Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Books across the water

Following your heart is not always a simple process. Following your intuition may feel just right even if you know it could get tricky down the line. This is the story of a perfect intuitive match between writer and publisher (the reason I ended up publishing in Indonesia), the only complication being to this wonderful relationship was — how to get the books across the water.

From the cover of Sea Of Poppies by Amitav Gosh.

I met my Indonesian publishers Sarita Newson and her son Kadek Krishna Adidharma at the first Ubud Writers Festival in 2004. In those early years we were all involved in helping get the festival off the ground and when I finished my first novel (set in Bali), in 2006,  Saritaksu Editions offered to publish it. Of course I agreed. I loved the wonderful art and poetry books they produced and this was to be their first novel. (They have since done more see here and here). We launched at UWRF in Oct 2006 and worked together in other ways: helping launch another of their books, Butterflies of Bali by Victor Mason in Jakarta, editing Toeti Heraty's, Calon Arang - Story of a Woman Sacrificed to Patriarchy, running writing workshops at their beachside hacienda in Sanur, writing retreats at their Lakeview Hotel in Kintamani, co-sponsoring West Papuan poet John Waromi to workshop his new novel in Bali, to name a but a few.

From left: John Waromi, Sarita Newson, Kadek Purnami, working on John's novel at Saritaksu.

It may sound like my pubishers are millionaires and in the untold riches of life you would say they are, but the fact is like most people in Bali they eke out a living as best they can.

Which is where this story comes in. Working out ways to transport books across the water to Oz without paying hefty freight and import/export fees is always a creative challenge. While my novel Take Me To Paradise was on sale at bookshops acrosss Bali  (nestled next to Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray Love), it was up to me to find distribution in Australia. But how to bring the books over without extra expense? Surely it wouldn't be so difficult for as you can see from the map below, it's just not that far!

As I was coming and going from Bali often, I became expert at packing my carry-on suitcase with nothing but books plus a layer of  dirty underwear on top. I could fit up to 50 books that way. These were the days in the old Bali Airport before they checked the weight of carry on. You could go through, check in your big bag, then come back outside again, pick up your carry on case from a waiting friend, and waltz right through with no questions asked. The only suspicion would arise with a steward remarking as he was heaving the case into the overhead lockers, 'what have you got in there -bricks?' Not far wrong!

It was also the days of Schapelle's ongoing appeal and the Bali Nine, so there was added level of paranoia and anxiety. The advantage of having your suitcase plastic wrapped was that it may be less likely to be searched in Oz, then again maybe not. If they did want to open it up I would explain, 'no this is not a commercial venture, I took the books over for a festival and alas didn't sell so well.' They would sympathise, wish me better luck next time, and off I would go.

In 2007 we had a lucky break. Sandra Thibodeaux with the NT Writers Centre had been working with Kadek Kris and Sitok Srengenge on an anthology of writing from the Oz/Indo region called Terra. It was published in Jakarta by Kata Kita Books and they had the same problem, until word came through there was room in a container leaving for Darwin from the coast of Java with some extra space for some of mine. I don't know how above or below board it was, but it was going to be a free ride for a few hundred of my books to Darwin at least, then perhaps I could bring them down through the centre by camel! Just kidding, but the deal had that kind of feel to it and was being supervised by an Aussie guy called something like Dakka, and we had to get the books to him by 4pm on such and such a day or else the deal was off. Sarita and Kadek somehow got the books to Jogjakarta and then on from there. Apparently they just made it in time. The last leg was done by motorbike. My writer's mind embellishes visions of the bike piled high with boxes of books tied on at odd angles with bamboo string, driving up a mud track to an out of the way wharf, with Dakka or was it Macca? pacing, smoking kretek, while the boat is champing at the bit to set sail so it can slip into the strait under the cover of darkness.

The books arrived in Darwin safely, in perfect condition and were delivered to the NT Writers Centre. Mine sat under a table waiting to be ferried by a friend to the trusty Greyhound depot and dispatched to me in Sydney.

A couple of years later I got a message from NT Writers asking what did I want them to do with the books? Apparently half the boxes were still sitting under the table! Greyhound came to the rescue again just in time to replenish my stocks.

Here's another story.  Last year when my latest book, Archipelagogo, arrived in Ubud fresh from the printer in Jakarta, I was so smitten by it, I forgot to remember I might be cursing it in months to come. We had a lovely cabaret launch at Bar Luna during UWRF, sold a few books (never as many as you'd like to) and once more, like a mother who had forgotten how painful the birth was, I was faced with the same conundrum — how to get the books home.

This is not such a silly idea, one of my editors on TMTP was Bob the raft guy.

If I had been super organised I could have given a package of five books to each Aussie attending the festival (there were a lot) and that would have taken care of it. As I couldn't do the old walk-in-walk- out trick at the airport any more, I worked out how many books I could sequester in my luggage and still be under the limit. My carry-on bag wasn't as heavy as last time, and somehow I still managed to bring about 40 -50 books home. But I needed more for the Sydney launch planned for April, so Sarita and I investigated shipping costs for Denpasar to Sydney.

To bring six hundred books by sea was affordable so I went with the cheapest quote, negotiated the pick up and expected to see the books at my door in under a month. I should have had second thoughts when the shipper sent me an email to say 'we can't guarantee the books won't get wet'. !!! I imagined the books teetering on deck in a rickety container, the door flinging open on the roll of the sea and the waves breaking over my boxes. Or god forbid — this...

 'Don't worry,' the shipper explained after I sent a 'concerned reply. ' It should be fine, we have to say that as when they spray for quarantine it can get a bit moist.' 'Oh', I replied flatly, 'ok,' wondering if it was too late to wriggle out of this deal and try another company. Nah, lets just stay with it, I decided.

The days passed and when I enquired if the books were on their way, the shipper explained they were still at the dock, waiting for the container to fill up. They'd had some problems with some of their suppliers, sorry, nothing they could do. Did you want us to organise to send some by air freight? No, way too expensive. How long will it be? Well, a month on the dock and another month to get to Sydney. Two months!! I huffed and puffed. Nothing I could do, but postpone the launch. Lucky it had only been mooted, not announced.

Where are the books now you ask? The answer is I don't know.

Perhaps they have been put to better use!

But we are still planning to launch July 7 at Bowery Poetry Club in New York and Sydney in September. Now how will I get the books to New York City? We could go overland by mule.
I'm looking into it.


Find out more about Archipelagogo here.

Stay tuned for details of upcoming launches.


The books arrived in Sydney on June 23, just in time for pre NYC events.

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