Friday, December 2, 2011

Princess in her own words

I must tell you that it feels very strange to be promoting my own book, but we understand that in fact authors have to do this, and with the social network, we are supposed to use it. So since I do not have photos of the launch yet, I'm posting my presentation made at the launch. Even that was a departure for me, as what I had thought I would talk about, the significance of the book in relation to all the various aspects of children's literature, was not what I did. Instead, to my surprise, I talked about Princess, the character, the girl. Most unusual!

Princess in her own words: About the book
What is the inspiration for a story? This story about a child migrating to join her mother in America? Migration is a part of social fabric of our society. Most of my father’s family migrated before I was born. When I visited them at age 15, in Jamaica, Long Island, - I fell madly in love with New York; Radio City Music Hall, snow for the first time, Christmas shopping! Were the seeds sown then?

However it was not until I visited my older daughter, Mandi, and my son-in-law, Dr. Alan Smith, who was doing a fellowship at a hospital in Brooklyn, that the concept for this story was set in motion. Yes, I fell madly in love again, but this time with this migrant part of Brooklyn, with the fascination of the heroism of the day to day lives of ordinary people, all there trying to make a better life.

So that’s why I decided to tell a story about a teenager/ a so-called barrel child migrating? No, that’s’ not how it went at all. (I was actually wishing I could write music or a poem, which I’d call ‘Ode to Brooklyn). Then Princess magically appeared and decided to tell her story; little by little, she eased herself into my life while I wasn’t even looking; brought her own style; her own attitude, told her own story in her own words.

The story is told in the first person, so we do hear Princess’ voice rather than that of the narrator, hear her thoughts, some of which she knows better than to voice as they can be quite critical of people.

Princess has lived with her granny since her mother left her as a small child to become a nurse in America. Therefore she joins her mother with a reluctant heart. There are surprises and challenges: surprise: she has a stepfather, Mr. Ramjohn, who she didn’t know about. Challenges, some because of her own personality.

Princess is sometimes dramatic, she is dramatically very sure about right and wrong, reinforced by the guiding principles given her by Granny and Sister( her last principal). This colours all she finds out about her mothers’ life.

Princess is proud of being Jamaican and is at pains to establish that she is not a needy migrant, that she doesn’t need to be in the USA at all. This attitude makes it difficult to make friends: So in a predominantly African American and Hispanic school, she finds the first child to befriend her is a white girl called Simply Red, because of her freckles and red hair; Princess meanwhile wants so much to be friends with the sophisticated in-crowd, as she describes them: ‘the Hispanic and African American girls swishing past, tossing pony tails, braids, extensions, … – their laughter trailing behind them like dancing clouds, long after they have gone’. You will meet Simply Red again in the reading as well as Latoya and Esperanza, the African American and Hispanic girls who do eventually become her friends. Island Princess is the nick name the students give Princess.

Things just don’t seem to work for Princess, as she says: “Then I had to choose a sporting activity. Everyone expected me to do track and field, so there was a lot of laughter when I said I couldn’t run”. She finds that everything she ought to be able to do, because she is a Jamaican, like dancing, is not that easy, so she tells nobody that what she really can do well is play steel-band (which is why we have Bianca here – to celebrate Princess.)

Princess is determined; she is bold and brave in her story and she sometimes gets into trouble . And by the time the story was finished, I found I really liked her. And even when I read it over again, I really liked Princess and the story she had to tell. And I think the reason is that Princess embodies a little bit of all of us, our teenage selves, (because it is after all a children’s story), or the spunkiness and bravado we may wish we had.

A lot of people have told me they love the story; they couldn’t put it down. I guess the comment I like best, is that of the person who said she didn’t want it to finish, as the pages became fewer and fewer towards the end she became anxious; she wanted it to go on and on.
And I hope that you will like it too.

The reading will be from the section where Princess, who usually keeps all her comments securely in her head, is driven to desperation by an apparently serious accident to her granny, and hearing that she will not be able to go with her mother to Jamaica to check on Granny, loses her mind totally and says something unforgiveable to her mother. The first time she says what she is really thinking, it is a disaster.


  1. Congratulations, Diane. I know the feeling all too well & the voices from the culture don't help when it feels like how Mervyn Morris describes Don Drummond, "me wan way out in the crowd."

    But press on we must.

    One Love,

  2. Thanks Geoffrey. And it does help to have others understand. Yes, we must press on because I sense almot a reblooming (can one have a reblooming?)of Caribbean/West Indian Literature. And perhaps this is how the social network has worked for us - because here in the Caribbean I don't think we feel the impact through sales - but we know that we are all producing, and that is wonderful encouragment. Perhaps for now, even enough.

  3. Congratulations on the launch, Diane.
    I didn't know I'd have to do so much to promote Delroy in the Marog Kingdom, and still find that school librarians and principals haven't heard of it. I hope your launch gets the coverage it deserves.

  4. We just have to keep on promoting, Helen. The comfort is that we now have company. One another; so it doesn't feel as if any of us are alone. I think that all of us together might make a difference.

  5. Hello Diane,

    Helen (above) sent your book to us in her writing group here in the States, and I very much enjoyed Island Princess in Brooklyn. I actually thought it might be a series. Princess is a richly drawn character; I loved getting to know her by how she sees her world and others. I loved how you worked out her relationship with her mother - it felt like a very honest, natural progression, and it kept my hope up that things would work out between them up to the very end. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this lovely piece of children's literature! PS - I adore the dialect!

  6. Hi Melanie
    I thank you for taking the time to write the comment above. It is so insightful. It means a great deal to me. I'm glad that you enjoyed the story and got to like Princess. It may sound ridiculous, but every now and then I think of her, (as if she's real) and I smile or frown, or roll my eyes, depending on what I remember her saying or doing. I think I should also be grateful that I was able to create her, that she came to me. Thanks again Melanie and I wish you all the best with your writing.

  7. Nice comment.As I said from the launch, persons were saying how much Princess would have enjoyed the evening. They had obviously internalized her as a real person- the power of your writing.

  8. This a former co author Karl Phillpotts
    Hoping to catch up with you.