The funny business of editing

By PHIL FITZPATRICK – 11 October 2019, Keith Jackson & Friends PNG Attitude

TUMBY BAY – I like reading autobiographies and biographies, especially those relating to writers.

I recently finished reading a biography of Joseph Heller, the American author of several novels, including the famous Catch 22.

In the process I discovered that Heller was influenced by a book written in 1923 by Jároslav Hašek called The Good Soldier Švejk.

During the First World War Hašek was taken prisoner on the Eastern Front and spent several years in Russian prison camps. Upon his return he wrote The Good Soldier Švejk as an inflammatory satire of war.

While Catch 22 is a tightly edited novel The Good Soldier Švejk appears to be much as Hašek wrote it.

Catch 22 runs to about 450 pages while The Good Soldier Švejk runs to over 900 pages. It was written in four volumes and would have been longer if Hašek had not died before finishing it.

Heller’s first draft of Catch 22 also ran to about 900 pages but was whittled back through the editing process.

I enjoyed reading Catch 22 but Hašek’s book is ultimately more satisfying. I suspect this is because when he died his publisher didn’t feel it was wise to over edit too much.

I would dearly love to be able to read Heller’s first draft.

Before Amazon and others used technology to turn publishing on its head there was a well-trodden path for those seeking publication of their work.

In most cases the first step was finding an agent. Agents made the crucial decision about whether a book was commercially viable. If they thought it was they then began to approach suitable publishers to do a deal.

Once the publisher had paid for the right to publish the book they brought in an editor, or team of editors, to tidy the book up so that it became something that people would buy.

Through this whole process the book was changed from a work of art into a commercial commodity. It is the same process that turns peas from the field into cans of peas in the supermarket.

In the process of helping to run The Crocodile Prize and in its many book publishing spin-offs I spent a lot of time editing.

This ultimately involved not only books by Papua New Guinean writers but also books by Australian expatriates who had been in Papua New Guinea.

As I imagine Keith can also attest, editing is hard work.

It can become especially so if you are guided by the principle of presenting the work of an author in a form as close as possible to their original intent rather than as a commercial proposition, which is what we were about.

The idea of the editing then becomes the presentation of a book that is logical in its narrative or order and which obeys, within reason and creative intent, the basic rules of grammar and spelling, and is essentially readable.

Sometimes, when I read the extensive pages of acknowledgements at the end of a book I have just read, including the list of editors, I wonder about the real skill of the writer and whether I have simply read a highly refined commercial commodity.

As I understand it some popular and commercially successful writers employ teams of researchers and even writers. Rather than writing books they simply oversee the production of a commercial product.

It’s something I would like to discuss with Joseph Heller but unfortunately he is no longer with us.

They made a terrible film of Catch 22and now I see that there is a television series “based” on the book. I wonder what further atrocities they have now inflicted on Heller’s original.

Really good books always seem to suffer when films or television series are made that are “based” on them. They tamper with the reader’s imagination and end up leaving a pit in the stomach.

If your intent is to produce a good book rather than a commercial success I would highly recommend that you do it yourself.

Get some help with the basics, such as narrative integrity, grammar and spelling, and basic readability but eschew any attempts to tamper with your work.

Technology now thankfully makes this possible.

I’ve recently re-published three of my older books in their final draft form. They originally went through traditional publishers and their editors and were changed in a number of ways that I didn’t particularly like.

I’m not fussed about whether they sell or not but simply happy to see them in the way they were intended to be read.

Nowadays writing can be a case of art versus the profit motive.

Fresh peas versus canned peas.

Recent Phil Fitzpatrick books

Black Huntress: Seven Spears by Philip Fitzpatrick, Kindle $0.96, Paperback $7.64

Outback Australia in the 1860s. Pastoralism is rapidly expanding into marginal areas and the squatters are pushing hard against the desert nomads. Precious water sources have become a major source of conflict. The squatters are resorting to violence against the nomads and massacres are becoming commonplace. One lone policeman stands between the desert people and the squatters thirst for profit. Then one young girl decides to fight back. With the spears collected from her dead clansmen she sets out for revenge.

The Unusual and Unexpected Case of the Rise and Rise of Inspector Hari Metau as told by his good friend Sergeant Kasari Aru by Philip Fitzpatrick, Kindle $1.00, Paperback $8.18

In the ancient Hiri Motu trading language of the Papuan coast the word ‘metau’ means ‘difficult’. Inspector Hari Metau isn’t so much difficult as he is stubborn and tenacious. He is also disconcertingly honest and ethical. When those sorts of qualities are combined in a policeman who works in a supposedly corrupt Pacific nation is it any wonder that certain people would regard him as difficult?If you have followed some of his more notable cases you might also be wondering how he turned out that way. Inspector Metau would probably have difficulty answering that question but luckily we have his old mentor and good friend, Sergeant Kasari, to enlighten us.

Midnight Blue: Growing Up in Elizabeth in the 1950-60s by Philip Fitzpatrick, Paperback $9.21

Elizabeth was a dream born out of the optimism following the Second World War. The force behind its creation was the need for South Australia to diversify its rural economy coupled with the drive by the Commonwealth of Australia, under its ‘populate or perish’ policy, to bring migrants to the country. The author’s family was one of thousands that took up the offer to migrate to Australia. These families left their homelands carrying only a few precious belongings and a great hope for the future. For some the move was a disappointment but for most it was a new start and they established and built fulfilling lives in their new home. The 1950s and 60s were the golden years for Elizabeth. It was a new and modern city in a healthy climate with space to grow and plenty of work for all. There were struggles and hard times but to be a ten pound Pom living in Tom Playford’s ‘satellite’ city of Elizabeth at that time was something special. This is the sentiment that informs this memoir. Hopefully others will be able to relate to it.

Haven: Harry Flynn’s Final Odyssey by Philip Fitzpatrick, Kindle $0.97, Paperback $10.56

Have you ever felt like just packing it all in and leaving? To hell with it; see you later alligator, I’m out of here. That’s what Harry Flynn felt like; except Harry decided to blow up his politician boss and rob a couple of banks before he left. In Harry’s world being a loser was an honourable profession. Hampered by ragtag bands of feral outlaws and the motley remains of the army he ventures north into the desert seeking some kind of redemption. In a world where the government is both morally and financially bankrupt, where society is on the point of anarchy and where mining barons rule supreme Harry’s chances are limited. Or are they? Tired of voyaging, Ulysses put an oar over his shoulder and walked inland until he found people who didn’t know what he was carrying. For Harry the thing on his shoulder was a great big chip and he didn’t give a damn whether people recognised it or not.

Bamahuta Leaving Papua by Philip Fitzpatrick, Kindle $0.97, Paperback $10.00

First came the kiaps – the patrol officers – they explored the country, established the outposts and introduced the rule of law. The work was often dangerous and the conditions were primitive and the young men attracted to it tended to “walk to the beat of a different drummer”. With dogged perseverance, dedication and a studied understatement they helped bring the emerging nation of Papua New Guinea to independence. Bamahuta recreates the years leading up to independence through the eyes of a young kiap. Philip Fitzpatrick went to Papua New Guinea in 1967 as a Cadet Patrol Officer and left in 1973. This is a book about Australia’s role as a colonial power in Papua New Guinea. Bamahuta means “goodbye” in Motu, the Papuan trade language. It is a poignant farewell made by the many Australians who served there.

Why we need to write – it’s a pathway to success

By SIMON DAVIDSON – 08 June 2019, Keith Jackson & Friends PNG Attitude

SONOMA – We need to write to develop our mind, generate new ideas and clarify our thinking.

Yet the reality is that it’s hard being a writer. Literary work is not jolly work. Literary success comes on the back of hard work and the expenditure of mental energy.

The art, craft and business of writing takes time, focus and significant effort to conjure, organise, visualize, develop characters and stories and then interpret this into the written word that readers will understand and enjoy.

To compound this problem are the myriad shiny distractions that fill our lives. In such a world, it is easy to procrastinate and forgo the ideas that are meant to stir our souls and the world.

But we write anyway, in spite of all this. So why do we need to write?

Firstly to develop our mind, the great asset endowed to us by a benevolent creator. One of the best way to sharpen our mind is by thinking – and writing.

Writing is really thinking on paper. The act of writing forces the mind to think and generate ideas. The mind mints the best ideas and words, and logically organises them so they stream from subterranean depths and race to the conscious mind.

Writing enables the mind to weave its creative magic to craft prose and poetry that can be logical, insightful, elegant and even breathtaking.

In my opinion, thinking and writing represent the highest use of our mental ability to foster creativity and innovation. Writing also sharpens reasoning power and refines the thinking process.

Fine thinking is developed by fine writing. Without well-practiced writing, the best efforts at putting words on paper can be incoherent, illogical and impossible for the reader to understand.

Second, we need to write to generate ideas. Ideas are powerful force to change the world. Not by the force of arms but by the force of ideas can the world be changed.

Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s adage ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’ attests to the power of ideas.

Ideas are potent. The ideas of Karl Marx on socialism changed the world (not always for the better). The ideas of an obscure Galilean recorded by unlearnt fishermen turned the world upside down.

Ideas are influential. They give birth to social change, trigger revolution, lift people to the sunlight uplands or consign society to the nadir of economic disaster

We need to write to spread ideas that change society and make our governments better.

The wind of change leading to the dethronement Peter O’Neill and the election of James Marape was created from the power of ideas whose time had come.

Ideas that weighed heavily against corruption, collusion and cronyism travelled through space and across time and eventually created a tsunami of discontent that replaced an inept and corrupt government.

Ideas dissemiated on social media by a concerned people were largely responsible for this outcome.

Third, we need to write to clarify our thinking. You can cannot really understand the quality of what you are thinking until you write your ideas.

As we write the brain organises our thoughts and we think more clearly and logically. Remez Sasson estimated that the mind thinks between 60,000 – 80,000 thoughts a day. That’s 2,500 – 3,300 thoughts an hour.

Those thoughts could yield a diamond if we took the time to record and organise them. Following a vein of thought could lead to a gem of idea that might lead to poem, a book or a musical masterpiece.

The arts maestro and polymath Michael Angelo was known to keep a notebook of his hunches, impressions and inspirations. American genius Thomas Edison did the same.

If we record our ideas, and we have many ideas, we are on the way to a better place. Perhaps writing a book, inventing a new product, imagining a better system….

So write, and write now. The more we write, the better we write, and eventually we can reach a level of mastery and can make us an expert at the craft of writing.

Want to publish? You can but here’s the truth behind the scenes

Francis Nii – talented writer, wise publisher and a patriot strongly committed to Papua New Guinea and its literature

By FRANCIS NII – 25 March 2019, Keith Jackson & Friends PNG Attitude

KUNDIAWA – I feel that it is important for me to share my experience of book publishing with authors and would-be authors to give them insights into book publication so they can make informed decisions to find the best and cheapest online or other publisher of their choice.

My first publication was my maiden novel ‘Paradise in Peril’ in 2005 with CBS Publishers and Distributors of New Delhi, the same publisher that produced books by Sir Paulias Matane and other Papua New Guinean writers.

I wrote the story on scrap paper and later Lutheran Pastor Daryl Boyd assisted me type it on a rugged old typewriter. When I felt the story was complete, I sent a hard copy by airmail to Governor General Sir Paulias Matane at Government House for his assessment and comment. There was no internet service in Kundiawa at the time.

Some weeks later, I received a letter from CBS in India through the post office. The letter said CBS had received my manuscript and was happy with the narrative and was ready to publish it. Thanks to Sir Paulias.

For a literary work of a first-timer to be accepted for publication by a renowned foreign publisher was quite a feat. I was very happy.

To make a long story short, after a number of letters going to and fro, I got the first lot of hard copies printed and ocean freighted to Lae in 2005 where some boxes had to be traded for customs and storage fees. That was the first and last shipment of ‘Paradise in Peril’ from India.

I never went back to CBS and I never received a soft copy of my published book, even though I asked the publisher for it.

I later learnt that 30 copies of ‘Paradise in Peril’ had gone to the humanity studies department of the Divine Word University in Madang and one stationery store in Port Moresby was selling the book. In both cases I had no knowledge of how they had got there. Someone benefited from my hard work thanks to the PNG government’s indifference to copyright law.

After that I kept an eye out for a cheaper way of republishing ‘Paradise in Peril’. I started making enquiries with internal and external publishers and all of them wanted upfront deposits that I couldn’t afford.

Then in 2011 the national literature competition, the Crocodile Prize, started. It was initiated by Australians Keith Jackson and Philip Fitzpatrick as a means of reviving and promoting PNG literature.

I didn’t know about it until poet and founding president of Simbu Children Foundation, Jimmy Drekore, introduced me to the competition. Thank you, Jimmy.

Through my association with the two Australians and the competition, an opportunity opened up for republishing ‘Paradise in Peril’. I hired a typist to retype the entire book on a computer. It took her almost 10 nights to complete the job.

With the help of Philip Fitzpatrick, I got the revised version published by Amazon under the Pukpuk Publications imprint in 2013. It was a trial and error effort as we were new to the CreateSpace publishing tool. The book has now been republished with improved layout and cover design.

I next edited and published the ‘Ku High School Anthology 2014’ and the ‘Simbu High and Secondary Anthology 2015’ under the Simbu Writers Association banner and using the Pukpuk Publications’ account. I also published other books of my own through Pukpuk.

On several occasions, Philip had told me he was planning on retiring Pukpuk Publications and letting Papua New Guineans take charge of their own publications.

The bomb was dropped in November 2016 when he announced his decision in an article titled; ‘Pukpuk Publications winds down: PNG writers must take charge’ on PNG Attitude.

I didn’t know how other Papua New Guineans felt at that time but for me it was the end of a very cheap and workable publishing platform for PNG writers. I took the news with mixed feelings but Philip said something in his concluding remarks that brought me both tears and inspiration.

He said: “Francis is an excellent editor and cover designer and has been providing me with print-ready books for some time. If anyone can do it, Francis can.

“And then I can truly say my work here is done and I can ride into the sunset in the best Hollywood tradition.”

After some tears, I promised myself I would do it, and decided to take up the challenge head on and let Phil enjoy a well-deserved rest.

It had been voluntary and a hell lot of work for Philip. My heart went out to him. He really needed the rest but I felt strongly that the publishing work had to go on to help other aspiring authors.

I knew Philip would assist me so I gave it my best shot and after numerous emails to and fro, I got the first book published. I followed with several other books under the Simbu Writers Association banner, all the time gaining confidence.

But finding a publisher and getting books published is not the end of the exercise. Printing copies and selling printed copies are other hurdles.

And there have also been misconceptions and false theories and accusations about my publications with Amazon. They need to be clarified.

Headquartered in the United States, Amazon is the world leader in online publishing and marketing with branches in all major countries. It started an online self-publishing program around 2007 called CreateSpace where writers could publish their own books.

However, at the beginning of this year, Amazon made CreateSpace obsolete and replaced it with Kindle Direct Publishing, an improved version of CreateSpace.

Kindle Direct Publishing service is like the obsolete CreateSpace platform in that it is free. All that it will cost you is internet data. You can publish your work and when you have money or secured a market, you can order your book and sell them with a mark up to make some money for yourself. It is known as print on demand.

When a writer sends a manuscript to me, the first thing I check for is the genre. Is it fiction, non-fiction, poetry or an anthology or a collection? The second thing is the size.

For example, when a writer comes up with a 50-page story and calls it novel, I tell the writer that it’s a short story and to develop the plot further to 150 or more pages to reach novel length.

When I am satisfied a work has met the required volume I browse through it examining the content and layout. It is at this stage that I have a rough idea of the amount of work involved to get the manuscript to a publishable standard. I then advise the writer that I will work on the book.

My work involves checking for typing errors, grammar, sentences and paragraph structure, sequence and flow of storyline, the title of the work and chapter titles, content numbering, header and footer captions and formatting the whole manuscript to Amazon’s prescribed format.

Once satisfied with the content, I work on the cover design. This includes making it conform to the book size, using conspicuous and attractive fonts, appropriate pictures, colours and a blurb.

The blurb is the brief summary of the book that you see on the back cover and it is important because before a reader buys a book they read the blurb first to see if they will like it. I normally design three different covers for the writer to choose from.

The final thing I do before publishing is give the edited version of the book with the final cover design back to the writer for final proofreading.

I emphasise that it is important for the author to check the edited version word by word. It is only then that any oversights can be picked up and alterations or amendments done.

At that point we’re good to go and I publish the book with Amazon under the Simbu Writers Association imprint.

Simbu Writers Association does not have a board of editors. As I have mentioned earlier, I voluntarily took up the challenge and have kept it going because I see there is a need.

The only benefit I get is a small fee that I call an editing and publishing fee and the amount depends very much on the amount of work involved.

I do not charge the market rate as no ordinary Papua New Guinean is able to afford that much. What I charge ranges from K1,000 to K2,000. The difficult and time-consuming part is when you have many images and tables included with the text. If this is the case you can expect a higher fee – but not over K2,000. Very cheap isn’t it?

Once the book is published, it goes online for sale immediately. Amazon’s publishing policy is that they get 60% of every book sold online and the author gets 40%. The 40% royalty is accumulated until it reaches US$100 (K260). Then Amazon raises a cheque in the author’s name for US$100 and forwards it to my post office address by registered mail. I then pick up the cheque and give it to the author.

There is no room for stealing the royalty because the cheque is written in the author’s name. No reputable human being would put his or her credibility on the line for a lousy K260 anyway.

If someone’s book is of extraordinary quality and becomes a bestseller he or she will become an instant millionaire. For us Papua New Guineans, that’s only a dream – at least until now.

With the Amazon system the author retains the copyright to their work. If a conventional publisher sees the book they can approach the author and do a deal.

What the authors who have published their books with me do to make money for themselves is find a market, order copies through me and sell them with a mark-up.

The advantage to authors ordering their books through me is that they benefit from my online purchase account, which is highly efficient and secure and takes less than five minutes for the transaction instead of spending hours queuing at the bank.

Second, the author benefits from the author/publisher discount facility offered by Amazon meaning that they pay less than the threshold retail price which was automatically determined by Amazon.

This is the service that I provide free of charge. What the author is charged is the bank’s international transaction fee and I allow K100 in the author’s expense for that. Some understandable authors pay me some money for this service as a gesture of goodwill.

Third, they benefit from Nowek Kofi Limited’s benevolent import duty support scheme. Nowek has been paying import duty ever since SWA started publishing with Amazon.

Gratitude for this must go to the late Terry Shelley and his children, particularly Sarah and Ben Shelley. They’ve made it very easy for us and we shouldn’t take that for granted.

The cargo is airfreighted from Colombia to Hawaii to Sydney to Port Moresby and up to Goroka through the DHL courier service and is kept at the Nowek Kofi premises at Kamaliki. The author picks it up from Nowek.

If your order for some reason gets lost, Amazon will replace the order at their cost, which you will rarely get another publisher doing.

Since I started publishing, I have not once ordered a book authored by another author and sold it to make money for myself. This is stealing and it would be morally wrong for me to do that. The trust I have built up with the writers over the years is an asset and I am not going to mess it up.

If a problem arises with a book, I am able to contact Amazon through my account to seek a resolution. This can range from a missing consignment of books to books that arrive with some sort of fault.

This is an efficient secure contact avenue for communications. To me, overall Amazon’s client service is five star.

Lately I have decided to go private. I have also opened up a Facebook page under Lodestar Publications. This is mainly because of the false accusations and conspiracy theories mentioned above that have been circulating about what I do.

When I reflect back to where and how it all started, my heart cries for Keith Jackson and Philip Fitzpatrick, my helpers and mentors.

Their intention was never about making money. It was all volunteerism and that was how I acquired the knowledge about writing and publishing that I now have.

I feel I must stand strong and carry on with what I am doing for the struggling authors and potential authors in Simbu and outside under the SWA banner which I co-fathered.

What an average reader wants to see in a published work

Phil Fitzpatrick

By PHIL FITZPATRICK – 01 November 2018, Keith Jackson & Friends PNG Attitude

TUMBY BAY – Baka Bina made an interesting request following my recent article about the British author Alexander McCall Smith.

He said, “You have written about the pitfalls of publishing before and I would like to ask if you can re-state what an average reader would like to see in a published work”.

I’m not sure that I’ve ever previously stated such a thing in such a direct way but I’ll give it a try anyway.

The first thing that needs to be stated is that there is probably no such thing as an ‘average reader’. Every reader has their own unique background and expectations when reading a novel, short story or a poem.

It is that background and expectation that determines what they get out of a work of literature.

What we do as writers is provide a kind of guide or blueprint within which the imaginations of all those diverse readers can be let free to make whatever they can out of what we write.

One reader reading a work of fiction will probably come away with a specific interpretation that is different to all the other readers reading that same work.

All we can do as writers is try to aim for a particular type of reader and hope we hit the mark.

To do this we need to exercise a kind of judgement based on our own experiences as a reader.

The more we have read ourselves the easier will be this process.

We may wish, for instance, to capture as large an audience as we can and sell as many of our books as possible.

If we do this we are probably best to aim at the lowest possible reader denominator. This can be a cynical approach and often means that what we write will be a low form of literature, the sort of book that gets labelled as a best seller or airport novel.

Alternatively we can aim at a much smaller readership with specific backgrounds and taste. If we do that we almost certainly will not sell so many books, although occasionally, as in the case of Alexander McCall Smith, we might create a spark that grows into a fire.

My own preference is to go for the smaller readership. That’s why I base my books in Papua New Guinea or write about unpopular subjects like Aboriginal Australia.

That said, and given the limited opportunities for publication in Papua New Guinea, I think it behoves any Papua New Guinean writer to write about their own country.

This is a kind of moral imperative, not a commercial or literary one. I’ll leave that up to Papua New Guinean writers to decide.

So let’s say we’ve decided to go that way. The next question is how we write. Do we adopt a simple and straight forward style or do we incorporate a degree of complexity in the mix that will force the reader to do a little extra bit of work?

In making that decision we have to bear in mind that there is an inherent danger in deciding on the latter course.

Using complex notions stitched together with flowery descriptions and big words that everyone has to look up in the dictionary may not appeal to many readers. And, when all is said and done, it is generally possible to say the same thing in a much simpler way. That, in itself, is a skill that a good writer needs to cultivate.

Another thing that we have to bear in mind is that the imagination of modern readers is quite different to readers of the past. This is due to the pervasive influence of media.

Whereas in the past a writer may have had to spend a great deal of time explaining a particular idea, place or activity in great detail nowadays, thanks to television, film and other media, the impression we want to convey will immediately leap into the reader’s mind with a word or two rather than a long explanation.

We don’t need to be Charles Dickens or Mark Twain anymore.

In the Papua New Guinean context think of words like ‘bigman’ or ‘haus krai’ or ‘sanguma’ or ‘buai’. If we are writing for an overseas readership we might have to explain those terms in detail but if we are writing for a Papua New Guinean readership we don’t have to bother, they will know exactly what we mean.

This brings us to the point of familiarity. Most readers want to read about things with which they are familiar. They may be day to day happenings or about the perceptions they have acquired through various influences, like the media. This is why both the mundane and the fantastical can be attractive to readers.

You also must be authentic. You need to create the impression that you know what you are talking about. That means doing your research well. I don’t know how many times I’ve been halfway through a book and come across an obvious error that destroys the rest of the experience.

I recall reading a book by a popular Australian author who was writing about World War II. In her book she had her characters driving around in LandRovers, which weren’t manufactured until 1948. That simple mistake queered the rest of my reading experience.

So where does all this bring us?

Well, I think what it means is that the average reader wants to be firstly entertained and then, possibly, made to think a little bit. Not too much, just a little bit.

They don’t want to be dictated to or patronised in any way but they are willing to learn. If you have a message to get across you should make it simple and hide it skilfully. Preaching to readers is one of the biggest mistakes a new writer can make.

The best advice I can give to a new writer is to write what pleases you rather than what you think might please other people. Be your own writer, not just a hack writer.

All pretty simple really.

Alexander McCall Smith – role model for the humble writer

By PHIL FITZPATRICK – 28 October 2018, Keith Jackson & Friends PNG Attitude

TUMBY BAY – When I published the first of my Inspector Metaubooks about an elderly but shrewd policeman in Port Moresby, a couple of reviewers obliquely compared it to the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith.

I had vaguely heard of McCall Smith and the comments prompted me to read his books. I quickly became hooked and have been a devoted fan of Mama Precious Ramotswe and her detective agency in Gaborone, Botswana, ever since.

I am currently reading the nineteenth in the series, ‘The Colours of all the Cattle’.

The series is hugely popular and has sold over 20 million copies in English alone since the first book came out in 1998.

As with many popular book series, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency has resulted in many copycats. Thankfully my three Inspector Metau books don’t fall into this category.

As for the writing, I’m way out of McCall Smith’s league in so many ways.

We were both born in 1948. I’ve published about a dozen books. He’s published well over 80 and is still going strong.

McCall Smith’s output is prodigious. His first book was a children’s story, ‘The White Hippo’, published in 1980. Since then he’s averaged about two books a year.

When he’s at home in Edinburgh, Scotland, he churns out 5,000 words a day. He even writes when he’s travelling but slows down a bit to 2-3,000 words a day. In full flight he averages about 1,000 words an hour.

I get books sent to me for editing or publication that hardly total 30,000 words. The authors think they are full length novels. It would take McCall Smith less than a week to produce one of similar length. He could knock out 50 of them in a year.

What got me hooked on The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series was the setting and the simple style. McCall Smith has written several other series set in Scotland and other places but they don’t appeal to me.

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agencysetting is Botswana, a sub-Saharan nation of about two million people in Western Africa. Like its neighbour, Namibia, it has always been a stable representative democracy. Both places are about the same size and have healthy growing economies.

They are the antithesis of what we perceive when we consider African nations plagued by corruption and ruled by violent dictators. And Namibia makes an incredibly good beer. Windhoek Lager is even better than SP.

The style of McCall Smith’s books, especially The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, is deceptively simple. They describe everyday events in plain English. They are genial, mundane and fascinating all at the same time.

They are the sort of books I would expect to be popular in Papua New Guinea. I’ve seen plenty of copies in second hand stores so hopefully people are reading them.

They are, in fact, reminiscent of several Papua New Guinean writers. Here I’m thinking about Baka Bina’s ‘Man of Calibre’, Emmanuel Peni’s ‘Sibona’ and Francis Nii’s ‘Paradise in Peril’.

McCall Smith started out by entering a literary competition. He submitted a novel and a children’s book. The children’s book won. After that his writing took off like a rocket.

His secret seems to be an uncanny sense of the ordinary, a wry sense of humour and lots of hard but enjoyable work.

Simple, really.

Indigenous literature and academic elitism in PNG

Phil Fitzpatrick

By PHIL FITZPATRICK – 30 August 2018, Keith Jackson & Friends PNG Attitude

TUMBY BAY – In countries with a written literary tradition, especially in the western world, the publication of books has been largely accomplished outside government.

In those places, book publishing has and continues to be mainly a capitalist enterprise. Artistic and philosophical considerations aside, the chief driving force has been to make money. If not lots of it, at least enough to cover costs and maybe put some bread on the table.

Many writers will object to this mercenary view and argue that their main aim in writing is to engage in the transmission of creativity and ideas.

The truth is it is a discussion that contains elements of all these things.

In countries that do not have a written literary tradition the situation is different. Papua New Guinea is a case in point.

The written literature of Papua New Guinea was essentially born in the missions of the late 19th century but it was only in the five or so years before independence in 1975 that it emerged with a truly indigenous flavour, with quality and in some quantity.

This movement was driven by the University of Papua New Guinea and more particularly by the endeavours of one man, Ulli Beier, a lecturer in creative writing whose earlier career had been spent doing something similar in Nigeria.

Most of the writers from this this period were in one way or another connected to UPNG. The majority were Beier’s students. Vincent Eri, who wrote the first Papua New Guinean novel, The Crocodile, after which The Crocodile Prize is named, was one of them.

While this singular literary effort was going on at UPNG there was little serious writing being published elsewhere. Except in the education sector, no independent firm sprang up to publish writers not associated with the university.

Literature in PNG thus evolved in isolation in an academic context. There was nothing like a popular publishing industry established in PNG although the larger missions continued to publish stories drawn from biblical analogies, some of which were written by Papua New Guineans

Most of the writers after 1975 continued to have some sort of connection to UPNG. Many of them were students who had gone on to become lecturers and teachers at the university.

Indigenous literature in PNG was effectively a closed shop, tightly controlled by academia.

As the years went by, UPNG, like many other institutions, suffered severe financial constraints and governance became compromised. The encouragement and even the ability of academics to publish was considerably diminished. Even UPNG’s literary monopoly shrunk and, with a few outstanding hold-outs who often published at their own expense, indigenous literature dried up.

PNG Attitude was established in 2006 and by 2008 was beginning to encourage indigenous cntributions (an early article was by Aloysius Laukai, still going strong on Bougainville) but it wasn’t until later in 2009 that Papua New Guinean bylines from people like Gelab Piak, Mari Ellingsen and Reg Renagi began to regularly appear.

When the Crocodile Prize came along (planned in late 2010, launched in 2011), offering online publication to anyone and the added chance to be published in hard copy, it directly challenged the literary academics at the UPNG. It also placed emphasis on creative writing  and commentary as well as news writing, a significant turning point.

Here had emerged a popular, people’s literature challenging the hallowed ground of an academia that had virtually run out of steam. What to do? Jump on board and help it along or ignore it and hope it would go away?

Remarkably, and except for pragmatists like Russell Soaba, the latter is what happened. The academics didn’t want a bar of it. Perhaps they thought it was beneath their dignity and an affront to the closely guarded status of a Papua New Guinean literature that had hardly continued to exist.

When Crocodile Prize organisers came knocking with invitations to join in the doors were locked and there was a pretence the newcomers weren’t there.

If there was ever going to be any glory attached to literature in PNG, it seemed they wanted it for themselves.

There has been a deafening silence since.

They sit in the mouldering innards of UPNG and stew and write learned articles about each other that never get published.

Imagine if this had happened in Britain or the USA. We would never have had all those great writers, from Shakespeare to Mark Twain to JK Rowling.

They would have been still looking for a publisher.

PNG govt alert! Our literature could help us get to Vision 50

Daniel compares books with Australian author Mary Mennis

By DANIEL KUMBON – 28 February 2018, Keith Jackson & Friends PNG Attitude

WABAG – An assignment given to first year trainees at Enga Teachers College on literature and its importance for primary school children, prompts me to reflect on a recent literary tour of Australia I undertook with three colleagues.

I wondered if teachers in the field were promoting literature. Did they have access to libraries stocked with books appropriate to their readers?

The Papua New Guinea government is spending millions of kina on its tuition free education policy each year.

It also supports sports, music and other major events. It has built modern stadiums, training facilities and provided cash incentives for athletes who win gold medals at Commonwealth and Olympic Games.

The PNG Hunters have lifted rugby league’s profile on the international stage through the Queensland Intrust Super Cup competition.  Many players have signed lucrative contracts.

EMTV’s Vocal Fusion has captivated audiences nationwide as a new wave of young men and women explode onto the screen. They have won cars and cash through their singing and signed contracts to produce albums.

All this is very good since it portrays PNG as a successful nation.

But the government seems not to understand that its writers – poets, journalists, essayists, authors – can also promote unity and help to change the mindset of the people.

In my views, all citizens should be treated equally to achieve the government’s ambitious Vision 50 goals which seek to include PNG in the top 50 human development index rankings by 2050.

The government hopes PNG will be a prosperous middle income country by 2030 and a world leader in the promotion of responsible sustainable development.

Literature can play a major part in achieving these objectives in terms of education, communication and the preservation of PNG’s rich cultural heritage.

While some people aspire to be professional singers, sports stars, entrepreneurs or successful in the professions, others strive to be successful writers.

But in PNG, our writers seem to have been supported only by the voluntary Crocodile Prize organisation and its offshoots like Pukpuk Publications and the McKinnon-Paga Hill fellowship scheme.

Former PNG residents Keith Jackson and Phil Fitzpatrick established the Crocodile Prize in 2011 and other initiatives like book publishing, writers workshops and fellowships followed in its wake.

Other generous companies and individuals also came on board with sponsorships – Ok Tedi Mining, Kina Securities, PNG Chamber of Mines, PNG Ministry of Tourism, Paga Hill Development Company, SP Brewery, Cleland Family, PNG Association of Australia, Ian Kemish and Roxanne Martens and others.

Daniel & celebrated author Francis Nii register for their session at the 2016 Brisbane Writers Festival

My spirits lifted when I won a prize the Crocodile Prize competition and went on a literary tour of Australia in 2016 with three colleagues – Francis Nii, Martyn Namorong and Rashmii Bell.

We attended the annual Brisbane Writer’s Festival, met Australian authors and media personalities and visited organisations like the New South Wales Writers Centre in Sydney.

Since its inception the Crocodile Prize had exposed raw talent from most parts of PNG. Generous cash prizes of K5,000 were paid to winners in different categories of writing. The depth of talent became evident in six published annual anthologies of essays, poems and short stories.

Over time, some stunning novels, memoirs and collections of writing were published including three remarkable novels – Fitman, Rightman and Cooks by Francis Nii, Man of Calibre by Baka Bina and Sibona by Emmanuel Peni.

Immediately after our Australian tour, Rashmii Bell edited the stupendous collection of women’s writing, My Walk to Equality, and I chimed in with Survivor – Alive in Mum’s Loving Arms, which also drew much praise.

We saw a Papua New Guinea literature beginning to flourish but there was no national program to support it and, while the Crocodile Prize continues as a literary competition, there has been a weakening of the momentum that was evident even just a year ago.

Many Papua New Guineans can write but a major obstacle remains writing fluently in the English language itself. I believe if people can master that, they will read more and their writing will improve.

Right now, the state of PNG literature is poor. Literacy seems to be stuck at around 60%. Few schools have libraries and public libraries in towns and cities are scarce. Even university students struggle with their writing.

During my Australian tour, in an ABC radio interview, I proposed that the Australian government could lift the standard of English in PNG through its aid program. My cue for this was a 2013 PNG-Australia Ministerial Forum which agreed Australia would undertake an assessment of its aid investment in PNG.

They hoped this would better align both governments’ priorities and position the aid program to address key constraints to sustainable economic growth and equitable development. It was noted back then that, even though PNG’s economy had grown strongly, it had not led to sustained development outcomes.

And so it proved, PNG went on and failed to meet any of its millennium development goals, being placed 156th out of 187 countries. The poor quality of education was a major part of this failure.

Daniel, Martyn Namorong & fellowship sponsor, former PNG director of education, Prof Ken McKinnon in Sydney, 2016

I suggested during the ABC interview that, through its annual aid package, Australia could consider improving the literacy skills of Papua New Guineans by recruiting Australian English teachers and lecturers as contract officers and volunteers and place them in situations from upper primary schools to universities.

A teacher who cannot comprehend English cannot effectively teach the subject. That is the dilemma confronting most PNG schools today.

Good English teachers and well-stocked libraries are what PNG students urgently need. These things are a launch pad for literate population and writing our own books is a stepping stone to a well-educated and higher achieving population.

UNESCO says that book publication is an important metric in determining the standard of living and education of a country. There are no records to show how many books PNG has published, although I know that over 40 titles have been published through Pukpuk Publications in recent years with no support and little encouragement from the government or from major NGOs.

I am the author of four of those books, which are available for purchase on If purchases are by somebody out there in the world, it gives me great pleasure and a sense of having produced something worthy.

But nobody in PNG seems interested. Only the UPNG Bookshop sells copies of my books. One cannot make a living from writing where there is no reading culture and little encouragement of writers.

My fourth book, Remember Me, was launched recently by Education Secretary Dr Uke Kombra in Kundiawa during a Crocodile Prize presentation. I intend to launch two other books in Enga, the province of my origin.

I know some PNG-authored books would make perfect reading material for schools. One of my own books, I Can See My Country Clearly Now, is about my journey from birth to PNG’s independence and includes the knowledge and insights I gained from my travels and experiences in many countries.

I would encourage the government to buy books written by PNG authors and place them in educational institutions throughout the country to promote intellectual development, love of reading, pride in country and social cohesion.

The Enga provincial government headed by Grand Chief Sir Peter Ipatas has been promoting education for the last 21 years, so education here is indeed important. Enga Teachers College must continue its good work to pass on important knowledge emphasising that literature is key to the success of children in adult life.

But it’s time that this college as well as other educational institutions in PNG began to stock their libraries with suitable PNG-authored books.

Reprising Sil Bolkin – an essayist of significance & substance

Sil Bolkin

By PHIL FITZPATRICK – Originally published in PNG Attitude in February 2017

TUMBY BAY – Kela Kapkora Sil Bolkin has been a consistent and popular contributor to PNG Attitude and the Crocodile Prize for many years.

He also authored a significant book, launched in Canberra in 2013, The Flight of Galkope, a magical combination of Simbu history and myth brought to modern times with a thoughtful discussion about the prodigious Simbu diaspora.

Sil never ceases to surprise with the range of topics he addresses in his journalism. Stylistically, he walks in the footsteps of the great essayists.

His work is informative, topical, funny and quirky and, very importantly, it offers a personal touch. He writes in a style we can call the ‘Simbu School’ of writing – eloquent, realistic, gritty. He has no respect for stultifying political correctness. He won the 2014 Crocodile Prize essay award.

Sil was undertaking post-graduate study at the Australian National University when The Flight of Galkope was launched by Charles Lepani, at the time PNG’s high commissioner to Australia.

I flew down from Hervey Bay for the event and found to my dismay that the publisher had lost the entire shipment of books. We were undeterred: the book was launched that day with the single proof copy.

The consignment arrived the following day and, as we were both flying out of Canberra, Sil met me at the airport and presented me with a copy.

Now the essays have begun to appear again. Sil hasn’t lost any of his bite and readers can look forward to a steady stream of incisive pieces. Sil Bolkin is a substantial and significant Papua New Guinean writer. Here’s one of my favourites….


Papua New Guinea as a banana republic: the Chinese Li Wu


First published in PNG Attitude in February 2014

PORT MORESBY – A recent incident I witnessed at the Taurama Shopping Centre in Port Moresby ended up posing some important questions for all Papua New Guineans.

An argument started between a Tari man in a Chinese kaibar and the Chinese man on the other side of the counter. Moments later, a towering Chinese man came out and punched the 1.5 metre Tari man into submission.

He was beaten and bruised to the point of exhaustion and, as you might expect, two of his Tari wantoks came to the rescue and nearly punched and kicked the tall Chinese man to death.

The public who witnessed the incident were divided in their support. The pro-Chinese mob said the Chinese had created employment and paid taxes through their businesses. They said Papua New Guineans do not create employment but sit and gamble (bom or 7-leaf) or talk politics and wait for free handouts.

They added that Papua New Guineans finding themselves with some money become one-day-millionaires and go on a drinking spree and sing until dawn. They concluded that PNG men and women have no business acumen and should not talk about Chinese business aggression.

On the dissenting side, the pro-Taris said most of the Chinese come into the country through back door deals with politicians and immigration officials and corrupt every system in place. They said being citizens of a superpower doesn’t give Chinese the right to break the laws of a small country and trample on its citizens.

As the arguments went on, they almost erupted into another melee but police officers speedily arrived on the scene, and this was most interesting.

Two police cars arrived containing high ranking officers. The Chinese called these senior police officers by name and chatted with them. It was evident they were friends. The policemen ignored the bruised Tari man.

I started taking photographs but an obese policeman demanded that I delete them on the spot. I deleted the shots while he watched. One of the policemen said, “You journalists write bullshit.” I told him I was not a journalist and didn’t even know how to write.

No one could find out the reason for the argument because the Tari man could not speak good Pisin and the Chinese culprit could only speak Mandarin. People tried to ask the young women in the kaibar to explain what went wrong but the Chinese told them not to talk.

Anyhow, no arrests were made. The Taris were told to go home and refrain from being such nuisances and one of the Chinese came out of the kaibar and gave the police servings of rice and stew in takeaway cartons and some Coca Cola.

One of the policemen took the plastic bag without saying thank you and looked in the direction of the crowd, swore and told us to disperse. Maybe swearing at the public was an indirect way of saying ‘thank you’ to his Chinese friend for the free lunch.

When the police left, a veteran public servant said the Chinese keep a black book that contains the names of the 80% of PNG politicians and bureaucrats who are given Li Wu.

Li Wu in Chinese Mandarin is ‘gift’ or ‘present’ and Her Li is a congratulatory gift. Most politicians when they are elected and ministers when they are appointed receive Her Li, the public servant said.

He added that around 80% of top police officers are on the payroll of Chinese businesses. Occasionally you hear people on the streets of Port Moresby say, “Em ol polis bilong LGNA” or “Em ol polis bilong RH”. LGNA and RH are, of course, Asian companies.

The incident at Taurama Shopping Centre seemed to confirm what the veteran civil servant had said about the black book and the various police officers in PNG in the pay of both government and Chinese and other Asians.

The Chinese are able to call top ranking police officers who within minutes will arrive to provide protection. The top officers release the Chinese and get junior police to assault Papua New Guineans.

One has to ask, “Does the Li Wu to politicians and top bureaucrats make Chinese businessmen and women in Papua New Guinea immune to the laws of the independent state of Papua New Guinea?”

Smart editing tips for writers who want to be read

The Prowriting app can help improve your writing

By JORDAN DEAN – 26 October 2017, Keith Jackson & Friends PNG Attitude

PORT MORESBY – So you’ve drafted a short story or a novel and want to polish it before sending it to potential publishers.

You don’t wish to put your work out there unpolished, because that’s a good way to make sure no one ever reads it.

You understand the importance of having a good editor look at your work. But, if you’re struggling to make ends meet and can’t afford an editor, don’t sweat it.

There are several options to get your work polished without spending tons of money. It’s a lot of work and will take up a lot of your time, but if you really want get your best work out for public consumption, it’s worth it.

First, read through your own work and use the Microsoft Word tools to improve it.

Use the Spelling & Grammar tab to correct spelling errors and the Navigationfeature to search for overused words. Remove these words or replace them with synonyms from a Thesaurus.

Chop away extravagant detail and avoid ‘purple prose’, writing that is flowery and pretentious and uses big words to appear clever. All of these can be done on MS Word.

Then there’s several free online editing applications like the Hemingway Appand the ProWritingAid. I’m using Prowriting to edit my novel. You can download the application and install it as an add-on to MS Word.

The Hemingway app is a great copy editing tool that will fend off typical writer errors. It helps identify long sentences, passive voice, overly complex words and too many adverbs. In short, it tightens up your writing.

The ProWriting app will find everything that Hemingway App didn’t, including clichés, sticky sentences and overused words.

However these applications are only aids. They don’t tell you whether your work is good, bad or needs improvement.

Automated applications are not a replacement for human editors. Thank God for wordsmiths like Ed Brumby, Chips Mackellar and Phil Fitzpatrick for editorial assistance.

Yes, it helps to have editors and beta readers who have English degrees or are voracious readers. Bonus points if they are honest and critique your work.

Set your ego aside on this and take constructive critique as a compliment.

Finally, it’s your work, your creative endeavor; and you decide if it is perfect.

With a little creativity, work, and time, you can polish up your work and ensure it’s ready to submit for publishing.

Criticism has good intentions but by gosh it hurts sometimes

By BAKA BINA – 04 September 2017, Keith Jackson & Friends PNG Attitude

PORT MORESBY – Any criticism coming from another person is hard to digest.  We all have blind spots about our own work and find it hard to accept challenges from other people.

Our argument tends to run along the lines of “what does this person know about my experiences and the recollections of these experiences in my writing”.

I have written on other occasions that sometimes I don’t like what Phil Fitzpatrick writes. He can deliver general aspersions about our Papua New Guinean attitudes – and it hurts.

I have felt offended by some of his comments. Even his review of my novel, ‘Man of Calibre’ and ‘Sweet Garaiina Apo’, struck deep within me. Phil can be very dispiriting.

But then, in retrospect, that is the very thing in the literary world that writers strive for and live off.

Critical comments by another should be a catalyst enabling an improvement in writing in all areas – be it word placing, plays on words, sentence structure, paragraphing, the flow-on of ideas, the theme of the story, and crowding too much into one paragraph.

Wordsmiths and puritanical critics will pick on these literary misdemeanours like keen eyed hawks. 

Good prose should take the reader to some other land and this is what Phil in his rather odd way is struggling to tell us and that is what the writer in Papua New Guinea needs to listen to.  We surely can write our legends in such a manner with a little manipulation.

Most of our legends are smooth sailing on how a thing happened, to explain an origin of something, without any heightened suspense.

Most modern writing has conflict and suspense and climax and resolution. That order of writing is soon to be achieved by Papua New Guineans and I say that with hope as I have seen short pieces by Joycelin Leahy, Hazel Katkue, Caroline Evara and Gen Hobden who have shown they will blossom in that genre if they continue writing.

When I first wrote ‘Zymur’ (published by Oxfords in its Pacific Readers Series), it was a contemporary story on a scary subject drawn with my imagination. I wrote it in the smooth and flowing way we told legends.

At the time, I didn’t know how to string a good story for Papua New Guineans. My writing had flaws and stated obvious things that a Papua New Guinean already knows.

There were supposed to be mysteries in that story that I totally missed bringing to readers. I wasn’t certain what to leave in the reader’s mind that would conjure up more than what I had written. I realise this now but that was not evident when I was starting to write. 

I mentioned the four women writers. I have tried to get their style into my own short stories as you will see if you care to read my anthology ‘Antics of Alonaa Volume One’, it is still a far cry from what I would like to achieve.

I too need to get to thinking about the rules of short stories that can be appealing to both PNG and international readers. But in Port Moresby, I have not met anyone I could discuss my writing with. It is really, really difficult in Port Moresby to call people together on the weekend and at a safe suitable place.

Still, I aim for that ultimate eureka moment when I write prose that a Papua New Guinean will find difficult to put down.  I need to sound that out with like-minded writers. Maybe that will give me my eureka.

Phil Fitzpatrick’s comments and intents are good and should be a guiding beacon for us towards our ultimate nirvana in writing.  Phil’s clarion call is most times unheeded and our inertia is the slug that kills the spirit of writing.

Our biggest problem, a gathering of like-minded writers on a Saturday, seems next to impossible, so how can the writing community work to tackle this problem?

The entire current crop of PNG authors including me can self-publish our work on CreateSpace or go through Pukpuk Publishing. But you cannot go past the first paragraph before you see the glaring mistakes we have missed for want of an editor. That will put off the most dedicated Papua New Guinean advocates – our readers.

Do we need editorial assistance from the likes of Phil and Ed Brumby? Yes, but I think it should be in the final stage and not in a working document.  The working document should be by the author. I suggest a writing cell.

I was hurting when I was told I have a two-page long repeat section in ‘Sweet Garaiina Apo’.  Oh gosh, how did I miss that? How did five people read my proof from CreateSpace and yet this pops up? (No offence to all who help me, it was my mistake – I published an earlier version.)

Anyway, this is now corrected with the second edition of this book was published early last month. Mistakes do creep in where English is not our mother tongue, and it is a soup for stirring comments.

I agree with Phil that PNG writers provide half-baked manuscripts.  Anybody wanting to ask another person for editorial assistance must make sure that assistance is not to rewrite the work. The manuscripts must not pain the editor to that extent.

It is not an easy task going over your work again and again, whether yourself or the editor. I have refused to work with some writers when I found I had to rewrite.

The comments point out so many flaws but no suggestion is advanced as to how to correct these things Phil alludes to. Do we roll around in the suggestion that Papua New Guinean writing should be cocooned only for PNG?  Why don’t we strive for the readers outside?  Why can’t we pique their interest in our writing?

While Phil calls us out from South Australia, it is for us in PNG to rise to the call and help ourselves.  We can start by enquiring about the Crocodile Prize.  Contact us at