SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY ANTHOLOGY – SHORT STORIES FROM PAPUA NEW GUINEA : A CONVERSATION



Three weeks on from the closing date, the first Volume of the Hibiscus Three Anthology Series is in-progress with Project Leader and Editor, Dr Kirsten McGavin, reviewing all synopses submitted by Papua New Guinean writers. Under the working title, the 'Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Story Anthology from Papua New Guinea', the current phase of the anthology project will see Dr McGavin consider, provide feedback and invite writers of eligible synopses' to further develop their short story. Anthology Series Creator and Hibiscus Three Founder, Rashmii Bell, sat with Dr McGavin to discuss the ideas, motivation and outlook for the upcoming Volume.

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Rashmii Bell: Kirsten, thanks for joining me to have chat about this exciting new anthology project that you’re taking on with Hibiscus Three. Actually, first up - I’d like to let readers know that it was your energy that got me moving with launching the Anthology Series initiative!


Kirsten McGavin: Yes! It was just a bit of good timing really. I’d been ruminating for ages about doing an anthology of speculative fiction from Papua New Guinea and when my brother gifted me an anthology of (Marvel superhero) Black Panther short stories, I took that as my sign to go ahead. I pitched the idea to you and it seemed to be your sign that you should go ahead and launch the Hibiscus Three Anthology Series, which you’d be ruminating on for ages. A great piece of synchronicity!


RB: So that readers are aware, I’ve been lucky enough to know and socialise with you across a decade plus. Although within Papua New Guinea’s creative and non-fiction writing space, I feel that what has really led us to this project, is my steering the My Walk to Equality Anthology project, and your support and the conversations we’ve continued to have since then. My work with MWTE began toward the end of 2016, and laid the foundation from which I’ve established and operated Hibiscus Three. Can you describe your experience (reading, creating or leading) with other PNG-focused Anthologies and the feelings thoughts you’ve come away with?


KM: Oh man, MWTE definitely had an impact on me. Firstly, I was jealous that I hadn’t come up with the idea myself [laughter] and secondly, I was disappointed that I’d missed out on writing something for it. It’s such a great book and it makes a really important contribution to PNG’s written literature. It was really MWTE that made me realise how serious you were, not only about writing and publishing, but also about the social issues and causes that weave their way through written projects. In my anthropological writing, I’m always (even without making a conscious effort) pushing a decolonisation agenda, articulating and framing issues from a PNG and mixed race perspective and trying to make room in that academic space for other Papua New Guineans/Melanesians/Pacific Islanders. So it was fantastic to discover you were an ally and a colleague in such similar endeavours. I think the main thing that hits me when I read stuff that’s written by a fellow Papua New Guinean is a huge sense of pride that we’re collectively pushing the boundaries of this new frontier. We Papua New Guineans have had thousands of years of being storytellers but it’s only been in the last ninety years or so that we’ve made this foray into written literature, and that’s really exciting – especially to think about what’s yet to come.


RB: Earlier this year, you kindly agreed to be interviewed for one of Hibiscus Three’s mini projects; the Me a Papua New Guinean Writer series. I recall you describing that it was in Grade 1 that you wrote your first speculative fiction story, then went on to enter writing competitions and pursuing solo efforts. How then does this Anthology project speak to your enthusiasm, and outlook to encouraging collaborative work amongst Papua New Guinean writers to cultivate the growth of PNG-authored books?


KM: It’s true – I’ve always loved writing. For me, it’s all about creating the things I want to read. For example, I wish I could walk into the bookshop and buy a book full of science fiction and fantasy stories from PNG. Soon, I’ll be able to! But for now, we have to write it. Writing is really a solitary process and that’s one of the things I love about it, but I think we have to support each other wherever we can. If one of us is in a position to give the other a hand, or an opportunity, or even a shout-out, we should do it. The anthology is a perfect way to do that. And let me tell you, I plan to promote this book from one side of the planet to the other. I really hope its contributors can use this as a stepping-stone to launch or reinforce their own writing careers. My dream for each of them is that one day soon they’ll be bestselling speculative fiction novelists. I haven’t asked them if that’s the dream they have for themselves [laughter] so I may just be projecting my own goals onto them. But it’s exciting to think that we could have the next George Lucas or Wachowski sista among our group. Really, I see us all climbing the ladder of success and whichever one of us gets to the top first, I just hope they’ll remember the rest of us and help us along the way.



Image is courtesy of Dr Kirsten McGavin's interview from the 'Me Papua New Guinean Writer 'series. Read interview here .

RB: One thing I went into the MWTE Anthology with, was a clear intention for why I created that book project. My concept was not about sanitising PNG’s reality, but challenging the dominant narrative about Papua New Guinean women that is conveyed by foreign mainstream media, especially Australia. I feel that your intention was captured clearly in your Call for Submissions. Is there anything you’d like to expand or share, on why you feel that a volume of speculative fiction writing by Papua New Guineans is important?


KM: I want the anthology to help address the relative underrepresentation of Black writers in science fiction and fantasy. It’s been said that, in America at least, this sometimes occurs because Black writers’ books are categorised as ‘Black literature’ rather than as any type of genre fiction. But look, from the conversations I’ve had with some people involved in the publishing industry, it can be harder for a Black writer to publish their book about a Black protagonist than it is for a White writer to publish their book about a Black protagonist. So this is not about categorisation after the fact, it’s about the politics of being able to push past the gatekeepers. That’s one of the reasons I put the call out only for Indigenous Papua New Guineans – the more we can get our writing out there, the more space there will be for us to do it again and again, and for others to follow us in the future. And although there is some great speculative fiction writing coming out of the Pacific Islands region, Melanesia is often overlooked, for whatever reason, and that’s a great shame. So if there’s one message that comes out of this anthology, I want readers to know, “We are here.” It’s about Papua New Guineans planting a metaphorical flag in the field of speculative fiction and claiming our place within that genre.


Look, what I think about it this: When I saw Tusken Raiders in Star Wars (1977) using Fijian war clubs, it was pretty cool. When I saw Jason Momoa’s Aquaman wearing the pounamu taonga around his neck, the moko inked into his skin, the way he wielded the trident as though it was a taiaha, it was super cool! (Not to mention the fact that his dad was played by Temuera Morrison – uber cool!) So I bet you know how excited I was when, in Black Panther (2018), we saw Erik Killmonger’s scarification (so reminiscent of Sepik scarification) and Shuri’s science lab’s murals (so reminiscent of the murals that greet us as we descend into the arrivals area at Jackson’s International)! These examples only tangentially and tenuously relate to PNG, but that representation is still thrilling to see. Now, imagine how awesome it will be to have an entire book full of science and fiction stories that are actually written by us, for us and about us! I cannot wait – not only for the anthology, but also for all the books that will hopefully come after that.




(L) Image is from the Volume's Instagram page @kirsten.mcgavin . Caption reads: " Through Melanesian Eyes" (1987) is an anthology of Papua New Guinean writing, including poetry, plays and prose focused on Melanesian identity and social change." (15/10/2021) .


RB: For readers that missed Hibiscus Three’s recent Instagram post, I offered that if I were to attempt a Science Fiction/Fantasy short story for this Anthology, it would as the third instalment to my body of writing around Kokoda Trail wartime trek tourism. As time passes and the urgency for Kokoda trek tourism reform heightens, I’m leaning toward creative non-fiction writing to continue my advocacy, and so I went on to submit a synopsis for this Anthology. So now as I’m nervously awaiting your decision and feedback, are you able to give us an idea of the themes of other synopses?


KM: Firstly, I love the idea that you’re exploring the same issue through multiple formats. I do the same kind of thing in my anthropological and creative writing, looking at themes of identity, place, belonging, and representation – following in the footsteps of one of my inspirations, Zora Neale Hurston, who was an anthropologist as well as a creative writer. I think it’s still a little early to reveal the themes of the anthology, and I’d like to see how that all plays out as the actual short stories come in, but I can say that we’ll be seeing fresh new takes on traditional knowledge, and different explorations of power and identity.


RB: On the matter of themes, there are confronting social issues in Papua New Guinea that may be conveyed through storytelling. And whilst I think Papua New Guineans’ proximity to the issues we observe and experience makes us well placed to write about and lead discourse, I also think there is a risk of not taking advantage of the power of storytelling to change attitudes and behaviour. Do you see speculative fiction as an avenue for Papua New Guinean writers to be a part of the behaviour-change?


KM: Absolutely! The fantastic thing about speculative fiction is that you can ask AND answer the ‘what if’ question e.g. What if PNG had never been annexed, and instead went on to harness the power of the heart-shaped herb (from Black Panther 2018)? What if PNG had annexed Australia, or Great Britain, or Germany? What if there was something in Papua New Guineans’ mitochondrial DNA that gave all PNG women superpowers? What if PNG won the space race? What if melanin was the key to unlocking time travel? Basically, using speculative fiction, you can explore every real-world issue from neo-colonialism, gender inequality, and family-based violence to political corruption, poverty, and climate change in a safe and immediate space and investigate how alternatives might play out. For example, if you take one of these ‘what ifs’… let’s say the mitochondrial DNA one, a story like that could certainly explore themes of gender, power, oppression, traditional cultures etc. And that would also allow us to reflect on the current state of those things in the real world.


RB: Worldbuilding. Can you share with readers (especially the potential contributing Anthology authors) your suggestions for how to approach this in their writing process?


KM: Approach worldbuilding on both a macro and a micro scale, and always remember that it’s your main character’s experience of the world that’s the most important. You can write a chunk of description about the environment (eg. in a couple of paragraphs), but then you should sprinkle it (some of that environment info) through the action as well, gently reminding the reader where they are. Don’t just rely on one or the other technique. Use both to create a balance.


So the macro scale might be, “The floor to ceiling window gave Sarah an excellent view of what she was missing out on - boats, ferries and jet-skis zooming up and down the river, families picnicking under the jacaranda trees on the far bank, lucky foreign tourists soaking up the sun on the man-made beach.” Big things, landscapes, social scenes. And on the micro level: “Sarah twirled her earring, absentmindedly stabbing her thumb on the spike that emerged at the back of her earlobe.” Small things, things happening on a personal level.

Try to cover as many of the senses as you can: the smell of fresh bread; the greasy, salty slab of pork melting in your mouth; the rhythmic beat of the kundu; the texture of sand beneath bare feet; a million colours of the sunset.



(R) Image is from the Volume's Instagram page @kirsten.mcgavin . Synopses submissions by Papua New Guinean writers following the Call for Submissions for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Story Anthology from Papua New Guinea ( to be edited by Dr Kirsten McGavin) announced on 1 October 2021.


Follow @kirsten.mcgavin on Instagram



RB: Kirsten, thank you so much for your time, to talk through your ideas and intention with creating this upcoming Volume for the Anthology series. I'm incredibly thrilled by your concept, and even more so by the enthusiasm and participation of Papua New Guinean writers engaging with you, joining the Group Chat, following your Instagram page and submitting their writing for consideration. It's a really exciting time and book project for Hibiscus Three to be supporting, and I'm so pleased to see all that's underway!


KM: No problem! I’m really excited about how the anthology is taking shape and can’t wait to reveal more about it as time goes on.

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