Tag Archives: Graeme Lay

A CHAT WITH… GRAEME LAY

Graeme Lay is the author of several books set in the South Pacific. Along with ‘The Miss Tutti Frutti Contest’, these include the young adult novel trilogy, ‘Leaving One Foot Island’, ‘Return to One Foot Island’, and ‘The Pearl of One Foot Island’; the non-fiction works ‘The Cook Islands’ and ‘Passages – Journeys in Polynesia’, and the adult novel ‘Temptation Island’. His recent historical novels: ‘The Secret Life of James Cook’ (2013) and ‘James Cook’s New World’ (2014) also feature largely South Pacific settings. Here you can read what he had to say about his beloved Pasifika.

GRAEME LAY

Pasifika Tales: When did you first fall in love with the Pacific Islands?

Graeme Lay: Probably from the moment I first set foot on one. That was New Caledonia, which is not a particularly beautiful island in itself. But the mixture of people – Melanesian, Asian and European – was captivating. I loved the cultural intermingling, too. Racial intermarriage has produced people of distinctive beauty. I had always been keen on French culture, so to see it transplanted to the South Pacific was fascinating. I’ve subsequently seen and relished the same cultural and racial mixture in French Polynesia. Samoa too has a great blend of Polynesian, Palagi and Chinese people.

While researching a book I wrote about the Cook Islands, I went to several islands in that group, which was a great experience. Mauke, for instance, is not visited by many tourists, but is a lovely ‘outer island’. Rarotonga is another favourite island of mine since I first saw it, in 1983. I now have many friends there too, which makes visiting it even more pleasurable.

PT: And where would you like to go? Is there an island you have never been to?

GL: There are lots of islands I still haven’t been to, although I’ve visited a good many. I’d like to see Easter Island – the easternmost point of the Polynesian Triangle. I haven’t yet seen the Hawaiian Islands, but I’m going there in August and greatly looking forward to seeing them. Raivavae, in the Austral Islands, is another island I’ve heard and read lots about. I’d like to go there one day. And also ‘Ua Pou, in the Marquesas.

PT: Do you think you could live in one of the Pacific countries; call it your home?

GL: I suspect not. I’m very much a New Zealander – a fifth generation one – so this is my permanent home. An extended visit to say, Rarotonga or Tahiti, would be lovely, but I could never call them ‘Home’. Some of the appeal of those islands may wear thin if I stayed for an overly long period, I suspect. ‘Familiarity breeds contempt’, as the saying goes.

PT: Let’s focus on your book for a while. ‘The Miss Tutti Frutti Contest’… It’s an interesting title. I assume you didn’t choose it to immortalize the famous fa’afafine pageant. Is this how you perceive the islands? As a delicious mix of fascinating cultures?

GL: Most certainly. We gave the book that title because it’s different and catchy, and the contest itself was unforgettable. The fa’afafine phenomenon had always fascinated me, right throughout Polynesia. Each island group has an equivalent of Samoa’s fa’afafine, and to observe them and meet them is very interesting indeed. When I was working in Apia, one of my colleagues was a fa’afafine, and he was great company. It was Makisi who put me on to the Miss Tutti Frutti Contest.

PT: The book consists of fifteen different stories, but I’m sure you have many more to tell. Do you plan to write a sequel?

GL: I would very much like to. I’ve been to several other islands since I wrote that book, and always I’ve discovered great stories while there. Mangareva in the Gambier Islands and Pitcairn Island were particularly inspiring. Some of the more remote islands of Tonga, too, I found fascinating. There is always much to be inspired by in the islands of Pasifika!

PT: In your opinion, what is the biggest myth about Pasifika?

GL: The fact that people invariably apply the word ‘Paradise’ to the islands. There is no such place as ‘Paradise’ in the sense of a total Utopia. The belief that the islands of Pasifika are Utopian is false. The people there have such serious economic, political and social problems that the word ‘Paradise’ is a misnomer. The islands are alluring yes, beautiful yes. But ‘Paradise’? Definitely not. That’s just a tourism brand, and a misleading one. That’s why New Zealand has such huge Pasifika populations.

PT: If you were to choose the most beautiful island, what would it be?

GL: My favourite island in French Polynesia is Huahine, which is exquisitely beautiful and not over-commercialised. It also has a fascinating history, both Polynesian and European. Some of the finest archeological sites in the whole Pacific are found on Huahine. Captain James Cook knew the island well, and anchored his ships in the lagoon in front of the island’s only town, Fare, several times. I could never tire of sitting on Fare’s waterfront in the evening, sipping a Hinano lager and watching the sun go down over Raiatea, Huahine’s neighbouring island.

‘THE MISS TUTTI FRUTTI CONTEST: TRAVEL TALES OF THE SOUTH PACIFIC’ BY GRAEME LAY

‘The Miss Tutti Frutti Contest: Travel Tales of the South Pacific’ is a compilation of fifteen stories written by Graeme Lay. They are the collected accounts of many journeys the author took during the 1990s and the early 2000s.

THE MISS TUTTI FRUTTI CONTEST

Summary

In the Pacific region life is never dull and Graeme Lay certainly knows it. Travelling from country to country, he discovers the best of what each island has to offer.

In the Cooks, he consumes fiercely alcoholic bush-brewed beer and spends his time in the famous waterfront bars, rubbing shoulders with the locals. He then departs to Samoa, where he retraces the final days of Robert Louis Stevenson and learns quite a bit about the phenomenon of fa’afafine.

In Tonga, his next destination, Graeme is forced to impersonate a Mormon missionary while on Niue he gets a chance to cruise along the coast, attend the village church service, and witness a social gathering on the occasion of the Governor General’s visit.

During the voyages to French Polynesia, he searches for Herman Melville’s valley, uncovers the shocking secrets of Gauguin, finds out how to have a honeymoon, gets to know the connection between television and birth rates, and locates the heart of Tahiti.

Review

If you have ever wanted to find a perfect example of a travel book, search no more – you’ve just found it. This title is the quintessence of the genre; it’s a book that will literally take you to the magical islands of the Blue Continent the moment you start reading its first sentence. I’m not sure if this is the result of Graeme Lay’s extensive knowledge of the Pacific region or his remarkable storytelling skills. It might be both actually.

The stories in the compilation are as varied as the isles of Polynesia. This is probably why the volume shines with so many different colours. Some of the tales are just humorous pieces, written to entertain readers and bring them a little joy and happiness. Others are educational, thought-provoking narratives that not only help you understand the cultures of the South Seas but also let you notice all the distinctions that exist between traditional and modern societies. I must say, this wonderful mix is like a refreshing cocktail made with a bunch of exotic – sometimes unusual but always tasty – ingredients: personal anecdotes, adventure yarns, depictions of faraway places, and interesting ethnological facts. It’s something you could drink, excuse me…read, any day of the week.

The book is beautifully constructed. It’s good old travel writing with a strong focus on characters and places. Vivid portrayals of both people and the tropics will make you long for ‘the paradise’ so badly that you will instantly want to follow in the author’s footsteps; just to sit in a bar, listen to the ocean, and chat with the friendly natives. It cannot be denied that Graeme Lay is a man of enormous talent. Whatever he chooses to describe, he does it in the most engaging way possible.

‘The Miss Tutti Frutti Contest’ is a delicious read. It’s charming, insightful, highly compelling. It’s your ticket to the South Pacific. I can’t imagine you wouldn’t want to set out on this journey.

BEST BOOK SERIES

The Telesa Series by Lani Wendt Young

It is an engaging story of Leila Folger, a young woman from Washington D.C., who comes to Samoa in search of her heritage. As she spends time on the beautiful island, she not only discovers who she really is, but also finds the love of her life.

The series, which is considered Young Adult Paranormal Romance, is suitable for readers of all ages. It is an extremely compelling tale of love, friendship, commitment and devotion, which introduces people to Samoan mythology and the legend of Teine Sa. Every single book of this trilogy is a masterpiece; it’s something you will not regret buying, reading, and rereading over and over again.

The Materena Mahi Series by Celestine Hitiura Vaite

The novels follow Materena Mahi, a young female living in Tahiti. Her seemingly ordinary life is full of surprises and events that constantly turn her little world upside down.

This trilogy is a cultural study of contemporary Tahiti woven into a gripping and written with a great sense of humour story. Celestine Hitiura Vaite created an amazing group of characters, whose trials and tribulations show readers the true value of life and family. These heart-warming novels simply deserve to be read and praised, as they are exceptionally good.

The Niuhi Shark Saga by Lehua Parker

Set in modern Hawaii, the Niuhi Shark Saga is a series of five books that tell the story of Zader, a boy who was found abandoned on a reef and adopted by the Westin family. His life on the island, not an easy one, is full of secrets and mysteries that Zader needs to uncover.

As for now, only two volumes have been published; the third one is due out later this year. This is a wonderful series for children, both boys and girls, but if you ask me, any adult will be more than happy to read it. Lehua Parker did a fantastic job of mixing magic with reality – while reading the books, everyone will be transported to a completely different world of exciting adventures.

The Ancient Tahiti Series by Clare Coleman

It is a story of Tepua, a chief’s daughter, whose canoe is wrecked on the shores of Tahiti. Despite many adversities, despite being a stranger in a foreign land, she learns to live among not always friendly and amiable people. Everything changes when she finally comes back home.

This is an extremely moving and exciting historical trilogy. It takes readers on a wonderful journey to Tahiti, where ancient customs and traditions come to life. It is a truly captivating read. Settings, scenery, characters – everything is just magnificent.

The One Foot Island Trilogy by Graeme Lay

The books tell the story of a teenage girl, Tuaine Takamoa, who leaves her beloved islands to attend school in New Zealand. When she comes back home, she falls in love with Adam, an Australian boy whose parents are not happy with their son’s new relationship.

This is another series for young adults, but, let me tell you, it is a good one! Tuaine is a very believable heroine. The problems and dilemmas she needs to deal with provide readers (both young and old) with interesting insights into the world of teenagers. An alluring titles for adolescents and valuable and educational material for their parents.