Friday, 30 December 2011

Guest Author - Marianne Wheelaghan

Throwim Way Leg

Literally translated the New Guinea pidgin expression throwim way leg means 'to throw away your leg'. Slightly less literally, it means to thrust out your leg and take the first step of what could be a long march (ie: to go on a journey!). I lived in the Pacific area for nearly ten years and three were spent in Papua New Guinea. At first glance the language seems na├»ve and downright silly – I can't help but chuckle when I hear it – but for all its apparent simplicity, New Guinea pidgin can be very subtle.

Papua New Guinea is  – after Greenland – the world's largest island and home to 1000 languages, one-sixth of the world's total. The topography is so rugged that until the arrival of aircraft, tribes in adjacent valleys were often completely isolated. Until a few generations ago, some of the  peoples in the highlands mounted well planned raids on villages, kidnapping children and killing (and even eating) their  parents. Under such conditions, to leave the confines of your village and 'go on a journey' was a fearful, perilous thing, rarely done. It meant abandoning the safety of your village, putting yourself at risk of your enemies, without knowing where the journey would take you or if you would ever return to the safety of your village. The phrase throwim way leg hints at that fearful sense of abandonment a tribe's person must have felt when 'going on a journey'.

So what has this New Guinea pidgin phrase to do with being a writer? Well, in the middle of writing my first (crime) novel, my mother very sadly died. While clearing her things, I discovered a bundle of diary entries and letters and documents which related to Mum's earlier life in Germany (Mum never talked about her early life, so the family  knew very little about it.). Now I had a dilemma: did I translate the diaries and letters  (I'd studied German) and reveal all to the family, or did I ignore them and carry on writing my novel? In the end I opted to translate the letters, not least because my dad was driving me nuts asking me to do so. I imagined it wouldn't take me too long. The first thing I discovered about Mum was that she was one of five million Germans to have been forcibly expelled from their homes in Lower Silesia, at the end of the second World War (when Lower Silesia was handed to Poland). I was shocked – I had never thought of Mum as a refugee. I carried on translating and reading. I was horrified. So much so I put the writing of my debut (crime) novel to one side (and everything else I was doing) and carried on until I had translated absolutely everything. Then I began to carry out research.  In fact I didn't return to my crime novel for over four years, not until after the publication of the The Blue Suitcase, a historic fiction, based not just on my mum's life, but on  the lives of all the mums and families of Lower Silesia, Germany, living in the Third Reich.

Why did I suspend one writing project in favour of embarking on another? Because I had to. I think that being a writer is a bit like to throwim way leg every day. More often or not we have no idea where we are going, the trip is full of pot holes, distractions, disappointments and frustrations. There is a good chance we will never, ever return to the warm and cosy comfort of the life we had before becoming a writer and absolutely no guarantee we will ever get to the promised land of  “making it big” (which is what a lot of my writing friends and acquaintances  talk about, despite being  accomplished writers with a number of books under their belt!). But once an idea grips us, we throwim way leg (often along with our sanity) and follow it to wherever it leads us. We are driven, as the King says in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, to “Begin at the beginning and go on till we come to the end; then stop.”  If we are lucky, we will create a story that others will find worth reading and then we'll start all over again.

On the plus side, when we throwim way leg there is very little chance we will ever get eaten :o)

Were you ever so gripped by an idea that you had to stop everything else you were doing/working on to develop it? Are you, like me, looking forward to finishing a writing project in 2012 which began in 2007?





The Blue Suitcase is available on Kindle in both the UK and US  and in paperback in branches of Blackwell's and Waterstone's throughout the UK and in many Independent bookshops in Edinburgh.

BTW:  The Blue Suitcase is a recommended staff Christmas Read at Waterstone's West End branch in Edinburgh. 

(My debut crime/thriller, set in the Republic of Kiribati, is due out in the late summer of 2012 – the working title of which is Murder on Tarawa, but that will most likely change!)



10 comments:

Susan Price said...

Marianne, you might like to know that you're the page-view winner this month - and yet no one's left a comment! I find that odd, when your blog is so moving and interesting.
And yes! - I've been throwing away me leg in pursuit of my Sterkarm family for about two years now. The end of a first draft is in sight - but then I'll have to rewrite.
Could I, at this point, just give up? No!

Marianne Wheelaghan said...

Hi Susan
lovely to hear from you and thanks for letting me know that I am the page-view winner for this month, even if I am not sure what that means ;o) Thanks too for kind words about the blog. I'm glad you found it interesting. And well done, you, for getting close to the end of your first draft of your Skerkarm family history (what an incredible name! Where is it from?) Look forward to reading more about the book and the rewrite (here?) in 2012 because, of course, you will not give up:)

Dan Holloway said...

What a fascinating post. One of my colleagues is currently working on a project to archive one of Papua's languages, Dusner, that has only three speakers.

Marianne Wheelaghan said...

Hi Dan,
nice to hear from you! Sounds like your friend has a bit of a challenge on his or her hands - but what an interesting project! Will she or he actually get to visit the existing speakers in Papua?

Dan Holloway said...

Hi Marianne :)
Yes, she's already been out several times thanks to funding from The Leverhulme Trust. There was a scare when the three speakers were caught in the middle of floods last year but they survived.

Marianne Wheelaghan said...

Just checked out the Leverhulme Trust - can't believe I'd not heard of it before. What a great organisation!

Dennis Hamley said...

Marianne, what a brilliant post. Yes, you are quite right about being taken over with your story. The time when the fit is on you and you go through all the everyday duties living two lives at once, both of them vivid and meaningful, is a very special one.

Papua New Guinea sounds a marvellous, strange place. I've never been there, but I spend a lot of time in New Zealand with my partner Kay, who is a Kiwi, and met many people from "the Islands". Great folk.

By the way, Colonel Mustard with be with you very soon. And what's more, with either generosity or irresponsible lunacy, I'm not sure which, he will be for FREE!

Katherine Roberts said...

I know exactly what you mean Marianne! I dropped everything in the middle of a 7-book contract to write "I am the Great Horse". At the time it meant having two publishers, and it was maybe a bit stupid of me, since it meant a lot of late nights to keep both publishers' schedules. But Bucephalas just DEMANDED I write his book! (and now it's gone out of print in the UK... hmmm... do I feel another Kindle reissue coming on?)

Marianne Wheelaghan said...

Hi Dennis
so glad you found the post interesting! And look forward to the arrival on the scene of Colonel Mustard! Yeh hey!

And hello Katherine! I am in awe of your ability to take on the madness of two publishers and the juggling of two projects at the same time - phew!- but I understand perfectly why you did;o) Good luck with the Kindle reissue!

A Happy 2012 to you both!

Louisa said...

Excellent post! I love how you weave cultural anecdotes into your own writing journey. I look forward to your new crime/thriller novel!