special moment to have my writing mentor attend the launch of ‘Magic Fish Dreaming’ and say that I had many more gems to share that we had been working on.

One of my friends from Write Links spoke at the launch about how proud and happy they were to have been involved in the journey of the book. This meant a great deal to have the respect of peers, many of them traditionally published and some independent publishers, but most of all I enjoyed receiving my  first fan message from a nine year old reader, passed on by her mother, just a few days after the launch.

Dear June,

I enjoyed ‘Magic Fish Dreaming’ A-L-O-T. I really enjoyed ‘Brahminy Bravery.’ Where do you get your ideas from? Where did you learn the stories in your poems?

Thank you

Sharada

‘MAGIC FISH DREAMING’ BY JUNE PERKINS

‘Magic Fish Dreaming’ is a collection of poems for children written by June Perkins and illustrated by Helene Magisson.

magic-fish-dreaming

Summary

In the northern part of Queensland there’s a world full of magic. Far away from bustling cities, Mother Nature spreads her wings.

Under the starry skies, shady pools hum with life. Age-old trees stand tall with pride in the rays of the hot Australian sun. Cassowaries search for food, geckos show their dancing moves, tawny owl hunts for bugs, while crocodiles hide under the lily pads.

Review

A poetry book for children is always a risky business. Unless it’s a simple rhyming poem, an author can never be sure if a certain piece will be to a child’s liking. Now, ‘simple’ is definitely not a word with which you could describe June Perkin’s collection. And yet she can be certain that little ones will read it with great interest.

When it comes to children literature there is one rule authors have to have in mind, and that’s visual attractiveness. A book must be visually appealing in order to immediately capture a child’s attention. Only then will he or she want to reach for it. Children, especially the younger ones, look for the abundance of colours, fascinating characters, and pictures that will ‘show’ the story they are about to read. In this regard ‘Magic Fish Dreaming’ gets a perfect ten. The illustrations, which were created by Helene Magisson, could not be any more pleasing. They stir the imagination, enhancing children’s understanding of the poems. Ms Magisson managed to convey North Queensland’s enchanting atmosphere so well that anyone – regardless of age – will want to visit the place to see all the things mentioned in the book. Well, we all know that a picture is worth a thousand words. That is certainly true.

While the drawings may make children squeal with delight, the poems might not necessarily trigger the same reaction. Although written especially for children, they are not kids’ stuff. A younger child will probably have troubles deciphering the real meaning of the verses, which can make the reading process a little less enjoyable. Despite the inclusion of sound words – usually adored by children – and different rhymes, the collection may not appear as fun as others. The poems are rather baffling, so some clarification might be needed. Of course, that doesn’t mean the book is unsuitable for six- or seven-year-olds. Quite the contrary actually. A challenging book enables children to grow up with it; to come back to particular poems and discover them anew.

The theme of ‘Magic Fish Dreaming’ revolves around nature, which gives youngsters a wonderful opportunity to wrap their minds around this topic. It is the responsibility of every adult person to show children the importance of the natural world, as well as explain to them some of the issues connected with it. And this is exactly what June Perkins has been trying to do. Every page, every poem in her book manifests the significance of flora and fauna. In a playful way she encourages people (not only those under the age of 12) to respect the environment, to value the ancient wisdom, and think about what the future may bring. And – I’m sure you’ll agree with me on this one – who can be a better teacher than a gecko, cassowary, or a singing bird?

If you’re looking for a perfect gift for your child, look no more. This beautiful book will stay with your family for a very long time, giving you a chance to have a completely different reading experience every time you’ll have it in your hands. I do recommend it for young and old alike.

‘WHERE WE ONCE BELONGED’ BY SIA FIGIEL

‘Where We Once Belonged’ is Sia Figiel’s debut novel. This coming-of-age story of a Samoan girl won the 1997 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for The Best First Book in the Southeast Asia and South Pacific Region.

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Summary

Alofa Filiga is a typical teenager who tries to navigate her way through the transition from being a girl to becoming a woman. Together with her friends she explores the new and exciting world of adulthood while gossiping about boys, love, lust, and all the things that grown-ups do.

Although for Alofa life is never boring, it isn’t always as good as she would want it to be. She quickly discovers that the bumpy road of adolescence gets even bumpier when one lives in a place where two cultures collide. Reconciling tradition with modernity seems to be virtually impossible, especially for a young and naïve girl succumbed to the will of other people.

Review

The first sentence of this novel is about a woman’s vagina. Pacific authors hardly ever write about vaginas. This shows, right off the bat, how brave Sia Figiel is. And you already know that the book you’re holding in your hands is going to be groundbreaking.

When you think about coming-of-age titles about Samoa, or Pacific Islands in general, you probably have this instant thought coming to your mind: Margaret Mead. Her study of the Samoan youth is indeed an anthropological classic. But, let’s be honest here, what can a white woman from some faraway country know about living and growing up in Polynesia? Is she really more knowledgeable than someone from within that culture? I dare to say she isn’t. Sia Figiel, on the contrary, provides readers with the first-hand account. Having been brought up in the Samoan Archipelago, she demonstrates competence as well as thorough understanding of what she is writing about.

The substance of her novel might be quite shocking to some people, especially those not familiar with Pacific cultures. The author’s honesty in describing Samoans’ attitudes towards sex, relationships, love, and human body seems almost too brutal to believe. The myth of promiscuity and sexual freedom that Margaret Mead established in her book gets debunked. Sia Figiel unravels a completely different reality, in which a girl is beaten up for having a dirty magazine in her bag; in which absolute obedience to parents and other family members is a fact of life; in which punishment for…for what really?…is as sure as the sun rises every morning. ‘People see surfaces only, and that’s all’. These wise words from the first chapter steer readers in the right direction. Appearances can be deceptive, but there is no doubt what the life of a Samoan teenager is really like. Each and every page shows very clearly that adolescents are free only if nobody’s watching. The problem is that in such close-knit communities there’s always someone watching.

Much of the book’s power and plausibility lies in its characters: strong, intriguing, complex. They are a mixed bag of different personalities – some of whom you adore, some of whom you hate. If you analyse closely, you can notice that they represent typical Samoan traits: conformity; abasement; dominance; humbleness; kindness; attachment to tradition. Despite their apparent similarities, they couldn’t be less alike. The story lays bare a striking generation gap between older and younger Islanders – the former treat their culture as immutable; the latter try to reconcile ancestral values with the pleasures of modernity. And it seems that this silent battle can have only one winner. In Samoa, triumph comes with age.

Sia Figiel’s exposure of growing up in Pasifika is written in the most impressive way possible. The style, the rhythm, the pace make the words flow like the ocean waves. The novel has virtually no action, yet it doesn’t fail to engage the reader. This is largely the result of vivid descriptions, which let you find yourself in the middle of a buzzling market, at a girly meetup gossiping about boys, or in Mr Brown’s house looking at the box of Cornflakes (which supposedly make palagi people happy). And although you may feel that the atmosphere is a bit heavy, the occasional bouts of humour bring a wonderful (and much-needed) sense of playfulness. These are the tropics, after all. Dark clouds might cover the sky, but the rays of light are still there.

‘Where We Once Belonged’ is a big surprise. This delightful collection of vignettes shows a place trapped between the past and the present. A place where ‘we’ means ‘I’ and ‘I’ simply doesn’t exist; where some should be seen and not heard. This is Samoa far from paradise. Real, unembellished, alluring. So, are you interested in paying a visit?

A CHAT WITH… PAULA QUINENE

Paula Quinene has been known for writing about…food; Chamorro food to be more precise. Her two cookbooks will definitely make your mouth water, but her debut novel – an erotic historical romance entitled ‘Conquered’ – will leave your mouth wide open. Interested to know more? Just read the interview.

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Pasifika Tales: Up until now you were focused on Chamorro recipes cookbooks. What inspired you to write a novel?

Paula Quinene: I was in the midst of working on my two Guam cookbooks. The first was a pure cookbook, the second was a cookbook and memoir book. The idea for the novel was to combine food, memories, and history. I was so mahȧlang, or homesick, that it seemed like the natural progression in my string of Guam books.

PT: The story is set in 1940s. Was it your idea right from the beginning? Why didn’t you choose a contemporary setting?

PQ: Yes, it was my idea from the start. Guam’s liberation is so important to the Chamorros, the natives of Guam and the Mariana Islands. Our liberation from the Japanese by the Americans during WWII has been celebrated on Guam and around the world for decades. When most folks think of WWII in the Pacific, they think Pearl Harbor. I felt it was important to share that after Pearl Harbor was bombed, the Japanese bombed and occupied Guam for almost three years.

PT: How did you come up with the plot?

PQ: During one of my visits to Guam, I spent some time at my sister-in-law’s house. Her backyard was so beautiful. It was the inspiration for the main setting in ‘Conquered’. I had to find a military unit that came as close to that area of Guam so that he would somehow bump into my heroine. The main plot revolves around the movement of that particular unit. For the subplots, I wanted gut-wrenching, emotional scenes to develop the romance, the sex, and to showcase the Chamorro culture.

PT: Do you think that your book may help get readers interested in Guam’s history?

PQ: The short excerpt I had sent to my then potential editor, Stacey Donovan, definitely got her interested. Those who don’t know much about Guam will learn a ton. Some Chamorros reading the novel will have a handful of ‘aha’ moments. History buffs may be motivated to dig further into Guam’s past as there are references to both the Spanish and American colonization’s before WWII.

PT: ‘Conquered’ is not only a purely historical novel; it is actually an erotic historical romance. I’d say it’s a bold combination. Do you agree?

PQ: Yes. My senior paper in high school was ‘Conformity vs Non-Conformity’, and I was all for being a non-conformist. I believe in pushing the limits, in go big or go home, as long as no one gets hurt.

PT: Why did you decide to venture into the erotic romance genre?

PQ: The romance novels I read as a teen and young adult just didn’t have enough erotic scenes, but they were always loving and romantic. Besides, by the time of ‘Conquered’s publication, it was a plus that explicit books were more acceptable. Sex was so taboo for adults to talk about while I was growing up. Even the loving, romantic kind. Coming from a very cultural and Catholic background, I wanted to say, ‘Hey, sex can be full of love, fun, and pleasure. It will enhance a marriage if you are open and accepting of mutually acceptable activities.’

PT: Was it difficult to handle the erotic scenes without crossing the line of good taste?

PQ: Initially, I used too many somewhat lewd words for that time period. I took my editor’s advice and changed the words. The sex scenes in romance novels I read in the past were in very good taste. I don’t remember the details of such scenes, but I remember words like womanhood and manhood.

PT: Do you plan to further explore the world of literary fiction? Is there a new novel on the horizon?

PQ: Literary fiction? No. I’ve been on the fence with another erotic romance novel since 2014, working on it a tiny, tiny bit here and there. It will bring Guam’s history into a more recent decade, but will be a while before the story is ready for an editor. The heroine of my novel-in-the-works is the granddaughter of the heroine in ‘Conquered’.

PT: Now, because you are an expert when it comes to Chamorro cuisine, would you mind sharing your favourite Chamorro recipe?

PQ: I love a lot of Chamorro food, but boñelos aga’ is my favorite because I can remember it from forever ago as a child. It’s also something my mom taught me how to make, scooping the batter with my hand and dropping it into the oil between my thumb and index finger. My life is so grounded because of the culture and traditions I was brought up in, much of which was family life around food. My kids love this dessert, and it’s something they can pass on to their children.

Boñelos Aga’ [Banana doughnuts]

This will yield a small batch of boñelos, which should be quite soft even after it has completely cooled. Making boñelos aga requires minimal adjustments to the dough depending on how much water is in the bananas. Do not add more flour than listed.

Makes about 40 doughnuts.

INGREDIENTS

SET 1

3 cups overripe, smashed bananas (previously frozen and thawed to room temperature is best)

1 cup sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

SET 2

2½ cups flour (¼ cup more may be needed)

2 teaspoons baking powder

SET 3

Vegetable oil for deep frying

Tools: large pot, ladle with holes, medium bowl, colander, napkins, long butter knife

DIRECTIONS

Fill the large pot halfway with oil. Heat the oil on medium heat.

While it’s heating, combine the smashed bananas, sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl.

Add 2½ cups flour and baking powder. Mix thoroughly.

Depending on the ripeness of the bananas or if they were previously frozen, you may or may not need the remaining ¼ cup of flour.

Check the thickness of the ‘cake mix-like’ batter. The batter should be a bit thicker than cake mix, but not at all like bread dough. Take a scoop in your hand. Drop it into the rest of the mixture. The scoop should retain some of its shape without completely blending into the mix. It will flatten out, but you should be able to see the outline.

If you are not sure, leave out the extra flour for now.

Test your ‘batter dropping’ technique. Scoop a small amount of batter into the palm of your dominant hand. Make a circle with your thumb and fingers. Turn your ‘circled fingers’ to drop some batter back into the bowl. This takes a little bit of practice. If you can squeeze the batter out and let the trail of batter fall onto itself in the oil, your doughnuts have a good chance of turning out round. If not, and the boñelos has a tail, more crunchy parts to eat! You can always use two small spoons, or a small cookie-dough scoop.

When the oil is hot, drop about a teaspoon of batter into the oil. The dough should turn into a puffy ball. The batter may fall to the bottom of the pot, but rises as it cooks. It will only stay at the bottom a few seconds. If it sits longer, the oil is not hot enough. Use a butter knife to tease the doughnut from the bottom of the pot, and discard. Wait five minutes for the oil to continue to heat.

Test a bigger doughnut. Scoop enough batter in your hand to form one doughnut. Position your hand about an inch above the surface of the oil then squeeze the batter through your thumb and fingers. If the batter falls to the bottom of the pot, let it cook for two minutes. If it doesn’t rise after two minutes, nudge it free with a long utensil.

The oil should be hot enough to cook the center of the boñelos and brown the outside of the doughnut within 15 minutes.

Cool the larger test doughnut on a napkin. Open the doughnut and check to see if it is cooked. Check carefully as there will be chunks of banana in the boñelos. If in doubt whether there is enough flour, go ahead and add the remaining ¼ cup of flour. Mix this very well.

Continue to squeeze batter into the oil without overcrowding the pot. The entire first batch of doughnuts may need nudging from the bottom of the pot.

The doughnuts in the remaining batches should float to the surface of the oil on their own.

Drain doughnuts in a colander then transfer to a napkin-lined dish.