A great piece about secret writing, women’s writing, fear and judgement by Diana McCaulay, the writer in residence at Commonwealth Writers.
Don Warrington is definitely doing justice to Sam Selvon’s book! Sir Galahad, Tante and the journalist, Brixton… Yes, it was a struggle for families coming from the Caribbean, but this book is very funny and Don Warrington’s accents and voices brings out the humour.
And with a spot of Lord Kitch bookending it too. Great!
Come on! You have to do it, don’t you…
The publisher usually sends five free copies. I kept one, sent one to my Aunty in Trinidad and gave one to my husband’s parents, my parents and my best friend’s mum. Which leaves… Damn! Where’s that gone, then? I’ve always wondered what other writers do with their freebies.
This is my grandfather, Paul Lawrence – the start of the Lawrence line as I know it. There were generations of Lawrences before, but I know so little about them. I was born in Brighton, England, brought up in Sussex by my mother. Her parents, seven sisters and three brothers lived in Trinidad and for many years, the family stories and intrigues rarely made it to my ears. As I look at this picture now, what so i see? A bit of me. Alot of my mum. And – grief – are those my daughter’s eyes?
My grandfather died when I was six. The first time my mother returned to Trinidad after coming to England in the mid-60s was to go to his funeral, taking me with her. It was a time when banks were reluctant to lend money to women, so a black, single mother, underpaid nurse was hardly going to tick their boxes. My mum borrowed money somehow; I borrowed summer clothes from my best friend – and we were off.
Forty years or so, I still hold strong memories. There’s the scary stuff – the enormous flying cockroaches and their plump, shuffling larvae. There was the long drop latrines – which I’ve heard are making a comeback at festivals. (Seriously?) I refused to use one until my mother described a colostomy in graphic, buttock-clenching detail; that was apparently my fate unless I let it all go. (Why let that nursing training waste, huh?)
I also remember the plane door opening after an eternally long flight and the hot, scented air. And the moment I threw open my grandma’s door on to the rush of morning green. Massive mango trees, banana trees, sugar cane, palms, avocado, a forest of fruit I’d never seen before. Add in one mangy cockerel and chicks that bobbed away on spindly legs when I chased them – oh, yes.
The strongest memory, though, is meeting my grandfather. He was in his coffin, in my grandma’s front room. Apparently, I wasn’t phased. My mum says I thought he looked like a nice man.
That was a recurring theme – he was a nice man. I know only fragments of his life, but my mum and her siblings talk of him with great affection. I believe he was one of nine children and his father disappeared. There is a story that my great-grandfather and his brother may have rowed a boat down a south American river. There is also a story that drugs were involved with great-grandfather Lawrence’s disappearance. Of course, I wish those stories are true. I’m a writer.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve been shown the land we used to own but got lost in family feuds. In the Palm House at Kew Gardens, my 80-year-old Aunty over for her visit to the UK pointed out the ‘red fig’ tree. My grandfather used it to pound flour when rations were tight during the Second World War. I think now how he lived through two world wars, Trinidad independence, the migration of many people from the Caribbean to the UK and US. I wonder if his life became easier or harder. Unlike many in the Caribbean, other than my mother, his family wasn’t scattered between lands. Three of my aunties still live on the land where his house was. No relatives of mine were on the SS Windrush and only one followed afterwards.
My Aunty sent this photograph for me and I am grateful. As a second generation black British woman, I have sometimes felt caught between two cultures. I am not a Trini, no matter how many Kitch lyrics I can quote. Growing up in the UK, there are many times I have not felt I’m the right kind of British. But I am lucky. I know my heritage. And it is many of those stories passed down to me that now inspire me to write.
I’m a proud mother. Okay, the book doesn’t play Green Day’s ‘Basket Case’ on the ukulele or Cat Stevens on the acoustic.
But it’s mine. all mine.
Two tales – one based on an old Trinidad folk tale of Papa Bois, the guardian of the woods. The other story is inspired by a couple of trips to Lamu, the island off the coast of Kenya, populated by people, donkeys and cats. (The last time we were there, we were on a dhow sailing out into the lagoon at sunset. Some cliches are worth it.)
Twelve-year old twins Liani (never without her camera) and Cyril (”outside world – noooo!”) face down hunters, sniff out crapaux and set Spiderface on the path to a long and happy life.
I have a bad visual memory; I am rubbish at describing activities and places from my imagination. I’ve probably passed through thousands of train stations in my life, but I’ll have to get to bus up to London Bridge if I want to write about a station in a story. I need the detail, the specifics.
I have an idea for a series of books set in Trinidad in the 1940s, but even walking around modern day Port of Spain would have its limitations. That’s why the National Archives’ project to digitise their old images of the Caribbean is so – well – wonderful. Free to explore, they’ve made accessible to writers, historians and the plain curious, hundreds of images of the colonial Caribbean – from Grenada to Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago to Turks and Caicos – they are inviting us to have a look and have a ‘say’. An excellent resource!
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.