Shark Dialogues

Shark Dialogues

Title: Shark Dialogues
Author: Kiana Davenport
Publication date: 1995
Country/culture: Hawaii


For this year’s Book Diaries, in a departure from my usual focus, instead of being inspired in a random fashion, I’m looking for inspiration that I can take to my writing. (See my general blog to find out why I’m doing this.)


What’s it about?Shark Dialogues

Part family saga, part political history, this book tells the story of several generations of Hawaiian women and men, from a Tahitian princess and her Yankee sailor husband, to fearsome matriarch Pono and her four granddaughters. Decades of personal and national turmoil unravel spellbindingly before our eyes, and central to it all is the lovingly evoked character of the Hawaiian landscape itself.

What did I find out?

The family home of the main characters is a house on a coffee farm, and through their activities I discovered a great deal about the Hawaiian coffee trade. I learned about the white blossoms of ‘Kona snow’, the coffee cherries that are picked, the green beans inside, the roasting process, and ultimately the ins-and-outs of intercontinental sales. The detail of this business was previously unknown to me, and the book has filled me with a respect for the hard work that enables me to enjoy my morning mug of coffee.

Through my blog this year I’m attempting to take inspiration for my own writing, not just in terms of how I get words on the page but also how I build a life that supports the writing habit. Given the insight I’ve had into the dedication of the coffee workers, I can think of no better way to honour them than to take time each morning to truly savour my coffee and appreciate the work that has gone into its production. I hope thereby to begin my day with a mindfulness that will continue to inspire me as I put pen to paper and write stories of my own.

What do I now see differently?

It’s fascinating to read a story set in one location or period, and then to find that your reading of another story in a similar setting is enhanced by the knowledge gained from the first book.

Let me try to explain what I mean. I was part way through Shark Dialogues when I decided to watch the film Pearl Harbor (OK, my example is a movie rather than another book, but the comparison still holds). I wanted to see how another story set in Hawaii played out: whether it would be an off-the-peg Hollywood romance, with Hawaii and Pearl Harbor as an incidental backdrop, or whether Hawaii itself (landscape as well as politics) would play a key role.

While it was to some extent a standard romance, and certainly not a classic, I did find that certain scenes had a much greater impact on me as a direct result of my having read Davenport’s book. The novel depicts the after-effects of the attack on Pearl Harbor, in particular the massive demand for blood donations. Hawaiian residents of varied ethnicities queue up time and time again, to come together regardless of difference, to give their blood and support the nursing effort. The scenes in the film where the nurses are calling out for blood had, for me, a far greater poignancy because of this back story of unity and mutual aid, which the film did not explore in detail.

It’s always interesting to see new takes on one story, but even more so when the different tales don’t just provide alternative viewpoints but also start to fill in the gaps.

How will this inspire my writing?

One of the storylines in Shark Dialogues features lepers exiled to an island colony. In time, a cure is found, and many of them are treated, raising the prospect of their return to society. For some, however, although the disease is cured, it has progressed so far that a return is impossible: they will never be able to live normal lives within the world again, and so they choose to remain in exile, among their own kind.

My story does not involve lepers, but it is set in a world very close to our own, in which it is understood (if not an everyday occurrence) that sometimes people will disappear from society, into exile or gone forever. For some, this is because they are outed as witches; others are attacked by vampires or werewolves and either die or become undead. I am currently writing scenes that raise the issue of whether it’s possible for any of these characters to return to normal society, and if so, what obstacles they would face.

I will be taking a serious look at the treatment of lepers (and any other ‘outcasts’ from the human world we know) in order to make decisions about my imagined world, both in terms of what the outcasts might experience, and what those left behind might be going through.

A musical interlude

Please ignore the video for this track: it doesn’t convey the feel of Shark Dialogues at all. However, I feel the lyrics and musicality of the song fit very well, so just close your eyes and let the music wash over you.