: an interview with Helen Anderson
SHORT ESSAY | | Dementia No Reasoning, No Reason . 2021 | MOROBE
For our website's first year celebrations this past weekend, we treated the Hibiscus Three community and site visitors to a surprise, re-showing of our Writers Exhibition PNG46: Experience of Independence.
Heeding Ignatius Kilage's clarion within the foreword of 'My Mother Calls Me Yaltep', Hibiscus Three invited Papua New Guinean writers from in-country and abroad, to submit original writing so that their words could be read, considered and appreciated by other Papua New Guineans. To do so on 16 September, Papua New Guinea's Independence Day, seemed only fitting.
The work of ten (10) writers were featured in the two-day online exhibition, where visitors to the website had an opportunity to reflect on the early contributors to literature of Papua New Guinea; many of whom have an impact on today's generation of emerging and established writers and their showcased writing.
Hibiscus Three: Can you remember the moment you knew that you would pursue and share your creative writing with others?
Helen Anderson: I was “temping” for a magazine when I was living in London, as an editorial assistant. My 10-year career to that point had been in radio broadcasting, where as well as presenting on-air programs, I had produced various talk-back and current affairs shows, always mindful of finding stories that impacted people. Stories that made people consider someone else’s perspective.
I had always loved writing and did write to a certain extent in radio: intros, interview questions for hosts or for myself, copywriting adverts. However, during those dark times in my life, writing in a journal my innermost thoughts, would often result in haunting essays and dark-themed poetry. It was a cathartic release, that was an essential part of my being; especially when processing the grief of losing my 19-year-old brother when I was 21.
So, when eight years later, I find myself working in a women’s fashion and lifestyle magazine in London being around writers, designers, and publishing production; I decided then and there that I would pursue writing and publishing on my return to Australia. I moved to Sydney and knocked on publishing houses’ doors until I secured an editorial assistant job at a medium-sized publisher in Surry Hills. My dream of becoming a published writer began.
HT: What do you write about, and what are the common reactions you’ve had from readers?
HA: What’s happening in my life. Now, I am writing a lot about dementia; my mum is diagnosed with mild dementia, and we are watching her disappear before our eyes. This work usually provides empathy, concern, and deep connection with readers. It is very personal to me.
I have also previously completed creative writing courses and have started the draft of a sci-fi novel, though the universal theme is the love of a father for his family. I have a memoir I would like to write about the grief of my Father passing from cancer and I keep my writing muscle working with submissions to fast fiction and short story competitions.
My common themes are around grief and family; about being mixed-race growing up in a “multi-cultural” society; around race relations, misogyny, and intersectionality; and LGBTQI rights … hell, human rights! I’m always looking for universal themes, stories that connect us all, or can give different perspectives to those open to learning.
HT: What piece of writing of yours are you most proud of, and can you briefly outline its message and its significance to you?
HA: Being a contributor to My Walk to Equality was very special to me. To be able to share my story, my perspective, returning home, a Markham Meri to connect with family and old ways, traditions and culture that seemed so familiar; felt so true. To learn my mother tongue to share my heart with my Mother’s (Rinang’s) sisters (my Rinangs) to understand my mum, where she and I came from and how she chose to live her life in Australia. So much about my life started to make sense. I felt so connected to my family, to the earth, the river, my cousins, the stars in the sky; it was such a deeply felt experience. Standing in my cousin’s peanut farm, as the sun sets behind the mountains, breeze through the coconut trees, the silence filled with life, my heart sings. I still remember my first published piece, a movie review, 101 dalmatians in a Sydney city local paper (yes, it was that long ago!), seeing my name in print was a sensational feeling, I’ll never forget.
HT: If you had to sustain your creativity with only 3 books for the rest of your life, what would these books be?
The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran
Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison
The Audacity of Hope / Dreams from my Father, Barack Obama
HT: What is the one thing you can’t do without when going to write?
HA: My phone! It’s all I need really. Have started to write notes in my notebook on my phone. When I’m serious or writing something lengthy, then the laptop. But always, always, starts with the phone. Also, it usually starts with a headline/intro/first sentence that swirls around in my head before I can start writing a piece. Everything builds from there, but I usually have the title or first sentence of it rolling around in my head.
HT: Encouraging a thriving literary culture of writers and readers in Papua New Guinea – what does this look like to you?
HA: Hosting writers’ festivals, events, and workshops around the country encouraging PNG writers, sharing information about how to get published, creating a writing community. Having books written by PNG writers in schools for children to see, read and discuss. Holding writing competitions for PNG writers, all genres, for all ages. Providing writing mentors for young people wanting to learn to write to be published.
HT: What is the one thing you haven’t written yet that you’d like to eventually get to, and what inspires you to keep this as a goal?
HA: The sci-fi novel about a father’s love for his family. A memoir about the grief of losing my Dad to cancer. I know I will capture mum’s story in some way, just not sure exactly what type of genre or if will be more online/video recording but will definitely capture words about her story in some way.
There is also this short story I submitted for a competition that sits in my periphery, knocking on my writer’s mind, reminding me of the feeling of it, the characters, wondering what happened to them. Hopefully, I will revisit that story one day. But I do know, I will write the other stories mentioned about my mum and dad and grief at some stage in my Life. It has to be done. Their stories are important. It will be my love for them printed on every page. It will be my legacy.
HT: Where can readers find your writing?
HA: A contributor to My Walk to Equality, which can be found on Amazon, here: https://www.amazon.com.au/My-Walk-Equality-Stories-Guinean/dp/1542429242
My personal writing about mum and dementia can be found at: https://firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for the insight to your writing and creative life, Helen. Hibiscus Three encourages readers to follow Helen's social media pages listed above, and let us know if you've read Helen's essay 'Mixed-Race Markham Meri' in the My Walk to Equality anthology ( see Instagram page @mywalktoequality )
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