Sunday, March 27, 2016

Despatches: The Great Amazon Expedition! Children’s Publishing in the Caribbean, a Cottage or Boutique Industry

 I cannot believe that my last post was last year.
That was when I was going to do a dramatic push with my two latest books on Amazon, The Happiness Dress, the story that won the Special Prize for a children's story from  the Commonwealth Foundation in 2011, and Abigail’s Glorious Hair. Picture an expedition into the somewhat unknown.

That did not turn out as well as I had anticipated. First, there was a new app offered by Amazon, Kindle Kid’s Book Creator, which was brilliantly simple to use. Even I could use it, and proceeded to do so. Both books looked fine right up to and including the review of the book. However, once they were up on Amazon, the type was not as clear as I wanted. My friend, Hazel Campbell, who usually uploads my books, had to rescue one by putting it into Word first, which required rearranging of the layout.  I was greatly disappointed in my efforts. I gather that other people have been complaining about this aspect of the app. We know that this won’t matter to Amazon until they have worked through this kink, somewhat like an experiment. In my opinion, nobody in technology  cares about these complaints really. They just continue working to build a better mouse trap. So in my annoyance and disappointment, I did not promote the books much, and consequently got little sales. So Amazon and I fell out, unbeknownst to Amazon. Whose nose was cut off, eh! I suspect that my failure to do regular posts on my blog had something to do with this. Cut off your nose once; cut off your nose twice.

 However, I still believe that it is near to impossible to get the traffic to and interest in the Caribbean children’s books on Amazon. And self promotion continues to be a challenge for me. Nobody is to blame. As they say now, ‘It is what it is’.  So I set out armed essentially with my imagination of what could be. And now the great Amazon expedition is over. I’ll still upload books; it is a place to locate them. I suppose I will still promote them now and then.

 I was, therefore, convinced that I needed to produce print copies of these books. They deserved it. With a monetary gift from a relative, I have been able to do so. They are now printed and are lovely. I plan to launch them early in May, Child Month. However, without that gift I could not have done so. Even then, I could only afford to print 500 copies of each. This means that the unit cost is high. The market cannot bear more than a certain selling price. Consequently, I will not even make enough money to recover costs and do another print run. In other words, my expectation is to be able to cover costs. Without the monetary gift  . . .etc. 'It is what it is'.  And of course, I still have to promote and sell them. I think it  should be much easier than dealing with cyberspace. I’ve done it before . . . albeit some time ago. Let's hope it’s not another expedition of the imagination.

The finances explained above lead me to conclude that nothing has significantly changed in the production of children’s books in the last 30 years. Sorry! No! Something has changed; there are far more writers in the field, which is a very good thing, and many of them are doing self publishing. And there are some young publishers, one in particular, who has published a number of prizewinning books. In fact, there is quite a bit of activity in other Caribbean islands. So there has been progress and there is excellence. Generally speaking, however, publishing of children’s books will continue to be for the love of and passion for it, a cottage or boutique industry. Prove me wrong! Please prove me wrong!

No, I’m not disillusioned. Writing for children  is a passion. Passions have to be pursued. And that the next generation is carrying on this passion is truly wonderful.
Kingston Book Festival also speaks to the vibrancy of the literary scene. From the opening readings  on March 6 at the University of the West Indies, which featured Olive Senior reading from The Pain Tree, which has gone on to win the Bocas Award for Fiction, award winning poet, Vladimir Lucien, from St. Lucia, previous YA Burt Award winning writer, A-dZiko Simba Gegele, Mel Cooke, poet and Tanya Shirley, poet,  to the final Bookfair on Saturday. I read from my latest children's books at the National Library of Jamaica Open Day and the Bookfair turned up the most delightful group. They are called Kozy Korner. They have a great idea, a Kozy Box. They  will produce and deliver a gift box of books, accent on local books, with a few international items  to a very lucky child that you know. Fantastic! How innovative! Each generation brings something new to the table. I wish them every success. You can email them at: KOZYKORNERBOOKSJA@GMAIL.COM. I think they will need corporate sponsors as well as the general public.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

To go or not to go with e-books on Amazon. What, again? Still asking that question?

Ages ago I said I was going to give Amazon a try for my books which had gone out of print. They would now become the latest thing, e-books.  Not surprisingly I did not promote any of the books very much, and to date, have no idea how much of any title I’ve sold. Why? Part of the problem is I only sell one-one, as we would say, and I really would need to know the total sold for the entire time the books have been on the site. However, if you don’t promote . . . In addition, I get very embarrassed that I’m actually promoting my own books. Clearly an attitude from some medieval time before the digital world. It took me ages to send out promotional messages to those in my mailbox. Embarrassed caan done! Consequently, I’ve been philosophical about it all. ‘It’s somewhere to put my books’, and 'Oh, but I really did not expect to sell anything, you know.'  Borrowing phraseology from this clever new world, ‘So if that’s your attitude, it’s the attitude, stupid!’  

However, that’s not totally true. 
1) We know that the majority of people have no visibility on Amazon because there are simply too many books. (Prove me wrong, if you dare).
2) So for us from the Caribbean, visibility could be expected to be even more challenging. The Caribbean is known for sun, sand, (sex?), music, athletics, and in some circles - for adult fiction. But not for children’s stories, and attaching visibility to any of the above would seem to be difficult. I know you can write the prescriptive children’s story about music, tourism, etc. but I think we want to be about more than that.
3)There are all sorts of offers on line to market books, at a cost which we cannot afford (and we do not know that it works), and Caribbean sites promising visibility  have not yet proved that they can achieve this. I’ve asked individuals here if they wouldn’t like to take on the marketing of e-books, but I conclude that they’re not interested, and understandably so. Too much effort for little or no return, certainly not to pay them for their time.
No, I’m not blaming a soul. These are just the facts. So why am I about to put two more children’s books on Amazon, and new ones at that? Well this time I’m going to really try. My change of mind came about because of the digital conference I attended (see posting for Nov. 14). I concluded that the digital age was indeed here and I should try to see if I could get along with it.

So I shall promote my books by writing all the people in my address book, I’ll go on the sites which I’ve joined, try to understand their rules for posting, and endure seeing the book on my timeline every time I post. (Already I’m feeling faint;  waiting for the queasy stomach, threatening headache, breathlessness, tightness of muscles in body - any or all of these symptoms. )
There’s history to these two books, and along the way I changed my mind many times.   Would they just be e-books?  Would they just be print books? Would one be one, and one be the other?
The Happiness Dress is the story for which I had won the prize for the Special Award for a children’s story from the Commonwealth Foundation, 2011. A significant achievement. The Commonwealth! I was honoured and very pleased. Big up Jamaica again! They produced it as audio for distribution to Commonwealth countries. It seemed a shame for it not to be in print. I was pleased when it seemed that I and a local publisher had decided that perhaps it could be published here. But local publishing can be fraught with obstacles, one of the main ones being lack of money. So when things seemed to be lost, I took it over, and the rest is history unfolding. Families, but especially fathers, need to read it.  Fathers and the validation they can give their girls are so often forgotten.

Ah, Abigail! I love the name! Abigail’s Glorious Hair. This story celebrates us, our hair, our rituals, how what might seem to be tedious can be so filled with love. This is the story that I started writing after Talking Tress Literary Festival this year (see post of May 29).  The fact that it’s almost ready to be uploaded is a celebration in itself. The idea had been there for some time. We’ve got to settle this hair business. But it was words said and feelings experienced in Barbados and  the creative inspiration of Talking Trees that suddenly produced it. It deserves to be read by all of the family, but especially mothers and grandmothers who comb hair,  and little girls whose hair is combed. It deserves a post of its own and it will have it.

These two books are both happy books, and we so need happy. They are also about love and families, whatever shape your family takes and whatever role each person plays.

Illustrations by Rachel Moss are happy too. Scheduled date for e-books on Amazon end of November, in time for Christmas. Keeping fingers crossed. Print, early next year, but so far only to be available in Jamaica.

Having written the draft of this last night and felt the requisite queasy stomach at the thought of the marketing I’d committed myself to, this morning I remembered two experiences,  by way of some encouragement.  I  have been privileged to be part of these important developments for children’s literature.
 1) I wrote on the Dr. Bird Reading Series, the first major set of books which were about our own children and their lives. (Ministry of Education,1980). Many other publishers followed our example. Since then Jamaican and Caribbean writing and publishing has grown, even if somewhat sporadically.
2)  In 2006, I was privileged to manage the process for the next major publication of a series for children, celebrating their lives, Literacy 1-2-3. (Ministry of Education 2008).This gave expression to a new generation of writers and artists. Many gorgeous illustrations; this time, in full colour. Since then Caribbean children’s writers and publishers have continued in their awareness with bright young persons getting involved. Some competitions specifically  for children’s/YA writing are now available to us.

Considering this, should I then  let a little  shyness stop me from taking this next step. My friends, I invite you to join me as we seek to make an impression for Caribbean children's books on Amazon, or anywhere else, for that matter.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Despatches: Caribbean Digital Publishing Conference and Jamaican Literary Awards

The week of November 2 was a splendid one for writers, writing and publishing. First there was the JAMCOPY (Jamaican Copyright Licensing Agency) Onlinemind Caribbean Digital Publishing Conference, November 2-5, at the Pegasus Hotel. Presentations were made by Jamaicans, persons from other Caribbean territories and overseas (outside of the Caribbean). Excellent organization and execution. All presentations I attended were really interesting and informative.
What did I take away from this conference and how might this affect children’s books and writers?  First, it solidified digital publishing in my mind.  Maybe it was just that I was ready; when the student is ready the teacher will appear sort of scenario.
So to all children’s publishers and textbook publishers, you need to  engage meaningfully with this technology at some time, even if you are convinced that Jamaicans will be using print books for ages, since we won’t be able to afford tablets for all children. One presenter felt that children’s picture books were actually better as print books. Normally, I would have felt a surge of validation by this statement. This time I found it merely an interesting comment.
I found two sessions had a major impact  on me and made the entire conference worth my while. One was Born Digital: Creating an e-Book, with Troy Weekes of EZLearner Inc , Barbados. Mr. Weekes showed us how to produce an e-book using templates. Wonderful! And even though I managed to lose my e-book at the end of the session (these things happen while using technology) clearly I had been made confident enough to replicate the activity the next day without losing it. So I have been greatly empowered, even if I do not get to the point of being able to turn one of my children’s stories into an e-book myself. And who knows now? 

The other was Re-imagining Content for the Caribbean Classroom. This was presented by Allman Town Primary, a school for which I have a big soft spot as I had done some research there while doing my MEd.  The vibrant Principal, Mrs. Crooks-Smith, declared that they do not say that Allman Town is an inner city school, but rather it is a school in an inner city area. Important change of focus towards great expectations, eh. The children have been encouraged to create learning for themselves using technology. Students, looking smart in their navy blazers over the normal khaki uniform, explained how they used technology, how they created their own computer games.  For those who know me, I was blown away, sort of in heaven on earth. I thought of best practice being replicated, videos of their achievements to be sent all around the island, etc. (these are all ideas which the Ministry itself has for various aspects of education). So there is hope; always there is hope. Our children can be brilliant wherever they are if the right environment is provided. My take away from this was children, whatever their circumstances, can be  interacting with technology. I know; why has it taken so long for the penny to drop for me? The children in my latest YA novel (at final editing/reconciling stage) are still not interacting with cell phones, because their parents don’t want them to.  (My grandchildren, younger than my protagonists, have a tablet between them - still no cell phones though). Hmm. So I will have to bring technology more meaningfully into my stories. That is, allow the protagonist to interact with it rather than have grown-ups controlling all access. I’ll think about this carefully, because some control is still needed in this world  of too much technological freedom, which can lead to serious trouble. Nonetheless, it was a revelation to me that I needed a change of mind.

Lignum Vitae Awards: Then on November 6 we had the Lignum Vitae Awards for Literature. The Awards consist of The Una Marson Award for adult literature, won by Donna Hemans; the Vic Reid for young adult literature, won by Diana McCaulay (a former pupil of mine at secondary – rather nice - and also winner of a number of writing awards  since she came onto the world stage a few years ago), and the Jean D’Costa  Award for children's, won by Janet Morrison. The Vic Reid and Una Marson had originated with the National Book Development Council, but had not been awarded for some years. The Jamaican Writers Society (JaWS), along with JAMCOPY, decided to resuscitate them, and to give an additional award for the under twelves, thus making the Vic Reid become a YA award.

Una Marson was a poet playwright and journalist and coordinator of the seminal radio programme, BBC’s Caribbean Voices’. My grandmother acted in one of her plays staged at the Ward Theatre here in Kingston, and I have a playbill with all their photos. My fifteen minutes of historical glory. I’m actually very proud of that.

Vic Reid wrote fiction about significant aspects of our history for young adult readers, which can be also be  read by the under twelves.  His books are often found on schools’ literature book lists.

Jean D’Costa’s well known children’s books are also on schools’ literature lists, and she is the only one who is alive. She was a judge as well as the guest speaker. I was struck by her pointing out that we all have stories, and that there are so many stories to be told about Jamaica, in Jamaica.  That’s an important fact for children’s writers to embrace.

The prize money is actually quite significant, more in keeping with awards around the world. The competition is to be held every other year.  So we now have our writing awards again and  there are two for children’s literature. Children’s writers, we can’t complain. The majority of the entries were for the Una Marson award. I hope that we see a significant change in that in the future. Children’s writers, you have time to write your YA novel or children’s stories/novel for the next competition. Grab the opportunity and write.


Photos of Awards from the top: Above  centre: the winners: Janet Morrison, Jean D'Costa Award; Donna Hemans, Una Marson Award; Diana McCaulay, Vic Reid Award

Above left: Me giving Diana her award

Next above left:Jean D'Costa

Above centre: Tanya Batson Savage, Chair JaWS; Scarlette Beharie, publicist; Kalilah Enriquez, Vice Chair, JaWS; Diane Browne, Board Member

Sunday, November 1, 2015

More Books from Barbados

On my most recent visit to Barbados I discovered another bookstore. For me, the discovery of a bookstore, even if it is a branch of one already discovered, is like discovering a treasure ship. It is Chattel House Books in Sky Mall.
Now the important thing is that in doing this, I discovered a lot of other children’s books by other Barbadian authors, that is, in addition to those I’ve  mentioned in previous blogs. Overwhelmed, as it seems I often am, I only bought two. Here they are.

 Lottie the Blackbelly Lamb, Lottie Finds Heritage, by Sandra O. Browne ( No, no relative), illustrated by Omni Illustrations (Ama Ariya Inc. 2013). This is a charming walk with Lottie past/through important places in Bridgetown. Lottie discovers why they went on the walk, and I discover why the town of Bridgetown is called Bridgetown. Shame on me for not knowing, and just taking it for granted that it was another British name transported to the Caribbean. Blackbelly Sheep are particularly Barbadian. Lottie is part of a series  ‘which has been created to help young readers appreciate matters of heritage and other topics’.

Zana and the Amebians, written and illustrated by Aisha King-Casely (Trekvoy Art & Literary Services, 2012). This book is also part of  a series, which in the author’s words, is meant ‘to entertain and educate through art, music and poetry’. This story deals with a part of the environment and how we can cooperate with one another to ensure the best for all, and the reader learns something about energy as well. And no, it does not preach. Interestingly enough, it is sponsored by the Barbados National Oil Co. Ltd. Aha, a corporate sponsor.
Chattel House aims to support local authors and has launches for them. There were a number while I was there. They also have graphic novels (modern comics with fantastic graphics) written and produced in Barbados. In addition, they have an online presence, so check that out. There’s always more to discover, eh. For my part, through Chattel House Books, I’ll see what I can find out about other Barbadian children’s authors. 
That these two books should deal with the built and the physical environment is significant, especially for small island states.  The children who read these books will have to find solutions to the challenges which will arise from climate change, whether created by us or not.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Migrations and children's literature: Do migrations matter to children? Should they be represented in children's literature?

As this is being written, Europe is facing an unprecedented upsurge in migration of refugees. It is a crisis, as we see from our news reports. Of course, migrations have always occurred, even if not as dramatic as that occurring in Europe now. In addition, most of us  in the so called new world are the descendants of migrants. The Caribbean is made up of the descendants originating from the movements of people, forced or  otherwise. In the Caribbean  we have created an entirely new people, even if consisting of different ethnicities. We are a new people because the various ethnicities are unlikely to return to the land of their forefathers; they are now Caribbean.   This applies to North America also. The United Kingdom and parts of Europe contributed to this migration into the Americas, and in turn, have received migrants from the Americas, migrants who would never have gone to Europe had the Europeans not come here first.   This sounds like an introduction to some political discussion. It's not. It's an introduction to the concept of the constancy of migrations, the circular aspect of migrations, even if there are specific periods  resulting from war, famine, the search for economic improvement. And indeed, we now have to add to that, climate change. There are already islands  where sea levels are rising and people are preparing to move to other counties.

To answer the question posed in the beginning. Yes, children do need to know about migrations. Anything that relates to the human condition can be the subject of material for fiction. Yes, fiction. This is not to minimise the importance of non-fiction; the importance of facts and figures. However, fiction is the vehicle which humanizes us all, and in this case, puts a face to the migrant, lets us  understand  how much  we have in common with the migrant, that he/she wants the same things that we do ( love, security for family, respect, and so on). In a world bombarded by catastrophes and the resultant movements of people, migrants can become statistics, as we sometimes try to protect ourselves from the enormity of the facts.   Yet if we hope to improve the world for future generations, at some point these facts have to be humanised.  Many of our children will come in contact with migrants, whether this be in large cosmopolitan countries or in small island territories. We constantly say children  are the future of the world, often in a very impassioned way, but too often this is not backed up by specific activities. Perhaps we need to clarify this statement. For me, it means that our children are the leaders of the world. Every one of them can lead in some way in a world which is undergoing unbelievable and speedy change, and in which many moral and ethical decisions will have to be made to safeguard the future of our  physical environment and mankind itself.

For the people in the Caribbean, migration is part of the fabric of our lives. These small islands/developing territories cannot provide the economic opportunities for all. They never have, and as much as we hope they will in the future, perhaps they never will. The countries of destination for our people have been mainly the USA, Canada and the UK.  Various emotions/perspectives tend to surround the concept of migrations: for example, skilled professionals (the brain drain)  sometimes perceived by the home country as abandoning ship; less qualified struggling economic migrants,  known for the fact  that the money they send home as remittances is a very important part of support for those left behind. Among the latter are parents, often  single mothers, who leave their children to forge a better life, until they can send for these children to join them. These parents often send their children barrels of clothes, food, etc. hence the children are called barrel children, a pejorative term if there ever was one.

When children are caught up in these migrations, whether going with family to a new country or being left behind for a time, they must experience a variety of emotions. These various emotions can be better understood by children, when they are presented in a story. Story allows us to understand others, our feelings towards others, and when we are directly involved, the conflicting emotions associated with migration, excitement,  confusion,  sadness. Stories allow us  to establish that these various feelings are acceptable, and this allows us  to make sense of our reality and so perhaps move forward whole, rather than broken.

The first Caribbean children's book I read which included this concept of migration from a child's/young person's point of view, was Harriet's Daughter by Marlene Nourbese Philip. What a delightful discovery! What a delightful, spunky heroine! The heroine's family is already settled in Canada, but I could still relate to the story as that of one of migrants. Most of my father's family had migrated to New York in the USA before I was born. I had visited them a number of times.  I knew about the concerns of the migrant. The longing for home, the visits home, but still for most, being destined to remain in the host nation, with most of the next generations feeling little or no affinity to the homeland of their parents. I did not know it then, but  most of my mother's family would also migrate, not  for economic reasons, but for safety and security, from a country, which at the time was flirting with an ideology which created great uneasiness in many. This would be an example of a migration which spawned very conflicting emotions, where families felt they had been torn apart, and judgement was brought to all by all. I confess that I cannot write the story of that time, although it should be my generation  which should write one of the many true accounts. It is still too close in its happening, and perhaps its hidden pain, for it to be examined.

 Instead I chose to write Island Princess in Brooklyn, the story of a so called barrel child.  My heroine, Princess, leaves her beloved granny who has raised her, to join a mother whom she barely knows. She does not want to be with her mother really. I did not know until I had written this book that  many barrel children, now grown to adulthood, had had a hard time adjusting in the country of destination. My story was inspired by the known and imagined lives of my father's family, and my experiences while visiting my older daughter and her family when her husband was doing a fellowship. They lived in a migrant area near to the hospital where he was studying. We were surrounded by migrants and I was fascinated by their lives that I could see played out before me, beside me, parts of which  we too  lived day in and day out. There was the potential clash  of cultures, not only between the different generations but between the  different cultural and ethnic groups. However,  I also saw  the cooperative aspect of the lives of the migrants united  in the pursuit of a better life. Perhaps this is one of the things that could be highlighted in a story about migrations.

Why should a book like Island Princess in Brooklyn be read by children?

1. It helps the reader to see both sides of the migrant equation, the stresses, the misunderstandings, the love. Adults from other cultures have told me that they could identify with the situations and recognised the relationships and bonds between the female characters  in this book.

2. It shows the conflicting emotions that a teenager feels when she finds herself in this position, knowing that she must join her mother and  not wanting to do so, how she handles these emotions. It must be noted, not always wisely, which makes her human.

3. It reveals the distress and anger Princess feels when she discovers the various things that she did not know about her mother; that her mother  had married and no one knew; that they did not know everything about her mother's employment, and in fact, there was much about  her father that she did not know. This  latter situation, is a very sensitive issue, but Princess gives the young person the right to think about it, even if not the ability to speak about it, given our cultural norms/beliefs, as Princess does.

4. Princess' inability to make friends because of the strangeness of her situation, how she overcomes this, will resonate with all students who find themselves in a new country, in a new school. And those who meet  a migrant student will better understand him/her. It is interesting to see how her very different friends can come together,  as Princess, through her stubbornness, faces the biggest challenge of her young life. As Princess tells us:

"Now I would be known as possibly the first migrant girl in America to be sent back home by her mother." 

Why all this talk about Island Princess in Brooklyn?  Well first of all, the migrant/refugee situation in the world struck a chord, even though it is of a far more critical nature. Then  Island Princess in Brooklyn was at the Read Jamaica booth at the Brooklyn Book Festival.   I'm pleased that the book could be seen and made available for sale in the place where the idea had its genesis.

 I would love to hear about other books in which children deal with migrating or interacting with migrant children. Should you  like to do a guest blog on this topic or about a book which focuses on this, please send in your blog post to me at:

photos taken at Brooklyn Book Festival: second photo shows, from left, Tanya Batson-Savage, publisher and writer, publisher of book that won the first Burt Caribbean Award for YA literature; and Kellie Magnus, writer and publisher

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Response to a critic re my story Ebony and the Auntie of the Starlight a Caribbean Cinderella: symbolism and sensitivities

I posted a promo about Ebony and the Auntie of the Starlight, a Caribbean Cinderella story, on Facebook. I must admit it was not the most brilliantly written promo. It referred to Ebony being in a children’s home and having no future. This critic took me to task, asking how would children from children’s homes feel should they read that. I replied giving the exact words from the text (which she had not yet read). Ebony concludes, ‘People say that children from children’s homes have no future.’  I explained that I had very carefully thought about placing Ebony in a children’s home, and that eventually when Ebony comes into her own, (becomes a manager at the spice factory), she invites other girls from the children’s home to work at the factory and she trains them. Independence for Ebony and for the other girls as well! I thanked her very much for being interested enough to want to comment and to take the time to do so, and said.
 I welcome the challenge posed by the pitfalls of relevant material for our children, as all our local writers do. If this book, even though it is fantasy, makes people think more about the children in children's homes, realise they are of great value (in that we are all valuable, our lives are valuable, no matter where we come from or how we got here), and full of promise, then it will have accomplished something.
 I hoped that when she read the story she would let me know if/ how well the creating of this Caribbean Cinderella story works.
Some  things stand out.
1.    One should write well thought out promos.
2.    If a foreigner had written about children’s homes in a children’s book, no one would mind or even notice. Of course, foreign places are very big; the children’s home could be anywhere in the foreign land, so it never becomes personal or painful. 
3.    Yet, it is good that people notice. And this is why I say  that  writers of children’s stories in small developing nations, especially post colonial countries, have a great responsibility. Some people think writing a children’s book, is no big thing. Not true, guys. A good children’s book must entertain, but the writer must also be aware of the sensitivities of the society in which the story is set, and consequently, the values embedded in the story. Stories are never value free. Yet one must never appear to be preaching as that spoils the story.  

So I want to use this post to talk about the thought processes that went into this story. Many of them will not be evident to our child or adult readers, but they are important nonetheless, because they may stay with the reader long after the story has been read. 

1.    I wanted to write a story in which the Auntie of the Starlight would again play a role. She first appeared in a Christmas story, “Once Upon a Starlight”, written by me and published in a book “Big River and Other Stories”  by the Children Writers Circle. In response to my wish, she requested to appear in this Cinderella rewrite.

2.    The Cinderella character is called Ebony, to indicate a consciousness and celebration of our colour, and because I like Ebony trees when they bloom and promise rain. (Ebony trees appear in other children’s stories of mine.)

3.    It was a deliberate decision to place her in a children’s home. I didn’t think the term 'orphanage' would have much meaning to our children, but children’s homes tend to be in the news from time to time. They are perceived by many as a place of last resort for children. This is not necessarily so, but there is the perception that there is no future there. The story then sets out to show that there can be a future. And note,  Ebony is not ill-treated in the children’s home.

4.   The stepmother character is replaced by Mrs. Redeyeness (‘red eye’ being a term for envy in Jamaica). Mrs. Redeyeness, who lives near to the children’s home, takes pity on Ebony, and invites her to her home to play with her daughters. She does this only to impress people that she is kindhearted. The stepsister characters are Mrs. Redeyeness’ two daughters; not wicked, just spoilt and indulged. They are not really ugly, but their mean-spirited thoughts show on their faces, making them appear ugly. (Perhaps a warning to tell children this can happen. Oh, yes, it can. A cautionary tale?)

5.    I make Ebony into our version of the fairy tale princess.
And then Ebony began to grow into a young woman.    . . . her eyes,  were  big and brown and beautiful like burnt sugar in her face, which was the colour of rich chocolate. Her black hair had grown long over the years. She combed it with scented oils into six plaits, then she put the plaits up and secured them with the tortoiseshell clip. The clip flashed like magic in the sunshine, and the plaits fell like a spray of palm leaves all around her head.  . . . when she smiled it made people feel happy, as if gentle breezes were blowing.

6.    Mrs. Redeyeness now shows her true colours.
  Mrs. Redeyeness was overcome with envy that Ebony had become a beautiful girl and the envy turned to boiling anger. (Of course, people like that exist.)

      So Mrs. Redeyeness invites to Ebony to come and live with her. Ebony, feeling she has no future, goes.  Mrs. Redeyeness hates her for her beauty and kind nature, and hopes that she can hide her away from the world in the back of her house. ( Why? Pure bad mind! There are people like that. Wolf in sheep’s clothing.)

7.     Ebony becomes a drudge. Since there is no electricity in that part of the house ( surprise, surprise!) Ebony has to use all sorts of old-time Jamaican things - old time iron wood burning stove, coconut brush, sad irons and coal stove. (Chance for the children to hear about these things. And this does happen, you know. Decent kind-hearted people are taken advantage of, and some have so little self-confidence that they are complicit in their own sacrifice. Females who have been programmed to be nice have to take note of this.)

Mrs. Redeyeness is delighted that Ebony, who has no time to even comb her hair, is looking . . .a bit bedraggled. (Every now and then I like to use a word which is not one children will easily come across, but it’s so suitable. Bedraggled is one of those.)

Mrs. Redeyeness cackled to herself every time she looked at Ebony. "How bedraggled she looks. Ha! Ha! Bedraggled! Ha! Ha!”

8.   ( However, by this time, dear readers, I’ve just had about enough of Miss Ebony. I’m fed up with her. I can’t believe that she could be so ‘fool’. Can anything save her? I seriously consider not going any further with the story. I suspect that it is only Mr. Redeyeness’ malice, as shown in that excerpt, that forces me to continue the story.)

9.  Ebony, does not need a ball to meet her ‘prince’. Instead, there is going to be a parade for Independence. The parade is sponsored by the spice factory in the district. The heir to the spice factory has come home from his studies and everybody concludes that he will need a wife. All mothers get in gear. Everybody dressing up for the parade! The ‘ugly sisters get their costumes made by a dancehall  tailor. Ebony is sewing hers by hand. The sisters steal it and cut it up. They look even more ugly after doing this dastardly deed.

10.  Mrs. Redeyness, to make sure that Ebony cannot reach the parade, gives her a long list of Jamaican foods to prepare, (every Jamaican food you can think of and love, saltfish and ackee, bammies, fried dumplings, curry goat, jerk pork, etc.) No way she can finish in time to go to the parade.

11.  However, a starlight left on a windowsill where Ebony is cooling food, falls into the coal pot. And out of the wonderful starlight display, steps the Auntie of the Starlight. She is clearly as fed up with Ebony as I am, as she says, 

I was wondering how long it would take you to see that these people taking advantage of you.

     The Auntie of the Starlight gives Ebony three wishes ( of course) and sings a song with a lot of the names of Jamaican trees, as she works her magic:

 Mahoe, logwood, cedar, lignum vitae, mahogany, ebony,
Trees of the land of wood and water
Grant this wonderful wish to this daughter . . . 

12.  Ebony gets to go to the parade in a beautiful dress, but without glass slippers - not needed in the Caribbean. And no, she doesn’t need a coach either, or any of those things from the old fairy tale. Everybody is dancing: 

Dance to the Independence beat
Move your feet, . . .

 Along comes the parade with people dressed up as Jamaican spices, with the Spice Prince (Alfred) himself travelling on one of the floats. He sees Ebony and stops the parade! Everybody is in shock. He is attracted by her beauty, and her kindness and goodness, which he can see in her smile (at last her goodness begins to pay off).

13.   Mrs. Redeyeness, seeing that this could be a dangerous situation, invites them  back to her house, where she plies Alfred with all the various foods cooked by Ebony, and implies  that her daughters have cooked them. Alfred soon uncovers that lie, and  asks for Ebony’s hand in marriage, in spite of Mrs. Redeyeness shouting that Ebony has no family and is nobody. Alfred, seems to feel that one can make one’s future even if you don’t have great family credentials.  (Chalk one more point up for the inhabitants of children’s homes.)

14.   At this point Mrs. Redeyeness and her daughters throw themselves upon Ebony declaring their love, saying they cannot do without her. And for a moment Ebony wonders if they really, really love her. (I am in despair of her yet again, wondering if this silly girl is really going to believe them. This can happen, you see, if you’ve never been loved and feel a bit insecure.)

15.   She comes to her senses, however, and goes off to work for the ‘spice prince’ at the spice factory. Where does she live? Oh, it’s all very proper. She lives with his parents. He doesn’t live there. He has his own place (modern times). Soon she becomes a manager. She brings other young women from the children’s home to work there and trains them. As part of her wedding present she gets shares in the business.  (Now this is big time! Even I wouldn’t think of that. Independence! This is a totally modern girl. I worried if this might seem as if she was a gold digger, but I realized that she was just recognising her full worth to the business. And after all, Alfred offers them.)

Ebony has a lovely wedding with everybody there from the district and the children’s home, and the Auntie of the Starlight. Ebony and her Alfred dance the night away in true Caribbean fashion.  

So on this wonderful night, Ebony hitched the train of her wedding dress over her arm, and extended her other arm as she danced, sway, sway, sway, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle,  yo, yo, yo across the floor. And the Spice Prince took off his jacket and rolled his sleeves halfway up his arms and danced around her, sway, sway, sway, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, yo, yo, yo.


Lovely illustration by Rachel Moss that so captures it.

You can still buy the book, if even just to find out if we do indeed discover who Ebony may be,  what her three wishes are, and if they come true, but hopefully, to enjoy the story, and tell me if the Caribbean flavour and the symbolism works.

Amazon link:




Friday, July 10, 2015

Amazing proofing - and a bit of magic

 My story  The Happiness Dress won an award from the Commonwealth  Foundation for the best children's story in 2011. I was greatly honoured and thrilled.  The Foundation published the stories in audio form,  to be distributed throughout the Commonwealth. It was left for the writers to find print publishers. I sought a publisher, thought I had found one, and then faced problems, which resulted in lost time, a couple of years really. So as not to feel totally helpless,  at the mercy of the vicissitudes of life, I  decided to publish The Happiness Dress as an e-book, to join my other children's e-books  on Amazon. Not making many sales really, but at least the book would be somewhere.

I figured that at the most I would just have one more read through of the book before telling the designer /illustrator to make a final copy for uploading to Amazon, when I suddenly found myself in Barbados visiting the grandchildren. Yes, suddenly, as in just like magic, and certainly there is a bit of  magic in this.  Do you believe in magic?

Having tried out another story (in the works) on the 'grands',  to what seemed like a positive reception, I became bolder, and thought I would show them other stories I had brought, a print out of Ebony and the Auntie of the Starlight, a Caribbean Cinderella story (already on Amazon) and The Happiness Dress. My nine year-old granddaughter declared Ebony interesting and humourous. It passed! The Happiness Dress, although below her age group (she's gobbling up chapter books), was next. She loved the illustrations, of course (like Ebony, done by Rachel Wade Moss).


"Grandma, here's a mistake!"

"A what? No, there can't be a mistake. A lot of us read it. No, there's no mistake,"  the voice moving from shock to that indulgent adult tone you use when you don't want to discourage  a child who is showing initiative, but has got it wrong.

"Yes, there is,"  says a nine year-old Bajan (pet name for Barbadian) voice, carrying all the certainty with it of a country with a 98% literacy rate (or some impressive figure like that).

"Let me see," I say.

And there it is! An error! How do you miss an error in 500 words, spread across 24 pages? So many of us have read it. So, it's only a question mark, but still.

Then she finds another. Then she finds a page where she says, "Paragraphs!"

And, lo and behold! There it is, a page, a short page, where the paragraphs need revisiting, a nice publishing word for the 'paragraph them wrong'. By then I'm feeling pale and wan. (reference from English lit. in school).

It is only a matter of time before she tells me what I already know about the typeface. The distance between the apostrophe and the next letter (e.g. won' t) is too great. It will confuse young readers. The typeface must be changed. A whole heap of work is left on this book!

I have never claimed to be good at proofing. I like editing, but I always use a proofer, paying for the services of one out of my money if there has been no allowance made for it in a project. But still, how do you miss these errors in 500 words  and 24 pages?

Much praise is heaped upon my granddaughter. She suggests that she can do all proofing for me in the future.

Then my seven year-old grandson shouts that he has found an error.

"No, you haven't," we say.

After all, he is only seven, and the bright reader of chapter books has already 'shredded' the text.

"Yes!" he declares,  "Carolyne is spelt Carolyne in most places, but there is one which is spelt Caroline."

We are all struck dumb. He is quite right. That is even worse than question marks and paragraphs. His mother asks if he read the story. No, he hasn't. He just checked all the Carolynes ( standard proofing procedure,  but did we employ it for 500 words and 24 pages?) This is the boy who does Math exercises for fun, no doubt, hence the zeroing on the concept of checking one word throughout.

No, this is not an adoring Grandma post. I am not saying that my grandchildren are brilliant beyond words. I am not suggesting that you use your grandchildren for proofing, though it might not be a bad idea.  Rather, it's a post to warn you about the importance of proofing, even of 500 words; the challenge of  self-publishing - it is essential to use professionals even if you, yourself, are a professional, or perhaps because you are a professional, and too confident by far. (That's why you should also use an editor.) I tremble to think what might have happened, had I not unexpectedly (magically) come to Barbados. So now, do you believe in magic?

Also, I get a chance to tell you about the upcoming placing of The Happiness Dress on Amazon. However there will be more about that closer to the time.