Friday, February 13, 2015
The Launch of the Lignum Vitae Writing Awards - Jamaica: meaningful awards, meaningful monetary prizes
Monday, January 26, 2015
I have said that when I was little I was an avid reader (of course), but interested as I was in the stories I read, my desire was that there be stories about us, as we are, as 'normal' people. I might now add, in relation to my last post, not necessarily quaint.
So I’m ambling through the book and something catches my eye on p.3, where the young hero describes his father, “He has dark brown skin like mine, piercing brown eyes, a bald head and a goatee . . . ”
Books shown here: Cricket is My Game by Jason Cole from Barbados; Shaggy Parrot and the Reggae Band by Jana Bent and Friends, Jamaica; A Tumbling World . . .A Time of Fire (an E-book on Amazon) by Diane Browne from Jamaica; Drog a Dreggen Story by Hazel Campbell from Jamaica, and Boy Boy and the Magic Drum by Machel Montano from Trinidad and Tobago.
Saturday, January 17, 2015
Sunday, December 21, 2014
Once Upon a Starlight
Monday, November 24, 2014
Stories that have meaning from generation to generation: Do you have one of these stories that still provides enjoyment and has significance even after decades? Are you sure that you aren't underestimating the present impact of stories you may have written long ago?
On Wednesday last week, I was asked by Mrs. Grossett, the librarian at Franklin Town Primary, my favourite primary school, to visit and read and interact with the students. It was great seeing again some of the children with whom I had done the writing workshop earlier in the year, to feel the shared connection to story and reading. It was delightful to meet again the dedicated members of staff and the principal, Mr. Leroy Smith. I even met staff who want to write. This is great because I believe that staff can write for themselves as well as for their students.
Most wonderful, and a complete surprise, was the presentation of a plaque which read:
Presented to Diane Browne
Your service to Franklin Town Primary has been phenomenal
"We love and appreciate you" November 2014.
So my cup runneth over with joy, as you can imagine. I've been associated with Franklin Town Primary for some time. In the 1990s I used to work in publishing nearby, and we just came together in some way. They ask me to read from time to time, and as long as it's possible, I always go. Mrs. Grossett is an outstanding librarian. I remember when I first met her, realising that her library was not only a window to the world of books, but also a haven. My doing writing workshops with the children is yet another way she has thought of empowering her students.
I must say also, that a credit to the school and its staff is the fact that the children were all keen to read, when asked if they'd like to share in the reading of a story. Even if they might struggle with the odd word, they still wanted to read. This is the sign of a nonthreatening learning environment, where children want to perform, and know that they can try and try again until they succeed. This was even evident in the younger grades, where one might expect to find some children who might be less fluent in their reading.
And now to the story. Mrs. Grossett had asked if I had any little stories which were inexpensive enough for the children to buy, and then I could autograph them. I have none. Everything that is published ends up being too expensive. However, I thought, surely I can give what actually belongs to me? So I decided to send the text of the story I put on my blog every Christmas, Once Upon a Starlight, first published in The Big River and Other Stories by the Children's Writer's Circle with funding by Caribbean Greeting Company. The children would be able to make their own little booklets, and either colour the black and white illustrations or draw their own.
For this particular story, the group was from grades 4-6. We met in the room with the beautiful teaching aids which you can see in the photos. Many of the children had not yet got a chance to finish reading the story sent, so we talked about it. We discussed the fact that I had wanted to change the traditional 'Once upon a time' to 'Once upon a starlight'; and to make the giver of wishes be the 'Auntie of the Starlight', instead of a 'fairy godmother', both to make the story more Jamaican. (This was when and why I created Auntie of the Starlight.) I told them how when I was little we used to go down King Street on Christmas Eve and look at all the toys, and paper hats and starlights that the vendors were selling. Are you there with me, guys? The children were there with me. You know you can feel when you are one with your audience.
Angela, the little girl in Once Upon a Starlight wishes she could have a doll she sees in a store window, but her father can't find any work, her mother does sewing for stores, but needs a new sewing machine. Things are dire. Everybody understood about being out of work, of needing something like a sewing machine, of not being able to have the Christmas they wanted. This story was written in 1983. Was this when hard times first hit us? Surely not; Jamaicans have been dealing with hard times and migrating for years to escape it when they can. The fate of small island states! And we are in hard times now again, along with the rest of the world.
Of course, there were the mandatory and recognizable three wishes in the story, each to be stated upon the lighting of a starlight. We did not finish the story because we wanted the children to either say how they thought the story would end, or draw an illustration for the story. A rush for paper and pencils! Some needed more than one sheet of paper. There was the buzz of excitement.
Essentially, the children decided what Angela would wish for; definitely a job for her father; and that all wishes would be granted, including that of the longed for doll. The group had a vested interest in the outcome. The illustrations varied from a glorious big starlight filling up the page ( I contributed by showing them how to use the pencil to create sparkles), to a variety of beautiful 'Angelas', rivaling any of the traditional fairy tale heroines. Some children added her house and her little sister, who watches the wishing activities from the front steps, but who also wants to hold one of the starlights.
For the children, I'm sure this was an enriching experience. I know that many schools have activities like this. However, I suspect that there may be others who do not yet understand how this type of activity which relates to stories about us, empowers the children, boosts their confidence. For my part, I learned that stories forgotten can continue to be relevant, can bring meaning to children's lives long after you've relegated them to the past. As people we all wish for the same things, love and security for our family. And always from these activities the children learn: "My life is important enough to be in a story."
Notes on photos: One might think that I decided to show photos of myself. I do have lovely pictures of children reading, both boys and girls, but I try not to show children's faces in any document that will be available to all on the Internet. Those pictures of the children will be sent to the school for them to display as they will. However, I hope that by the pictures I've shown here, you can observe the interactive nature of the activity. Please note the interest shown by the boys. The final picture is of Mrs. Grossett with me donating two of my books to their library.
Sunday, November 2, 2014
A real Caribbean book: written by a Barbadian, published in Barbados about a Trinidadian invention: a multicultural/multiethnic book
Sunday, October 26, 2014
So on to the comments. As far as I can see only two people commented, which could mean people didn’t like it and wanted to spare my feelings, or just weren’t interested. But the exercise has been instructive and fascinating for me because I found out so much more about the story.
First comment: N. said that the story was lovely (or maybe that’s what I took her to mean, when she said it was so gentle). She added that she wondered if it weren’t too gentle. I agreed with her and said there really was no action or excitement. Certainly a damning comment form the author herself, eh. She asked what was the target audience, and I stuttered a reply. I realized that I had wanted it to be for children under 12, but hoped that adults would also read it, and read between the lines. I admitted that I had perhaps imagined a type of Native American approach to story, where things are quietly told so as to let us know why something is the way it is. Yet this is not a ‘just so’/’how it came to be’ story. And as I think of that, I share with you an event at the library, where a visiting Native American storyteller told a story; it was beautiful and calm. The children present clapped politely. Then a Jamaican storyteller told one of our stories; it was full of fun and excitement and some amount of trickery (Anancy-type survival syndrome) and the children roared with laughter and clapped loudly. Who indeed is my target audience?
Second comment: H. said that the story felt unfinished, that she needed more back-story, more info on both characters, e.g. Was the soldier brought up by house slaves, hence had an affinity for Africans? Had the two characters thought of each other in between the meetings which take place in the story? and so on H. mentioned the idea, as expressed by the characters, that one day people would respect one another, as something that resonated with her. She pointed out that it was still relevant today and that we have not as humans managed to achieve this ideal. In the story, The Red Warrior tells Daughter of the Time to Come that they had respected one another as great warriors, and that even if they could not now be friends, perhaps their children would be friends in this island in the time to come. The story indicates that Daughter of the Time to Come realizes this truth. . . . "This then was the answer, to have the understanding." That, by the way, was the original ending.
There is a history to this story. I had actually sent it to an American publisher and the children’s editor graciously met with me when I was in New York attending a conference. She said they might be interested if I could include what Maroon life was like, how the villages were set up/worked, etc. I understood what she meant and that this then would make it like those stories which could be promoted as historical/multicultural. I thought about it. It seemed an excellent idea. I did nothing about it when I returned home. The story was selected for a collection of Caribbean folktales. I saw the comments of the readers and one had mentioned the element of romance. The collection was never done because the publisher had discovered by then that children’s books were hard to sell. When that collection was passed onto another publisher, I was not surprised that the story was not included in the book they produced. Perhaps it had only made it through that initial selection because one of the readers had a little romance in her soul.
Both readers, N. and H., picked up on the attraction the characters felt for each other. An attraction that would have been forbidden at that time, and always is, wherever we are in whatever time of history, for those who are on opposing sides. (Romeo and Juliet).
The back story: I know all about these two characters. I can see them. The soldier eventually married and had a family. He had grown up with Africans, not as house slaves, but around them on the estate to which his father was attached. He learnt their ways. Always he wanted to be a brave warrior. He is handsome, just because he is, and he is a wise and brilliant warrior; he can also be gentle. All through his life he often thought of Daughter of the Time to Come, always wondered if he would meet her again. Perhaps he always loved her. Certainly, he understood her.
Daughter of the Time to Come also has a family, she too has thought of him over the years, but would not even admit to herself that she is carrying any feelings for him (as we say in these modern days). She is beautiful, just because she is, and bold, fierce and proud. She is not gentle. She has had no opportunity or inclination to be so. She is bitter about the defeat, as she sees it, of the truce with the British. Her people are more important to her than anything else. (‘I could not love thee dear so much loved I not honour more’ – something I remember from English literature in school when I would mentally collect particularly romantic or life-directing quotes).
These two characters are star-crossed never to be lovers. There is no way that any of their feelings could be admitted. Hence, I suppose in 2014, I give her the consolation prize of mothering all the daughters who will lead her country down through the ages. (The later ending). And after all, who can say if it is the consolation prize?
And that is why, even though I’ve read the comments, I don’t think the story can be changed. This is a character driven story and I don’t think the two characters want to tell their back story. There is nothing more to be said. Their story has been written. These characters came to me and said , ‘Tell our story', and yet , here is a story that perhaps should not have been written, because it is not a story. You may then ask if there is any psychological reason why the characters came to me, any family history. That question did not occur to me until I was writing this blog, and quite honestly, I do not think that there is. This is a story which has no future and yet these two characters are as real to me as any I have ever written.