WHY WOULD YOU WRITE SUCH A BOOK?
As I get ready to re-launch my novel ‘Dew Angels’, published by the UK company HopeRoad Publishing, I thought I would give a little background into the creation of the book, especially since it deals with such harsh topics as racism and child abuse. Yes, I’ve gotten the questions, “Why??” I’ve gotten the questions, "Why speak about such negative things?” Truth is, I had to write it. How could I not have, when my research began when I was just five years old?
I figured out the world was not the warm, fuzzy place I’d thought it was when I was five. It was such a sudden realisation that it stopped me in my tracks and left my with my mouth gagging open. Literally.
When I was five, my family moved to the UK so my father could sit his FRCS London exams. My youngest brother was just a baby, and with no help at home, my mother gratefully accepted when our neighbour offered to have her children walk me to and from school. I had never walked anywhere on my own before, and with childish innocence, I accepted this as an exciting new adventure. I had just left a very loving and close knit family in Jamaica, and I did not know of anything but complete love, acceptance and trust.
The first morning of school I felt like such a ‘big girl’, walking in the crisp English air, taking in the sights of colourful tulips and laden apple trees. Sounds beautiful, eh? It fit so perfectly into the fairy tale world I’d read about in my Enid Blyton books. I really did expect that a gnome would suddenly peek at me from beneath a toadstool.
Little did I know that when we walked into school that morning and my new friends dropped me off at my classroom door, they had been immediately surrounded by a mob of students who laughingly mocked them for being in the company of the ‘black golliwog’. By the end of the day, my neighbours had had enough of the teasing, and when I approached them for the walk back home, they tore through the school gates, leaving me there with my mouth open as they disappeared down the street. Now, maybe if I had known that morning that I would have been abandoned by my guides I would have paid more attention to my route instead of searching the bushes for gnomes. Alas, I had not the faintest clue how to get home. I turned to the parents walking by, begging them to call my mummy or to help me get home, but one after one, they just looked at me with disgust, grabbed their children and followed the route of my neighbours. In just a few minutes, my exciting adventure had become a nightmare, and my soft, beautiful world had become a cold, frightening place.
The happy ending to the story is that my neighbours were chased straight back to school by their mother and sullenly walked me home. I immediately understood when I saw my mother’s pained face why she had been so sad to leave Jamaica and to take on this ‘adventure’. My family spent nearly two years in England, and in that time I grew to understand that look on my mother’s face more and more. I grew to know the world outside of those Enid Blyton books, where gnomes and fairies do not get along for the sheer reason of being different. Yes, I made friends in England, and faced my time there with that wonderful resilience that children have. However, my innocent view of the world was gone forever. Luckily, it was the seed I would need later on when I went to university in South Carolina and once again faced the ugly reality of racism. That seed planted in the schoolyard had given rise to a little voice of self-preservation that became magnified in my adult years at college. I learned to speak up in the face of prejudice, both toward my gender and my race.
When I became a mother, that incident in the schoolyard was once again placed in the forefront of my memory. I think that in seeing my beautiful children with that ‘in-love’ look at the world pained my heart. It pained me knowing that they would have their schoolyard incidents too, where their soft, perfect world would one day shatter before them.
I decided that I would use the thing that had saved me - my voice, my writing, to prepare my children as much as I could. I embarked upon telling them stories that celebrated Jamaica, where the protagonist looked like them, where they would not search the bushes for gnomes, but for Jamaican characters like Anansi, rolling calves and jonkanoo. It was important to me to give them a base built on national and self-pride that would anchor them during the storms of rejection. Thus, Lally-May was born.
In my children’s book, “Lally-May’s Farm Suss”, Lally-May is a strong-willed, curious child with deep family bonds whose escapades celebrate Jamaica’s country life and the honourable means of living from farming and agriculture.
As my children got older and began to face their challenges, I saw the need for even deeper lessons. Nola Chambers was then born. With her black skin, scarred face and soft love of this harsh world, Nola grew even beyond my pen. She absorbed every experience, every rejection, every joy, every sorrow that had ever crossed my sphere of existence, and exploded into a character that actually directed the course of the novel. “Dew Angels” became more than just a lesson for my children. The book morphed into a study of Jamaica’s paradoxical psyche. You see, within my sensitivity towards racism, my eyes opened to the reality that it existed right there in my own country. In a country built on a history of cultural blending, I realised that differing factions with their deep misconceptions were ripping Jamaica apart. Nola became that mirror.
So, in answer to the questions, “Why did you choose to write about such a harsh topic?” and “Do racism and that level of child abuse really exist in Jamaica?”, let me just tell you what I tell my children – we cannot overcome an obstacle if we don’t see it. If we are blind to it, it only makes us stumble and fall. I hoped for “Dew Angels” to not just reveal that wall, but to also show the ladders of resilience, acceptance and self-love that enable us to get over it.
The words of Sara Bareilles “Brave” have become my favourite song lyrics. They encompass so much of what I’ve endured in my life and have tried to impart to my children - “Say what you wanna say and let the words fall out….honestly, I wanna see you be brave.” Truth is, sometimes all we can do is be brave. Truth is, sometimes in order to right the wrong, we must write the wrong.
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