Tag Archives: Caribbean women writers


Like the title says, this is the seventh reading room. Use the search feature to your right and the term ‘reading room’ to find the others. Six came before, pack-full-0 good reading: poetry, fiction, non fiction, and some visuals too. Good reading makes for good writing. So use the reading rooms like your personal library and enjoy. And remember, keep coming back; they’re never finished. As I discover things, things get added. And don’t be shy about sharing your thoughts re not only what you read here but also possible additions to the reading room.


Monique Roffey (Trinidad and Tobago), author of The White Woman on the Green Bicycle -a book I recommended in my Blogger on Books a while back – shares writing advice and recommended reads in this post. I also want to mention that another Roffey post sparked a most interesting discussion re Caribbean literature – check out this post (also this) and this one from Vladimir Lucien (St. Lucia) for more on that.


Have you read any of these Caribbean women writers?


Love everything about this post and Shakirah Bourne’s gushing nervousness and excitement over meeting her literary hero. READ MORE.


“Make no apology for your language, and nobody will expect one.” Bajan Shakirah Bourne speaks about the write to use our natural, our mother, our heart language in life and on the page. Sidebar: that bit about Dickens struck me about him training his ear and his hand to write what people said, and how they said it; as a reporter, who writes what some people think is short hand but is actually Joanne-warp-speed-hand, I’m beginning to see how my life tracking down stories and interviewing people shaped and shapes the stories I tell and how I tell them. Still figuring it out, but yeah, that resonated with me. Plus I love Dickens. Sidebar over. Substantively, Bourne writes about Scottish author Irvine Welsh and what we can learn about how he uses dialect, unapologetically. Read the full here.


I was tempted to put this art-heavy Althea Romeo Mark post in the visual category but it’s an art blog,  in which she reminds us that “art is part of our everyday life” and shows us too. Read and see here.


Food for thought: 5 Reasons to Wait and Slow Down when it comes to Publishing your Book.


In this post, Jamaican writer Diane Browne wonders, what is it about Calabash, the literary festival that leaves us all a little bit drunk on words. Dr. Carolyn Cooper also had some musings about the magical festival.


What Makes a Writer ‘Caribbean’? asks Lisa Allen-Agostini


Creative people can be oddities…but that’s a good thing…really…and daring to be a little odd can be good for anyone. Embarrass Yourself. It’s Good for the Heart by Elaine Orr.


“I think you have to work hard, and you have to place yourself in the light somehow – whether it is at readings, by writing online, by submissions, by reaching out to people as you have just done – and if you stand there long enough and nicely enough (i.e. as part of a bigger picture, not as the star of your own show!), then good things do happen.” – RU FREEMAN RESPONDS TO A ASPIRING WRITER


I’ll confess I haven’t fully read Gateway – a Caribbean Sampler in the Missing Slate as yet but somehow I have no qualms about recommending it. When you’re done, check out the first issue of Susumba’s Book Bag.


“You wake to see the sunrise exactly once a year. The cock’s crow which normally signals the start of the day alerts you that you are late.



Elizabeth Nunez being interviewed on NPR about my book Oh Gad!


Kei Miller interview.


John Robert Lee’s interview with the ARC has some interesting insights about the arts scene in St. Lucia which some may find also mirrors the scene in their territory. Read the full here.


Audio interview – my girl, Belizean writer Ivory Kelly on the BBC.


“The IDEA is key. Get your IDEA straight and you can execute it in a thousand ways. But the IDEA must always be singular and original.” – Read more of Jamaican Roland Watson-Grant’s interview with Annie Paul.


“There’s been a kind of amnesia,” he says, “or not wanting to focus on this, because of it being so painful. It’s kind of crazy. We can deal with the second world war and the Holocaust and so forth and what not, but this side of history, maybe because it was so hideous, people just do not want to see. People do not want to engage.” More from the director of 12 Years a Slave here.


“My father recited poetry all the time, spasmodically and loudly in the house. But there was a method to his madness. He read with a compelling rotundity: Neruda’s ‘United Fruit Company’, Wilfred Owen’s ‘Exposure’, Martin Carter’s ‘This is the Dark Time My Love’, Derek Walcott’s ‘As John to Patmos’, Dylan Thomas’ ‘Do Not Go Gently Into that Good Night’. He also wrote and was very modest about doing so.” – Read more of the Arc’s interview with St. Lucian poet Vladimir Lucien.


“In a way Island Princess in Brooklyn celebrates my father’s family and their journey. Interestingly enough, Cordelia Finds Fame and Fortune celebrated the fact that fame and fortune can be found here at home (no need to migrate). However, Princess is forced to migrate and forced to make a new life or return home. Is this back story then part of the journey, a journey in which I am now able to look outwards from our island to our people overseas? This circle of family, of story, fills me with wonder.” – Diane Browne, Read the full interview at the Brown Bookshelf.


“My greatest fortune has come from the people who believed in me who have allowed my writing to flourish, and from the many individuals who I’ve come into contact with during the creative process of writing. However I have yet to walk into a bookstore and see my books there, that remains a dream!  So – a mixed life, and at the age of 60 I know I have much to be thankful for and hope when and if my writing is read, that it will bring inspiration to others.” – Read more o Arc magazine’s interview with Commonwealth short story prize winner for the Caribbean region.


Carib Lit interviews Ezekiel Alan, a self published Jamaican novelist who claimed the Commonwealth book prize. Now that’s inspiring. How’d he do it?

“Get honest feedback, from people not too close to you. Do as professional a job as possible — get your book properly edited and proofread.”  Alan also encourages writers to develop and stick with a writing routine and to think outside the box in selecting story ideas. “It is tougher to compete by producing what everyone else is producing.”

Read more.


Writer-colleague and Burt Award Winner A-dZiko Gegele told me on facebook “Your ‘Island SisStar’, Jamaica Kincaid was at Calabash Jamaica this year – what a fabulous soul – she was witty, and full of humility and grace – highly rated by the audience.” Here’s Susumba’s coverage of that interview.


So much inspiration to pull from in this interview, it was hard to excerpt just one but in the end I went this: “Whatever work we do, we must work from the heart.” Dena Simmons is an American educator and activist with Antiguan and Barbudan roots. I know because I was at a literary conference in the USA where among the very few black people there, there was one other Antiguan or so she introduced herself to me and I’m happy to have made the connection. Read up.


Zadie Smith’s 10 rules for writing.


“I write because the island I live in is small, and I feel a sting each time the people who ask where I am from, then cut short their attention when they realize just how small it is, cut short their attention because the island is not on the radar of much-of-the-world, unless one sharpens the gaze.” – Jonathan Bellot. Read more.


I hardly know where to excerpt, there’s so much wisdom here but…how about this:

“If you like fantasy and you want to be the next Tolkien, don’t read big Tolkienesque fantasies — Tolkien didn’t read big Tolkienesque fantasies, he read books on Finnish philology. Go and read outside of your comfort zone, go and learn stuff.”

Incidentally, I remember a professor making a similar point about being a journalist, he suggested that we needed to spend less time in the bubble of learning about media and communications and more time just learning about…well, everything.

Read more from Neil Gaiman here.


“As a child being educated in Guyana, English Literature was an invitation to other worlds, an invitation which has never lost its appeal…” read more of Maggie Harris reflecting on a literary journey which most recently spiked with her 2014 win of the Commonwealth Short Story prize for the Caribbean region.


If you’re thinking of publishing especially in the children’s market and you live in the Caribbean, you should read this article by Kellie Magnus.


“In the first draft I sometimes found my characters being mouthpieces for me and my good intentions, and that made the writing weak and bland. In the second draft, I shut up and let the characters do their own talking, and the story improved considerably. The struggle of the protagonist to come to an understanding of herself beyond victimhood was also much clearer when I didn’t try to impose a social justice agenda on her. She became not merely a representative of all children and adults who have survived child sexual abuse, but a real character, with hopes and fears and wants and needs she tries to meet in the way she knows how to, and I had to let her speak for herself in order to give her the agency her history had denied her.” – READ MORE OF LISA ALLEN-AGOSTINI’S ATTEMPTS  TO NAVIGATE THE TERRAIN BETWEEN NON FICTION HORROR AND FICTION WITH BOTH A SOCIAL CONSCIENCE AND A REAL HEART BEAT.


“I want to write poetry that is alive, fresh, vibrant, contemporary in feeling, readable, thought-provoking, playfully subversive, powerful, and yet still tender. I want it to be full of the energy, culture, history, music, natural beauty, spirituality, and social struggles of Puerto Rico, and other islands of the Caribbean where I have visited or lived… I don’t write love poetry, and I don’t rhyme. I write because I want to communicate with readers in a way that matters, makes an impact, or makes some kind of beneficial difference in the reader’s thoughts and in the society. Can poetry do that? I still believe in the power of the word…If there is any “must” for a poet, from my perspective, it is to widely read other poets and thus develop the ability to sort out your own place as both an innovator and a member of an ongoing literary community and tradition that you will nourish and be nourished by.” READ MORE INSIGHTS FROM PUERTO RICAN POET LORETTA COLLINS KOBLAH


Plagiarists, Muses and ‘Stalk-home’ Syndrome by Farzana Versey.


Never give up…plus, yay, supernatural gifs: Jennifer L. Armentrout on Why I’m not the Person to ask about self-publishing.


Antiguan and Barbudan Linisa George’s Poetry Postcard on the BBC, In the Closet.


St. Lucian Vladimir Lucien’s Poetry Post Card on the BBC, Ebb 1.


“In Carnival season, he is Lord and often Monarch, but at his day job, he is a squire at White Knight Laundry, where hotels and restaurants hire linens for special occasions, and employees wash, iron, mend, pick-up, and drop off.” This line captured for me that split between real life and the larger than life calypso persona of the Carnival season. Read the full poem – What He Brought For Me by Loretta Collins Koblah – in the July 2014 edition of Caribbean Beat.


“Tonight I want to offer you
this moonlight cupped in a purple
flower …” sigh, right? Swoon to the rest of this Esther Phillips poem, And Yet Again, here.


Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep by Elizabeth Frye


Poetry Parnassus – “verse from each Olympic nation


Calypso is storytelling… check out this Sparrow classic for a brief lesson. Don’t forget to dance.

Other calypso video posts on this site include: the Latumba post, the King Obtinate post, and the Short Shirt post.


Something I’ve long wanted to do with the Wadadli Pen stories.

As with all content (words, images, other) on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight,  Fish Outta Water, and Oh Gad!). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about WadadliPen and my books. You can also subscribe to and/or follow the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks. And remember while linking and sharing the links, referencing and excerpting, with credit, are okay, lifting whole content (articles,  images, other) from the site without asking is not cool. Respect copyright.



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Filed under A & B Lit News Plus, A & B WRITINGS, Caribbean Plus Lit News, Links We Love, Literary Gallery, The Business, Wadadli Pen News, Workshop

Color Online List of Caribbean Women Writers

This list of Caribbean Women Writers caught my eye while surfing recently. An Antiguan writer (Jamaica Kincaid), plus one of my favourite books by another Caribbean writer (The Farming of Bones) made the cut. Check it out.


Filed under Caribbean Plus Lit News

Caribbean Women Writers Speak

UPDATE! (February 7th 2017) Edited to correct an error pointed out by one of the contributors. Also, I’m aware that the links to the referenced samples are broken as the site address seems to have changed. I may correct at some point (when able) but even if I don’t (or can’t), I do encourage you to check out the collection and the entire series.


This is a repost about Lynn Sweeting’s new WomanSpeak collection out of the Bahamas, but featuring the fresh voices of contemporary female writers from across the Caribbean. Including yours truly. You can read samples of the chosen pieces at Tongues of the Ocean including Trinidadian Simone Leid Etiquette for Fine Young Cannibals – which Sweeting describes as “one of the most important pieces in the collection” and “a disturbing depiction of Caribbean rape culture”; American Anita McDonald’s Seized – of which Sweeting said, “beautifully written, taboo subject matter”; Bahamian Helen Klonaris’ Addie’s House – which “shines a light on a doomed lesbian love affair, the religious intolerance that destroys it, and a protagonit that survives it all in a profound way”; Bahamian Nicolette Bethel’s Nellie ad Marion Bethel’s Seduction of Self; Jamaican Opal Palmer Adisa’s Watching and Waiting; Trinidadian Lelawattee Manoo-Rahming’s The Sea has been Sick; Bahamian Sonia Farmer’s An Unfortunate Number; me, repping for Antigua and Barbuda with Development; Trinidadian Danielle Boodoo-Fortune’s At Grand Riviere; late Bahamian writer Telcine Turner-Rolle’s Blue Hills Blues; Bahamian Keisha Lynne Ellis’ The Serpent and I – a creative re-telling of the Creation story; Bahamian writer Patricia Clinton Meicholas’ Miss Annie.

So looking forward to reading the full collection and after samplinig these tidbits, you will be too. Here’s the post announcing the collection lifted from here:

WomanSpeak vol 6/2012 Now Available at Lulu.Com

WomanSpeak, A Journal of Literature and Art by Caribbean Women, vol. 6/2012, is now available for purchase at Lulu.com. The new anthology from WomanSpeak Books Nassau, The Bahamas, brings together 24 writers, poets and painters in a full colour volume edited by yours truly, designed by Julia Ames and featuring cover art by Chantal Bethel and Ashley Knowles. Volume six is especially themed, Women Speaking for The Earth. In this collection writers are not just writing about nature but are giving voice to Mother Earth herself. They also address the environmental emergencies they face as Earthling women in the Caribbean, including the pollution of the ocean, the vanishing coastlines, deforestation, as well as the responsibilities we bear in it all. As always WomanSpeak volume six/2012 is dedicated to providing a forum for women writers with diverse points of view, who break silences that need to be broken, who discuss taboo subjects, who challenge oppression by telling the truth about Caribbean women’s lives. Rape, homophobia, religious oppression and intolerance, sexuality, grief and loss are among the forbidden subjects they are bravely writing about. New works by noted writers like Lelawattee Manoo Rahming, Marion Bethel, Nicolette Bethel, and Patricia Glinton Meicholas of The Bahamas and Joanne Hillhouse of Antigua are included in this collection, as well as the work of emerging writers like Sonia Farmer and Angelique Nixon of the Bahamas, Vashti Bowlah, Danielle Boodoo-Fortune and Simone Leid of Trinidad and Tobago. There are new voices too, including poet Anita L. MacDonald and fiction writer Keisha Lynne Ellis, and new artists like Carla Campbell and Ashley Knowles in the collection. Beautiful full colour art by established and new painters make the new WomanSpeak a literary journal unlike any other, an essential book not only for writers but for painters too and for all who love art by conscious Caribbean women. WomanSpeak was founded in 1991 by Lynn Sweeting, Helen Klonaris and Dionne Benjamin Smith to provide a forum for Bahamian and Caribbean women’s creative work, to nurture that creativity by publishing fine literature and art by women, to discover and publish emerging and developing writers, to preserve publications for future audiences and to create a space where community and sisterhood among writers and artists of the Caribbean can be cultivated and encouraged. Please click the Lulu.com badge at right and get your copy today, and thank you for supporting women writers and artists of the Caribbean!


Filed under Caribbean Plus Lit News, Links We Love, The Business

Chatting writing and publishing in the Caribbean with Diana McCaulay

If you’ve been here before, you know that I am Joanne C. Hillhouse author (most recently of Oh Gad!) and Wadadli Pen founder. If this is your first visit, welcome! I am… (and) It’s lovely when my passion for reading ‘n writing intersects with this blog’s mission, beyond promoting Wadadli Pen, to celebrate the Antiguan and Barbudan, and by extension the Caribbean, literary arts and share insights to the worlds of writing and publishing especially when you come from an island in the sun/a small place. This virtual chat between me (in Antigua) with Diana McCaulay (in Jamaica), one contemporary Caribbean woman writer to another,  is one example of this. I enjoyed and related to so many of her responses; I hope you do too. Read on.

JCH: Tell me a bit about yourself and your books to begin.

Diana McCauley at the launch of her first book Dog-Heart with renowned Jamaican poet Mervyn Morris. (Photo courtesy Diana McCauley)

DM: I’m a born yah Jamaican, Kingston born and grow, wanted to write from I was very young, was more or less convinced by others this was a futile idea, but wrote all my life in secret, until the Gleaner gave me a newspaper column in 1994.  Enough people told me they enjoyed my columns to make me think, perhaps I can write after all.  I’m an environmental activist in the other half of my life – the CEO of the Jamaica Environment Trust.  I’ve written two novels – Dog-Heart, which came out in 2010, and Huracan, launched a week ago, both published by Peepal Tree Press.  Dog-Heart is the story of a middle class Jamaican woman who encounters a boy begging in an uptown plaza and tries to help him and his family – and the difficulties of their relationship.  Huracan is more ambitious – part historical, part contemporary, loosely based on my own family history – the story of a Jamaican woman who returns home in her 30s to try to make a life here, and learns about her ancestors, the secrets in her past.

JCH: Diana, this interview request was prompted by your win (Regional Prize for the Caribbean) in the 2012 Commonwealth Short Story competition with the Dolphin Catcher. You’ve since released your second book Huracan (congratulations!).

Diana at the Huracan launch at the Mona Visitors Lodge and Conference Centre at the University of the West Indies with Professor Edward Baugh. (Photo courtesy Diana McCauley)

Is there a difference between how you approach writing a short story as opposed to a novel?

DM: Thanks.  The only difference in approach is I do more planning for a novel, because it’s a marathon, not a sprint.  I learned that it’s best to have idea where you are going with a long work, in order to avoid writing pages of prose which eventually don’t fit into the novel and have to be zapped.  I do more thinking for a novel too.  In the case of The Dolphin Catcher, an image came to me of a boy sitting on a wall beside Kingston Harbour in the rain.  Nothing else, not why he was there, or who he was.  I sat down to describe this image and the rest of the story kind of came to me.  If I were making this into a novel, I would start writing down things about the main characters, the storyline, possibly an outline of chapters, before just writing.

JCH: There’s a sentiment that you can’t judge art, it’s all subjective; what’s your view on this and what value do you place on contests like the Commonwealth Short Story Prize and other awards for which your new book will no doubt contend?

DM: No, I think you can judge art, it’s just that the judges disagree!  In the case of written works, readers being much of themselves to the page, and this is why you get such different reactions.  And there are different kinds of art as well. I think the main purpose of art is to make us feel something, to make us think, to see things in a different way, and if a work does that, it has succeeded.

I greatly dislike contests  – I don’t like the way they make me feel, anxious before the prize comes out, envious of those who win when I don’t, I don’t like the entry process, asking your publisher if your work has been entered for this or that prize, nothing about it really.  Well, winning is okay, I suppose!    But you just move the goal posts on yourself, you know?  At first you say, all I want is a longlist.  Then it becomes, all I want is a shortlist.  Then a regional win is not enough, you want the overall prize.  Then the prize itself is not high profile enough.  It’s a really corrosive aspect of writing for publication.  BUT – no question – it makes a huge difference to sales and your career, if you are in search of a writing career.   You’re talking to me because of a contest, right?

JCH: Do you write to the competition, or do you just write and then if a competition suitable to what you’ve written comes around take your shot? If you do write to competition, how do you get yourself into the necessary mindset?

DM: I don’t write to competitions at all.  The Dolphin Catcher was a commissioned short story with a deadline, so it did have to be completed by a certain time, and with a certain brief – it had to be located near or on Kingston Harbour.    Interestingly enough, it was rejected in the end by the editor who commissioned it.  A good reason to keep rejections in perspective.  Anyway, my years writing newspaper columns to deadline has stood me in good stead  – you just have to sit down and write and stop telling yourself that you don’t have anything in mind.  I do try to have what I call a story bank – stories that I write because they come to me, and perhaps I send them to one or two places, they’re rejected, I put them in my story bank, because one day the right place for them might emerge.

JCH: You said in a recent interview in Susumba, “it is a very sobering thought that the best thing I can do for my books is migrate.” As a Caribbean writer who’s written three books (The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight and recently Oh Gad!) from the Caribbean and knows what a struggle it can be, yet resists the idea of migrating, this jumped out at me. Could you expand on this idea of why you think it may be necessary for a Caribbean writer to relocate?

DM: Because it is so very difficult to promote your books while you live in the Caribbean, and you HAVE to promote your books.  The days when a writer could be a mysterious recluse are over.  Not enough people in the Caribbean read – and even promoting your books in the Caribbean is hard and the travel is expensive.  If you live in a major literary market, there are so many opportunities that you can take advantage of – readings at libraries, going to book fairs, being part of a vibrant literary scene – and you can do this year round, without the costs of an air fare.

JCH: What has publishing first Dog-Heart and now Huracan taught you about, first about the publishing industry and, second, because these two are not the same thing, about writing that you could pass on to our readers?

Diana with Andrea Dempster of Bookophilia where Dog-Heart was launched. (Photo courtesy Diana McCauley)

DM: No question, the publishing industry is tough right now.  I think we are going through a revolution with e-books that is akin to the one caused by the invention of the printing press.  Considering that publishers no longer print large print runs, therefore they take much less risk on their authors, I think it’s time royalties were revised upwards.  Authors earn too little from their work.  But publishers have their challenges too – the competition from e books, the costs of shipping and warehousing books, the very favourable credit policy and return policy that booksellers get , and booksellers have to pay their overheads and are facing declining sales due to competition with e books – it’s a really tough industry all round.

I make a distinction between writing and writing for publication.  I have always written and I will always write – it’s how I make sense of the world.  Writing for publication is a different thing, it means taking your work and hammering it into shape, going over it, and over it, and over it, it means listening to an editor and making changes if you think those changes are appropriate, and saying no if you don’t.  When you are hungry for publication, this is hard to do.  It means all the marketing and networking and talking up your book or your story.  It means handling rejection.  So if you want to publish, you have to be up for all that.

I’ll tell you something about my first international book tour in New York earlier this year.  When I used to dream about “being a writer” I would imagine the book tour, and I would think about a room full of enthralled people, hanging on my every word.  It’s not at all like that.  You might get one or two full rooms, but mostly it’s long days on public transport, getting lost, missing your train, waiting around, late nights, small audiences, problems with book orders, tiredness, either bad hotels or staying with friends who get pressed in helping you get around a huge city with which you are unfamiliar, bad weather, maybe even getting sick and losing your voice – all of which I did in New York.  It was one of the hardest trips I have ever done and I have travelled a lot for my environmental work.

So if you want to be a published writer – know it comes with a lot of work, disappointment and challenge.  The writing is the easy part.

JCH: One of the things we try to encourage at Wadadli Pen is writing with a Caribbean sensibility – writing that’s reflective of our unique consciousness and journey as a people; this is not meant to be genre limiting but to reinforce the idea that great stories, the landscape against which they’re set, the characters that populate them, the the imagination that drives them, and so on doesn’t just exist out there, somewhere else, that these stories live in us, that we can produce great literature too. Can you speak a little bit to how your sense of being a Caribbean person informs your writing and, if it does, do you find this limiting in any way or as I think it can be, liberating?

DM: I’m definitely a Caribbean writer.  Sometimes, like now, when I’ve just launched a book, and I’m thinking about what next, I think about whether or not to write another book set in Jamaica.  And I find myself floundering immediately.  It’s partly because my books and stories have a very strong grounding in place, and I think I would have to go and live in another place, at least for awhile, to do that place justice.  But I want to fight against the notion that the Caribbean is not important – what did Naipaul say?   “Nothing was created in the West Indies.”  Anyway, I want to fight against this idea that we have created nothing, are nothing, apart from a few small islands, really just playgrounds for tourists, I want to talk about the love I have always felt for Jamaica, about what it means to be an island person, about the very real challenges of our societies, but also of our vibrancy and resilience.  I think the Caribbean is fascinating.  Once a Peace Corps Volunteer who worked with the Jamaica Environment Trust said ; “Jamaica is all the problems of the world writ small.”  I like that and thought it was true – the problems are so close to us all.  I want to hold up a mirror to our societies, I want readers all over the world to see into our islands, our people, I want them to be fascinated and moved.  Of course we can produce great literature.  But we need more readers.

JCH: Here at Wadadli Pen we also recommend books, stories, poems, articles that we like; can you share with us some of what you’re reading right now or have read in the past year and why you like it. Any overall favourites?

DM: I’m reading Kerry Young’s Pao right now – I heard her read at Calabash and thought she was fabulous.  I’m about half way through and very much enjoying a look into Chinese Jamaican society.  The best book I read recently is The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh, which kind of weaves together my environmental concerns and interests in other places.   Wish I had written it.  On writing, I like a short piece by Terry Tempest Williams called Why I Write, I carry it with me in my briefcase and look at it on those days when I think – and why am I doing this again??

JCH: You’re stepping into a workshop room, you are the facilitator, all eyes turn to you, what do you hope to impart to those who’ve come about the writing process?

DM: Well, I’ve not done much workshop teaching, although I would like to.  You know, my father sent a short story I wrote at 16 to Morris Cargill, a well known Jamaican newspaper columnist and writer, and Morris came back with this bit of advice – tell Diana to write.  It is only by writing that one becomes a writer.  Easy to say, and I remember it was unsatisfactory to hear at the time, but that’s the beginning and the end of it.

I think sometimes people want to be writers without doing the actual writing, and everything that comes with it, the submission, the rejection, the revision, the editing.  I do think you have to work at your craft, I do think you have to read widely, you have to think, you have to observe,  and talent, an affinity for the written word, will help you, but nothing is more important than just – writing.    Just getting on with it.

JCH: What do you think is your strength as a writer and how is this manifest in your work?

DM: This is going to sound strange, but I think I write in a very simple way, so my work is easy to read.  Carl Stone once read an early short story of mine and said, “Well, it’s very easy to read.”  And I knew he did not mean that as a compliment.  But writing newspaper columns taught me that there’s no point writing if all people are going to read is the first paragraph, so I think a writer must strive to be read.  Of course there are different audiences.  I want to write books that are simple, but not simplistic, that are literary and accessible to a recreational reader, that have a good storyline and a strong metaphorical field, that are particular to the Caribbean and universal in theme.  Tall order, eh?  I also think I have a good eye for detail and a feel for narration.  Dialogue – not so much, I have to work at dialogue, read it out loud and revise revise revise.

JCH: How do you work on the areas you may consider you’re not as strong in – is it all just inspiration or do you work on developing your craft and improving on your first and second and third draft – since part of what we strive to do here at Wadadli Pen is developmental talk a bit about that process.

DM: I do think about craft, and I do try to improve.  I have lots of books on craft and style and I re read them.  I think it’s hard for a Caribbean writer to do justice to Caribbean speech patterns, while making them accessible to readers, so that’s something I think about and try to improve – although I think I did a better job in Dog-Heart than in Huracan, so …  Definitely I go through several drafts – Dog-Heart had four or five drafts, and Huracan, well, I didn’t count, but NUFF.   At a certain point, though, you need a few good readers, people whose judgment you trust, to react to your writing as readers, and tell you that this bit doesn’t work, they don’t believe in this character, whatever.  But not too early – I think writers sometimes make the mistake of sending out their first draft.  You need to let that first draft sit awhile, and then read it again and make sure it is ready for readers. 

JCH: Let’s talk about the support systems and networks for and among writers in the region – how do you rate them, where would you like to see improvements?

DM: Say what?  Support systems?  Sorry, I mean no disrespect, I know people like yourself have worked very hard on setting up those systems, mostly through on line salons and so forth.  I have to say I feel like I write mostly alone and often wish I had someone to turn to for advice, particularly on the business side.  I have had great advice on the writing itself from my editor Esther Figueroa at manuscript stage, and from my editor, Jeremy Poynting at Peepal Tree Press.  Again, the geography is against us – hard to move around the Caribbean, expensive, hard to get together with other writers in an informal way.  Plus most writers have a day job so we are all crazy busy.

JCH: The eternal question, I get it, I know you get it from young writers, “how do I get published”?

Diana knows what it is to be a published author, twice over, as this scene from the Huracan launch illustrates. (Photo courtesy Diana McCauley)

DM: You do your research, you buy those expensive writers market books, you pore over them, you make a list, you do Google searches, you make another list, you look at who publishes or agents books you admire or think are like yours, you add them to the list, you make a good query letter, you send it off to the people on your list, you work your connections, you keep a record of your submissions and the rejections, you keep track of what the rejections say in case there is a common thread, something you need to take on board, and you do a lot of waiting.   No short cuts, no magic wand.  Requires stamina and patience and plain old doggedness and most of all, a thick skin.

JCH: You’ve remarked that you were a closet writer for many years, what finally pushed you out of the closet?

DM: I’m not really sure.  Perhaps knowing that I was getting older.  Maybe a realization that if I heard I had a terminal illness, it would literally be the only thing I regretted about my life.  Just one day I decided I was going to write a novel to the end – I had several unfinished ones – and revise it, and send it out, and not be undone by rejections, I was going to keep sending it out, and that’s what I did.  Dog-Heart was rejected 12 times, which I know is a lot less than some other writers, but was still a lot to me, and with every one, I wanted to give up and put the manuscript away.  But I didn’t.

JCH: What’s been the favourite thing a reviewer or reader has said about any of your writing since it went public?

DM: On the aforementioned New York book tour, I did a reading on radio from Dog-Heart, and I read a scene about the protagonist, Dexter, going to collect water with his brother.  And a man called in and said, “You told my story, you wrote about my life.”

JCH: What did you dream of as a child with respect to your writing?

DM: Oh the works, fame, fortune, critical acclaim, to write the Great Jamaican Novel, to do justice to the Jamaican experience, to the land itself.  To move readers in the way other people’s writing has moved me, to create worlds that draw readers in and change them.

JCH: Has that dream come true?

Well, no.  Certainly not the fame and fortune part.  I go back and forth re the management of expectations – sometimes I feel that Caribbean writers need to be more realistic about their expectations, given that we are not a major literary space, that we don’t have a reading culture, plus be realistic about the odds, about how many people write books and publish them, how hard it is to get your book to be noticed, no matter how good it might be.  Other times I think, you have to believe in your work, you have to think it is worth success and recognition, because if you don’t, who will?

JCH: What’s been your happiest moment since becoming a published writer?

DM: I don’t think I will ever forget the day I first held Dog-Heart in my hands, my novel, with my name on the cover.  Sometimes I am sad that the first book experience is forever behind me.  And another moment I loved was when several of my friends walked in to the launch of Dog-Heart wearing T-shirts with the cover on the front – they said they were the Dog-Heart fan club.  That was just wonderful.

And it was wonderful, getting a chance to ‘chat’ with Diana and explore some valuable insights, many of which resonate with me, about writing and publishing of the Caribbean, from the Caribbean.  I hope you’ll check out her books, like her on facebook, and all that good stuff. This is all about Caribbean authors supporting each other.

Now, here comes the obligatory copyright notice:

As with all content on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, and Oh Gad!). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about Wadadli Pen and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.

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Celebrating Caribbean Women Writers (and George Lamming)


I love this day. It was back in 2008 in Barbados where book lovers gathered to hear readings from a cross section of Caribbean women writers at the re-launch of that venerable Caribbean literary journal, BIM. I (that’s me fourth from right) got so caught up in the presentations I think I forgot to be nervous about reading…way down the line. I mean just check the line up; it included:

Dr. Carolyn Cooper (far left) one of my favourite professors from my university days – couldn’t believe I was in the same bill with her;

Danielle Boodoo Fortune  (second from left) –  how do I love this young Trini’s poetry, let me count the ways…and to think I discovered said poetry at this event;

Ramabai Espinet (sixth from left) – the Indo-Trinidad-Canadian author of the acclaimed Swinging Bridge;

George Lamming (centre) – one of the Classics, capital C, author of In the Castle of My Skin, the Pleasures of Exile and other renowned Caribbean books;

Curdella Forbes (far right) – the Jamaican author of Songs of Silence and A Permanent Freedom …and my limin’ buddy along with Espinet that night when we went to Oistens to soak up the atmosphere and some of their famed fried fish.

Yeah, a good day.

with Ramabai, Bermudan writer Angela Barry, Danielle, and Curdella

That's Bajan poet Dana Gilkes at the far end of the table

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