China, Jamaica, Trinidad – London Caribbean Literary Salon

China, Jamaica, Trinidad – London Caribbean Literary Salon

Kerry Young, Kevin Le Gendre and Ronnie McGraith – stories that span the islands. 

Kerry is reading from ‘Gloria’, the recently-released second book in an anticipated trilogy.  The first book, ‘Pao’, is, in a sense, the story of Jamaica told through the eyes of a Chinese immigrant who sets up home – and – business in Kingston’s Chinatown.  Kerry is herself Jamaican, of Chinese and African heritage and ‘Pao’ is inspired by her father, who migrated from China to Kingston.  

It is always fascinating to come across the distance between Caribbean islands’ perceptions of themselves and how they are pictured from far away.  People in the UK still assume that ‘Afro-Caribbeans’, or now ‘African Caribbeans’ are the sole residents of the islands, when, of course, most Caribbean islands are shaped by migration (forced and as good as forced), economic churn and colonialism.  All have left their legacy.

While Jamaica, Trinidad and Guyana take this multiple heritage as said, across the Atlantic, there remains considerable ignorance.  (Certainly, when I tell people my father’s name was Singh, it raises a few eyebrows…) Kerry wanted to tell tell the story of Chinese-Jamaicans – and how better to reach out then through fiction?  

Is character just science?

Is character just science?

I’m writing a YA novel where the main protagonist is fascinated by how the brain works.  His older brother, a bit of a London street boy, was shunted through a windscreen five years earlier and the accident shatters the family’s fragile balance.  This article questioning the effectiveness of using neuroscience in fiction gave me something to chew over.

No funny sex, but a hit of myth


I was intrigued by Authorprofile’s assertion at the London Book Fair that Rick Riordan has, to resurrect the spirit of  the X-Factor judging panel, made myth his own.  The presenter pondered  how any other YA writer could encroach on this rich territory.

Myth and legend is a constant influence on the popular arts.  It threads through pop-culture, from glam-funk 1980s groups like ‘Imagination’ to the Coen Brother appropriation of the Ulysses myth in ‘O Brother Where Art Thou?’ through to Neil Gaiman’s ‘American Gods’ and the Marvel magazine’s Thor stories – though my daughter greatly resents the films’ erroneous pairing of Thor and Loki as brothers!

My particular interest is Caribbean myth and legend.  Although I grew up in England, my world was filled with the tales of female devils, poltergeists, wolfmen and the souls of unbaptised babies.  At primary school, in the pre-video age of BBC school TV programmes, I remember trooping off to our little television room with my English friends and seeing a programme about Anancy.  I took the news back home and my mum proudly claimed him as our own.  But I preferred our own family tales – the time when the obeah man was called to stop ghosts throwing stones on to the corrugated metal roof, or when my aunty saw a la diablesse by the mango tree in Victoria St.

In the Authorprofile branding exercise, I thought hard about what powers my writing.  Caribbean stories rates highly, central to both ‘Granny Ting Ting’ and ‘Wild Papa Woods’.  Now I just have to hope that Rick Riordan’s eyes haven’t turned to Trinidad.

Multiheritage stories…

Multiheritage stories…

Purloined from Saturday’s ‘Guardian’, the peer Oona King talks about her multi-heritage family experiences.  African-American, Jewish, London, Italian – her family stories span the globe, rather like mine.

Families in the UK are incorporating increasingly diverse national histories, ethnic identities, skin colours, hair types.  Do our children and young adult books reflect this?

London Book Fair 2013 – Year Zero


I have a head full of tips from my first visit to London Book Fair.  I trod the pathways between publishers, squinted at the rows of books and receptionists and consumed latte at prices that made me gulp.

Having never been before, it was interesting to hear that this event was far more author-friendly with a serious focus on targetting self/independently published writers.   There seems a clear move from the disparaging attitude of self-publishing as vanity-publishing to it being not only comparable to ‘traditional’  publishing, but a preferred, sustainable entrepreneurial model.  The strongest advocate for this was Joanna Penn who used her own career highs and lows to demonstrate how independently published writers can build a career; the focus of her seminar was advanced online marketing – practical information you can actually use.  Worth the £30 entrance alone.  There’s a bundle of advice on her website  The pic above is me looking slightly sheepish and Joanna looking as if she’s regenerating.  That can only be a good thing.

Also plonked myself into a session on author branding by Authorprofile.  After deconstructing Rick Riordan (off-duty affable history teacher who has cornered myth) and Jilly Cooper (posh, Tory-supporting purveyor of Carry On sex) we had to brainstorm our own brands.  Describe yourself in three words.  Go on!  I thought hard about everything I’d written.  What did they have in common?  So… My ‘brand’ seems to focus on family stories – whether folk tales or family member tales passed through generations, identity – what it means to be a woman/man/black/mixed race etc, in the UK today and the Caribbean, particularly Trinidad.  Hmm.  Not quite filling the coffers like myth and funny sex.  Perhaps i better work on it.