Tag Archives: Gone to Drift

Reflecting on Gone to Drift & our Caribbean environment

As I neared the end of Gone to Drift, the tug of war between the politics of development and protection of the environment was trending in my own country, Antigua. According to reports from a watchdog group, destruction of mangroves was already in play at the site of a government-sanctioned resort development project. Round two or three for this particular bit of land and sea (which had drawn developer interest and watchdog protests since at least the mid-90s).


Image pulled from site of mangroveactionproject.org (petitioning in 2015 against the destruction of the mangroves)


Image of recent activity at the development site posted to the facebook page of activist group, the Movement (facebook.com/theMovement268)

Once again, we were at the intersection of “jobs! Jobs! Jobs!” and environmental stewardship. It’s a fault line running up and down our Caribbean, blessed with a beauty that draws people from all over the world to us, which makes tourism everybody’s business and anything that gets in the way of that a liability. What do mangroves do anyway? Only act as a buffer zone between land and sea, a shield during storms and such, protect our coastline from erosion, purify both the water and the air by absorbing impurities and pollutants, act as a breeding ground and nursery for marine life, and a harbor for not only fish, but amphibians, reptiles, birds, and some mammals, with proven importance to our fisheries sector as we need mangroves to play their role in the replenishment of fishstock and maintaining the sea’s all too rapidly disappearing biodiversity. Mangroves are also part of the tourism product as a locale for eco-tourism adventures such as kayaking (which I’ve been fortunate enough to do through mangroves at least twice in my landlubbing life). But, yeah, mangroves, who needs them. The irony is the very things we are so quick to uproot and destroy in the name of tourism are the very things which add to our appeal as a tourist destination. And that’s what was on my mind as the tension ramped up in Gone to Drift – a young boy racing against the clock to save his grandfather, a fisherman who had run afoul of dolphin poachers.

“His grandfather said Kingston Harbour had once been full of them, that no night’s fishing would have passed without seeing the shining mystery. ‘Where they go, Gramps?’ the boy had asked.

‘Sea too dirty for them.’

‘Why the sea get dirty?’

His grandfather had grunted. He was a man of the sea, not a man of words. Now Lloyd was sure he was lost at sea.”

The author of the book is Diana McCaulay who, when she’s not busy being an acclaimed Jamaican author, is racing a clock of her own; raising her voice against the short-sighted-ness of destroying the environment indiscriminately in the interest of “Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!” (McCaulay is founder and CEO of the Jamaica Environmental Trust)

Locating her story in the world of the poorest of the poor, she shows an awareness of the realities that would drive men and women to this short-sighted-ness.

Speaking to the environmentalist who was helping him track down his grandfather and who was also trying to save the dolphins, Gone to Drift’s young and highly sympathetic protagonist Lloydie (the boy) asked:

“Why you trying to stop it?”

As much as his grandfather had taught him about the need to protect the seas which gave them life, he still had the practicality that environmentalists often run up against – now for now, later for later, man mus’ lib.

He mused, “…dolphins should be left in the sea where they belonged” sure…  “but if the tourist places needed dolphins, they had to come from somewhere. And if money was to be made from capturing dolphins, there were a lot of them in the sea and many poor people would get some money.”

And that’s where we often find ourselves, and that’s what politicians have become so deft at manipulating (beats visioning a path to development that also factors in sustaining the environment).

So it’s hard not to think of these things as I read Gone to Drift, hard not to empathize with how overwhelmed Lloydie feels as forces bigger than himself align against him because in that sense he is the small man standing in path of the backhoe making a beeline for its latest environmental target and he is also the man behind the controls of the back hoe who has a family to feed, both pawns to the machinations of forces bigger than them, and the environment hangs in the balance. And the security guards who look like both will hustle hard when the walls are up to keep them both out – as the security guards at the hotel Lloyd tries to get in to to speak to the lady who could help and the guard at the hospital which doesn’t typically cater to people like him do in Gone to Drift.

But perhaps I’m projecting and he is just a boy trying to find his grandfather.

Remove the sub-text about the larger environmental issues and you still have a pulse quickening drama, and a poignant social narrative, at the  heart of which is a boy you come to not only root for but love. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Lloydie managed at least twice to bring tears to my eyes.

“Lloyd wiped his eyes. It was hopeless. He would never know his grandfather’s fate. Perhaps one day the wreckage of his boat would be found, maybe a splintered plank of wood with Water Bird written on it would wash up on the coast. He would never know. There would never be a grave anywhere, perhaps not even a funeral or a nine night. Maybe he would live the rest of his life waiting for Water Bird to round the point at Palisadoes until the span of a human life was finally over. How long would wondering last, how slowly could hope die?”

And this wasn’t even the first time I was reading his story.

See, Gone to Drift was a finalist for the 2015 Burt Award for teen/young adult Caribbean literature. A finalist in 2014Musical Youth, I was one of the Burt judges in 2015. I remember really enjoying this story, and reading it again was an odd mix of losing myself in it again and tracking the things that had changed between the time I had read it, in manuscript form, and now that it had been through the rigors of editing and was an actual book. I wondered if the tension wasn’t as tightly strung, or if I just knew too much; but in the end neither mattered because I still felt pulled to turn the pages, to find out what happened, and did it happen in time. And I’m still left at the end with an urge to pull Lloydie into a hug for the uncertainty of the world in which he now finds himself, and curious to find out, what happens next.

“If the boys waded into the sea, within a few steps they would be out of their depth and caught in a tearing current…”

McCaulay is good at what she does. Among her strengths, characterization – as I said Lloydie is as real to me as my own nephews and I feel as protective; and world building. World building, you say, but her story is set in Jamaica, it already exists. It does and it doesn’t. She admits to fictionalizing parts of that world. But even if you think you know that world, what she and all good writers remind us is that there is general knowing and there is specific knowing. And this is a world specifically of men and women of the sea. She had to put us there, then when the grandfather was a boy coming of age in St. Elizabeth and now, the bleaker reality Lloyd lives in in Kingston, where the sea has become a desert and desperate men and women make ill-conceived choices. She draws that world vividly and poignantly and beautifully.

Is Jules a little too good to be true? Maybe. She really does go out of her way to help a boy she barely knows. Are some of the characters’ motivations a bit murky? Yeah, I mean why would someone everyone agrees is mixed up in the badness even give the boy looking for the grandfather who may have fallen victim to that badness the time of day much less his phone number?

But these are minor quibbles in a story that is well paced, well drawn, well characterized and in which the author reminds us that while this is first and foremost about family, the stakes are much, much bigger than one missing man. A whole way of life has slipped away, people have turned on themselves and their own best interest. And what is one little boy in such a world?

The realities are heavy for a young adult book, because the author keeps it real; but, you know what, Lloydie’s journey also reminds us that it’s not your size but your heart that matters.

Well done, McCaulay. A timely read. One teens and young adults of the region will find enjoyable as they piggyback the persistent boy’s adventures – including one notable chapter as a stowaway on a coast guard ship; and one adults – unable to ignore the larger implications – will find revealing, topical, and, perhaps, inspiring.

I suggested earlier that I may be projecting. And I may. But I know this, McCaulay’s writing is not distinct from her advocacy.

“Will stories induce us to act, I wondered?  I am not sure.  But I do know this – stories make us feel, in a way no scientific recitation of facts can accomplish.” She wrote this in one of her posts while serving as a Commonwealth Writer in Residence, and it suggests to me that there is a link, though perhaps not always deliberate, between what she writes and the issues she comes across in her work as an environmental warrior. That is not to say that she writes in a didactic (or even pedantic) fashion, she doesn’t, there is still the organic pull to story, the instincts that drive any creative writer at play. When I interviewed McCaulay shortly after her Commonwealth short story win for the Dolphin Catchers, where we were first introduced to the characters in Gone to Drift, she said of the origin of the story, “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.”

As her author notes at the back of Gone to Drift indicate there was a lot of that extra work, including extensive research put in, but, first it was that evocative image that worked to (and succeeded at) pull(ing) us in:

“The boy sat beside the crumbling wall and stared out to sea. It was full dark and rain hissed on the water, but he was sheltered from the downpour where he sat…”


p.s. Diana McCaulay’s Gone to Drift is published by Papillotte Press which presented a copy of the book as a prize for the 2016 cycle of the Wadadli Pen Challenge (a fact that had no bearing on my enthusiastic recommendation of this teen/young adult page turner). It’s a good read. For other good reads (according to me), search for ‘blogger on books’ to your right.

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, Oh Gad!, Fish Outta Water, and Musical Youth – fyi in Oh Gad! development v. the traditional use of the land is a one of the plot threads). All Rights Reserved. Seriously, a lot of time, energy, love and frustration goes in to researching and creating content for this site; please don’t just take it up just so without even a please, thank you or an ah-fu-she-subben (credit). If you enjoyed it, check out my page on WordPress, 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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Gone to Drift: The Interview

If you’re a long time Wadadli Pen subscribers, you’ve seen Diana McCaulay here before. I (blogger, JCH) interviewed her exclusively for the blog, shared her frank insights to her history in the reading room, copies of her books mostly recently Gone to Drift have ended up in the Wadadli Pen Challenge gift bag, there’s more and…now…there’s about to be more. Because her publisher sent this author interview as part of the rollout of her new book and I want to share it. Have a read:

What prompted you to write Gone to Drift?
Gone to Drift arose from a commissioned short story originally called The Dolphin Catchers. I had this picture in my mind of a boy sitting on a crumbling wall staring out to sea in the rain. And I started to think about this boy – why was he waiting? Who was he waiting for?  I grew up going to sea with my parents and my environmental work often has a marine component, so I also wanted to write about the Caribbean Sea.

You describe the loss of traditional livelihoods and the consequences. Could you expand on this?
Yes, in my lifetime I have seen the significant reduction of fish catches and the affect it has had on fishing, both as a livelihood and as a culture. I wanted to look at the difference in how an “old-time” fisher might regard the sea, compared to a young fisher. I have also been struck by the independence and skill of fishers – the sea is their boss, but the sea could kill them too. Of course, fishing as a livelihood and as a culture has done much damage – so I wanted to explore these contradictions.

There are two voices in the book: Lloyd and his grandfather. What are you trying to do here?
I want to draw comparisons between the grandfather’s fishing world when he was a child in a rural fishing village in Treasure Beach roughly fifty years ago, compared to his grandson’s fishing life in Kingston in the present day. I also wanted to explore cross-generational relationships and how ethics and attitudes might be transmitted. I wanted to write about how good people could be driven to acts of desperation by economic circumstances.

There’s a lot of detailed documentation about marine life, the culture of fishing communities etc. How did you research this? Or was it already familiar to you? 
I knew some. My childhood and young adulthood on the sea helped, as well as my environmental work. The research I did was more about how fishers lived 40-50 years ago, what their catches were like, how they regarded the sea and how they related to it. I am very grateful to many people who generously shared their recollections and stories with me.

How can we engage young people in caring about the environment? Is literature a useful tool?
Only if young people are readers! Reading was such a sanctuary when I was a teenager, I wanted to see if I could tell a Jamaican story, a Caribbean story, that would interest even an urban teenager.

What message would you have for Jamaican teenagers about the environment?
That this is THE issue of your generation.  This is about the world you will inherit. That the environment is not a trivial matter – every human being on earth is dependent on it for water, food, shelter – for life itself. That we can’t say we love Jamaica if we don’t include the land and the sea.

How do you see Lloyd? Is he a “typical” Jamaican boy? How would Jamaican teenagers identify with him? 
He is a typical Jamaican boy of a certain socio-economic class. I am wary of calling anyone “typical” – if Jamaica is one thing, that thing is diverse. I think many Jamaican teenagers have the experience of helping their parent or guardian in a small business and having a loving relationship with a grandparent. I hope young readers identify with Lloyd’s search for his grandfather, and for those with no experience of the sea or fishing, I hope the book opens a world for them.

Do some of the events in the book have an echo in your childhood experiences? 
Yes – some of the places described, but my no means all, were childhood places. But I never had to wrest a living from the sea – the people in Gone to Drift come from a very different place.

Pedro Cays sound fascinating. Can you explain more about them and their importance?
The Pedro Cays are three small islands that rise from a submarine bank in the Caribbean Sea, south-west of Jamaica. The Pedro Bank is large – nearly three-quarters of Jamaica’s size. It’s our best remaining fishing ground, and it’s important for sea birds and other migrating animals like sea turtles, but it is very poorly managed. People live on two of the cays year round so Jamaica can claim it as an archipelagic state; so the Pedro Cays have political importance as well.

Are dolphins under threat in Jamaica and the Caribbean?
There are different species of dolphins in the Caribbean, so it is hard to make a blanket statement about that. I do think we are removing wild dolphins from populations for the captive industry without adequate study, and, personally, I don’t think we can provide what dolphins need as a species in captivity. I will say that all species of dolphins are protected under international trade laws and in our local laws as well because it has been recognised that they are in need of protection.

And here’s the book release release: JA press release GTD

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Looking forward to this one…

Diana McCaulay’s Dolphin Catchers manuscript was a finalist earlier this year for the Burt Award for teen/young adult Caribbean Fic. Now comes this:


Forthcoming release of “Gone to Drift” by Diana McCaulay

Gone to Drift, the award-winning YA novel by Diana McCaulay, is set to be released by Papillote Press in early 2016

Papillote Press, the Bocas Lit Fest and CODE are delighted to announce the forthcoming publication of Gone to Drift by the award-winning Jamaican writer Diana McCaulay. This young adult novel, which won second prize in CODE’s Burt Award for Caribbean Literature (2015), will be published on 29 February 2016.

Gone to Drift tells the story of a 12-year-old Jamaican boy, Lloyd, and his search for his beloved grandfather, a fisherman who is lost at sea. An adventure story about a boy confronted with difficult moral choices it will inspire its readers to choose bravery over cowardice and to follow their hearts.

“This is my first novel for young adults,” says McCaulay, “and as reading meant so much to me as a teenager, I’m hoping Gone to Drift will be read and enjoyed by many Caribbean young people. I wanted to pay tribute to our long tradition of fishermen, and I’m so grateful the Burt Award has made that possible. I’m also thrilled that Gone to Drift will be published by Papillote Press, a Caribbean publishing house which I’ve long admired.”

Gone to Drift follows on from McCaulay’s two acclaimed novels, Dog-Heart (2010) and Huracan (2012) and is built on her 2012 Regional Commonwealth prize-winning short story, The Dolphin Catchers  (Granta Online). As well as writing, McCaulay founded and, for many years, ran the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET); she was also a popular newspaper columnist.

CODE’s Burt Award for Caribbean Literature is an annual award given to English-language literary works for young adults (aged 12 through 18) written by Caribbean authors. Established by CODE – a Canadian NGO that has been supporting literacy and learning for over 55 years – with the generous support of the Literary Prizes Foundation and in partnership with the Bocas Lit Fest, the Award aims to provide engaging and culturally relevant books for young people across the Caribbean.

CODE’s 2016 Burt Award for Caribbean Literature is currently open for submissions. Access the submission guidelines and entry forms here.

Founded in 2011, the Bocas Lit Fest administers major literary prizes for Caribbean authors and organises the annual NGC Bocas Lit Fest, Trinidad and Tobago’s premier literary festival.

Papillote Press, based in Dominica and London, specialises in books about Dominica and the wider Caribbean. “I love this story. It entwines a tale of modern Jamaica with memories of the old ways of the sea. The reader follows Lloyd’s desperate search for his grandfather every step of the way,” says Polly Pattullo, publisher of Papillote Press.

For further information please contact the publisher: info@papillotepress.co.uk
“Gone to Drift  is a love story about Lloyd’s deep affection for his grandfather, and about the author’s deep love for Jamaica, its land and seas. A Jamaican coming-of-age story – realistic, often funny and deeply touching – it’s a story for adventurous boys and girls, and for grownups too.”
– Pamela Mordecai, author of The Red Jacket

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