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Caribbean Writers Discuss Publishing – Lessons, Breakthroughs, and Rights 4/5

Recently, I (Joanne C. Hillhouse of Antigua and Barbuda) reached out to three female Caribbean writers (Diana McCaulay of Jamaica, Lisa Allen-Agostini of Trinidad and Tobago, and Shakirah Bourne of Barbados) with whom I have in common the distinction of being a finalist for the Burt Award for Teen/Young Adult Caribbean Literature (Diana with Daylight Come in 2019 and Gone to Drift in 2015; Shakirah with My Fishy Stepmom in 2018; and Lisa with Home Home in 2017; my own Musical Youth was a 2014 finalist).

daylight comeGone to DriftMy-Fishy-StepmomHome HomeMusical Youth

The three writers interviewed for this series have further distinguished themselves by selling rights to U.S. editions of their Burt books (McCaulay’s Gone to Drift released in the US market with Harper Collins in 2016; Lisa’s Home Home’s US edition landing in 2020 with Delacorte Press; and Shakirah’s book forthcoming in 2021 with Scholastic). I want to thank them for making the time because I believe their experiences, different though they are, are an education on publishing, especially if you’re a Caribbean Writer. The conversation is serialized due to length (so read the start of the series here) – there are 5 questions.

Q. 4. What opportunities have opened up for you as a direct result of being published in different markets? Do you have other editions by region of the Burt or any other books pending?

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Lisa during a stop on her Burt/Bocas book tour, San Juan North Secondary School. Photo by teacher Karen Sankar.

Lisa: I’ve had good reviews for Home Home’s Delacorte edition from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and Booklist; I’d never been reviewed by any of them before. [Edited to add: Trinidad Noir which Lisa co-edited was reviewed by Booklist in 2009]. Schools and libraries have expressed interest in it. Though the book’s Papillote edition has Caribbean fans, it hasn’t been warmly welcomed by schools and libraries here because it contains LGBTQ themes, a no-no in the Caribbean. I’m glad to give new, more liberal markets a shot. I have no other books pending but if you know anybody who wants to buy a contemporary domestic noir manuscript of 71,000 words…

Diana: Being published by Harper Collins got me the Kirkus star I mentioned and the better sales numbers, and also access to a call for proposals for Caribbean writers to write children’s stories for Collins Big Cat in the UK. I pitched a children’s booklet for schools and it was accepted – will come out this year.

I was a finalist for Burt twice – last year I placed third for my forthcoming novel, Daylight Come. I wrote it as a young adult novel, but I kept thinking about it and realized I wanted the story of an adult character to be explored in the book. So after Peepal Tree Press and Papillote Press expressed interest, I rewrote Daylight Come substantially as an adult novel, which will be published this year by Peepal Tree Press in September, Covid-19 allowing. Both Peepal Tree and Papillote offered me a contract – that was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make. Boy, did I ever wish I had an agent then!

At EIBF with Lisa Thompson

Shakirah on a panel at the Edinburgh International Literary Festival.

Shakirah: The US edition of my book is coming out in Summer 2021, and I’ve just moved on to the copyediting stage so it’s still very early. However, I was included in my agency’s foreign rights catalogue and my book was to be pitched at international book fairs, but those were cancelled due to COVID-19. Still, fingers crossed that there will be news of new editions in the near future.

I have written other children’s books since then which will be pitched to my publisher so we shall see …

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Q.5. and the author responses will follow in the final installment of the series.

All images are courtesy of the authors and interview was conducted and published by Joanne C. Hillhouse. You can excerpt and share with link-back/credit but do not republish without permission.

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