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.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012: a year of firsts

2012 was the year I...

1. ...had my first ever science books published. Thanks to Blake Education!

2. ...bought my first ever e-reader and started reading ebooks. Thanks Kobo!

3. ...read my first ever selkie story. Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan is just awesome!

4. ...took up my first units of Teacher Librarianship. Thanks to Charles Sturt Uni!

5. ...explored NZ's north Island for the first time. Thanks family for putting up with my travel bug and tagging along!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Win a Pacific Stories DVD

Follow this link to the Pacific Stories Facebook page and check out the promotion of their completed DVD called Pacific Stories. It's a series of eight short films exploring Australian Pacific Islander identity. Congratulations Amie on making your project come to life.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Versatile Bananas

Summer desserts are a great joy. I love the raspberries, strawberries and apricots that grow in my garden. (And cherries, mangoes, peaches and passionfruit from the fruit shop) But what about bananas, that most versatile of fruits?
Bananas from our kitchen garden in Makira.
Source: Beth Montgomery 1996
   I once lived on an island that boasted seventeen different varieties of bananas and instead of having a staple starchy food such as a yam or potato, it relied heavily on bananas to feed everyone. There were the super sweet lady finger types and your regular everyday type of banana, but by far the best was the giant orange plantain. Mmmm yum. Boiled or baked they were simply delicious.
   My hausgirl pictured here with my daughter could make a fabulous banana stew. Yes, stew. And then there was the banana pudding that all the women knew how to make. I don't know the recipe but there was grated cassava and coconut cream and stacks of mushy banana, all wrapped in banana leaves and baked on the motu (stone oven). The finished product was sticky, sweet and gluey but fabulously filling.
   Has anyone out there got a recipe for it?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera

My favourite movie is undoubtedly The Whale Rider. I loved the tight storyline, the emotion, the scenery and the cultural attachment to Maori mythology. I hadn't read the book though until last month. It was very different to the movie, which is often the case.
The Whale Rider
(Raupo Publishing, 2002)
   The book has lots of small chapters from the point of view of the mythical old man whale that carried Paikea to the shores of New Zealand. This gives the book a strong mythological core. The tribe of people whose roots derive from the whale rider story are desperate for a new leader. The old chief thinks it will be a male decendant and searches the men young of the village to find a successor. The truth is his young grand-daughter Kahu is destined to lead.
   The relationship between the old man and the young girl is golden. She loves him so much and he ignores her. Over and over she tolerates his gruff ways and even writes her school speech about him and how much she respects him, but still he will not recognise her shining potential.
The Whale Rider
(Penguin, 2008)
   The characterisation of these two in the book is strongly drawn and will make readers cry, just as it did in the film. A delightful and powerful tale!
   This novel is well worth trying, but I would recommend it as a text suitable for secondary school readers and older. There is a glossary at the back for those not familiar with Maori language. The book was first published in 1987 by Reed Books and became so popular because of the movie that it has undergone many reprints, two of which are shown here.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Other Side of the Island by Allegra Goodman

The Other Side of the Island
(Razorbill, 2008)
Honor doesn't remember much about her past in the wilds of the North. She now lives on a tropical island with her parents and soon to be born baby brother. But much to Honor's disgust her family is different from everyone else. They go out at night, they talk about snow and frost, they don't follow the rules. Set somewhere in the not too distant future The Other Side of the Island is a gripping dystopia in a world where the weather is ordered and everything unpredictable is stamped out, re-used or recycled, including people. 
   It's a creepy story that holds you right to the end, and I admit to reading the last few chapters several times because the whole thing went so fast at the climax that I couldn't process it in one go. The characters are well drawn and everylittle detail has some meaning. I think Goodman has written a tight, polished story which stays with you for days after reading it.
   A tremendous book if you like Science Fiction and suitable for both teens and adults.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Josepha and the Vu by Tulia Thompson

Josepha and the Vu
(Huia Publishers, 2007)
Josepha is the youngest of four boys. Overweight and unremarkable, he doesn't have his sibling's  sporting prowess. He is bullied at school by Jack Bucksworth who has stolen a sacred tabua from Josepha's house. When Josepha is determined to get the tabua back, bad things start happening and Josepha finds himself catching glimpses of supernatural beings. With the help of his friend Ming, Josepha confronts Jack on a school excursion with devastating consequences.
   The first chapter of this book was confusing as many characters were introduced quickly. But after a few chapters the characters became more solid and their relationships more obvious. The story really took off when Josepha left his home late at night to spy on the bully Jack.
   I enjoyed this book and found it suitable for late primary/early secondary school readers. It has a lot of action, an interesting plot and Josepha is an endearing character.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Trash by Andy Mulligan

In continuing on with a Philippino theme I have just finished Trash by Andy Mulligan. Although it doesn't mention where it's set it's clear by all the latino names and the reference to Smoky Mountain that this story is about children working in a Philippines rubbish dump. Two boys find a pouch containing some money, a map and a key. When the police come looking for the pouch, the action revs up a gear. Young Raph and Gardo enlist the help of street-wise 'Rat' to help them evade the corrupt policemen and find out more about their mysterious find.
Trash (David Fickling Books, 2010)
   The story moves along quickly and the reader can't help being drawn to the plight of these poor kids who literally have nothing but the clothes on their backs.
   Mulligan uses different viewpoints for each chapter which start simply with 'Rat here...' or 'Gardo now...'. It's an effective startegy as it means the reader doesn't have to grapple with working out who is telling the tale four sentences into the paragraph.
   I enjoyed this book as it has lots of action, good characterisation and themes of corruption, power and personal ethics are strong throughout. The book keeps asking the reader "When is it OK to steal?". Trash is published by David Fickling Books and it is suitable for middle grade readers through to older students.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Shadows Under the Sea by Sally Grindley

Sally Grindley obviously likes writing about far-away places and this book is no different. Set in the Philippines, Shadows Under the Sea is about a young boy called Joe who travels with his family to study seahorses. Whilst staying on one of the outer islands Joe discovers evidence of a criminal gang who threaten the reef with their activities. Joe and his friend Dario end up trying to expose the gang and that's when their lives are in danger.

Shadows Under the Sea
(Bloomsbury, 2012)
   Grindley sets the scene well, depicting the steamy tropical shores and colourful reef that the family explore in some detail. Although Grindley can write powerfully, I do feel this is not her best work. The plot seems to be a device to draw attention to environmental issues with very little conflict until half way through the story. Perhaps this is because the Zoological Society of London helped her to write the book.
   Younger emerging readers with an interest in animals and the environment may not notice the didactic overtones, and simply enjoy the story as an exotic adventure. The book is published by Bloomsbury.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

In praise of mass weddings

The founder of the Moonies passed away recently and he was a big one for mass weddings. Where funds are hard to muster then mass weddings are a sensible solution.
Three couples married in Ysabel, July 2010.
Source: B. Montgomery
   When I last went to the Solomons my nephew was getting married and it was a giant day in the village. One of my daughters was selected to be a flowergirl and I assumed it would be a ceremony involving one groom and one bride. I was astonished to see three brides out the back of the church getting into their wedding dresses. Yes, the village was about to witness three couples getting married at once. What a terrific idea! 
   Each bride selected a dress from the wardrobe out the back which also had a range of flowergirl dresses, men's suits and white shirts. When the ceremony was over all the bridal parties put their 'dress-ups' back in the cupboard. This seemed so sensible because how many of us ever wear our wedding dresses a second time?
   The other thing that was fabulous about the day was that the whole village was invited and many folk from surrounding villages as well. No great aunts were snubbed, no-one was left out. Every family was involved in baking and preparing the wedding feast. A great day of celebration was had by all and it cost so little. I truly think my home village has its priorities set right and the Western ways of expensive showy weddings don't really grasp the true essence of the ritual.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Missionaries, Headhunters & Colonial Officers by Peter Maiden

Missionaries, Headhunters and
Colonial Officers (CQUni 2003)
I've been trying to do some research lately into the practice of cannibalism in the Pacific. I came across this interesting book on the topic in my local library. Missionaries, Headhunters and Colonial Officers tells about the posting of Rev. James Chalmers to PNG, or British New Guinea as it was then known, in the late 1800s.  Rev Chalmers, or Tamate as he was known throughout the Pacific, was murdered by Goaribari warriors in 1901 off the south coast of PNG.
   The work of this energetic, inspiring missionary and the daily dangers he faced in harrowing conditions is engrossing reading. Then there are the gruesome details of how the Papuans of old practiced various forms of cannibalism. Hideous stuff, but fascinating.
   There are a few black and white photographs of Chalmers and his colleagues and some of the Papuans through out the book but more would have been better.
   Maiden's style drags at times as he lists endless facts and dates but it's easy enough to skim over the dry bits and reach the juicy, human-interest parts of this biography of Chalmer's life. If you are interested in the history of PNG or of church missionaries in the South Pacific, then this book is a good one.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Torn Pages by Sally Grindley

Torn Pages (Bloomsbury, 2009)
   This book made me cry, over and over. But they weren't tears of hopelessness and despair at the young protagonist's miserable situation. They were tears where a smile shone through, with the promise of hope. Sally Grindley has done a terrific job of portraying the plight of children orphaned by AIDS in a village in rural Africa. Straight away we are taken into young Lydia's world of hardship, grief and hunger as she struggles to take on the role of parent to her two younger siblings. Lydia has little to remember her parents by, save for a diary in which her ailing mother wrote words of comfort and encouragement. 
   Poor Lydia has to give up school and outwit her proud and trecherous Grandmother who treats the children as pariahs. And then there is the new man to the village, Jabu, who keeps hanging around. What are his intensions?
   Torn Pages isn't an island story but it is a story about village life and family relationships. There is plenty here for Pacific Island students to relate to. There is water to fetch, a garden to tend and the all too familiar desperate search for transportation when loved ones are sick.
   Although this book is aimed at children in late primary school, I am sure older readers would enjoy it too.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Whale Pot Bay by Des Hunt

Whale Pot Bay
(Harper Collins, 2009)
Teenager Jake lives with his dad on a remote coastline in New Zealand where whales sometimes beach themselves. Their rich celebrity neighbour Milton Summer seeks seclusion, away from the media. Jake forms a friendship with Milton and teaches him to surf but the arrangement is shattered when a photographer tricks his way onto the property and reports the partnership in a trashy magazine. This is seemingly the end to the story but the plot takes off after this incident. A whale beaches itself in the bay and Milton, Jake and his family work together to rescue it and forge stronger ties. However they don't count on the deceitful tactics that the photographer uses to get information on tracking the whale.
   Kiwi author Des Hunt usually has a wildlife theme running through his books and Whale Pot Bay is no different. Hunt has obviously done a lot of research into not only current marine tracking technologies but also the history of whaling in New Zealand. 
   But this story isn't just a whale watching narrative. It is also action packed with both a photographer stalking Milton Summer and a menacing and violent gunman on the loose. I enjoyed this book and would recommend it for secondary school students, particularly those interested in wildlife.

Friday, August 10, 2012

What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted by Alan Duff

What Becomes of the
(Random House, 1996)
What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted is the sequel to Once Were Warriors and Alan Duff just doesn't let up in his portrayl of a drunken, violent and disfunctional family. The book follows the fortunes of Maori man Jake Heke and his estranged wife and kids after the tragic climax of Once Were Warriors. Jake ends up sleeping on the streets and the gang culture is still part of his sons' lives. This book is just as shocking as the first but Duff takes the reader to such a depth of understanding and compassion for this damaged family that I found myself totally captured by his writing.
   Again he uses an odd style of limited punctuation that takes a few pages to adjust to, but once you get the rhythm of the voice you are spell-bound, right to the end. If you can put up with the violence and grasp the small snippets of hope that Duff throws out, then you will make it to the end, breathless and satisfied.
   I wouldn't recommend this one to young readers, the content is just too confronting. But many adults would no doubt enjoy it.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Pacific Poets #3 Jully Makini

Jully Makini
Jully Makini is a poet from the Solomon Islands, also known by her maiden name Jully Sipolo. Her first collection Civilized Girl was published in 1981 and her second, Praying Parents in 1986. Her more recent collection Flotsam and Jetsam was published in 2007.
   The poem 'Civilized Girl' is a terrific one for PSSC students to memorise and use in the English exam. The six stanzas are short, compact and punchy. The images are clear and the narrator's confusion and loss of identity is obvious. I particularly like the tactile image of the girl's straightened hair ...Now soft as coconut husk/ held by a dozen clips...
   'Civilized Girl is an ideal poem to compare with Konai Helu Thaman's 'Island Fire.'

Monday, July 23, 2012

When the Kehua Calls by Kingi McKinnon

When the Kehua Calls (Scholastic, 2002)
This short novel was written by the late Maori author Kingi McKinnon and tells of a youth called Rewi relocating from the city to the country with his family. The young city-slicker forms a close bond with his cousin who explains many Maori customs and tells Rewi about ghosts, or kehua that can haunt places for many years. Rewi has a form of second sight, where he can sense an evil kehua around his new country home. But Rewi doubts his own visions. Eventually he finds he must trust his Maori instincts in order to save the life of his little sister.
   For such a short book, McKinnon did well to create a sinister feel early on and to ratchet up the tension quickly.
   I learnt a lot about Maori customs from this story, which from the author's notes was his main intention of writing the story.
   When the Kehua Calls has a glossary in the back to help readers with the Maori words. I recommend this well crafted book to middle school readers as it's short and sweet and not too challenging a read.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

On Board the Boussole by Christine Edwards

This week I had the pleasure of working at a Secondary School alongside another Australian author. Christine Edwards, also known as Chrissie Michaels has like me, written both novels and teacher resources. I have decided to review her historical novel On Board the Boussole as much of it is a sea-faring tale and Laperouse's voyage came to a mysterious end in the Solomon Islands in the late 1700s. 
On Board the Boussole
(2002, Scholastic)
   Commander Laperouse was a famous French navigator who set sail on board the Boussole when France was in a state of unrest, with revolution brewing. This novel, set out as a diary, tells the story of a young stowaway Julienne Fulbert who hides her gender and becomes a cabin boy for the officers on one of Laperouse's ships, the Boussole. The journal documents Laperouse's journey to the Americas, through the Pacific and finally his time at Botany Bay, observing the first fleet and its cargo of convicts.
   This book is one of a series entitled 'My Story' which aimed to showcase historical moments from the perspective of teenagers of the time. The hope being that contemporary teens would develop an interest in history. The prose is straightforward but to catch Julienne's voice, Edwards has had to use stilted and semi-formal dialogue. It takes a few pages to get used to, but then the story takes over and it's not so noticable.
   On Board the Boussole is a good book for junior Secondary School readers interested in history.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Ship Kings: The Coming of the Whirlpool by Andrew McGahan

The Coming of the Whirlpool was the one book I took to NZ to read while I was away. Written by award-winning Australian author Andrew McGahan, who usually writes for adults, I thought it would be a terrific book. The story was original and interesting but I felt the start was too tame which meant that the story lacked pace at the beginning.

The Coming of the Whirlpool
(Allen and Unwin, 2011)
   So what was the story? A young lad discovers that he doesn't want to be a wood-cutter, he wants to go to sea and his family are troubled by this. Eventually he gets his wish and joins an old fisherman who has lost his son and grandson to a whirlpool. Their relationship is prickly and the hero Dow Amber feels as if he has been cheated of his ambition, slugging it out each day in the bay fishing instead of voyaging the high seas. And then when the Ship kings come to the bay everything starts to get worse for Dow and the whirlpool comes again. 
   The setting is a fictional island but it's hard to tell when the story was set. It has a timeless quality, the ship kings have distinctly Spanish names and the characters have almost medieval voices. Some of the characters were terrific. I particularly liked the cranky old man Nathaniel and the innkeeper Boiler Swan.
   I would recommend this book for stronger readers and those interested in adventure, sea stories and even pirates. I think that many boys would be annoyed with the lack of pace in the beginning though and ditch what ultimately becomes a fascinating read.

Friday, July 13, 2012


With Maori performers in Rotorua (source: B Montgomery)
I've just arrived home from twelve days in New Zealand with my family. What a picturesque country! The locals were friendly and the sights were breath-taking. It was great to finally get to see Rotorua which has been an ambition of mine since childhood. I also bought lots of kiwi fiction, many by my favourite Maori authorWiti Ihimaera.  One highlight of the trip was visiting 'Hobbiton' in Matamata, one of the film locations of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films. Here are a few shots of our holiday.

Exploring a hobbit hole, Matamata. (Source: B Montgomery)

At Green Lake with my daughter Jez. (Source: B Montgomery)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Island by John Heffernan and Peter Sheehan

Islands are great literary devices because they can show a culture as a singular unit, untouched by outside influences. John Heffernan's picture book The Island portrays a tribe of people who are always miserable because they work so hard and fail to notice the beauty all around them. Only one member of the tribe, a blind boy, experiences beauty in the things around him: the sounds, the smells and tactile experiences he has.
The Island (Scholastic, 2005)
One day the boy encounters a sea creature and plays with it. His laughter attracts the rest of the tribe who also eventually join in with the frivolity in the sea. But their happiness is short lived and they want to keep the sea creature so they can always be happy. They capture the sea creature and keep it on the island where it begins to sicken.

The blurb on the back of the book asks, "How do we find happiness? And once we find it, how can we hold on to it?"
Posing these basic philosophical questions, the illustrator Peter Sheehan has created a fabulous sea creature which is rubbery, colourful, comical and sweet. The blind boy has a whimsical, soft look in contrast to the rest of the tribe who are rigid and monochomed.

This picture book leaves a lasting impression and generates a lot of discussion with kids about perceptions, values and the pusuit of happiness.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Mutuwhenua by Patricia Grace

Mutuwhenua (Penguin, 1978)
Mutuwhenua is a Maori word that refers to the new moon or when the moon is sleeping. This novel is a kiwi classic because it was the first ever published novel by a Maori woman way back in 1978. It tells the story of Maori woman Ripeka who leaves her extended family to marry Graeme, a Pakeha schoolteacher. Central to the book is the belonging Ripeka feels for the land where she grew up and the sense that she can't be torn from it.
   Mutuwhenua is a thin volume but the writing packs a punch. Patricia Grace has a sparse style particularly with her use of dialogue which conveys pent up emotion well. The book is easy to read and the plot is simple. Poor Ripeka begins to wither away from her ancestral home. Her despair and confusion are well drawn and I must admit to crying several times whilst I read it.
   This book is a good one for PSSC students, the length, easy prose and setting all come together to make a great 'island 'story for students learning English.

Monday, June 11, 2012

More Views of Nauru

Here are some more photos from Nauru in the 1990s. My inspiration for The Birthmark came from teaching these students and living on the island for over three years.

Students dancing at a formal function. Source: B. Montgomery

Japanese pillbox by the side of the road. Source: B. Montgomery
Kids playing in a briny pond in Anabar. Source: B. Montgomery

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan

Sea Hearts (Allen and Unwin, 2012)
I have just finished reading the most extraordinary 'island' story. Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan is at once beautiful, magical, dark and heart-wrenching. It is a story set on fictional Rollrock Island where once the men took sea-wives, that is, women magicked from seals. A young girl called Misskaella discovers she has the power to call the seals and her intentions are far from innocent. The townsfolk have humiliated her for years and her desire for revenge is great. Misskaella becomes known as the witch and it is her story which is central to Sea Hearts
   The narrative is told from different viewpoints giving the reader the ability to see the damage caused by this dark magic from all perspectives. The men of the island are bewitched so that their existing relationships crumble with devastating consequences. But life with a sea-bride is not all the men imagine it will be. Problems arise with their new wives who long to return to the sea.
   Lanagan's prose is hauntingly beautiful. She really is a classy writer who can produce powerful scenes using all the senses. If you have the chance to read any of her short story collections you will also be captivated by her skill. She is an amazing author. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is a true 'island' treasure.

Monday, May 28, 2012

One Small Island by Alison Lester and Coral Tulloch

Macquarie Island lies to the south of New Zealand on route to the antarctic. It is bitterly cold, "a speck of green in a vast, windswept sea...". One Small Island is a beautiful picture book that documents the ancient geology and modern history of this remote island. A major theme is the damage inflicted to the island's fragile ecology by humans. First the sealers killed thousands of seals and brought introduced animals to the island. The beautiful Macquarie Island parakeet was then wiped out by introduced predators.
One Small Island (Viking, 2011)
The introduced animals included cats, dogs, rats wekas and rabbits. Over time these feral creatures destroyed the native environment and the rabbits in particular reached plague proportions. This book shows how scientists are currently trying to eradicate the rabbit and restore some of the island's habitat for sea birds and mammals.
   This is a delightful and informative picture book. The illustrations are a mixture of realistic drawings, scientific diagrams, maps  and sketches. The result is surprisingly pleasing. One Small Island is an absorbing book which I highly recommend.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Shadow of the Boyd by Diana Menefy

Shadow of the Boyd
(Harper Collins, 2010)
Long ago I'd heard a friend tell the tale of a young cabin boy who had survived a massacre in New Zealand in the early 1800s, along with a woman and two small girls. Shadow of the Boyd is the retelling of this true story, the terrifying experience of fifteen-year-old Thomas Davidson. Davidson's story is told partly as a straight narrative and partly from diary entries which jolt his memories further, revealing details of his time on the brigantine Boyd.
   Menefy took much of her information from old shipping documents but had to rely on imagination to fill in most of the details. The result is an engaging read but a brutal one. Menefy did well to describe the massacre simply but without too much gore. The way the survivors lived with the Maori people after the massacre was fascinating.
   This is a good read for those interested in New Zealand history.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Island by Armin Greder

The Island (Allen & Unwin, 2007)
This picture book is both disturbing and beautiful. It has one many awards in Europe and was shortlisted for the Children's Book Council of Australia awards a few years back.
   The Island tells the story of a stranger washed up on the beach in a raft. The islanders are suspicious of the stranger and eventually their fears turn to outright hostility. The illustrations are roughly drawn in dark shades but their impact is huge. Some of them reminded me of Munch's famous painting 'The Scream'. Others were very like Van Gogh's early works of farmers in the fields or sitting at the table for an evening meal. The contrast between the well-fed islanders and the naked thin stranger says a lot about wealth distribution, human rights and discrimination. A thought provoking book for older children.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Pacific Poets #2 Konai Helu Thaman

Dr Konai Helu Thaman
Poetry is one section of the PSSC English Exam which students can prepare for easily as long as they memorise at least four poems. Tongan academic Dr Konai Helu Thaman is one poet who has several collections of poems to choose from. An old favourite of mine is You, the Choice of my Parents which was first published in 1974. "Island Fire" is a short poem of only 16 lines from this collection. It is a great one to memorise for the exams because it's so short and it can be compared with other poems around such themes as Western education or the generation gap. Konai Helu Thaman's style is rich in imagery as in the lines "...the slow turning of/ Foreign text book pages" and her use of metaphor is also strong considering she has very few lines to work with in this compact piece.
Other excellent poems from this collection include "You, the Choice of my Parents" and "Reality".

Friday, April 27, 2012

Photographer Helps Island School

Students from Viwa Island would love some books to read.
Source: Michele Darmanin
Australian photographer Michele Darmanin travelled to Fiji in november last year with her husband. They visited Viwa island in the Yasawa Group and were delighted by the school children who strived hard to learn but had no resources.
   How common is this? Everywhere throughout the Pacific there are hundreds of villlage schools suffering the same plight.
   Michele and her husband were determined to help the children of Viwa and started sending books over to the island. They have requested donations of books Australia wide to cater for primary-aged students. If you can help donate a few books, contact Michele Darmanin on her blog Aussie Heavenscent. Or there is a link through Facebook called  Donate-A-Book-on-behalf-of-the-School-Children-of-Viwa-Island-Fiji.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Island Girl by Lolo Houbein

Island Girl is a story for teens set on an island off the South Australian coast. Written by author Lolo Houbein, the text has an odd style which often omits the subjects of sentences. This gives the prose a brooding effect but it also makes some of the reading clunky and awkward sounding in your head. I also had the feeling that the teenage voice hadn't been adequately captured. I have no idea how old the author is but many of the expressions used in the protagonist's internal dialogue are those of a "baby boomer" or even older.
Island Girl
(Hybrid Publishers, 2009)
   As for the plot, well... not much happens except the protagonist Bianka makes a decision about what to do with her life. There is a romance of sorts, but that's a long way into the book and if the start doesn't hook you, then you're unlikely to persevere. Most of the story centres around Bianka's indecision and the inner turmoil she feels at not knowing what to do with her life now she has left school. It is a source of conflict for sure, but quite a tame one. Plenty of paragraphs are taken up with planning meals and gardens and unless teens are interested in self-sufficiency tips, I really don't feel there is a lot to engage them.  
   If you are after a slow, introspective read then you may enjoy Island Girl. However if you are after a story with a strong plot and plenty of action then you may as well look elsewhere.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Many schools in the Pacific have class sets of this classic, and it's certainly a story well worth reading. First published in 1952, the edition pictured here is published by Random House.
   Hemingway has a simple style that uses a minimum of words to describe both action and emotion. In this story Hemingway writes about an old man who lives in a fishing village in Cuba. The old man loves fishing but has had no luck in catching anything for over two months. One day he goes out too far in his little boat and hooks a huge marlin. He is all alone with no one to help him pull in the enormous fish. Proud, determined and weakened by age and lack of sleep, he battles the predators of the sea to land his catch.
   This is a terrific study of character and although the plot is simple it is written with such clarity and warmth that the reader is captivated till the end. A bit like that hooked marlin, really.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Vanishing Act by Mette Jakobsen

I've just finished reading the strangest book... The Vanishing Act by Mette Jakobsen. Each reading session I would begin where I left off feeling perplexed, delighted and annoyed and after a few more pages my feelings would intensify. I was perplexed because the story read like a fairy tale but there didn't seem to be any point to it. The characters' motivations weren't clear and their back stories were scant. There were characters and items which I thought were symbols, but what they may have represented I couldn't tell.
The Vanishing Act
(Text Publishing, 2011)
   However I was delighted with The Vanishing Act because it is a refreshingly original island story. Minou and her parents live on an isolated dot in the ocean somewhere very cold after the war (Is it WW2?-it's hard to say, the author has made everything vague).  Despite this loose connection with setting the writer has created quirky characters who fill the spaces with colour and humour. Unfortunately for young Minou her mother vanishes one day. There is speculation she was washed off the rocks into the sea. The young narrator's voice oozes innocence and denial as she is certain her mother will return.
   This novel did annoy me though because it went back and forth and round and round in no particular order and I became confused several times about what was back story and what was not. There is also the complication of the dead boy who washes ashore. When both Minou and her father begin talking to the corpse things get kind of bizarre...then there is the peculiar uncle and the implausible turtle, the aged peacock, the suicidal goat...
   But I have to say I cried and cried at the end when things became a bit clearer and I realised afterall that I did enjoy the story despite my complete bewilderment over what it all meant. Give it a try if you like literary fiction, but if you're after action and adventure this book won't deliver for you.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Author Interview: Wendy Orr

Last year I met Wendy Orr at a writing workshop organised by our local Secondary College. Since then I have read and reviewed Nim's Island and watched the movie too. It's all good stuff! Thankfully, Wendy agreed to an interview for Island Stories.

BM   Do you plan your novels or do you follow where your writing leads you?

WO   I have a rough plan in my head, and often a lot of notes on different scenes, the character and their history. I have to know the start, a few key scenes, and the ending - though occasionally the ending changes when I get there. I start when I can hear the first sentence in my head (of course it's very rarely the first sentence in the book - it may be thrown out entirely, rewritten, or come much later in the book). But whatever happens to it later, when I hear it, I can set the tone of the book.  After the second or third draft, I can start more organised planning with time lines etc, if I need to. 

BM    What is your typical writing week?     

WO   I check my emails at breakfast and answer anything that has to get back to North America before they leave the office for the evening. I walk the dog after breakfast, and then sort emails into what has to be answered immediately & quickly, or questionnaires etc that can be done at the end of the week. I used to answer them immediately, update facebook & twitter, etc, but the volume is so overwhelming now that it would leave no time for writing, and I am now trying to go back to making the morning and early afternoon my primary writing time. I walk the dog again around 4 and try to get back to emails after that till about 6; I may do a few more after dinner. If I have copy-editing or proof reading with an urgent deadline I go back to work after dinner, and the emails have to wait. On the weekend I try to catch up with emails,  paperwork, questionnaires and preparing any talks for the following week, but I have also decided to start trying to take weekends off, and am considering allocating one day for the office work.

BM   What was your inspiration for Nim’s Island?     

WO   Nim's Island was inspired partly by two letters from girls asking me to write a book about them. I said that I couldn't do that but I started playing the writer game of "What if" (two very important words in finding stories). "What if a girl wrote to an author and said "Could you please write a book about me?" and the author said, "No, because I'm a very famous writer who writes very exciting books, and since you're just a little girl your life would be much too boring." But what if the girl's life was more exciting than the author's?
I then decided that the girl's life was more exciting because she lived on an island, and I wrote the book all in letters between the girl and the author - which was very boring. Finally I remembered a story I'd written when I was 9, about a little girl running away from an orphanage to live alone on an island - and finally Nim's Island came to life. 
So the inspiration was partly those letters, but the deeper inspiration was seeing a tiny little island when I was 9 and thinking that I'd like to live on it, because that's why I wrote that first story.

BM    Nim is a combination of techno kid and wild child. How did her character evolve in your mind?

WO   She came fairly fully formed. I think she was the nine year old child in me who wanted to be brave and resourceful and live on an island. 

BM   Nim’s Island was first published in 1999. How did Universal Pictures come to make it into a film?

WO   Universal Pictures was the Australian distributor but not the producer. 

BM   Sorry, my mistake.

WO   The book came out in the US in 2000 and won or was shortlisted for quite a lot of awards, including the Los Angeles Times Best Books for 2001. That meant it went into most libraries in Los Angeles, and was on display in the Santa Monica public library when the film producer Paula Mazur went in to get a book for her 8 year old son for the summer holidays. She took it home and started reading it to him, found the whole family was drawn in, and asked me for the film rights. We worked on the pitch together; she pitched it to several Hollywood studios, had interest from 4, and went with Walden Media, who specialised in children and family films adapted from literature. Fox then became a partner for US and international distribution. 

BM   Did you have any input into the movie?

WO   I was a consultant and worked on the first two drafts of the screenplay with Paula Mazur and the screenwriter Joe Kwong.
BM   Tell us about the map you made of the island.

WO   I drew a map which I sent to Kerry Millard, the illustrator, and she redrew it to look good. I think the original map is in the Lu Rees Archives at the University of Canberra, where my papers are stored.
BM   The movie put a lot of emphasis on the author Alex Rover and her development throughout the story. Were you pleased with the script and its changes?

WO   I felt it represented my idea of Alex quite accurately, in a visual medium. Jodie Foster also happens to look very much like my conception of Alex! 

BM   What are your favourite island stories?

WO   As a child, I loved Treasure Island, Coral Island, The Swiss Family Robinson, Robinson Crusoe... and later Lord of the Flies, in a different way. 

BM   Would you enjoy living on a remote island like Nim or are you more suited to civilization?  

WO   Much as I love island life, or living in the country, and don't know how I'd manage living in a city, I quite like being within reach of civilisation. 

BM   Are there are any film plans for the book sequel, Nim at Sea

WO   We are working on it  now and hope that something may be announced quite soon. 


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Straggler's Reef by Elaine Forrestal

Straggler's Reef
(Fremantle Arts Centre
Press, 1999)
Straggler's Reef is a complex story which is surprising for such a short book. There is the lost treasure, the ghost, the snippets of text from old Grella's family history book and the present tense shipwreck of Karri, her brother and their father on the reef, all of which are woven together to good effect.
     The story is a ficticious account of an actual shipwreck and treasure hunt off the coast of Western Australia in 1839. A chest of silver coins was allegedly lost at sea during this shipwreck. Elaine Forrestal has done well to provide a link between past and present by using the family history book. Karri and her brother are decendants of the Captain who organised the rescue of the striken craft. Legend of the lost treasure is part of their family lore, but the children never really believed the treasure existed until they meet the young girl Caroline, who is in fact a ghost.
    The Scottish accents are a 'wee' too overdone for my taste as I found myself re-reading chunks of the dialogue to get the full meaning. Perhaps some younger readers may have similar trouble.
   I found the story slow at first but when the ghost starts to interact with Karri the whole tale takes off at a cracking pace.
   The book is suitable for children in the 8-12 age bracket.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Pacific Poets # 1 "Father and Son" by Ruperake Petaia

Blue Rain is a fine collection of poems by the Western Samoan author and poet Ruperake Petaia. One of my favourite poems is "Father and Son" which clearly depicts the negative impact a Western education can have on islander relationships by widening the generation gap and introducing cultural change. The stanza with the lines 'suddenly he speaks / and you don't want to hear him / he dresses / and you don't want to see him' conveys rich emotion and conflict with so few words.
   "Father and Son" is a great one for PSSC students to memorise for the exams because it is only five stanzas long.
   If you haven't checked out Petaia's work, give it a try. Now in his sixties, he is still writing well. Last year his short story "The Challenge" was Highly Commended in the 2011 Commonwealth Short Story Competition.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Sons for the Return Home by Albert Wendt

Sons for the Return Home is a classic of Pacific Island literature.Written by Albert Wendt and first published in 1973 it follows the coming of age of a young Samoan man studying in New Zealand. Essentially it is a love story (which as I've mentioned before isn't my favourite genre) but this book has such power and quirkiness to it that it has a lot more to offer the reader than a mere romantic romp.

Sons for the Return Home
(this ed. Penguin, 1987)
   I first read it over ten years ago and the intensity of the writing has stuck with me so that I remember some scenes as vividly as if I'd read them yesterday. Wendt has a sparse sensuous style that races you through the story with a minimum of effort but the emotions he depicts are raw.
   The Samoan youth (who is never named) begins a relationship with a rich white girl (who is also never named).  Pakeha/islander relantionships are laid bare with racist undertones. Misunderstandings are rife. Lust and longing pervades the whole book and there are many varied sexual encounters. However Wendt writes with such skill that they don't read as pornography. The family expectations on the youth and cultural change are also major themes of the book.
   Sons for the Return Home is on the PSSC list and I recommend it highly not just because it's a great story about an islander but for the wonderful quality of the prose.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

Over Christmas I read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and enjoyed the gothic edge that underlines this classic. (Spoiler alert!) The maniacal laughing coming from the top floor ends up being the romantic interest's first wife. But who was she and why was she crazy?
   First published in 1966, Wide Sargasso Sea attempts to answer these questions. It is a fine example of what is termed fan fiction, where a writer is so taken with an existing novel that he/she decides to develop a story around one of the lesser known characters.

Wide Sargasso Sea
 (Penguin, 1997)
   The Wide Sargasso Sea is set firstly in the Carribean where Mr Rochester is wed to a young heiress from a failed plantation. Slavery has come to an end but the wounds and bitter feelings of the brutal industry remain. So does the pervasive influence of voodoo or obeah as it's called in this book. The young wife (Antoinette a.k.a. Bertha) fears such witchcraft but also tries to employ it to rekindle her husband's passions. Things go from bad to worse and Antoinette's sanity deteriorates. Filled with loathing for his wife, Mr Rochester determines that he must take her to England to distance her from all she loves and so part three of the story continues in a colder climate and weaves into Jane Eyre's narrative.
   I enjoyed the vibrant colours, the humidity and the lush vegetation described in this book. The dialogue is authentic too, with the islanders using an island creole or patois in turn. But the foreign words aren't overdone and there is a handy appendix at the back that aids understanding.
   Rhys has done well to depict a brooding mistrust among the islanders towards the visiting Mr Rochester and even towards the young Antoinette. At times the changes in point of view are hard to follow, but in general the author has pulled off a steamy and sinister tale of deception. This is well worth the read, and Iimagine it wouldn't matter too much if you've read Jane Eyre or not. The story is good enough to stand on its own.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Sticker Books

(Nelson Doubleday, 1967)
Sticker Books have come a long way over the last forty years. I recently bought my daughter a Harry Potter Lego version which was a lot of fun and had hundreds of stickers inside. Many of the stickers are meant to be put on particular pages to complete a scene, while others are extras that kids can put wherever they like, on drawings, in their own books or on the walls...(eeek!)
   A week ago I found a sticker book published in 1967 by Nelson Doubleday. It was titled Australia's Island Territories. I opened it and was immediately transported to my childhood. Gum-backed rectangular glossy stickers, each with a white border were peppered throughout the fact-filled booklet. Each numbered sticker had a caption. As a child I had a similar book on dinosaurs and another on insects; one of my brothers had one about aeroplanes.
Sample sticker of Nauru
Source: Ronald Rose
   Australia's Island Territories is a small booklet filled with geographic and historical facts on Norfolk, Cocos and Christmas Islands as well as Nauru. It is a real snap-shot of the 1960's. I enjoyed looking at the pristine beaches and the people in the photos. There is also a double page spread of maps illustrated in orange, black and white.
Sample sticker of Norfolk Island
Source: Qantas Airways Ltd
   The format is very formal and dry but it was all we had in those days. Now kids are bombarded with facts on the TV and Internet, all presented in a fresh, engaging manner. They would overlook the old style sticker book in a nanosecond.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Pix of Nauru

I found some of these old photos in my cupboard. They are scenes of Nauru from 1992 and 1993. Wow, some of these are 20 years old.

The cantilever that deposits phosphate into the ships.
Source: B Montgomery

Anibare Bay. Source: B Montgomery.

Pinnicles in the foreground, remaining vegetation in the background.
Source: B Montgomery