About Me

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Victoria, Australia
I am an author of Young Adult Fiction books. I worked as a teacher in the Pacific Islands for seven years. Whilst in the Solomon Islands I taught PSSC English before the ethnic tension in 2000 forced a change of plans. I love Pacific literature, art and music. You can find me on Facebook at Beth Montgomery Author.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Kaitangata Twitch by Margaret Mahy

Kaitangata Twitch (Allen & Unwin, 2005)
New Zealander Margaret Mahy is a prolific children's writer who has won many awards. Kaitangata Twitch is another of her stories but perhaps not her best.
   The story is about Meredith Gallagher who is a dreamer and a sleep walker. There's Maori blood in her veins and she has a strong attachment to the little island of Kaitangita where the Maori people once practiced cannibalism. Meredith thinks the island is talking to her and when its wilderness is threatened by an unscrupulous developer Meredith and her family are compelled to fight for its preservation.
   This story was adapted for the screen and was recently shown as a miniseries on ABC TV. I never managed to see the series but I suspect it may have worked better than the book. I felt quite let down at the end of the story. The supernatural threat never seemed to be realised or was only alluded to, resulting in an anti-climax.
   I liked the way she drew her charcters though. Meredith and her family were very real and I think Mahy depicts the day to day interactions of her charcters beautifully.
   I think this book is a good one for junior readers because it's spooky but not so terrifying it will give you nightmares.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Counting House by David Dabydeen

The Counting House isn't a book set in the Pacific but it is an island book of sorts. I read this novel a few years ago and was shocked by it's frank account of greed, manipulation and sexual abuse. Set in the 19th century the story revolves around the marriage of Indian couple Rohini and Vidia who migrate to the Carribean to work on a plantation. They are poor peasants who believe their life in British Guiana will bring them wealth and success. Their marriage falters as they struggle to make a new life in a strange land.

The Counting House

   As a group of characters I found everyone in the book repulsive. They all seemed obsessed with money and status. However Dabydeen has done a good job in depicting the characters' motivations and so I could understand their obsessions even if I couldn't sympathise with them. Issues of caste, slavery and racism are all dealt with in a confronting manner.
   If you like a book with a bit of sex and violence, then maybe this is for you. But I found the subject matter a bit too grim for my liking.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Island hopping

The most economical way to get around island nations is on a ship, but oh boy what an experience! I think everyone who has lived in the islands has a horrendous boat story to tell. I know I have about four memorable trips etched into my brain, and one in particular where I was certain I would never make it back to the safety of Honiara.
   Boat travel is great material for your writing: all those smells, sounds, vibrations and the views of course.

My family on the Isabella (Source: B. Montgomery)

Travelling by ship, Solomons. (Source: B. Montgomery)

   Think about how sick you felt in the rocking waves, the diesel fumes, the throb of the engine, the vomit, the sea spray on your face, the chipped paint on the deck... It's all good stuff for descriptive writing.    When we travelled to Isabel in July we had the luxury of the first class cabin which was air-conditioned. (I don't think I could have survived out on deck in the heat and fumes) But even so the throng of the engine underneath us and the swell and roll of the ship made me feel so sick I spent the entire 22 hour trip lying on the floor with my head on a bag of rice (a makeshift pillow), while my husband mopped up everyone's vomit. Eeewww, yuck!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Cay by Theodore Taylor

This week as the awful tragedy unfolds in the island nation of Japan I always think of how hard it would be to escape or outrun a tsunami. Especially so if you lived on an atoll with no high points. My mind always returns to Theodore Taylor's classic island story The Cay.
The Cay (Penguin, 1969)
  Published in 1969 this children's novel tells the story of a young American boy injured by a bump to the head during his escape from a torpedoed ship during World War Two. Phillip is pulled to safety by an old 'negro' man, Timothy, who speaks in broken English and does his best to comfort the distressed boy whose vision begins to fail. Their only companion is Stew Cat, the ship's cat. They make their way to a deserted tropical island and set up camp. By this time Phillip is totally blind and depends on Timothy for everything.
   Phillip's prejudice against Timothy is strong but the patience of the old man brings about a slow change in Phillip's attitudes. When the tsunami hits, Phillip realises what a dear friend Timothy was. This book is such a treasure, not only for it's study of overcoming bigotry but also because of the recurring theme of survival against the odds.  It's a great book for Secondary school students, but it is probabbly too easy for PSSC standard. Even so, it's still worth reading. 
   I know The Cay can never compare to the horror of what has happened in Japan, where thousands of people are mourning the loss of family members and friends, however the book serves to remind us how we often take our relationships and life itself for granted.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Author Interview: Mandy Hager

Last week Resurrection, the third book in the Blood of the Lamb trilogy, was released. I interviewed Mandy Hager recently about the series and her writing process. 
Mandy Hager
1.      How did the idea for the Blood of the Lamb series come about? 
It seems weird now to answer this, as the books are a long way from the original idea! But the germ of the idea came from being a vegetarian! I was thinking about the way we treat animals – especially small farm holders – who raise animals with great love and warmth, yet eventually go on to kill and eat them! I was thinking how if you transferred this same kind of exploitative behaviour to children instead of other animals it would seem horrendous... and the book idea started growing from there! Also, I’d worked for 3 years as a writing mentor for a man who was a member of a Fijian cargo cult, and this got me thinking about the religious side of things, and how such a cult could develop.
2.      Did you originally pitch a series or was it at the publisher’s suggestion?
I had been thinking about this theme for a long time and had done quite a lot of research but wanted to walk around a cruise ship (I’m a very visual person and like to be able to explore settings etc so I can get a real feel for them) but couldn’t get on one because after Sept 11th security was so tight they wouldn’t let anybody on unless they were paying passengers! So I put the idea on hold. Later, my publisher jokingly asked if I had an idea that would suit a trilogy – I went home and started thinking about this old idea and realised it had enough story to be broken into 3 books. Luckily, by then I managed to wangle my way onto a cruise ship to look around!

3.      The Crossing strongly portrayed a Gilbertese setting. Have you a Kiribati connection?
No I don’t. But I worked for an organisation for 3 years who did a lot of work with Pacific Island development, so I knew a little about the issues facing many of the Pacific Islands, including issues of colonisation and climate change. At the time I started writing it I spent 3 weeks in Fiji – the first time I’d been to a Pacific Island other than Aotearoa – and this helped me to imagine the world I was creating. Also, I did a LOT of research!
4.      Do you work from a plan or develop the plot as you write a novel? What is your typical writing day?
Yes, I definitely plan – I strongly believe in this for me – I feel that knowing the structure of a book gives it drive and impels the reader through the story. I always know the main plot points before I start – but not how I’m going to get between each one – that’s the bit you have to trust to the magic of creativity – and it always throws up things I’d never have been able to plan in advance! When I’m working on a book I spend quite a lot of time making notes, doing research and planning, and getting to understand characters before I start. Once I start I try to write a chapter a week – write in the mornings and through to about 2 or 3pm, then print off and revise.
5.      Politics and religion are fair game in this series. Did you mean to be so controversial?
Not sure that I’d say I mean to be controversial – but I’m not scared of it! I come from a politically active family, so I guess it’s not surprising. I see things that really worry me about the world and figure that the only way I have any power to try and make things better is to express that worry and to encourage people to look a little harder at the causes and effects. I know the books will probably offend some people – but suspect that if they’re offended they have possibly heard about them but not read them! Because the books really just advocate for fairness, human rights, compassion and love – and how could anyone object to that?! I’m not attacking people’s right to believe in a higher power – but I do believe that everyone has the right to make up their own minds and not be controlled by the institutions who have set themselves up around this. We only have to look at what’s happening today to see the destructive force of using religion to suppress those who don’t do as they’re told by the people in control, and as a means of trying to oppress anyone who thinks differently.
6.      Can you give us an outline of Maryam’s adventures in the third book of the series, Resurrection.
I don’t want to give the plot away – but let’s just say Maryam faces her most challenging situation yet... and that she returns to Onewēre, and that it gets very scary!
7.      Why do you write for young adults?
I really like young adults and respect them – I want to speak to them honestly and say ‘hey – have you thought about things in this way?’ I have 2 children aged 25 and 22 – it terrifies me that they’re growing up in such uncertain times and I try to do everything I can to promote change for a better world. I write for young adults because it’s really important they think about what’s going on and are able to access lots of different points of view about what’s going on – not just the propaganda and rubbish they get fed in mainstream media. I want to try and activate them to ask the hard questions and demand better behaviour and morals from those in power.
8.      What are your favourite island stories?
Sadly there were not many island stories around when I was young, so I’d have to say Swiss Family Robinson and I remember a book I really loved by Armstrong Sperry called ‘The Boy Who Was Afraid.’ More recently, I’ve really enjoyed Lloyd Jones’s Mr Pip and books by Albert Wendt.
9.      If you could visit any island in the world, where would you choose?
Although I’d love to visit more Pacific Islands I’d have to say Zanzibar, off the coast of East Africa. This was where my mother was born, and she loved it so dearly I’d love to go there and experience it for myself.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Shark God by Charles Montgomery

The Shark God (Fourth Estate, 2006)
 The Shark God is my favourite non-fiction island book. It was first published as The Last Heathen in Canada in 2004 and won the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-fiction in 2005. It's written like a travel book and follows the trip of journalist Charles Montgomery as he tries to follow the footsteps of his great-gradfather who was a missionary in the South Pacific. The story of Bishop Patteson's martyrdom on Nukapu in 1871 is the cornerstone of Montgomery's childhood fantasies of Melanesia. As an adult Montgomery decides to travel through Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands documenting the people's connection with the spiritual.
   It is an engrossing book with so many funny encounters and a few scary ones too. His trip to Kwaio is spooky to say the least.

Students dancing as evil spirits. Source: B. Montgomery
    The book is great in a theological sense because it talks about the Christian history of Melanesia and also looks at how Christianity has developed there today. But it also delves deep into the spirit world and ancestor worship which is so central to understanding Melanesian roots.
   In many ways this book is like an old friend. I could sympathise with Montgomery's frustration at trying to get a boat to Temotu and I loved his memorable encounters with the Tasiu (Melanesian Brothers) and the spattering of Pijin throughout the text.
Novice Francis and Jezeloni. Source: B. Montgomery
   The chapter called 'The Brothers and Their Miracles' made me cry. It documented some of Brother Francis' peace work during the ethnic tension. I knew Brother Francis when he was a seventeen-year-old novice at Fox Household in Makira. He was such a gentle, sweet young man. (He is pictured here with my daughter Jezeloni) Years on and now he is a martyr. Such a sad loss.
   Even if you're not into church history, if you love the Pacific you'll get a lot of enjoyment out of this book.