Every book is borne from the creative fire of the writer who dared to envision it but it represents the love, sweat and tears of many people. Tonight I pay tribute to those who helped spark the fire of my writing dreams, and who’s encouragement gave fuel to their intensity. As my first fiction novel is launched with fire, I speak to you of some of the elements required to nurture the flame of creativity – in our children, in our youth, in ourselves.
The foundation for that fire can be first be provided by parents. I was blessed to grow up in a home filled with books. My mum read to us when we were little and my Dad would take us to the Nelson library every week so we could borrow stacks of books at a time. From a very young age then, I have known the joy to be found in books. I have walked in the world of stories, soared through the wilderness of imagination and lingered in the realm of dreams.
The fire of creativity can be sparked by teachers. In std4, my teacher the late Mrs Agnes Stewart read my story about a mango tree – out loud to the class. She told everyone that I had a great imagination and I should be a writer. A spark of a dream was lit on that day. I wrote a letter to my famous Uncle, the author Albert Wendt, asking him what should I do to be a writer? He actually wrote back to me and said ‘if you want to be a writer then you have to write a lot. All the time. About everything.’ He thanked me for writing him such a lovely letter and included a 20 dollar note for an ice cream. I was very encouraged by this, especially the money for ice cream. Wow, I thought, surely this would be the start of many more dollars to come, many more ice creams to come from my writing! (If only.)
The creative fire can be fuelled by mentors and role models. As a young teacher at Samoa college, I was fortunate to be on a team of exam markers of PSSC English, led by Dr Emma Kruse Vaai. She reminisced abt about marking my exam papers many moons ago. Emma asked me if I was still writing and suggested I write stories for the NZ School journal series. And so that sleeping writing flame was reawakened and many short stories followed. Over the years, Emma continued to take the time in the midst of her own career to ask after my writing, offer advice– nudging me, harassing me about getting things written and published.
The creative fire can also be fuelled by literary patrons, successful people in the business community who see the possibilities even when you can’t. In 2009, Mr Hans Joe Keil commissioned me to write a book about the 29/09 tsunami. He wanted it written within the space of 8 months. Even though I had never written a book before, Mr Keil still had the confidence to entrust that project to me. Albert Wendt spoke at the NZ book launch, and called Mr Keils decision – a foolishly brave one. I am grateful for Mr Keils foolish bravery – because of the “Pacific Tsunami Galu Afi” book, I developed some of the discipline and endurance required to start a book and finish it.
There are particular challenges associated with being a woman and trying to be a writer. I belong to an online network of Pacific writers/bloggers. Most of them are women. Many of them are Samoan. Some of them are here tonight. All of us are trying to raise families, be supportive partners, pursue careers that actually bring in money for ice cream – and then late at night – we are trying to write. Blogs, stories, poetry, books. So many things intrude on a woman’s attempts to voice the stories within her. That is why, it is so vital for a woman to write with the encouragement of her family – her partner, her children – because they are the ones who must be patient when theres no dinner cooked, the house is messy, or when a mother is grumpy because she’s been up all night writing. My children were the first ones to read pieces of the TELESA bk and they fuelled my writing with their enthusiastic enjoyment of it.
My parents, various teachers throughout the years, mentors, role models and patrons, my fellow Pacific women bloggers – all have helped to make this book possible and I offer them my gratitude. Thank you.
However, TELESA is primarily a love story, and so it is dedicated to the one person who teaches me daily, how to love with faith, fun and fire – my husband Darren. I am only able to write because of his patient support. He could not be here with me because somebody has to take care of the five children when the mum is away, and so this night of TELESA book celebration is somewhat incomplete for me. There are not many men strong enough and courageous enough to fully support a woman in the pursuit of her dreams and I am so thankful to have a partner who loves me enough to believe in my writing choices.
There are two things that I hope you take away from this nite, two things I hope that reading TELESA will impress upon you.
*Our Samoan writers need our support. As parents, spouses, educators, as a business community, as a nation – we all have a part to play in nurturing those voices who will speak our stories to the world.
2. *You can never be too young, too old, or too busy – to embrace the creative fire that burns within you. Perhaps your fire is stories, perhaps it is poetry like Henrietta Devoe AhChong who will soon launch her first collection, or maybe its photography and design like Tim and Efi Rasmussen and Jordan Kwan who’s TELESA photos and trailer amazed us at the start of this evening, it could be the intricate artistry of bone carving like Beau rasmussen, dance, music, fashion, whatever. To all those who have a quiet creative spark within them, I say, dare to dream. Unleash the creative fire that burns with you and set the world alight with the beauty of your god-given talents.
Faafetai tele lava. Thank you.