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, 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.