Tag Archives: Pacific Literature

A CHAT WITH… DAVID STRINGER

David Stringer is a) a very talented writer and b) an all-around nice guy. His novel, ‘Islands of the Heart’, was published in 2012. Don’t be surprised if one day you see a movie based on the story, as he is now working hard to finish a screenplay adaptation of the book. Wanna know more about David? Read on!

DAVID STRINGER

Pasifika Tales: If you were to describe your book, make a short summary for the readers, what would you say?

David Stringer: Essentially Islands is a story of people, a family, with secrets — some are hiding what they have done, others what has happened to them. So it’s how they deal with these, how it affects their lives and eventually, how the victims forgive those who hurt them. Perhaps more importantly it’s about how people can come to forgive themselves. And it happens to be set in Samoa and New Zealand with Pacific Island and Maori characters, so I guess it also kind of explores what it might be like to be PI / Maori in modern New Zealand.  Along the way it also tells the story of a violent man who comes to understand that his violence is the cause of all his problems rather than the solution.

PT: How did the book come into being? Who or what was your inspiration?

DS: Way back in 2004 my wife and I went through a sad time when our daughter and grandson left to live permanently in Australia. They had lived with us for nearly two years and he had become almost like another son to us, so close. I have always been a writer by nature so I decided to write my way through the pain. As a story idea, I had once been friends in my youth with a half-Samoan guy whom I admired because he was completely fearless. I had once seen him see off a motorbike gang singlehandedly. It kind of intrigued me — what would it be like to be so strong (and violent) that you basically had to fear no-one? Every male’s dream perhaps, but does it come with a cost?  Is there a price to pay at the end?  And so WOLF was born and I knocked out a few chapters (30,000 words) and sent them to a reviewer in the UK, Robin Lloyd-Jones (a Tutor in Creative Writing at Glasgow Uni and also Booker Prize nominee). Robin liked Islands and became both a mentor and editor. It was he who eventually suggested that the real theme of Islands was actually “Forgiveness”  rather than simply the effect of violence on people’s lives. A light bulb went on in my head and I re-wrote the book to reflect this theme, which I saw was indeed closer to what I was trying to say.

My wife and I moved to Australia ourselves in 2008 and I was overjoyed to be selected in a group of 16 writers by the Gold Coast Council to be mentored into completing our novels. Duly on the last day of 2009 I typed “The End”. My group all did critiques which were like gold, and I consequently re-wrote substantial parts of the 120,000 word manuscript. After some years of disappointment trying to get a publisher (even an agent was impossible — there are about 4 listed on the internet in NZ and one of these was dead!!), I published Islands myself in 2012.

PT: The story doesn’t revolve around one character only. There are quite a few of them. Care to share which were most difficult/fun to write?

DS: Well, Wolf was based on that fearless warrior of my youth, Karl, but as he was mixed-race, as is Wolf, I also was inspired in part by my own son who is half Samoan. He too is a tough cookie who served in the NZ Army in Timor. He can be seen in the end of the promotional video for Islands on my website: www.islandsoftheheart.wordpress.com. He provides the deeper more introspective side to Wolf. I would say that Wolf is the most complex character who completes the greatest character arc, so the novel is probably most about him.

PEPE, Wolf’s mother, just rose up fully formed in my mind. I guess she is just everything I intuitively feel a mature woman should be — not perfect,  yet shining with this deep innate wisdom and love, and able to endure all the pain and suffering of this world in her being. She is the character I feel I “know” the best, even though she is female.

PASIFIKA would be my favourite character. He too is not based on anyone I know but there is more than a hint of NZ’s greatest ever comedian, Billy T James,  in his irreverent yet childlike nature.  Fika is a naïf, a Samoan Peter Pan, who remains in awe of the world as he sees it. He was also the favourite character of all my writing group friends. He was most fun to write, usually cracking me up with his remarks.

STEVEN, Wolf’s father, was difficult to write. A deeply conflicted man desperate to come to terms with both his ageing and his sins. Highly intelligent yet torn with the feeling he is a loser, and worse, that he deserves to be living in this deep dark hell. He is crucial to the story but I found him painful to create.

TANIA, Wolf’s partner, is Pepe in her younger days. She already has Pepe’s depth of feeling and wisdom, but she’s a lot more feisty — a Maori warrior-woman who backs down to no-one and is more than a match for Wolf.

LIN, Wolf’s sister / cousin, is however the character I am in love with. She is a woman as ethereally beautiful and mysteriously female as Wolf is brutally manly; and she has paid a terrible price for being so desirable to men. Although we don’t see a lot of her, she is pivotal to almost every major part of the story structure, and there was no way I wasn’t going to end the whole novel with her. I fantasize about adapting Islands to the screen, and the last, haunting scene is Lin’s.

PT: Many characters means many storylines. Was it difficult to weave them all into one coherent narrative?

DS: Well thank you for saying the narrative was coherent!!  I do fear others may be less kind as it IS a seriously complex set of storylines. I felt I needed them all to fully develop the reader’s relationship to each character. I felt that without this, the reader wouldn’t be able to buy into the whole theme of forgiveness as it is developed in the novel. However it means four POV (point-of-view) characters which is definitely stretching things a bit. However I felt I knew and loved my characters enough to be comfortable in their skins whenever I had to change POV’s.  I guess the readers will be the final judges on that.  To be truthful I didn’t really find the novel that difficult to write — the scenes just formed in my mind like watching a movie, complete with action and dialogue, and my job was simply to put it all down on paper using the right words. I did however have to expend time and energy co-ordinating dates, times and places!! The novel is structured so that we get to know the characters most deeply in Part One, then as it goes into Part Two (the descent into the Night-World, or World of Trials, to follow standard mythology), it all picks up pace and tension and so is more plot-driven.

PT: Although the novel is a family saga of sorts, you touched on a lot of different topics: from politics to multiculturalism to everyday problems people face. Why did you decide to create such a complex plot?

DS: Well as I said before, it began as a quite simple idea but quickly became complex as I found the characters had darker sides and histories. To a large extent, as the creator, you do know what your beginning and ending are, but you have to navigate this maze of pathways which connects the two. At the end of the day, I found I simply couldn’t tell Wolf’s story without also telling Tania’s, Steven’s and Pepe’s at the very least. And then there are Lin and Fika who are not POV characters but are so pivotal to the plot and themes they have to be drawn with some depth. As for the politics etc., well I always wanted to write a NEW ZEALAND novel. When I was about 16 my English teacher gave me a copy of “Man Alone” probably the most iconic NZ novel. I adored it. I revered it. I always wanted to write a NZ novel that could stand up there alongside of it. Hence it has material germane only to NZ and NZ readers in some parts. This can be a weakness too sadly, as I found that the literary world doesn’t really have too much interest in NZ. The huge USA market for instance is self-obsessed to an almost “Trumpian” degree and even in Australia, you are starting with a handicap if you are touting a book set in Wanaka rather than the baked outback.

PT: ‘Islands of the Heart’ – what does this title mean?

DS: It’s simply a double entendre: New Zealand and Samoa are such beautiful islands that they become a part of your heart once you have experienced them; and the people we love are also living in our hearts, yet they can become isolated and lonely, like islands, if we don’t cherish them enough.

PT: This book is your first novel. Do you have any plans to write more?

DS: Actually this is not my first novel — I wrote one in 1978 about which the least said the better. As for another? I truly cannot say. Writing Islands was probably the hardest and yet most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life, and it’s tempting to say, “Hey, why not do it all again?” But to be truthful, the chances of getting published are very, very slim and it hurts deeply, very deeply, to labour so over your creation only to see it condemned to some kind of literary black hole where nothing, not even light escapes. There’s not a day goes by that I don’t feel pain over how much I love Islands and the way it has simply sunk into oblivion, and I really don’t have any desire right now to repeat that. I’ll give you an example. I entered Islands into the NZ Post Book Awards in 2013 I think it was. TV 3 ‘s John Campbell was the chief judge. I duly packaged up all six books requested and sent them plus my $150 entry fee. I never heard one word back. Not even an e-mail saying Hey thanks, we got your book but it sucks. Nothing. That Black Hole again!! I sent John a letter letting him know what I thought of the way they encouraged NZ writers…but he ignored that too.  To this day I do not know where those six books are!!  Into the Black Hole I reckon. It’s around then I decided, No this is just too hard — nobody really gives a damn, no-one is interested.

I have written short stories published in anthologies and an essay I wrote got in the top 20 out of 200+ in Australia’s premier international Essay competition, The Calibre Prize, which I’m quite proud of. They can be read on my website mentioned above. There is also a Facebook page for Islands with some more reviews and recommendations etc.   As I said, I fantasize about Islands being made into a movie — I am sure that in the hands of the right director a really powerful NZ movie could be made. I began work on this last year and the first 10 pages of script can be seen on the above website. I’d like to complete it one day but I think I need some encouragement and even that’s not readily forthcoming. Last year the NZ Screenwriters’ Guild ran a competition for new screenwriters called “Seed Grants” where you qualified if you had written a major work of any kind, including a novel — so I qualified, and I sent my script ideas in but didn’t get selected. Fair enough, I can hack that, but now this year they have changed the entry requirements so that only people who have a major screenwriting or related media project (TV etc), to their name may enter — so that excludes me.

PT: Which Pacific writers do you admire?

DS: A rather curly question for me, this. You see I have never identified as a Pacific writer until the Tusitala competition and finding your wonderful website. I simply considered myself a NZ writer. I must admit it’s a rather romantic idea though isn’t it, to identify with the magnificent Pacific, which is such a strong motif throughout my novel too, by the way.

I have read Albert Wendt’s “Sons for the Return Home” (and loved the movie), and also “The Mango’s Kiss”.  Do you know that the two main characters in this latter book are Peleiupu and Tavita — the names of my wife and me!!! And the characters eloped, just as we did hahahaha, and it’s set in Savaii — the same as my own novel. I’d love to be able to tell Albert about that.  I have become more aware of Pacific writers thanks to the above influences I mentioned and I particularly enjoyed the short stories in “Our Heritage — The Ocean”.  Two stood out for me — Moana Leilua’s “In Masina’s Shoes”, which gave me a good laugh, and the quiet horror of Kelera Tuvou’s “Box of Broken Tunes” really moved me.

If the opportunity arises again to create something “Pacific”, I will grab it with both hands, because thanks to you and The Samoan Observer, I really do feel like a Pacific writer now. And many thanks for that.

The interview is presented without edits.

‘ISLANDS OF THE HEART’ BY DAVID STRINGER

‘Islands of the Heart’ is a novel penned by David Stringer. It tells the story of a family whose members desperately try to come to terms with their past.

ISLANDS OF THE HEART

Summary

For Wolf, an ex-soldier, life has always been simple – when faced with a trouble, it’s best to settle it with your fists. But when his murky past catches up with him, fists no longer seem useful. Wolf knows he needs to leave to sort out his personal issues.

Wolf’s girlfriend, Tania, disappointed with her man’s departure, struggles with problems of her own. Wanting to uncover Wolf’s secrets as well as understand her own life, she decides to return to her childhood home.

A difficult past also haunts Steven, Wolf’s father, who can’t forgive himself sins he committed and Pepe, the soldier’s mother, who escaped to her native Samoa to find solace and peace.

Review

This novel is not an easy read. If you think you can take it and spend a relaxing afternoon immersing yourself in a pleasant world of exotic New Zealand and Samoa, I can tell you right away that this is not the case here. For this book is disturbing; profoundly disturbing. So unless you are ready for a bit of shock, foul language, and general ‘rawness’, leave it.

Having mentioned that, I should also mention that this is probably one of the best stories I have ever read. It is unbelievably complex, with twists and turns you couldn’t predict even if you were a master Jedi. The narrative doesn’t go from A to B in a straight (and usually boring) line. There are bends and curves, there is the unexpectedness of what’s going to happen next. Every few pages you get hit with yet another surprise. And, let me assure you, these surprises don’t stop until you reach the very end of the very last chapter.

The story is supported by a group of well-crafted characters. They are a mixed bag of personalities, whom you’ll either adore and admire or simply hate and despise. I would even risk a statement here that in them lies the key strength of this novel. Why? Because they are plausible; neither good nor bad. They have virtues and flaws. They have dreams and expectations as well as closely-guarded secrets they’re ashamed and scared to share with others. To put it simply, they are exactly like us.

Now, great characters alone are not enough to drive the plot. They need to interact with one another. David Stringer managed to paint a very real picture of the relationships people build. How they connect. How they depend on each other. How they place confidence in another person and how easily that trust can be lost. The characters in this book seem to be destined to affect each other’s lives. You may think that one wouldn’t exist without the other. And, you know what, that might be true.

Although the book’s main focus is put on people, the author didn’t forget to touch on cultural and political issues, which provide a sort of background for the characters’ personal tales. Wolf and Tania’s relationship is a top-notch portrayal of the ambiguous relations that native Maoris and Pacific Islanders have. David Stringer explores and accentuates the differences between the two ethnic groups, clearly showing that not all Pasifika people feel that they belong to the same family. The myth of loyalty among the Islanders has just got debunked.

‘Islands of the Heart’ is an excellent novel. Closely observed and artfully written, it reaches deeply into the core of the human nature. It won’t put you in a good mood, that’s for sure, but it will make you think. And, quite possibly, appreciate the power of love and forgiveness.

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 world 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.