Upon being introduced to Nicholas Peter Mark, one would not expect him to speak fluent Indonesian. Commonly called Nick, he mostly communicates in Indonesian and he has even written Indonesian story books for children. “I’ve got to keep practicing my Indonesian for eloquent speech and to remove its English influence,” he said.
The 24-year-old first became acquainted with Indonesian in junior high school. In Australia, Indonesian or Bahasa Indonesia is a mandatory subject for junior high school students.
However, his love of Indonesian nature, culture and language began to grow when, at 10 years old, Nick was vacationing in Bali with his family for 10 days. Considerably impressed by the atmosphere of the island, especially the Monkey Forest in Ubud, he later turned his memories into the background for one of his stories.
Nick realizes the geographic proximity between Australia and Indonesia makes the bilateral relations between the two countries very important.
“There will be a lot of cooperation in politics, culture, science and tourism. I have the great pleasure in having more intimate talks with Indonesians so as to reduce differences,” he pointed out.
Therefore, Nick took Indonesian language as a subsidiary subject when studying law at the University of Sydney, where he gained his master’s degree. He also joined the program run by the Australian Consortium for In-Country Indonesian Studies (ACICIS) and attended lectures at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta for one semester in 2007.
In later years, Nick had frequent vacations in Indonesia, visiting Bali, Sumatra and Jakarta.
“I also stayed in Yogyakarta for six months from early 2010. I took the opportunity to increase my Indonesian proficiency at the Realia language school,” said Nick, who is of Greek descent. In that year, he made many Indonesian acquaintances in Yogyakarta and some of his experiences went on to inspire his other books.
One of Nick’s college assignments was his first step toward authorship. When studying Indonesian at the University of Sydney in 2007, he was tasked with writing a short story in Indonesian. Nick’s story was entitled Wayan dan Kutukan Hutan Monyet Ubud (Wayan and the Curse of the Ubud Monkey Forest), which was based on his first experience while on vacation in Indonesia.
This story became the embryo for a collection of three Indonesian children’s adventure stories. Nick was again trying to write several more books with his adventures in Indonesia as his inspiration. In 2008, he came across a representative of the Yogyakarta publisher, Galang Press, at a book exhibition.
The acquaintance led to a serious talk as Galang Press was interested in publishing the collection he had authored. Nick expressed his preparedness to write other stories. “I didn’t expect I would find a publisher so fast. I had contacted several publishers and my meeting with Galang Press turned out to be fruitful,” he said.
It took a long time, however, to find an illustrator. One of his friends in Yogyakarta referred him to Bambang Shakuntala. When he examined the samples sketched by this Yogyakarta illustrator, Nick felt Bambang’s drawing style was perfect for his stories. He promptly had a meeting with the publisher and Bambang to discuss his books and working arrangements.
Nick wrote his books in Australia, maintaining communication with his publisher and with Bambang, so that the illustrations for his stories would be well-matched. One of the pictures depicted the gotong royong (mutual assistance) in Yogyakarta when Mount Merapi erupted, based on actual figures in real life. “I was in Yogyakarta at the time of the volcanic eruption and got involved in the rescue activities. Therefore, I experienced first-hand the sense of mutual assistance,” he related.
The other time-consuming process was editing. Nick acknowledged the English tinge on his Indonesian. “It has taken quite a while to adjust the language to good, simple Indonesian given that the books are designed for children,” said Nick, who is skilled in playing the Australian wind instrument, the digderidoo.
“The editor from Galang Press helped me with the colloquial language, which I still haven’t fully mastered,” noted Nick.
“This has encouraged me to learn a lot more Indonesian so as to be able to write and speak better.” Nick has also combined some Indonesian folklore and Western mythology for his books, thus mixing Indonesian kris, for instance, along with electromagnetic force fields.
The story that contains real-life figures is Nanda, Dhani dan Para Peri Menyelamatkan Yogyakarta dari Letusan Gunung Merapi (Nanda, Dhani and the Fairies Save Yogyakarta from the Mount Merapi Eruption), which captures the spirit of gotong royong among local people. “This story is also special because Pak Bambang drew illustrations of the actual people there,” he added.
Asked if he wished to write another book of a similar kind, Nick said he was interest because he enjoyed the process of writing. As to whether he intended to learn more languages, Nick revealed that he wanted to study Chinese.