Showing posts with label Caribbean novel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Caribbean novel. Show all posts

Thursday, 20 August 2020

Four Novels of Summer - Jamaica

The themes of my four novels of Summer 2020 were again YA and adult novels by Caribbean authors that are set in the Caribbean. The selections were through the Jamaica Library Service and I enjoyed them all in different ways. My secret to enjoying a book is to read with perception so that you can be more aware of the writer's style of storytelling, and the core reason for telling the story at all.

If I were to recommend any or all of these books, it is that they tell stories of good over evil, self forgiveness and the huge potential of the human spirit to guide lives in big and small ways. 

This cluster were all authored by women: three Jamaicans and one writer from Antigua and Barbuda. All settings are, I believe, between the 1990s to the present and the books were published between 2013 and 2019, making them very recent publications. All four books are set in the major urban centres: Jamaica's capital Kingston, Jamaica's major tourism city Montego Bay and the capital of Antigua and Barbuda, St John.

These are the books:

 Musical Youth (2013) by Joanne Hillhouse 

A shy, insecure, young teen develops her confidence and builds true friendships through a youth musical programme with youngsters her age. Through preparations for the final production, she unearths her own family story and has to confront all that it presents. The story integrates the music of the islands and also global pop music in the world of the young people.  

Lest We Find Gold (2019) by Melanie Schwapp  

A woman suffers disappointment in her marriage, but this is directly related to what she learned about man and woman affairs as a child.

I have placed this on my domestic violence and Jamaican mothers shelves because of the ongoing themes that are presented in the books that I read.

This book is firmly set in Jacks Hill and Mona, St Andrew Jamaica, with nostalgic touches on deep rural Jamaica, it also has delicious episodes of food preparation with local ingredients.

Based on the forward and afterward notes, this book connected very closely to the personal life of the author.

Inner City Girl: Other Rivers To Cross (2018) by Colleen Smith Dennis

This is the ongoing story of a young woman who has now completed secondary school and has ambitions to start university. Despite having overcome disadvantages of being born and raised in a deep urban area to a struggling single mother. Through fickle fate, she has tumbled back down the social ladder from where she escaped.

The author plunges the story back in a rough environment of poverty and shows us the pitfalls and the meagre opportunities that must be seized upon as any hope to advance in life.\

The bonds of fast friends, both old and new, and flimsy family more interested in maintaining social standing than family love and care.

The role of the older woman and the reformed man are carefully explored and Kingston city from the waterfront to the hills is the stage.

Tangled Chords (2014) by Brenda Barrett

An energetic episode in the lives of two young people from Montego Bay whose lives have been intertwined since childhood friendship and now, they realise that it has matured to adult love.

The complex nature of power dynamics within families, which extends to domestic employees and also wealthy cliques are explored.

Barrett pays homage to the music of Bob Marley in the hero's band and his mental resilience.

Over time, I have found themes that are very popular to Jamaican, and perhaps Caribbean writers, and these books fit into what I have come to expect and easily find in the set-up of the novel.

The primary theme, by my reading, is the role of the mother. In three of these books, the books start with the mothers having already died, and we are told their flaws as humans and in the role of mother, especially in the area of setting a good example for their daughters. Yes, the protagonists are all young women.

The books use the independent sexual choices of the mothers - not as victims of sexual crimes - as a launch to demonstrate the negative impact of these decisions on the women and their families. So who picks up the slack left by these mothers? Of those three books, it is rural family members or the family domestic staff. 

In the one book where there is a good mother, she is hands-off in child rearing, being more excited and focused on her professional achievements and ensuring that she has a good relationship with her husband and a marriage based on mutual respect and love.

Turning to the father figures: in three of these books, the fathers were prevented by the mothers from being a part of their children's early lives, which definitely had a negative effect on the entire home. 

The Bad Mother is now a common trope for Jamaican literature, which makes me wonder what it says about the society talking to itself through writers. I do wonder how the subject matter in novels is very different from the popular music that we hear, but I have rationalised this down to the gatekeeping. Many of these novelists are self published and self promoted, while the music is produced through a commercial process which is predefined by attributes, the popular ones being: Songs to the long suffering mother, songs for sexy women, songs for gyallis, songs for gangsters, love songs for Jamaica, and songs of divine adoration.  The stories being told by our writers are somewhat different.

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Saturday, 18 July 2020

Caribbean Writer Webinar explores the past and the future July 18 and 19 2020


"Imagine your own future, or someone else will do it for you"




The University of the Virgin Islands held a two-day webinar on July 18 and July 19, 2020 to launch Volume 34 of its annual literary publication, The Caribbean Writer; it also held the space for the annual Virgin Islands Literary Festival.

The theme, Diasporic Rhythms: Interrogating the Past, Re-imagining the Future was anchored by writer of children's books and the Editor-In-Chief of The Caribbean Writer, Alscess Lewis-Brown. As segment host, writer and storyteller, Elaine Jacobs, complimented the organizers in the re-imagination of the annual Virgin Islands Literary Festival as a teleconference.
DAY 1
On the first day, July 18, the rhythms and the past came early in the programme in the form of Calypso with a discussion on the forthcoming book "God, The Press and Uriah Butler", by its author and the first speaker for the event, Calypso King Hollis, "The Mighty Chalkdust" Liverpool.  Tubal Uriah Butler was a spiritual, labour and political leader in Trinidad and Tobago who participated in decisive public issues between the 1930s and 1950s. Hollis views the mission of Butler as incomplete, and this book serves to open discussion about the man, his work, and the role of media in bending the public view. Butler himself was given great honours during his lifetime. He holds the country's highest honour, the Trinity Cross. To show the magnitude of respect, the North/ South highway on Trinidad is named for him; while the East/West highway is called the Churchill-Roosevelt after the 1940-1945 war years world leaders of the United Kingdom and the USA.

The Speculative Fiction workshop featured writers Cadwell Turnbull whose most recognised work is the novel "The Lesson" and Tobias Buckell whose Halo novel was listed on NY Times Bestseller List for Paperback Trade. 

This workshop was more a discussion between the two authors who interestingly spent parts of their young lives in the USVI and also fielding questions from the audience. When asked how they believed the Caribbean experience could fit into persistent themes in science fiction, both agreed that living on an island was akin to living in the shadows of an empire, and facing immanent alien invasions. Such invasions can be viewed from the past with the migration of Central American peoples through the islands- as pursued and pursuers - to the arrival of the Europeans and the peoples they introduced. For the present, these invasions can be interpreted as tourism and expatriate workers.

Turnbull and Buckwell also insisted that works of science fiction was an an opportunity for Caribbean people to imagine a future of our own. Buckell retold his feelings of dismay when he read a serious passage about islanders building a spacecraft, and realized that the audience found it funny and even ridiculous. Hurt, he did not read that passage for many years until he was invited to the Caribbean. The response of the Barbadian audience to the same text was understanding and appreciation. Caribbean people have no difficulty imagining ourselves as world leaders in any space that we choose to occupy. For this, Turnbull and Buckell insist that if you do not imagine your own future, someone else will do it for you. Such imagining seems even more relevant now during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Attendees were invited to visit a blog with a bibliography of Caribbean Science Fiction writers: http://caribbeansf.com/

Canadian university lecturer born in South Africa, Rozena Maart, hosted the workshop Memoir Writing and what she calls Life Writing. In her guidance, Maart urged writers to place themselves at the centre of their stories, but to consider the writing process similar to that of peeling away layers of an onion to discover and to present "what is hidden, what is forbidden and what is repressed".

Maart also encouraged writers to deeply explore the language that they will employ to tell the story in the memoir. She notes that she gave privilege to the patois that she spoke at age eight in her first life story writing project.  Maart herself grew up in a world where English and Afrikaans were the official languages where she lived.

Encouraging writers, Maart put forward the position that each individual inherits not only the physical traits and perhaps talents of ancestors, but also their dreams and that it should be among the pieces of evidence that a life writer must research.

Interspersed with the workshops, writers whose works have been published in The Caribbean Writer read their stories and poetry. Among them were poets Biko McMillan author of "Writing on Roots" (StCroix); Timothy Hodges (Anguilla); Andre Bagoo (Trinidad and Tobago); Corrine Binnins (Woodside, St Mary, Jamaica) and Joshua Nelson (India).

Short story writers and novelists included Natalie Corthesy (Jamaica); Mary Rykov (Canada originally from Puerto Rico);  Joanne C Hillhouse "Musical Youth" (Antigua and Barbuda).

DAY 2
The featured speaker for the second day was Caribbean storyteller Paul Keens Douglas (Trinidad and Tobago), who encouraged writers not to think about conforming to the language as written in texts, but to use the language as a tool for for real creativity. He even went to say that he may wish to recite one verse of a poem and dance the second verse. He acknowledged being greatly influenced by the writing of Louise Bennett Coverley whose Anancy Stories written in patois were published in the 1940s in The Daily Gleaner in the newspaper of record in Jamaica.

The poetry workshop was led by writer Ana Portnoy (Puerto Rico) with two writers from the USVI Tiphanie Yanique "How to Escape from a Leper Colony: A Novella and Stories" and Richard Georges "Epipheneia".

Yanique, read two of her poems which led to a question of whether she was suggesting male dominance. One poem was about a bull awaiting a mate and the other about an island, which was referred to in the feminine. Yanique said that each poem was a separate reflection on issues relating to the sexes. Georges read from his award winning work about the effect of Hurricane Irma on the Virgin Islands which upheld the view that devastation does not mean destruction.  

Content writer and blogger, Ellie Hirsh, led the workshop on Writing for Children and books that are targeted to young audiences.

Charlene Abramson Joseph (USVI) read her book, The Vienna Cake Mystery where the guilty has to be found out and restitution done to restore good order.

Winnifred "Oyoko" Loving (USVI) read her book "My Name Is Freedom" which is conversations of self-awareness and encouragement between children and the older members of their family. The book creates an opportunity for the discussion to continue in the minds of the readers.

Publisher, Denene Milner, gave a background to her mission of being a publisher for Black children's stories written by and illustrated by persons in the Black community. Milner's mission is to publish books that place the humanity of contemporary black children at the centre. She read from Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut written by Derrick Brown and illustrated by Gordon C James. The book highlights the  affirmations and well-being that flows with a boy's visit to the barber shop.

Other readers who were listed included Kirk Ramdath (Canada and T&T); Shenny De Los Angeles (Dom Rep). 

View the full programme of the webinar at the link below.

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Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Serialised Pre Release of Manuscript for a YA novel - Something Special


December 12, 2018

Serialised Pre Release of Manuscript for a YA novel - Something Special

For readers who enjoy contemporary YA romance mixed with a bit of intrigue and adventure, do check out the serialised pre release of my novel Something Special on my website this December.

It is set, as all my work, in the Caribbean and this time the city of Montego Bay as I remember it to be. A laid back but energetic and cosmopolitan city which is greatly influenced by the mountains and the sea that both border it and run through it.

It is a coming of age story of a character who is reacting to a familiar conservative Jamaican family lifestyle, some of which she questions without satisfying answers. Thrown into that is the boy meets girl meets boy hetero triangle and the issues that swirl around that.

Nearly sixteen years old, Cornelia Juvay has been sent to stay with a strict aunt as a form of correction for reckless disobedience. She is unrepentant and pursues the company of the attractive Jimmy Barnett, a young man with a ruthless reputation; but there is also Janvon Sewell, a boy who can lead her towards true maturity and salvation.

Jamaica, as is much of the world, a society in transition with regards to moral values, lifestyles, youth culture and the physical landscapes which are moving away from being dominated by nature to being dominated by the built environment. Cornelia's story is a way to step back and consider the integrity of each of these intangibles, and encourage us to hear what cannot be heard.

Following feedback the manuscript will undergo further editing in preparation for going to market.

Pre release - Something Special a YA Novel

I do hope that you find it worth your while to read and that you enjoy it.

Regards,
Gwyneth