Saturday 7 February 2009

Treasure from Manila: Pieces of Me

MANILA -- On the flight to Manila to visit my mother, I read Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones (thanks to Daoud for lending it to me), and it was just as dazzling as one critic described it. A blurb from the Observer said:
“Mister Pip is the first of Jones’ six novels to have travelled from his native New Zealand to the UK. It is so hoped that it won’t be the last.”
Discovering that there are more novels by an author you've just fallen in love with is like winning the bonus question in a game show. How wonderful that Lloyd Jones has more treasure for me to uncover ... IF of course UK publishers deign to bring them over.

I went to Bologna last year to attend the SCBWI Conference that precedes the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. I was stunned by the number of book stores, stuffed with books in Italian. Books I will never read unless I find a way to become proficient in the language.

Makes you think, what a disadvantage it is to have just one tongue and access to just one canon of publishing. All those books waiting to be read out there ...

I count myself lucky to have access to an ‘other’ world of books in my native Philippines –although bookselling sensibilities here definitely deserve the description ‘Developing’ in Developing World.

Charging around Manila visiting bookstores, I was at first disheartened by the thick wallpaper of Stephenie Meyer at shop entrances, the thicket of American titles in front and a puny selection of Filipino books hidden away in a corner. At several shops, I was escorted to the Filipino book section by staff who seemed bemused that anyone should be interested in local writing.

But at one book store, I was excited to find Filipino authors mixed in with Western authors, instead of hidden away in a dusty exotic corner. The display tables that other bookstores reserved for Stephenie Meyer and JK Rowling were given over to picture books that starred water buffalos and monkeys instead of fluffy bunnies and red-breasted robins, there were Filipino thrillers and romance novels, and even children’s historical fiction. Bravo, Power Books.

Here is some of the treasure I’ve amassed from trawling the bookstores:

Tiger on the Wall by Annette Flores Garcia, illustrated by Joanne de Leon
Very Good Carabao by Rosario Calma and illustrated by Liza Flores.

I must have read these books a hundred times to my three year old nephew. These are published by the pioneering children's book publisher Adarna Books (someday I hope to become one of their authors!).

The graphic novel scene in Manila is exciting, with ranks of local graphic novels on display everywhere. I picked Martial Law Babies by Arnold Arre - because I was a child during the Martial Law years in the Philippines.

I was so excited to find young fiction by Carla M. Pacis - a middle grade chapter book Owl Friends that described the friendship between two refugees of the Pinatubo volcanic eruption, a tribal boy and a little girl. Enrique El Negro imagines the story of a Filipino boy named Enrique who is recorded by Pigafetta to have travelled with Magellan as a translator before Magellan's death in the Philippines in 1521.

Owl Friends, Illustrations by Yasmin S. Ong
Enrique El Negro, Illustrations by Mel Silvestre

I also found this beautifully designed book about the use of fruits and vegetables in folk medicine - it will be a treasure trove of research for my novels which always have Philippine folk elements.

Medicinal Fruits and Vegetables
by Jaime Z. Galvez Tan and Rebecca Marana-Galvez Tan

And then there was this fantastic fact book about the Aswang, a Filipino vampire monster - another great character to add to my bestiary. The Aswang Inquiry based on a report by Frank Lynch, retold and illustrated by Gilda Cordero-Fernando, one of my favourite Filipino authors. I also acquired collections of Filipino folk stories and legends, books on superstitions, DVDs of classic Filipino movies - all in the name of research ... and fun.

I stocked up on books by Jose Y Dalisay - a fabulous writer who really ought to be writing more short stories intead of newspaper columns. I am at the moment reading Killing Time in a Warm Place and it's brilliant.

In Mister Pip, a girl in Papua New Guinea is read the story of Pip from Great Expectations by her English school teacher:
Mister Watts had given us another piece of the world. I found I could go back to it as often as I liked. Not that I thought of what we were hearing as a story. No. I was hearing someone give an account of themselves
Bringing these books back from the Philippines is just like bringing back pieces of me that I had left behind long ago.

1 comment :

  1. It's good to pick up bits of your past and dust them down! It's quite bewildering when you start to consider a whole world of books!


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