The story of Cordelia Finds Fame and Fortune:
There are people who will swear that Cordelia Finds Fame and Fortune is the best book I’ve ever written. One person says to me after each of my books comes out, 'I like it, but it’s not Cordelia’. Cordelia, is admittedly, without being too modest, a really good book. It was first published by Heinemann Caribbean in 1990, along with other children’s books. It won the Book Industry Association of Jamaica's best children’s book award. In 1994 it was chosen by Harcourt Brace in the USA to be part of a collection for school libraries in the USA, called Passports, and appeared in a gorgeous hardcover edition. This was a publisher to publisher agreement, so no, I did not get rich. That version was translated into serious Standard English. The original was in English anyway, with just a hint of Creole structures (except for the folksong, which after all, is a folksong). In their version it was interesting to see that the folk song, ‘Cordelia Brown whe mek yu head so red?’, became ‘Cordelia why is your hair so red?’ Oh, my goodness! Nonetheless, it was pretty cool to have an American edition,( which it seems can now be found on Amazon without its cover?)
Possible symbolism/meaning in Cordelia Finds Fame and Fortune
Many of my children’s books contain a bit of a folksong or reference to a folksong. This is because I want our children to recapture the magic of the folksongs I loved as a child; to preserve our culture. ‘Cordelia Brown whe mek yu head so red?’ is one of my favourite folksongs.
Even when we do not plan it, there is meaning. Stories come out the author’s reality and often may be related to the time in which they are written. Cordelia is being teased, gets the idea of leaving home for fame and fortune from Puss in Boots, (although that story is not called by name), in the hope that once she has achieved success, no one will tease her anymore.
Cordelia reflects the time when people were leaving or had left, and I wanted to reclaim the idea that fame and fortune need not be found only abroad, or in ‘foreign’, as we say. This is not in any way to diminish the reasons for that migration, nor negate the fact that Jamaicans have always migrated, and can be found all over the world. But perhaps at that time I may have realized that that migration might have lasting effects for our country. Family and friends left and were missed. Cordelia, then becomes the magical link for us all, even when we cannot change the way things are.
The old lady she meets has been all over the world looking for fame and fortune. She lists the countries, Cayman, Panama, etc. This reflects the Jamaican higglers (traders), mainly women, who were then going all over the region/world and bringing back goods to sell. These were/are intrepid travelers, many of whom, to their credit, made enough money to create a new life for their families and themselves.One day at a workshop someone said to me, ‘This story is about your younger daughter, isn’t it?’ I felt as if I’d been punched in the stomach. That’s when you know a nerve has been touched. I was in shock! I had always said to prospective writers in workshops, ‘Know yourself, know your passions, etc. because it will come out in your writing’. And yet, I had had no idea. No idea at all. My younger daughter, with light brown hair, lighter hair than her sister or any of our immediate family, was being teased. In an ex-colonial territory, swept up in that moment of ‘let’s be against anything that remotely reminded us of the past’, that was enough. She would weep over being teased at school. And we could do nothing about that. You just have to learn to deal with that sort of thing. And she did, eventually, just as Cordelia finds she can. I had no idea that it hurt me so much! So Cordelia is the flag bearer for all children who have been teased for whatever reason.
I was invited to the Miami Book Fair to be part of its Student’s Encounter Programme and read Cordelia in a number of schools, where she was well received, and we sang ‘Cordleia Brown whe mek yu head so red?’ exactly as it is. ( I can’t sing, but it seldom matters in situations like this). Cordelia went on to have many reprints here in Jamaica, even when the publisher went out of business and the copyright reverted to me. However, the thing about printing is that you have to be pretty sure that you can sell most of your print run if you are to make back the money you put out. Bookstores usually ask for 6 or 12 copies maximum, at a time, which cannot a print run make. If you go through a distributor, which solves all your distribution challenges, it’s 50% right away (overseas, I think it may be even more). So we are caught in a spiral or vicious circle of economies of scale - small print runs, therefore high print costs and selling prices higher than overseas books, small disposable income amongst the buying public. Gone are the days when the libraries would take enough copies for all their outlets – they have no money. And now with a falling dollar, everything is tight, tight! But how could I just let Cordelia wither away into nothingness.
Some of us had put books on Amazon. I had put on a collection of adult short stories, just to see what happened. Nothing much has, except for some lovely reviews, for which I’m very pleased. In spite of that, I was playing around with the idea of putting a new children’s book on Amazon since one of the effects of Amazon, as we all know, has been the challenge to bookstores and publishers. But I was stuck in my mind, stuck in this massive change that has overtaken books and publishing, like a deer caught in the headlights, as they say; or perhaps in the Caribbean, like a crab crossing the road with car lights bearing down on it. Will it reach the other side? Then one day, my friend, Hazel Campbell said, ‘Why don’t you give me Cordelia and let me try to put it on Amazon?’ I was astounded! I had not thought of that. ‘You think you can do that?’ I said. ‘I’m going to try,’ was her reply. And so she did! And that’s how Cordelia is on Amazon. I had the flash drive with Cordelia for about a week before I uploaded it. Fraid like what! Afraid of what? Oh please, it’s technology! And I view technology like I did Math at school. What you know, do; do not venture into the unknown.
And now Cordelia Finds Fame and Fortune has a new life. I have received many good wishes and one great review. (Thank you, thank you!) I have not fooled myself into believing that I’m going to make money from this book on Amazon. But I think you will agree with me after reading Cordelia's story, that she must be located somewhere, where those who want her, the 'one-one' copies, can find her. Of course, I’ll be using her as a test case for others to follow (books and other writers also). I think I’ve decided to put as many of my books as I can, where they can be found. And who knows, if we all have enough books on Amazon from the Caribbean, they might see us in this enormous ocean of books.
Marketing is, of course, the challenge! I put the info on Facebook, and I sent it also to all the people in my address book, and felt somewhat embarrassed, because you really should not promote yourself to your friends and acquaintances in our Caribbean world. So 'boldface'! (One step from being out of order). So I have not solved the marketing aspect of the whole Amazon business. Therefore, maybe it will really just be a place for my books to be. We’ll see.