Saturday, August 28, 2010

Is Time Travel Safe?

Find out in my Jamaican children’s novels:

I love Time Travel! I love the idea of being able to go back in time to a place in history, be totally safe, and then return ‘safe and sound’. Aha! That’s the thing! Time Travel is never totally safe! This creates tension! Quite scary, if you think about it!

In Time Travel movies, which I also adore, there's always something that leaves your mind a bit entangled with the plot; what came before which, which came before what? And if the protagonist was saved or saved the main romantic interest, how exactly was that achieved in relation to Time then and Time now?... which came before what, and what came before which? This can happen in books also.

So I thought: ‘Why not write about Time Travel in the Caribbean, in Jamaica to be exact?’ Now, as you realize, Time Travel is different from a historical novel, because the protagonists in Time Travel are aware of their two worlds. Conflict and increasing tension!

We may ask if the question I posed when I first started blogging would apply here. Have we so bought into the stereotypes of ourselves, the ‘quaintness’ of us, that we could have a hard time envisioning Time Travel happening to ordinary, everyday children in the Caribbean? Can only foreigners in America and Europe have Time Travel? Do we have permission to do that? Can we only do that if some supernatural power from the past is involved? Can we do Time Travel using science as we know it today, and as we do not yet know it… ? Do Caribbean people have permission to use Science?

I don’t know when I first recognized that I liked Time Travel, but among my favourite children’s books are "Tom’s Midnight Garden" by Philippa Pierce, considered a classic, and "Traveller in Time" by Alison Uttley. Whereas the former is bitter sweet, the latter is fascinatingly sad because we already know the future of this story, because it is already in the past, it’s already history; and our protagonist is unable to stop the tragic ending. Was it these writers who led me to my love of Time Travel, or was it the West Indian writer Mittleholzer. Another story altogether!

Some teachers recently told me that it is hard for some children to use their imaginations because they do not have the experiences/exposure to tap into, hence no imagination? That’s a little bit frightening, because without imagination how do you create anything new or wonderful?

Time Travel let’s us use our imaginations.

My novels are for the 9-13 year old age group. My protagonists, two sisters of 12 and 13, go back to some outstanding event in Jamaica’s history, but they don’t know what the event is until it’s too late to escape it. These are the 1907 Kingston Earthquake, one of the worst earthquakes to have occurred in Jamaica, in "A Tumbling World… A Time of Fire"; and the 1951 Hurricane Charlie, one of the worst hurricanes to have hit Jamaica, in "The Ring and the Roaring Water".

All sorts of devices are used to take persons into the past. In the Caribbean, for example, the sound of our drums has taken protagonists back to slavery days. In my books, the girls’ uncle invents a Time Machine, which looks like and old-time sugar mill, hence he calls it a Time Mill, and it is manipulated by a computer; the girls have a mini computer worn on the wrist like a watch to connect them to the main computer and facilitate their return. Science and technology! And see, already in the time it took me to write both books the concept of a mini-computer on your wrist is a possibility. (Think cell phones which can do everything.) There is also something about Jamaica in relation to external space and time which allows for Time Travel.

In each book the protagonists interact with the people of the day. They are however guided by rules: they cannot let people know that they are time travellers and they cannot change history/the people’s lives. This is a constant source of tension as they try to abide by both rules. Finally, as a result of the natural disaster, the mini-computer malfunctions and the girls do not know if they will be able to return to their own Time.

In each book, we also discover that somebody the girls had become friends with in Past Time, a male character about their age, has in some way guessed their secret, and this friendship reaches out to them across Time into their own Time; which is totally astonishing to them. It’s astonishing even to me, and it only developed as the stories unfolded.

A girl who was reading "The Ring and Roaring Water" said that when she woke up one morning her first thought was that there was no school today because there had been a hurricane. Yes, we write so that people can drop into our books and make it their world for a little while. Someone else asked, ‘So what happen to the ring, man? Where was it?’ This is that aspect of ‘Time Travel story’ that takes you into the plot and leaves you wondering.

A reader said of "A Tumbling World … A Time of Fire": ‘I really enjoyed reading this book. It had a variety of twists and turns. As soon as (the girls) overcome one danger and feel safe, their quick wits are needed to get them out of another scrape. It is a Jamaican version of H. G. Wells The Time Machine’. This reader was a twelve-year-old boy.

So much for boys not liking books with girl protagonists! Okay, so this boy is obviously a reader. But it suggests that while we know this to be generally true, we should perhaps challenge this as well as some of the other myths: Jamaicans don’t like reading, (maybe this doesn’t include the children); children don’t want to read because there is too much other competing technology. This last one would appear to be unquestionably true; and then again, maybe there is still a place for reading, which leads to thinking, instead of swallowing whole what is fed to you in sound and text bites; because perhaps the challenges of modern life will not be resolved by bites. Who knows?

Somebody suggested that in the future world everybody will be a ‘techie’, and there will only be a small elite who can read and write, (like the old-time days when only the monks and some other important people could read and write). It won’t happen, man! That’s science fiction. Is it?

Yes, I’m writing another book about Time Travel and the girls. Trying to work out what role my male protagonist will play.

In my next blog I’ll tell you about the research that underpins these books.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Caribbean books from other territories for older children

I'm back at the the books for older children. These two books were scheduled to be mentioned before this, but other things got in the way and got posted instead.

As usual these are not reviews. They are just drawing persons' attention to books that are out there, what I liked about them, which I hope will encourage you to read them if you haven't yet done so.
Harriett's Daughter. by Marlene Nourbese Philip, Heinemann. Everybody knows this book, I suspect, as it has been in schools for some time, but I so loved it when I first read it: 'A new novel for Caribbean children', a 'modern/contemporary' novel; a book looking at the migrant experience in Canada, the voice of Harriet (previously Margaret) the spirited protagonist, reaching out to us all the way from Canada to the Caribbean.

And yes, regions where West Indians have settled and write their books about their lives/our lives, count as 'books for Caribbean children'. Their lives are inextricably intertwined with ours. They call out to us: "See how well we doing (even if life hard as hell, but they know the next generation will make the leap); come and join us any time, man", or "Why you don't run the country better than that? All that foolishness you going on with down there ruining our reputations here". I'm sure you've seen the letters in the newspapers or heard the call-in programmes where our overseas people passionately share their feelings, their pride, their frustrations, and underlying all, their love for the Caribbean. Most of us have family who have migrated time and time again, whose lives tug at our heart strings down through the years.
I'm glad that over the years children have met Harriet's Daughter in school as a set book. Set books sometimes get a bad name; 'if it's a set book it must be a dreadful experience'. Not so! If it wasn't for set books, some children would never read anything Caribbean. How about read anything at all?

Little Island - Big Adventures, Maria Roberts Squires, a new novel (2007) by Carlong Publishers, is set in the Grenadines. Delightful protagonists again, a spirited girl and her best friend, a boy. It tells of island life past (1962 - no, that is not ancient times! It's an important era; that of Independence for many of the territories), a simpler life, but not boring. It deals with the everyday incidents/adventures that children have, the problems they face, the solutions they hope for. I also found it interesting because it deals with a 'light skinned' family. It's good for our children to know that they too lived a normal life, went barefoot, etc.
This aspect is also interesting because I think at times in our fervour to address past wrongs ('we not in books at all' - one of my reasons for writing) we forget that all kinds of ethnic groups lived here and still do, and we shouldn't be afraid to 'make them people' too.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

My books/stories: Key to a history of publishing? Could be!

Well, first thing: the last post, dated Aug. 9, was actually completed today, Aug 12. Forgot to work on that date. The whole process is a new thing for me, you know, man!

So I've quickly taken the opportunity to share a few things. I think the list of my books/stories shows how challenging publishing has been and still can be in the Caribbean. We can see that:

1.We writers have to grasp all opportunities to have our stories published. We have to write, don't we! You guys, know that we simply have to write.

2. We'd like to share these stories with all our children; another reason for grasping all opportunities for publishing. We believe passionately that all our children must 'see themselves in books'. Yes, I know we also have to eat, so that's why we never give up our 'day jobs'.

3. Some of the groups publishing/publishing houses at one time, are no longer around. However the good thing is that some valiantly carried on for some time. The Children's Writers Circle is one of those; a group of authors who worked together to encourage all of us writers, and with editors from the group, and sponsorship from the private sector, published for quite a while. Some even wrote plays/pantomimes which were produced. Lord, we sound ancient, eh!

4. Although this aspect sometimes gets people very heated about who should play the role of publisher, the Ministry of Education should also be noted as giving many of us our start, then, (and also now, by the way!), and because they give the books free to government primary schools, made it possible for a whole generation of children to get to 'know themselves' in books.

When I first worked on a Ministry of Education project in the 1980's and went into schools, the children were convinced that all writers were 'foreigners and/or dead'. What do they think in 2010? Have to check that out and tell you.

So fast forward, I went to a recent seminar where a foreign publisher gave an interesting session explaining opportunities for suitable local material to be taken up by her company, as in perhaps some of the material may be able to travel. Perhaps some of them will. Who knows. Technology and all that! And I think some of the multi-media productions might indeed cross over. Anyway, that's merely the setting for the following:

I'm talking with a talented young artist who worked with me on a recent project. He introduces me to another young talented artist, and says, "You remember those books we read in school long ago. Well she is the writer."

Yes man! I hear the 'long ago' bouncing through my brain like shock waves. (And it was long ago, in truth.) However, I was very gracious, and I trust that I behaved in a suitably modest way while also claiming the 'respect due elders' sort of thing. Anyway the young man appeared impressed, I think. Not sure if it was proof that all writers are not 'foreign nor dead', or he actually remembered the most memorable stories.

Giving thanks all the time.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Books and Stories by Diane Browne

Some persons have been asking about the books/stories I have written. I had meant to post this list before. Never got around to it, so perhaps this is a good time. My books and stories (indicating that my story is in a collection with other stories) have been published by the Ministry of Education as well as commercial publishers; by publishers in Jamaica/the Caribbean, the United Kingdom and the Unites States of America. And no, guys, I'm not rich as a result. Textbooks make money; children's literature does not. But in a world where so much is changing so quickly maybe Caribbean Children's Literature will begin to give us a living return. Who knows, guys! Technology and the twenty-first century and all that!

Spell check won't work, (technology and all that!) so there will be spelling mistakes galore. I can't see a typo even when it shouts, "I'm a typo!"

Books and stories by Diane Browne

1.The Funny Grey Cloud, Ministry of Education, Jamaica, 1978.

2.Stories/Selections LMW Readers, Ministry of Education, Jamaica, 1980.

3.Stories/Selections The Doctor Bird Reading Series, Ministry of Education,
Jamaica, 1980.
Included amongst reprints, 2002-05
-Sweet, Sweet Mango Tree,
-The Cat Woman & the Spinning Wheel,
-An Angel of Mercy (the story of Mary Seacole)
-Those Who Left Jamaica: (The Maroons who were forced to leave
Jamaica - the Nova Scotia connection: Jamaicans who went to Panama)

4. "Once Upon a Starlight", in The Big River and Other
Children’s Writers Circle, Jamaica, 1983

5. Gammon and the Woman’s
Tongue Trees,
in Jamaica Journal vol. 17. No.1, 1984.
(JCDC Gold Medal)

6.Stories/ Selections In New Caribbean Junior Readers, Ginn & Co. UK, 1984.

7.Things I Like, Children’s Writers Circle,
Jamaica, 1984.

8.Debonair the Donkey, JCDC, Jamaica, 1986.
(Gold Medal)

9. Gammon and the Woman’s Tongue Trees,
Children’s Writers Circle, Jamaica, 1987.

10.Cordelia Finds Fame Fame and Fortune,
Heinemann Caribbean Publishers, 1990.
(BIAJ best children’s book)

11."Peter’s Secret", in Just Suppose and Other Stories,
Children’s Writers Circle, Jamaica, 1990.

12."Gammon and the Woman’s Tongue Trees",
in A World of Children’s Stories, Friendship Press, USA, 1993.

13.Cordelia Finds Fame and Fortune,
Harcourt Brace, USA, (American Edition) 1994.

14.Once Upon A Starlight, in Scribbles Magazine, Jamaica, 1997.

15. Great Gran’s Gift, in Scribbles Magazine, Jamaica, 1998

16.We Can Be Tourists Too; Shari & Tony and a Tour for Tourists;
The Big Tourism Competition,
Tourism Activity Books for Grades 1, 2 & 3,
Jamaica Tourist Board, 2001

17. Stories/selections; Caribbean Language Arts Series, Carlong Publishers, 2002

18.A Tumbling World … A Time of Fire,
Arawak Publications, 2002
( a novel: ages 10-13)

19. Every Little Thing Will be All Right
(a collection of stories), Carlong Publishers, 2003

20. Teaching about HIV and AIDS in the Caribbean,
(coauthor), Macmillan Caribbean, 2006

21.Collection of Stories: Six Runs!; Twins in a Spin, and others:
Get Caught Reading! series,
Ginn, UK, 2007

22. The Ring and the Roaring Water
self published, 2008
(a novel: ages 10 -13):
sequel to A Tumbling World … A Time of Fire)

Bold text indicates fiction
JCDC: The Jamaica Cultural Development Commission
BIAJ: The Book industry Association of Jamaica

Friday, August 6, 2010

Feelings surrounding finishing my latest children's book

Perhaps it's because I'm writing a blog that I've paid more attention to the feelings I have experienced on finishing my latest children's book. Or perhaps it's because when I finished the last one in, 2008, it had all been such a rush to get it to press that I had no other feeling besides panic. I had, after all, set the launch date and was having the usual challenges that crop up with some printers here. The 'binding machine break down', in this case, and then promises are made, or extracted for numbers of books which all concerned parties are praying will magically happen. At that time I had decided to produce the book myself (having worked in publishing I thought I could). Well, of course, I could, but I had all the challenges that one has in publishing. My dealing with it myself did not make it easier at all.

So I finished the writing of my latest young adult novel this week. It took a year to write the first draft. ( I work at other things).Then it took almost another year to do more than one revision. (Who's counting?) The usual emotional see-saw... 'I don't want to change this. I not doing it! I don't want to cut out that entire part. No man, I not doing it!' to ... 'Tchu! Maybe I will', till finally, ... 'Okay then!' Just keep on revising.

How did I feel when it was finished? As if I'd been set free; wonderfully emotionally and physically exhausted; and funnily enough, not as anxious as usual. Anxious as to whether the 'readers', (the gatekeepers for any publishing house) will like it, and thus allow it to be accepted by a publishing house. It's almost as if, instead of worrying, worrying, if it will find a safe haven, it's like a ship that I've set sail and hopefully it will find it's way somewhere, and if not, well... so not quite a message in a bottle - that's really too arbitrary, too left up to fate.

So I thought I'd share this with you, my fellow writers. Of course, it may be that I'm so emotionally tired out , that I don't too much care at this point, this week; or because this latest book is also a deviation from what I usually write, that it might as well be left up to fate. I know! I've just contradicted myself!

The thing is I started out writing at the picture storybook level, ages 6-8/9, and wrote there for years. But all along I had been working on my Time Travel series for older children 9-12. (Another blog on that eventually) and I finally got around to that (producing 2 books in the 'series', with a third planned). And I seem to want to do more at this older level, when it would be easier and take less time to work at the younger level.

We go where the muse or the characters take us. And as you all know, the characters can pull you in many directions. They may just appear one day and keep pushing and prodding you until you start to write.

Where will our muse or characters take us next?