Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Christina Thompson's "Sea People"

Christina Thompson is the author of Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia and Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All, which was shortlisted for the 2009 NSW Premier's Award and the 2010 William Saroyan International Prize for Writing.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to Sea People and reported the following:
When I wrote the proposal for Sea People, I included an anecdote that seemed emblematic of the larger story I was trying to tell. A proposal is a sales pitch, and I picked this tale because I felt it would deliver the concept in a way that was quick, effective, and easy to grasp. It had a fine cast of characters (including Captain Cook); it was set in a part of the Pacific that many people knew (New Zealand); and it conveyed an important idea narratively, which is not always easy to do.

Later there was some discussion as to whether I should use this particular story as my opening gambit. Many books these days, especially histories, open with a climactic moment and then go back and fill in everything the reader needs to know. But in the end I decided not to do this; the story, I felt, would have more resonance if I led up to it gradually. In the finished book this anecdote appears in a chapter entitled “An Aha Moment” which begins on page 99.

Page 99 also contains one of my favorite descriptions in the entire book. At the opening of this chapter, Captain Cook is at sea in the Endeavour with his passenger Joseph Banks. Banks is a wonderful observer, and occasionally he writes something that is too marvelous not to use. Here, the explorers are traversing a great stretch of emptiness in the southern Pacific Ocean; there are no islands, no people, just sea life and birds. Banks records albatrosses and petrels, pods of whales and groupings of seals, as well as porpoises, which he describes charmingly, as leaping and jumping over each other like “a pack of hounds.”
Visit Christina Thompson's website.

The Page 99 Test: Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All.

--Marshal Zeringue