Saturday, 6 December 2014

Sky Trees and Verses from the Caribbean

One day I may find out the history about why so many Norfolk Island Pine trees grow in gardens in Kingston, Jamaica.

We had a Norfolk Island Pine in our garden from the early 80s to the late 90s - for about 17 years. It survived storms, most notably Hurricane Gilbert of 1988, and was finally felled by the blade of a woodsman from Portland under instructions from the landowner who needed the space for roses.

This blog post is in honour of the memory of that tree which had reached at least 20 feet on its last day.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Book Steps The St Catherine Parish Library

Book Steps....exploring the libraries of Jamaica

St Catherine Parish Library

It is shortly before noon on a Thursday morning in November, and the St Catherine Parish Library (SCPL) is already busy. Upstairs, all seven computer stations are occupied; and the adult reading room is where several young adult students have comfortably spaced themselves across tables, attending to their assignments.

Downstairs, the Director of Industrial Relations for the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Mr Alrick Blake, is delivering a Parents Month presentation to parents who are users of the library, and also teen parents from training centres run by the Phillippo Baptist Church and the NGO Children First.

Senior Librarian for the St Catherine Parish Library Network, Miss Paulette Benjie, has much more than the regular running of the library on her mind; she is preparing her staff for the implementation of the Global Library Initiative across their twelve library service points (nine full time branch libraries; two part time libraries and the parish library). The Jamaica Library Service (JLS) is well advanced in implementing the project across the SCPLN. The needs-assessment survey, done by the Centre for Leadership and Governance at the University of the West Indies, is complete and they are preparing for the installation of 83 computers across the SCPL network.  Miss Benjie is careful to say that the expansion in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) services is not just for library users to do research, but is also intended to inspire innovation by users as they access services and gain knowledge.

 The library is gearing up to provide a "Wow" experience for staff and library users. Already, staff members have completed a Train the Trainer course through the Management Institute for National Development (MIND) to ensure that there is a seamless transfer of skills and knowledge among colleagues, and also to the users.

Of the SCPL network, Miss Benjie says that there is a well-stocked reference collection that includes audio visual materials, but the stock needs to be increased and diversified so that supplemental reading material for students, and also reading for pleasure, is covered. Meeting that need is never far from the librarian's mind.

    "We need a better collection of paperback fiction. Our adult readers like intrigue. Some of the popular authors are James Patterson and Danielle Steele; and in romance they like Sandra Brown, Catherine Coulter and Joanna Lyndsay. They read westerns, mystery, romance and thrilers. Our children will read just about any kind of book that we make available for them, but love mystery stories," Miss Benjie says.

Upstairs in the adult section, the section for West Indian books on the shelves showed strong staples in poetry including Derek Walcott's Omeros and Selected Poems; From Our Yard by Pamela Mordecai; Controlling the Silver and Goldengrove New and Selected Poems by Lorna Goodison; and It Was the Singing by Edward Baugh. The prose included memoirs God is Good by Sir Howard Cooke; the series on the Manley family by Rachael Manley; Rural Gumption by a well-known son of St Catherine Dr Herbert Thompson; Cool Runnings and Beyond The Story of the Jamaica Bobsleigh Team by Nelson Christian Stokes; and Growing Out Black Hair and Black Pride in the Swinging Sixties by Barbara Makeda Blake Hanna. Edwidge Danicat's Brother I am Dying was among the other West Indian books. There is lots of heavy material such as Lord Anthony Gifford's The Passionate Advocate; Men at Risk by Errol Miller; and The Search for Solutions by Michael Manley.

The parish of St Catherine has nurtured several cricketers for Jamaica and also the West Indies, so it was good to see some books on the sport including Beyond a Boundary by CLR James and the autobiography of Michael Holding, No Holding Back; hopefully Arnold Bertram's Jamaica at the Wicket is a part of the wider SCPL network book stock.

The visual appeal in the library is greatest in the junior section which has, of all things, upright piano! Miss Benjie explained that the room is transformed into an auditorium for their annual One Love concert, that is held in commemoration of the birthday of international reggae superstar Bob Marley; and the Child Month concert that is held on the last Thursday in May. Books on the shelf by West Indians in that section included Jessica by Christine Leo; Handa's Surprise by Eileen Browne; Baker's Dozen and Other Stories by Pamela Hickling; Shaggy Parrot and the Reggae Band by Jana Bent; Pumpkin Belly and Other Stories by Tanya Batson-Savage. A pair of budgies are also there to keep the children company.

A cheerful Christmas Tree was already up in the exhibition area near to information boards about diseases Chikungunya and also Ebola. The Diocese of Jamaica currently has a visiting exhibition that celebrates the 300th anniversary of the St Jago church (Spanish Town Cathedral), whose steeple overlooks the library. A feature in the exhibition is a reproduction of a black and white drawing of the church building that was done in the 1700s.

The SCPL was started by public subscription in 1947 in the Old House of Assembly (what is now the parish council building); a year later it came under the management of the Jamaica Library Service, and moved to its current location in 1975. Its annual programme of events includes senior citizen computer classes; a homework programme; a readers and writers club and a Spanish club for primary school age children; weekly reading and storytelling in the children's ward at the Spanish Town Regional Hospital and also to the boys at the Rio Cobre Juvenile facility. Miss Benjie says that the library intended to resume regular visits to serve the inmates living at the three adult correctional facilities that are in the parish.

The library is eager to receive donations of recent paperback fiction that meet the guidelines of the JLS, especially books that have about 300 pages.

The SCPL library is at 1 Red Church Street with ample enclosed parking. It is open daily from Monday to Friday 9AM - 6PM and 10AM - 5PM on Saturdays. From November to the end of January, the library closes at 5PM.  Telephone: 984-2356. Email

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Book Steps - The Greater Portmore Branch Library

Greater Portmore Branch Library (GPBL)
This article appeared in the Bookends magazine of the Jamaica Observer on Sunday, October 5, 2014
 “Everybody in Portmore is studying something,” smiles the warm and effervescent librarian Mrs Olive Sawyers Watt when the Jamaica Observer visited the Greater Portmore Branch Library (GPBL), the largest branch in the national network of the Jamaica Library Service.
 The library started as a dream in 1978, and its doors finally opened in the town centre in 2000. The project was a partnership with the community, the government and Churches Co-op Credit Union. Built by Wihcon, its prefabricated architecture fits in with the community.
 On Wednesday at 2PM, Mrs Sawyers Watt and her staff were preparing for the weekly “Wi Likkle But We Tallawah” reading programme for pregnant mothers , parents and small children, which is held in the KFC Chicky Room for young users . After a sing along and prayers, Rural Development Librarian, Nadia Parks gave the seven mothers in attendance an overview on the value of reading to small children, then the librarians read, giving pointers to the parents on how to make reading meaningful and enjoyable. Under gentle guidance, the seven mothers and eight children had a stimulating hour, which finished up with conversation over light refreshments.
 The mother of Keria Phillips, age 2, said that she was not an avid reader until the doctors told her about complications with her pregnancy. She immediately visited the GPBL library to research her condition, and became a regular visitor. Keria started the reading programme when she was one year and three months, and attends weekly. Her mother credits the GPBL with helping her to teach her daughter who can count up to 15 and who knows several letters of the alphabet. Every parish library has a similar programme, and it is now being introduced in some branch libraries.
 Near to the front desk is a space for small exhibitions. Five topics were featured on the day Bookends visited. The Chickunguna Virus; the life and leadership of international human rights advocate, Nelson Mandela; and the commemoration of the 95th anniversary of the birth of Jamaican cultural luminary, Louise Bennett; Senior Citizens Month and also Literacy Month.
     “People really stop and read what they see on the display boards, and sometimes teachers ask us for copies of the material so that they can use it to supplement their own classroom teaching materials,” Mrs Sawyers Watt says.
 Near the reference section is the computer room which is fully occupied and teens waiting for their turn. Although the library has a Wi-Fi service, Mrs Sawyers Scott says that the air conditioning is a major attraction for users. "Portmore is hot," she says, so even if our members have Internet at home, they will come here to be comfortable and to read."
Girls from the  Greater Portmore High School were among the users waiting patiently to get help with a research assignment. The Jamaica Library Service subscribes to EBSCO Information Services which delivers credible content that may not be available, or easily findable,  on free search engines, like Google.
Mrs Sawyers Watt says, “The library is used a lot for homework assignments and for research. We have a staff member who is designated to help with homework assignments from 2PM to closing time during the school term. Our computer room is linked to EBSCO, so the information is especially useful for tertiary students.”
The annual calendar of the GPBL has events for children and also seniors. The last Thursday in February is the Culturama concert that features performances by children from the surrounding schools. The library also hosts a summer programme that includes sports, art and craft and speakers.
Seniors are special to the library, and in a place of honour in the librarian's office is a photo of a graduation ceremony of a short computer course for seniors. The library runs at least one course every year for about 15 neighbourhood seniors.
There is more than ample space on the library shelves for many general reading books for junior readers, young adults and adults. We asked the librarian what were the kinds of books are in demand by the readers.
    “The ladies like to read modern paperback romance and mystery novels. Our small children gravitate to Jamaican books more. They especially like the Little Lion series.”
Mrs Sawyers Watts’ wish list is simple more books and greater comfort: “We want more books, especially novels of all kinds. The Jamaica Library Service has a donation guideline because we only lend books with no missing pages and that are clean and in good condition. With regards to our facilities, we would love to partner with a solar energy company so that we can get another room in the library that is air conditioned, and make the space more inviting and comfortable for our users,” she says.
The GPBL recently acquired the 300-page book: The Story of Portmore, An Illustrated History by Kennedy Reid; Great House Publishers 2010.  The librarians ask "Where can be better to read about a place, than in its library? 
The GPBL is very easy to reach. The JUTC terminates several routes at the town centre, and there is also curbside parking for cars.
Opening Hours: Monday – Fridays 10AM – 7PM; Saturdays 10AM – 5PM.
Call the GPBL at 740-1259/60 Email:

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Note from the author - Young Heroes of the Caribbean

From the Author

The YA novel, Young Heroes of the Caribbean started as a conversation with a friend about how to make the virtues of Jamaica’s national heroes come alive for Jamaican children. Within a few days I wrote a fictional story about what could have happened to Paul Bogle when he was a boy, and was invited to read it at the 2011 awards
ceremony of the Jamaica Information Service (JIS) Essay Competition at King’s House. In 2013, I returned to the JIS and we collaborated on a seven-part radio drama series called Young Heroes which was aired during Heritage Week. 

It is now three years later, the book is published, and the  journey came with several surprising moments. A boy who is about to enter Grade 7 at Kingston College read a rough draft, and reported that he liked it, but that I had some editing to do! That editing has, of course, been done, but I was so happy to hear a reliable report that he had read the book.

While introducing my book during a back-to-school event in Kingston I said that the mother in the book had a cook shop that sold fish and festival, a woman cried, "That is what I do"! A history teacher at Kingston High School bought the book after a brief browse because she appreciated the natural flow of the dialogue, and said that it would hold the interest of her teens. During the fair, at two different times, two boys lingered for about half an hour each, sitting and reading the book. All of this feedback convinces me that this novel will grip the interest of boys. I also introduced the book at the Jamaica Teachers Association Conference in August and an executive member of the Jamaica Reading Association said that she was glad to find the book as she was searching for material for boys between ages 13 and 16.

The novel is an intimate family story of a working class boy, Ramiro, whose separated parents live in the diverse worlds of thoroughbred horse racing and seaside cook shop vending. As he, his parents, and an undocumented girl steer through their challenges, the mythical strength of Jamaica's seven national heroes emerge as sources of strength during adversity. Male characters dominate the book, and it is being positioned as relevant for middle school boys and older teens.

The novel features original illustrations by the popular Spanish Town raised artist and Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts (EMCVPA) graduate Taj Francis. The cover uses elements of the Jamaica 50 Shop mural of the Ministry of Youth and Culture that was created by a design team of final-year students of the EMCVPA.

My plan is that Young Heroes of the Caribbean will be the first in a three-part series with subsequent books to be delivered at one-year intervals. The other books will highlight more heroes of nations with shores that are washed by the Caribbean Sea. This is my second YA novel, the first is Bad Girls in School published in the Caribbean Writers Series, (Heinemann/Pearson Education). I welcome your feedback and requests for advance copies, and do encourage you to also download the book for free on the social media website for readers, Goodreads.

Please accept my very best sentiments for a rewarding 2014-2015 school year.

Gwyneth Harold Davidson


Thirty-something mother of ten-year old Ramiro who operates a cook shop on a popular beach. She also lives on the beach in an informal settlement. She is upset that her son’s father moves to take him away because he wants his son to live in a better environment, but that is only the start of her troubles.

An ambitious horse racing groom who decides that he needs to take a greater role in raising his son, as he fears that he may follow other children in the community and drop out of school early. He is schooling the thoroughbred Call Me Thunder, a horse that has the potential to be the best in his class, in a sport that is notoriously corrupt and even dangerous.

Ten-year-old Ramiro is at the centre of a battle between his parents. He moves to live with his father then finds that a homeless girl may replace him at his mother’s side. He is also brought face to face with raw criminality at the track.

Left to raise herself on the beach, the twelve-year-girl is an opportunist, taking any advanctage that comes her way, including finding a family. She has one passion, the game of football, but as she does not attend school, she sees no way to achieve her goal.

Jamaica’s National Heroes as young people are each faced with a challenge that shows how they became the strong adults who built a nation.

Thoroughbred three-year-old colt who has been placed in the hands of Sawdust for schooling. He is tipped to be the leading horse of his year, but there are others who would see to have his chances destroyed.


Girl child nanny lives for adventure, but one night, facing men with guns, she realises that she cannot rely on her strength alone.

Sam took life as an enslaved person as the way things had to be, until he feels the effect of the law of divide and rule.

Paul has the ability to save himself, but he cannot ignore the cries of others.

Young Gordon is ready to make his way in business through his brains and his connections, should he have time for someone who brought his family shame and pain?

A disastrous scene in town caused Marcus to turn to letters, but who would listen to a child?

As the school's sports star, is Manley's greatest  responsibility to win at all costs?

William is packed and ready to go abroad to find his fortune but a a small voice captures his attention. 


Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Harold Davidson launches another YA title: Young Heroes of the Caribbean


Harold Davidson launches another YA title: Young Heroes of the Caribbean

Kingston, August 26, 2014

Harold Davidson introduces Young Heroes of the Caribbean
to the Minister of Education
Young Adult (YA) writer, Gwyneth Harold Davidson, introduced her newest young adult book Young Heroes of the Caribbean to the Minister of Education, Rev Ronald Thwaites, at the Jamaica Teachers Association Annual General Conference in Montego Bay on August 22.

Receiving the copy, Minister Thwaites said that he would be reading it carefully before sharing it with his grandchildren and to see whether it would be appropriate for use in schools.

The book, which is independently published by Harold Davidson, is an intimate family story of a working class boy, Ramiro, whose separated parents live in the diverse worlds of thoroughbred horseracing and seaside cook shop vending. As he, his parents, and an undocumented girl steer through their challenges, the mythical strength of Jamaica's seven national heroes emerge as sources of strength in adversity. Male characters dominate the book, and it is being positioned as relevant for middle school boys and older teens.

August 23 launch in Kingston at the
Church of the Transfiguration Health, Back-to-school
and Book Fair
The novel features original illustrations by the popular Spanish Town raised artist and Edna Manley College graduate Taj Francis. The cover, done by well-known designer, Rupert Thomas, uses elements of the Jamaica 50 Shop mural of the Ministry of Youth and Culture that was created by a design team of final students of the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts.

Young Heroes of the Caribbean is currently being promoted to booksellers and librarians. It is available as a Kindle e-book on; and the first third (1/3) of the book is available for free download to subscribers of the social media website, Goodreads.   

Harold Davidson says that Young Heroes of the Caribbean will be the first in a three-part series with Bad Girls in School published in the Caribbean Writers Series, (Heinemann/Pearson Education).
subsequent books to be delivered at one-year intervals. The other books will highlight more heroes of nations with shores that are washed by the Caribbean Sea. This is Harold Davidson's second YA novel, the first is Bad Girls in School published in the Caribbean Writers Series, (Heinemann/Pearson Education).


Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Sketch of a Community Library - the Harbour View Branch Library

Sketch of a Community Library - 
the Harbour View Branch Library

Harbour View Branch Library,
beside the Hope River, Riverside Drive, Harbour View, St Andrew

It is a beautiful thing when your life's work is also your passion. I had the pleasure of being an acquaintance of the late  Amy Mc Courtie Robertson, a librarian who was blessed to be in that situation. Perhaps that is why she had an outgoing personality and her love of life permeated through all that she did.

Mrs Robertson started her profession during the 1950s in Montego Bay in the parish of St James. She was among a small cadre of library professionals, women in the main, who believed that they were doing the important job of nation building.

Among Mrs Robertson's scheduled duties in those early days was to take the library to rural communities. She walked many miles across the hilly countryside, or travelled saddle back when she accepted a donkey ride from a passing farmer. The job of taking books to remote communities, meeting people, and learning so much more about her country helped her and others to build the valuable libraries. It was taxing, but Amy described her work in words that you knew that it was always a joy, and never a burden. It is the dedication and passion of these women who made reading books and learning and gaining knowledge so much easier for the next few generations.

My mother who grew up in a rural district recalls that there were visits from the mobile librarian, but before that, there was a mail order library service through the Jamaica Postal Service.

So I was born in a time when the efforts of the earlier librarians were bearing fruits. I had another advantage, I lived in the capital city and libraries were always within easy reach, and going to the library was encouraged because of my book-loving parents. To pause further, my parents' love story happened because of an overdue library book.

My government-run primary school had an air-conditioned library; I was regularly taken to, or took the bus to, the Kingston and St Andrew Parish Library (Tom Redcam Library) for many years; my home had hundreds of books so we called the room in which they were kept, a library. Aside from books, my father had a small, but diverse, collection of vinyl records and CDs of music that interested him. It included a recordings of Roman Catholic church music from South America and from Kenya; Gilbert and Sullivan Operettas; Jamaican popular music including Desmond Dekker, Bob Marley, Ernie Smith, Mutabaruka, Stanley and the Turbines. Western pop music by Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens. Folk music and seasonal music from Mexico and Venezuela. Calypso from Trinidad and St Vincent and Byron Lee and the Dragonnaires. There were European classical works, and Handel's Messiah was played throughout Lent each year. It extended to Enya, Michael Jackson, the Supremes, Donna Summer. It included musical theatre including Derek Walcott and Galt McDermot's musical, The Joker of Seville, which was performed by the Trinidad Theatre Workshop at UWI. There was also a spoken word recording of the books Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

The home of my paternal grandparents had a small collection of books as well. My grandfather never owned his own home, his vehicle was a fixed wheel bicycle, and he subscribed to National Geographic for many years. My cousins and I were second-generation users of his book and magazine collection.

My high school had a substantial library that was a completely stocked with books with one thing in mind, serving the needs of  teenage girls. I used the UWI Mona main library while I was a student to explore art and read out-of-print material; and returned to use the West Indian section as an ordinary member of the public; I have asked for, and seen, estate maps and other historic documents that are kept by the National Library of Jamaica, again as a curious member of the public. The Jamaica Information Service, where I worked for several years, has an extensive newspaper clippings collection, an audio library and a video library, and I used them all.

These libraries had been an ongoing part of my life but there was a short period, of about two years while I was in primary school, when I used to borrow books from the Harbour View Branch Library in St Andrew parish, Jamaica. 

I was in a nostalgic mood when I visited the library after an absence of about 35 years, but I decided that I must try to see it as if I was a ten-year-old, or a teen today. The popularity of reading on a digital device has made the relevance, or not, of bookstores and libraries subjects of discussion for some time now, and in a community, such as Harbour View, I have no doubt that many of the children have computers at home; but there are many children there who do not. Why would a child want to visit that library today? I wanted to find out.

The Harbour View Branch Library sits on the bank of the Hope River which is dry for most of the year, and a raging torrent during the rainy period. That section of the river is an unattractive bare channel that is strewn with deposits of rocks, stones and sand. That part of the city is normally dry, so the relationship between the natural environment and the library grounds is very pronounced.

The children's/junior section is about 1/3 of the library space. It is bright and painted in cheerful colours, and there seemed to be a great balance of fiction and non-fiction books, and not overwhelmingly school books. The title that seemed to catch my interest first was published by the Child Development Agency, and it was about knowing your rights of your own body. 

On the other side of the library was a general reading room that also had a few computers for Internet access. There was a section for Jamaican authors. Among the fiction writers in hard and soft cover were Garfield Ellis, Erna Brodber, Michael Anthony, Kwame Dawes, Garfield Ellis, Trevor Rhone, Marlon James and Donna Hemans. My book Bad Girls in School was not there, I told myself that it is in so much demand that it had been checked out.  

In the non-fiction section for local authors were Jamaica Through My Eyes by Lois Samuels; Cattle and I by TP Lecky; Reggae Roots by Kevin O'Brian Chang; The Rise and Fall of Falmouth Jamaica by Carey Robinson, God is Good - Conversations and Reflections on the Life and Times of Howard Cooke; Gardening in the Tropics by Olive Senior. I thought that this was was a diverse selection indeed.

There were a few poetry books including The Damp in Things by Millicent Graham and It was the Singing by Ed Baugh. From this quick glance, I did see Jamaican books and literature from the 70s to as recent as about three years ago.

It was ten-o-clock in the morning on a weekday, so there were only a few people in the library, including three boys in their late teens playing games on the Internet. I could perceive however, through small clues, that this may be a strong community space that caters to young people.

On the walls were messages and posters that addressed youth-related topics; there was a magazine rack featuring fashion and sports titles; there was a flyer announcing the upcoming reading competition; there was a notice asking that cell phones be turned off; and aside from the ancillary worker, the staff members and security guard on duty seemed to me to be under the age of 40; born after independence.

If I was a ten-year-old, the cheerful spaces and promise of discovering something interesting on the shelves would attract me to visit the library; but I would also need regular events to keep me coming back.

If I was a teenager, this could be a place where I can be in the company of friends and browse the Internet, or go outside on the verandah and talk. I would also want to be able to look forward to something interesting happening at the library.

If I was a new adult, this would definitely be where I can indulge in some escapism reading without having to buy a lot of books.

Local non-fiction.
TP Leckey,  Lois Samuels
I am happy to know that the Harbour View Branch Library seems, with this quick glance, to be going strong after all of these years, and would like to offer three suggestions. Two are to suggest that there be stronger connections between the community's sporting history and the library; the other is related to the natural environment.

The Harbour View Football Club is very prominent in Jamaica, and the stadium is a short distance away. Perhaps there could be more books about the sport of football on the shelves, and perhaps have theme events that are related to the club, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. In turn, perhaps the football club would put a page about the library on their website, in the same place where it has a page about what is called the Harbour View Tower.

Jamaica's famous sprint athlete and sports administrator Donald Quarrie, it is said, grew up in Harbour View. The library could also make excellent use of this connection and have material about him in the library, and include sports celebrities from the community.

The library is isolated at the very fringe of the community, and there may perhaps be limitations for evening and night events.

In the photo on this blog, there is an arrangement of stones at the entrance to the library. When the rain falls steadily, grass grows in between the stones, but whether it is dry or lush, those stones were a nice natural climbing area for me as a child. Climbing those stones is like walking across the dry Hope River bed nearby. Perhaps the grounds can be a part of educational outings and field trips to promote understanding of Jamaica's geography and geology and how they are being impacted by climate change, and also change for the benefit of the country's development. 

Of course, these are only my thoughts on a short visit to a small community library. Their schedule of events is perhaps much richer than what I can imagine in a rush.

I wish the library staff and members well. I hope that the spirit of Amy Robertson lives on there, making it a community space to expand thoughts beyond the routines of daily life. Long may it help to develop imaginative and resilient young people, and be a source of inspiration and reflection for all its users.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The message is not the medium.

Rebels without causes are among us, and A Place in the Spotlight is among their needful things.

Mr BA is a journalist in his 20s who reacted to a Gleaner opinion piece that was written by a Mr Alfred Sangster who is an educator in his 80s. After reading the blog, I read Mr Sangster's article which articulated his thoughts on a contentious matter that is a part of ongoing public discussion.

Mr BA's response was that the Gleaner should not allow Mr Sangster the privilege of a column saying, "Let me be clear that I am in no way, shape, or form trying to detract from the contribution of any Jamaican in the building of our country. But let us be fair, some have already played their part and are still stagnating in the same pool of ideas. People who are playing their part now deserve to be heard, and should have the chance to shape public opinion".
Award Winning Gleaner Journalist
Mr Curtis Campbell

This took me to the question on whether young adults living in Jamaica have access to national mass media platforms on which their thoughts can be shared. Certainly, the artiste who yesterday risked his life to get himself played on a national music format radio station might share Mr BA's view that the thoughts and opinions of young people in Jamaica are not being heard.

Mr BA said that he does not believe that age should restrict the airing of ideas and criticized what he says is the lack of access by young people to mass media saying, "But the fact that there are no mainstream opinion makers who are not considered ‘veterans’ must be fiercely questioned. Why is this a realm for people who heard Manley or Seaga speak, or bought shares in the Gleaner in the 70s? And why does the media so fiercely guard their privilege? There are thousands of Jamaicans involved in the building of our nation at this moment who are under the age of 35. We hardly hear from them however, we must follow them on Twitter and Instagram."

I was concerned that this could be true, and decided to write down a list of post Jamaica independence opinion writers
Post independence born political spokesman
Mr Robert Nesta Morgan
being quoted in the Gleaner
who regularly contribute to the Gleaner. To be safe, I selected 1962 as my cut-off birth year rather than choose age 35. This is a short list after a quick browse through a week of printed papers: businesswoman and media personality Miss Patria-Kaye Aarons, award winning playwright Mr Keiran King, attorney-at-law Mr Daniel Thwaites, economist and academic Dr Andrew Haughton, journalists Mr Daraine Luton, Mr George Davis and Mr Daviot Kelly, youth advocate Mr Jaevion Nelson, and business executive Mr Kevin Simmonds. I also recall that a letter by a young woman, Ms Karen Lloyd, generated much national discussion. Journalist Mr Robert Lalah's interview with young businessman Mr Gordon Swaby was given full page treatment in the pages also a few days ago. It was stated very early in the article that Mr Swaby is 23 years old. From this list, the under 50 male opinions are published in the Gleaner, every day, and perhaps twice on Sundays. 
The selected photos used here were taken from papers between June and August 2014.

During the Emancipendence week (August 1 to 6) I heard 20-something radio journalists Mr Abka Fitz-Henley and Mr Rashawn Thompson play in full, and then joke lightheartedly about, the JCDC festival song Bam Bam performed by Mr Frederick Nathaniel "Toots" Hibbert. The joke was that if they added both their ages, it was still lower than the the number of years that Toots had been performing that song. I enjoyed the mirth, and found it admirable that the proprietor of Nationwide News Network, Mr Cliff Hughes, knew that he could confidently leave the anchoring of the station's flagship programme in their capable stewardship. This is another example of the opinion of young males flowing freely on a popular media platform during prime time.

A full page editorial in the Gleaner of Aug 5,
the same day a supplement in honour of
the late Governor-General Sir Howard Cooke was published.
Writer R Lalah and interviewee G Swaby were born after 
Jamaica's independence. 
Sir Howard Cooke was an educator who would 
have no doubt been pleased to see 
this edtorial. 
The points that I have mentioned are really some simple observations, and not the reason why I wrote this post. I am concerned that there is no desire by emerging leaders to acquire a broad base of knowledge for themselves.

Some months ago, a public relations practitioner who is under the age of 40 posted a remark on Twitter that she was frustrated with the Meteorological Service of Jamaica for "using words like trough" that no one can understand". That statement, and then Mr BA's remarks, make me concerned that professional public relations practitioners seem to have a distaste for general information, and an aversion to understanding technical jargon that is related to the fields in which they work.

I admire Mr BA. He is a 20-something go-getting businessperson who received the 2007 Prime Minister's Youth Award for Excellence in Journalism. His Linked-In page states his areas of specialty include creative consultancy, crisis management, media relations and coaching. To effectively perform these areas calls for maturity along with general knowledge.

This is how he ended his article, "The fact that some of us do not know what the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s were like IS NOT A BAD THING." 

If emerging leaders are to be successful it cannot be a bad thing to be aware of what has influenced current ways of life. In fact, it is essential to understand the antecedents of institutions and traditions and procedures in order to make wise decisions that will lead to change that will further drive advancement of a society.

Mr Sangster's article recalled that it was a freedom of speech issue in the 1970s (when he would have been in his 40s) that led him to respond to an appeal by the Gleaner that its readers buy its stock in order to ensure its editorial independence and ongoing business health. Mr Sangster's central question was to ponder if the Gleaner organisation now has any editorial responsibility to those loyal stockholders who bought into their vision more than 40 years ago; Mr BA interpretation was that Mr Sangster was gloating that he owns media stock.

I recall development projects in Jamaica where the old timers, cautioning about flooding and other natural hazards, were disregarded, and in the short run, the country paid for this shortsightedness with human and economic loss. The town now known as New Market St Elizabeth first flooded in 1899, before it was even a settlement. 

Award winning filmmaker
Mr Adrian McDonald
highlighted in the Gleaner
These thoughts led me to remember a young Jamaican who completed his Grade 12 and 13 education in a private school in Canada, and he impressed his colleagues by being able to converse about Frank Sinatra. The young scholar had grown up listening to the musical preferences of his parents and grandparents, and knowing that helped to make him fit in abroad. It was not essential, but a broad based education is like a
knowledge passport.

Recently, I participated in the editing of a small amount of educational material about Jamaica for use by high school students in a Scandinavian country. The educators there have seen the importance of ensuring that their children learn about their world and its history - about this small country in the Caribbean that is so far removed from them by both geography and by culture. 

On more than one occasion I felt embarrassed in conversations with Dutch people when they spoke of the port of Elmina in Ghana, a historically significant place that I had not remembered learning about. I felt embarrassed for not knowing about a place that was significant to the triangle of trade. On another occasion I wanted to discuss the quaint surnames in Suriname that were given to enslaved persons by the Dutch, and now realise that, at best, it is a highly impolite thing to talk about, and at worst, insensitive and rude.  

Parliamentary reporter,
award-winning journalist
and proud product of
the parish of St Thomas,
Mr Daraine Luton.
Many of the international leaders of today - including the disruptors and the innovators - have had the benefit of very good schooling, and they converse with others at that level. Mark Zuckerberg, it is said, excelled in classical studies in high school before enrolling  at Harvard University, as well as pursuing a private interest in computer software programming.

Jamaica celebrates its musical traditions and international achievements in music, so I now address the matter of music appreciation as a mark of general awareness. The panelists at the "Heart of Ska" discussions staged by the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission in the Louise Bennett Garden Theatre on August 2, 2014 were international recording musician and music educator Ibo Cooper,  Institute of Jamaica's musical director, and curator for the Jamaica Music Museum, Herbie Miller; Chairman of the Jamaica Association of Composers, Authors and Publishers (JACAP), Paul Barclay; ska enthusiast Robert Moore; and New Orleans jazz musician and public speaker on music, Delfayo Marselis. I attended a session because I thought that as a public relations practitioner myself, this is a valuable way to be informed about what influenced current culture.

Prominently placed letter to the editor
commending Mr Raymond Pryce, MP
A point that was was raised in the discussion is relevant to thinking about the value of respecting dissenting voices on public speaking platforms. The panelists agreed that Europeans elevated the music of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Wagner and others to the level of "classic" and treat their compositions with a particular kind of ongoing high status. On the other hand, they say, what we in Jamaica have done with our traditional popular music such as mento, ska, rock steady and reggae is to discard them and belittle them, while others are appreciating the value, infusing the music into their own cultures, and making a good living from it. The current chart topper Rude by the Canadian group Magic! is a current example; The USA group's song No Doubt's Hey Baby with DJ Bounty Killer and also Underneath It All with Lady Saw and a sample of the late Bob Clarke of IRIE FM both won non-reggae Grammy awards a few years ago, and I think it is safe to believe that the creators and performers are still reaping financial benefits. Can the same be said of what is popular here at home?

Challenging the opinions of people who make public commentary is expected and essential, but I wish to believe that the beneficial response is to challenge the thoughts, and not to tear down the person and the medium in or on which he or she appears. Laying out statements without challenging the points -  as Mr BA did repeatedly in his article - and instead choosing to belittle a personality type is not that helpful for advancing discussion.

This little exercise has shown me that there are less female opinion writers in the Gleaner than male, even if you consider the opinions in the weekly women's magazine.

The Alfred Sangster who was the subject of Mr BA's derision is a former President of the University of Technology and a public intellectual of many decades in Jamaica. He was Vice Chairman of the Farquharson Institute of Public Affairs which provided a forum for persons to express their view on matters of national interest.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Random Thoughts - the moon in fiction

Aside from storms, the moon has a very strong place in expressing moods and building anticipation in literature. In my primary school readings the set poetry pieces were The Moon by Robert Lewis Stevenson, and Silver by Water de La Mare.

Tonight, the episode of the perigee moon, one of two times per year when the moon is closest to the earth in its orbit, the following books come to mind:

Such as I Have by Garfield Ellis, the night when Headley takes the love of his life, Pam, who is deathly ill, to the only place where he believes she can receive healing.

My book Bad Girls In School has a life changing event that happens to middle school Tajeeka by night in the main street in Mavis Bank.

The thrilling and scary events of The Cat Woman and the Spinning Wheel as told by Diane Browne happened at night, but through the illustrator, it also happened on the night of a full moon.

Orchids of Jamaica by Gloudon and Tobisch recall the Brassavola Cordata (Lady of the Night) and her fragrance that enticed the very first orchid collectors to prize this plant.

No Boy Like Amanda by Hope Barnett has a scene where eager primary school girl Amanda, once again, upsets her brothers when her father agrees that she join them on a moonlight crab hunt.

Voices Under the Window by John Hearne has a terrifying scene at night, where disenchanted people roam the streets looking for trouble, but I cannot remember right now if the moon was out or not.

In Anthony Winkler's Painted Canoe, the fisherman Zachariah deliberately goes out at night, alone with only his faith for company.

Jamaicans have a role for the moon indeed in writing.

Random Thoughts - Significance of rain in fiction

Random Thoughts - Significance of rain in fiction

The low rainfall in 2014 has been the topic of a lot of discussions by people here in Kingston, Jamaica. The experts say that it is lower than normal in this part of the island, and we are truly feeling the heat and the effects of the drought. 

That led me to think about books that feature rain, and I thought of just a few.

When rain matters in fiction: 

In my book Young Heroes of the Caribbean rain falls heavily one day, and that highlights the possibility of impending danger.

The God of Small Things, the heavy rain was a sign of the start of bad times. 

A Bend in the River, the rain emphasized the dreariness of the lives and fortunes of Salim and his household and acquaintances.

Wuthering Heights, the rain added to the heaviness of the emotions and the overall heavy moods in the book, especially at the end when Katherine is dead.

Cider House Rules, the rain heightened the effect of performing a dilate and curettage on Homer. 

Far from the Madding Crowd, the rain helped Gabriel to hide the secret in Fanny's coffin.

I will continue to think and try ways that rain was about happiness.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Giveaways in August 2014 on Kindle, Goodreads and NetGalley

Giveaway on Kindle on August 3 between 5PM and 10PM (-10GMT)
Send an email to me via

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Young Heroes of the Caribbean by Gwyneth Harold Davidson

Young Heroes of the Caribbean

by Gwyneth Harold Davidson

Giveaway ends August 29, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Read on NetGalley