Interview with Albert Wendt: 7
12 August 2002
Brandy Nālani McDougall
B: How long did that period last for?
A: Oh, maybe about 6 months or a year. But, I don’t write consistently. I write when the urge comes, and when it comes upon me, usually it just goes for days and days.
It’s that feeling you get when you’re right in the middle of writing a novel and everything’s coming together and you can tell yourself, “This is good. This is the most aware I’ve ever been.” But it’s a dangerous position to be in for very long. You then tend to believe that that’s the real world, but the world out there when you come out is hard, it doesn’t make sense.
I suppose that’s why we neglect, what a lot of people consider to be, a normal way of life. I’m not saying that writers – you know the usual myth about writers – that we’re not very well organised and not good at housework, that sort of thing. Some of us are, and some of us aren’t, like other people (laughing). But we have to be well organised in the sense, we have to organise our lives. We have to meet deadlines. And if you’re like me, I’m not a full-time writer, I earn my living another way. I’ve got to organise that way in order to do my writing or art. It’s difficult.
B: In my interview with Robert Sullivan, he named you as the person he came to for advice about what to do with his writing – so I’m going to ask you something along those lines as well, because I know a lot of writers come to you for this – Let’s say a writer comes to you with a manuscript already written and ready – what direction would you point them to?
A: Usually if I have the time and I think the manuscript is interesting, I will read the manuscript myself and tell him or her what I think, and even tell them to send it to certain publishers and tell them that I recommend it. It helps get them through the door.
If I don’t have time to read it, I’ll tell them to ring up this particular publisher. Publishers, many times, don’t want to see the whole manuscript – they see a couple chapters of a novel or a couple of poems and if they like it, they’ll go along with it and you get the book through them. If you send them a whole manuscript they don’t like, they’ll just say, “Sorry, it’s not our kind of literature. But if you send them a few poems and say look I’m interested in writing a whole book of poems like these, they might look at them and say you should go on with this. Same thing happens if you send them a couple chapters of a novel – they’ll say, “Well maybe if you write a few more.”
It’s a tough role to get into, but it wasn’t tough for me because they were looking for “sun-tanned” writers at the time, and I had published a few things. But in the bigger publishing world it’s quite tough because publishing is a very risky business, so they’ll publish only the safe writers, the ones that sell books. And that’s not what writing is all about, is it?
B: And for my last question, what advice would you give to a Pacific writer just starting out?
A: You’ve got to just be so determined that it doesn’t even matter what I say, that you go away, grab a piece of paper and start writing. Organise your life so that you’re able to do it. And then you may have no reason not to try. Give it a go, and if it doesn’t work out, well then you have better things to do with life, like being a plumber. (smiling)
I use the plumber example because my dad was a plumber, most of his life, until he was 85. I have a huge admiration for people who are good at what they do, doesn’t matter what it is. But if you don’t give it a go, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life. You’ll take it out on other people, (laughing), like your family – usually they’re the closest people around. So you’ve got to give it a chance.
It’s worth it for writers to keep the language alive and enrich themselves through the work. It will help your self-esteem if you’re young. It will make you very politically aware of what’s going on in your country and you will use some of that material in your writing. It will never make you rich, but that’s not why you do it. If that’s why we do it, I would have quit years ago. Then I would have gone out and made lots of money.
Well, and you may find that maybe the writing is only the beginning. As you explore, you might find other forms of self-expression. You do art, or you might end up being an actor, or do other things in the general area of art.
We must not forget that art is not Art. I don’t see art with a capitol A like a lot of western critics do. Art keeps you alive, but it might also help other people – it may change the way they see the world.
|© Copyright 2008 Brandy Nālani McDougall & Trout.|
|This issue of Trout is sponsored in part by UNESCO.|