Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Some Tropical Island Novelists -- Not a Bad Path to Follow

Recently I blogged about two American writers in Borneo and that got me thinking about other western writers who either lived on South Seas islands or wrote about them, which reminded me of a book that I picked up in Hawaii four years ago after attending the Maui Writers Conference.  Since I had been writing on Penang for twenty-one years and was in the process of moving to my second island, Borneo, the heavily discounted book seemed to be speaking to me, Mad About Islands, Novelists of a Vanished Pacific by A Grove Day.

On the back cover was a photo of the very man who lit up my imagination to go off to some tropical island and be a writer, Norman Hall, after I read his autobiography.  He along with Charles Nordhoff set off for Tahiti and they found a story that had been waiting for them to write for 140 years, The Mutiny on the Bounty.  They turned the Bounty story into a trilogy.

Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick, spent three years roving the Pacific Ocean and wrote several novels about islands in the South Seas.  Jack London also did some island-hopping as did Mark Twain, who spent some time on Hawaii writing assignments for a newspaper. Later it was reported that he had written a novel set on Hawaii, but either the manuscript got lost or more likely parts got incorporated into another novel.

Somerset Maugham’s Moon and Sixpence is patterned on Paul Gauguin’s life in Tahiti.  The Trembling of Leaf featured several island stories, the most famous of which is “Rain”.  He also spent a great deal writing about Southeast Asia, including Malaya and Borneo.  Joseph Conrad wrote several South Seas island novels including Victory and Outcasts of the Islands. Almayer's Folly, is even set on the east coast of Borneo.  

James Michener wrote the Tales of the South Pacific, which was turned into the musical, South Pacific.  Of course, the most famous book about an island has to be either Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe or Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.  Stevenson is even buried on the island of Samoa. 

For me, one of the novels I’m counting on is The Expatriate’s Choice, set on Penang, which also involves a treasure buried by the Japanese.  Since an earlier draft has done well in the Faulkner-Wisdom novel contest it gives me hope as I re-enter a heavily revised version (with a new title--the previous title was Tropical Moods) at the end of this month.  Then there is The Boy Who Shot Santa now in Round Two of 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. For a writer, especially one living on an island half way around the world, hope is not a bad thing to have.

***Here the link to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie.

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