Thomas Armstrong

Today I heard the sad news that Thomas Armstrong passed away on Saturday. I first met Tom in January 2009 at the ceremony for the 2008 Frank Collymore Literary Awards where my novel took first prize and his took second. After that we often met at literary events. There’s an entire tag dedicated to him on this blog. Some posts are a mere passing mention, but there are three worth reading, my three part interview with Tom back in late 2010. I strongly recommend them. You may never heard of Thomas Armstrong before today, but if you read those posts you will see why he was an important voice among the Caribbean literati.

Rest in peace, Tom. Thank you for your insight, your writing, and the love you had for my country.

Podcast with Charles Tan

So here‘s the first of the podcasts I promised you. Charles Tan, blogger, nominee for the World Fantasy Special Award (Non-Professional) 2011, intelligent critic and reviewer of speculative fiction, allowed me to babble on. And I warn you, I do babble. But there may be a few gems amid the dross. Go check it out.

Part III: Margins and Boundaries

A Conversation with Thomas Armstrong, Part III: Margins and Boundaries

Welcome to Part III of my conversation with Tom Armstrong, author of Of Water and Rock. Part I is available here, and Part II here.

Warning: although I tried to avoid spoiling the story, in this section we do discuss the themes of the novel in greater detail, something which might be better appreciated by those who have already read it.

11 Dec 2010, continued.

There were three other characters who struck me – well there was one character who definitely struck me: Sissy. In a way, she is another kind of centre of the novel. But I’m not going to talk about her too much because that’s going to involve far too many spoilers. I’ll just say that she’s a fascinating character. I understand that she’s based on your mother-in-law?

Yes.

And she is really the heart and soul of the book in many ways. But the three characters that I’m thinking about are Doc, Ginger and RJ: Doc of course being the highly intelligent person whose learning has driven him mad in true Shakespearean style; Ginger being the … well … people never seem to know exactly what she is. Is she an obeah woman? Is she a person of ‘loose virtue’? But she’s on the margins of society in her own way. And then RJ, who is a flamboyant, crossdressing man who is very much accepted by Sissy, his aunt, but also in his own way on the margins of society.

I was fascinated by this triad, because in a way you have a sense of mind, spirit and body – Doc with his mental issues putting him on the margins there, and the contrast between his obvious remaining intelligence and the sharpness he still has and then his complete inability to actually function because he still has these delusions. And then Ginger, who … whatever she’s doing, it’s clearly not Church of England (laughs), it’s not Anglicanism. She does have some kind of power, some sort of knowledge of the spirit world that isn’t quite the norm. And then RJ, who as you say, as for any man that dresses as a woman, ‘this is a brave man’. This is a society that’s supposed to be rejecting him and he’s dressing a certain way and he’s not caring about it, and he’s challenging this whole sense of … it’s not just the issue of the homosexuality, but the crossdressing, the ‘is he a man, is he a woman’ thing as well, that is particularly challenging to the society.

And the fascinating thing about all three of them is that … neither of them like each other (laughs). They’ve all got their own prejudices going in the other way where RJ is like ‘Doc is no use,’ and Doc is like ‘stay away from Ginger, she’s no good’, and they’ve all got this little cycle going on, and I thought that was brilliant, because it goes to show that we all have our margins, don’t we. Being on someone’s margin doesn’t mean we’re automatically accepting of everyone on our margins.

Exactly. It made them more interesting. It was like a triangle of people who were all odd, but were intolerant of other oddness. I’m good with my own oddness but not your oddness (laughs).

And there was Sissy in the centre of them, accepting all of them for what they were, which was fascinating. This was a message that you seemed to have throughout the book, that people could … disapprove but accept, in a way? I don’t know if I’ve expressed that well.

I know what you mean.

There’s a level of tolerance which isn’t a full acceptance of everything you are and everything you do, but is an acceptance of ‘you are a human being and this is your space as well, to be as you see fit’.

I think that ‘tolerance’ isn’t the right word. I think ‘acceptance’ is better. When Doc quotes Chesterton, I intentionally had Edward unthinkingly respond, ‘Tolerance is the virtue of a man without convictions’. And I like to say that tolerance isn’t enough. There must be an acceptance.

That’s a very important distinction.

Yes. Because I think the Collymores tolerated them, but didn’t accept them till the end.

And there was an undercurrent of fear in there. Another aspect that I think you handled quite well was that very strong sexism that the white males had towards the white females. You had that uncomfortable scene – but uncomfortable in a good way in that it did what it was supposed to do – where there’s a man who’s just been engaged, and then he starts eying the help, because he knows that getting married is one thing, but ‘I can still be having my fun and with whoever I please, because I’m in that position of power.’

Sexism and racism almost go hand in hand. Whenever mixing has gone on in the past in Barbados it’s generally been white men having illicit affairs with black women, for the most part. That’s a generalization of course , but I would think the further one goes back in time, the more true it was, because it’s reflective of the power relationship between whites and blacks. That’s why Benjamin reacted so strongly to the birth of a child that wasn’t necessarily white. It’s because the connotation of the black male’s sexual prowess versus the pureness of the white virgin – you know that whole issue … it’s complicated, as is any issue involving man and women, even without the introduction of race.

That whole system and structure and trope … yeah.

… I really wanted to explore that, to some extent. The book is not heavily oriented that way, but I wanted to reveal that double standard.

And that double standard, in a way, what you’ve done with both those images: his being very free about his sexual relations and then being very upset about what’s happening with his wife, also demonstrates to me the undercurrent of fear that contains the white people in the novel. A lot of what they’re doing is out of fear. They’ve got some very rigid boundaries and if they go beyond those boundaries they lose a certain amount of privilege, so they maintain those boundaries as strongly as they can.

I think that’s true. I think that dates from way back. The white population of Barbados is like two per cent, and the black is ninety-five per cent, so there’s a real fear for some people that potentially they could be swamped, but Fanon talks about a terrorised consciousness amongst the white population [Tom is actually referring to this paper, and I unwittingly bring up some related points later]. He says that it’s based on independence, but I think it’s always been there from the earliest days of slavery. I think that’s a theme I could explore in later novels … there’s a sense of manning the barricades.

I don’t know if you’ve read Wide Sargasso Sea

Yes, I have.

… but it very much gave me a feeling of that. It’s interesting because, as you say, although it is set in the late 1960s, when you encounter the Bajan whites [in the book], they feel very Victorian in a way. They feel very much like they’re holding onto a past.

Yes, for some of them I think that’s very true. It’s funny, when I did a reading of this in Toronto, someone asked me ‘how do white Barbadians feel about this?’.

Hmm, good question.

And at the time, I said, ‘I’m really not sure’. I wasn’t sure how to answer that. I think underlying it was the reader’s discomfort at certain portrayals. And actually, one white Barbadian I know in Toronto loved the book, and there were a few white Barbadians I believe on the judging panels [for local literary awards]. They have to appreciate the fact that … when they say that the whites are all bigots and the blacks are all morally unblemished … just look at the amount of mixing that’s gone on. One of the themes in the book is identity. When you make assumptions about who and what you are, you may be very wrong, because you don’t really know whose family you belong to, who your parents were. You’re taking it on faith. All of us do. Every one of us. We have no real proof that our parents are who we think they are. It’s a story about human beings, and let’s not get carried away by separating the groups into whites and blacks. Let’s look at them as human beings that operate in a certain culture.

That’s another thing. Judith says in the book, ‘I’ve lived here my whole life and never understood the place’. It’s like saying, ‘we are in a culture’ that we assume is some sort of institution, it’s out there, but actually we are the culture. Without our behaving in a certain way there is no culture. We’re all orchestrating the culture and not taking any responsibility for it.

What you said about living here all your life and not understanding it, I did in fact think to myself that Doc’s insanity was not only interesting from a symbolic point of view, but there is in fact a longstanding tradition of the highly intelligent Barbadian who goes overseas to study, usually to the ‘mother country’, and goes mad … it happens more in the UK. The US is acknowledged to be foreign, but when you’re talking about the pre-Independence generation, raised to think of Britain as the mother country, going there and being treated as alien was in many respects an identity fracture, a culture shock such that some did not recover from. And we have in fact got statistics that show the levels of mental illness [schizophrenia] among West Indians in the UK is spiked far higher. When they compare the data here, it’s a normal amount but when they move to the UK, it seems to spike higher, and a lot of that is the inability to handle the incongruity of it.

You take someone, you tell them ‘you are British’ … you remember Lamming’s In the Castle of My Skin. They go to school, they learn all the names of the kings of England and they’re part of the Empire and all of that, and they may even be in a situation where they’re fighting for what they see as the Empire, and then they come to the heart of the Empire and they are told ‘you are not human’, and it fractures the mind.

So there is also a sense here in reverse for the white Bajan as well where there’s a structure that’s created to protect their sense of identity, but it’s a very fragile structure if it’s based on things like ‘we’re better than them’.  Just around that same time, around Independence, there was an exodus of white Bajans, because they were convinced that … ‘oh, they’re going to wreck the country, they’re going to mess up the country, you give them power, they can’t run anything’, and that was a strong, deep-rooted belief, because that was a part of their social structure, to understand that ‘we are in this position because we’re actually superior’.

That’s why I set the novel in 1969, shortly after Independence.

Yes. But you could see that Judith at least knew enough to understand that it didn’t make sense, and that’s why she could say ‘I’ve never understood the place’, and that to me was very significant.

Judith was an important character for me. She was open-minded. She was ready to accept, more than tolerate.

I feel I should stop now because I’m starting to go into spoiler territory, but I’ll close off this bit and say thank you.

***

Tom and I spent some time afterwards chatting about the more spoilery parts of the book. I do look forward to Tom’s future works. I think he is more widely read than I am when it comes to the West Indian classics and associated literary critique. I must confess, I’m also curious to see what kind of science fiction a writer with his qualifications and interests could produce.

I hope this conversation has piqued your curiosity about Of Water and Rock. You can find it on Amazon.ca or Amazon.com. Many of the books that we mentioned can also be found at online bookstores, or libraries, especially academic libraries. Of course I have an agenda. The more West Indian literature you read, the more you’ll appreciate the genre. Have fun!

Part II: A Classic West Indian Novel

A Conversation with Thomas Armstrong, Part II: A Classic West Indian Novel

Welcome to Part II of my conversation with Tom Armstrong, author of Of Water and Rock. Part I is available here.

11 Dec 2010, continued.

I’ve discovered that the question of ‘genre’ is one you have to struggle with, especially as a new author, if you’re trying to get a publisher interested; they want know what the box is that they’re to put your book into. What would you – not your publisher, not a reviewer, not anyone else – what would you classify the book as?

To me it’s a classic West Indian novel, and by that what I mean is it’s an expression of dispossession in a way. A lot of West Indian novels are about the experience of immigration from the West Indies to England or Canada, and for me I felt the opposite and I wanted to express it. So in that form I was writing a West Indian novel, but it’s turned on its head. It’s a person from Canada, a white middle class person from Canada, dropped into the Barbadian ethos of a largely black, rural village. I wanted to explore the flip side of that.

I thought it was very powerful how you did it, because you say, yes, the protagonist is a white Canadian dropped into this world he doesn’t know, but the reality is that it’s in his blood, because his father is Barbadian. He never knew his father, but he has all these ties to the island, in terms of both property and lineage, that no mere tourist would have. So you positioned him, you positioned Edward Hamblin across the crack between the two cultures, and I thought that was really well done.

Thank you. Because I’m married to a black woman, this is the world I live in, so I’m really expressing my world and exploring it. Because in large parts of Toronto society, Canadian society, white, I’m talking … they see white as a neutral colour. It’s actually not a colour. And for many of them, they don’t have accents; it’s everyone else that has an accent. They don’t understand how it feels to be the only black person in a room of white people. So I wanted to take my character and do the opposite, because I can remember how I felt. Barbados has taught me a lot. My wife … at the time my future wife … we went to Baxter’s Road one night. I felt I was the only white person in a sea of black faces, and I was uncomfortable with it.

I should clarify that Baxter’s Road is the famous street that has a night life of its own, mostly centred around the frying of fish (laughs) the frying and sale of fish, the most amazing fish that you could ever find anywhere.

It’s the best there is, that’s true.

And it’s very much a local scene; it’s not a touristic thing. So you would go there and you would find people who are not in ‘tourism’ mode. It’s very local.

So those are wonderful experiences that you normally wouldn’t get as a white person coming from Canada. I really valued them. I wrote the novel from an outsider’s point of view with an insider’s knowledge, and I think that’s why it works.

You mentioned to me that Mittelholzer is one of your influences, and I remember reading My Bones and My Flute for school, and there were some bits of high drama that dealt with the spirit world in a way that … it was both the spirit world and nature coming together and having a very powerful effect on people. I detect passages like that in your book as well. I was wondering if you had any kind of comment to make about that, whether there was a connection or if it was something that arose naturally, or …

No, that was intentional, because of the way I see the island. I see it in a spiritual way, I think. That’s one of the reasons a lot of West Indian lit appeals to me, because there are themes like that that run through a lot of the work, especially Mittelholzer. Shadows Move Among Them is another set in Guyana in the jungle. My Bones and My Flute is a brilliant, classic ghost story. That is an awesome story by any measure.

It certainly terrified me as a teenager (laughs). ‘They’re making us do this for English Literature?’

The bulk of the stuff I’ve actually written is supernatural.

So that’s your preferred genre.

Yes. That’s what I read in general. I read West Indian lit, supernatural lit, or Weird lit … it’s called Weird by some people. Mittelholzer to me is a titan. He’s up there with Naipaul in my mind. The island to me was a part of the novel; it was a character in the novel. I wanted it to be that way. And Doc was its voice.

I mentioned the caves.  The scene with the descent into the caves … I found that extremely powerful.

To explain for the audience, Barbados has a system of limestone caves. They have both geological and historical significance from the point of view that they are the bones of the whole country in the sense that this is largely a limestone country. But it’s also been a place of refuge for slave rebellions, or even in our modern day for prisoners who have escaped. There are rumours of people who know the cave system so well they can go from one end of the island to the other without ever coming above ground. So there’s all kinds of urban and ancient myth caught up in the concept of the caves.

So I was really happy when you had that bit in there.

I know from your writing that you’re very much into the supernatural and the influence of spirits. When you were dealing with order versus chaos, that was way up my alley. I’ve written about it myself, and it’s a fascinating part of the world, the universe itself. It’s like two competing enemies. My tendency will always be to include some element of the supernatural in my work, or to make it the overriding theme.

I wanted to discuss some themes I saw in your book. We’ve already discussed the spirituality of the country, the island itself, in a physical sense – it sounds odd to talk about spirituality in a physical sense for an island, but I think you know what I mean. It’s part of the trees, it’s part of the rock, the air, the sea, everything. And Edward Hamblin, in addition to being someone who in a way is a child of two worlds, also came across to me as a bit of a Holy Fool. There’s a constant theme of laughter in the book. Sometimes people are laughing at him instead of with him but there’s a constant theme of laughter, and laughter being used in very interesting, subversive ways. I noticed, for example, that whenever there’s a transgression of a social boundary, whenever there’s an incongruity, the reaction tends to be laughter. Sometimes it’s not that kind; sometimes it’s just a nervous reaction, but he constantly crosses boundaries. He’s on the one hand being invited by the local whites to come and have tea which is a very stush [posh] event, and then on the other hand he’s at the local market. He’s in a unique position to cover all the boundaries of society. Was that a conscious decision, to make him someone who could see the full scope of society?

Yes, that was very conscious. I wanted him to be able to tell both sides, the white and black sides. I put him in that position. I love comedic writing and I think there’s a strong tradition of that in the West Indies, especially Barbados. Frank Collymore has written some great stories.

Yes he has. (laughs)

(laughs) and I love the notion of what my nieces might call ‘abusing a white man’ …

(laughs)

… and by that we don’t mean anything bad. We mean, let’s subject this guy to something that’s truly Bajan and see how he reacts. I won’t tell you what parts are autobiographical … (laughs)

(laughs) Okay!

… but really, the rumshop scene and the bus scene were a pleasure to write, and for me it was my way of putting him at ease with the local black people, so they will open up to him and he will be receptive to them. Because I wanted him to tell both sides of the bigger story: the wealthy white side and the poor black side. He’s my connection, really. When the story started out, it was much less his story and more other people’s stories, but it became his story. I think it had to be.

He’s the centre of it in a way, because he’s able to look into all those different windows and see these different lives.

Exactly. That was intentional.

He also challenges people by his very presence. You mentioned the bit about the bus stop. The children saw him walking along the road and they start to laugh. It was really interesting reading that, because I thought to myself, perhaps the average reader will read that and think ‘why are they laughing?’, but I can see the incongruity of it. He’s clearly not quite a tourist, he’s clearly not quite a local, and he’s walking along the road! He’s not in a car! He should be in a car or a taxi or tour bus or something. So they can’t place him, and with that incongruity, what else can you do but laugh? ‘You could believe I saw a white man walking down the road at midday?’ … it would just be totally incongruous.

(laughs) I had him in a broad brimmed hat, wearing sandals … definitely out of place in that setting, incongruous as you say. But yes, that would draw laughter.

So that was interesting, and in a way it tests the society, because in a society there are things we do take for granted, as you say the example being in Canada your own skin colour becomes the default, your own accent becomes the default, and it takes an outsider to press the boundaries that you’re so comfortable with and say ‘take a good look at this, does this really make sense’. And sometimes the reaction is laughter, and sometimes the reaction is thought.

Yes, that’s one of the things that I really wanted to express in the novel, that the rules of any society are basically absurd, they’re arbitrary. And it’s actually the newcomer who sees them for what they are. I wanted to express this sense of … he didn’t understand them because they’re not understandable. You have to live in the society and then it becomes the norm, but until then you’re just … everything seems so bizarre and illogical. That’s true of Toronto and that’s true of Barbados.

Exactly.

[END of Part II. 'Part III: Margins and Boundaries' is available here.]

A Conversation with Thomas Armstrong, Part I: From Canada to Barbados

I met Tom Armstrong January 2009 in the Grand Salle at Frank Collymore Hall. He had an unpublished manuscript called Of Water and Rock and I had one called Redemption in Indigo, both destined to be published in 2010. Besides the debut novel experience, I knew we had a few other things in common: Bajan roots (mine by blood and birth, his by marriage) and an appreciation of West Indian literature. To my surprise and pleasure, I later discovered that he also loves speculative fiction, and we both majored in physics at the University of Toronto.

Tom, who is still based in Canada, came to visit last month, and I asked him if he’d agree to a conversation. Not a review, nor yet an interview, but just two people talking near a microphone in the hopes that something interesting might be said. We ended up chatting and laughing for almost an hour. This week’s posts are the result.

Today’s post is the first part of the conversation, where we discuss Tom’s background and his connection to Barbados.

11 Dec 2010

First question: tell us about yourself!

I was born in Toronto in 1952, October 22nd, so I’m fifty-eight now. I went to high school in Don Mills which is a suburb of Toronto – it’s now kind of in the centre of the city, but back in those days it was on the outskirts. It was actually a planned community, so I’m a baby boomer. There were all middle and lower income families in there, and the sense was that their children could do anything. We were thinking along the lines of activism … it was part of the time … community involvement, social issues. But generally speaking I was into science and mathematics. One of the reasons was to avoid writing.

(laughs) How well that worked out!

Yeah, well it worked out well for about fifty years! I always loved reading, though, especially the supernatural stuff. I did a degree at U of T in maths and physics and I was a computer programmer and designer of software back in those days. It was card-punching machines, believe it or not. My first programs were bubble cards. I’ve always been intrigued by problem solving, but I never did well at literature. I was reading comic books. I hadn’t yet read the classics.

Comic books. We’re talking like … X-Men? Stuff like that?

Even earlier. This is Spiderman, Hulk … Marvel Comics.

Some of those stories were very well crafted.

Oh, yeah, when you look back on them, with a few short words they convey a lot of information. They’re very economical and powerful. As a young teenager I’d be reading that. And then later the stuff that I would read would be historical … modern history. But literature I didn’t really read too much of until later. I got married in ’80. My father was running a small printing business so I left computing and went to work with him. It’s not something I would have done if I hadn’t been married, I think. It was high stress, and I don’t like stress. Eventually I got out of that business at the age of forty … I think forty-two … when my children were in their late teens. I wanted to get back into the computer science area so I told Denise [his wife] I either do this now or I’ll end up going to school with my kids, which isn’t good. (laughs) So I went back to university at York and got another degree in computer science in a couple of years because I had previous credits. I became a consultant for banks, writing financial software, which I still do on and off, but I would say half the time I would be writing full-time and the other half I may have to go back and make some money. Unless this book sells a million copies and gets on Oprah.

Yeah, that sort of sounds like my game plan. (we both laugh)

I know she has a house here, so … just throw a few copies over the wall …

Tempting! Just stroll nearby casually, fling them over …

… hope the dog doesn’t chew them.

(we gradually sober up and stop laughing)

Do you want to get into why I got into writing?

In a way when you say you were always reading, that just seals the deal for me. If you’re always reading you tend to fall into writing at some point, I think, even if it’s on a casual basis, so that doesn’t surprise me in the least. But it’s the Barbados connection – how did we manage to steal you away? That’s what I want to know.

I came to the island with a St Lucian friend, and I distinctly remember stepping off the plane, because I came in late winter and it was like … if you’ve seen the movie The Wizard of Oz … it was like Dorothy stepping out of her Kansas house after it landed in Oz, I swear! Because the film goes … it’s black and white up to that point, and then suddenly – colour, and that’s exactly how I felt about Barbados, from the very first. There was something about the island: the aged coralstone walls that we passed by, the derelict windmills, the feeling that the distant past lay close to the surface. Whereas in Toronto, my sense of it is that it’s constantly attempting to reinvent itself. The history is ploughed under the ground.

You mean it’s modern all the time?

Yeah. But Barbados, it reeks of the past, in the good ways and bad ways. The island talked to me when I arrived.

Did it become your muse, in a way?

(laughs) I guess so. I mean, I became interested in things West Indian afterwards. I met my wife, actually, on that trip (I didn’t realise she’d be my wife, but …). And the people, I’m always amazed at people who don’t have a lot and are so gracious. The coralstone … I could see coral rocks scattered in a field in the middle of the island. It’s pretty amazing. It’s there with its fossils, its history, sitting there. So yeah, I have a certain sense of the place that I’ve never lost.

It definitely comes out in the book, because when you read the book – and I’m not giving away anything! – but when you read the book you really do get a sense of, as you say, the earth, the rock. You mention the limestone caves; you mention the sea. And the thing is, the way you mention the sea is not in terms of being on the beach but just the way the salt water, the salt spray comes to you. And the sun, the colours … the same way you described stepping off and being in a new Technicolor world … you describe that as well. And even the heat! The way you describe the heat, and (laughs) sweating.

(laughs) My old friend, the heat.

For me that’s actually what’s completely missing when I read books that try to deal with Barbados or deal with the West Indies. You’re reading it, and you’re kind of thinking ‘this person just passed through, didn’t really connect, or they read about it somewhere’. It’s just missing. It doesn’t feel like home at all. But with yours, there’s a complete sense of home, a complete sense of … the rootedness is there.

I’m happy to hear you say it, because when I was writing it I was desperate to have some affirmation or authentication from Barbadians. You don’t want to write something that … I mean, it might be well-written and it’s an interesting story, but if it doesn’t ring true to the people who are actually on the ground, then it doesn’t work. It fails completely.

A part of your challenge must have been that not only did you write about Barbados, but you wrote about a past Barbados. I can talk about how it connected for me on a ‘geographical’ level, but did you find yourself having to speak to people of that generation to say, ‘is this the Barbados you recognise’?

Denise’s mum was such a source of inspiration. It’s dedicated to her, and she is full of stories, which I would listen to and just absorb – like the trip to the railroad, which doesn’t exist anymore. The fact that ‘the sea has no back door’, and someone died down at Martin’s Bay – these kind of stories. In a way she and her husband Joe were my access … my window to the past was through them. And the stories that the family had to tell, because Barbadians are great storytellers. (pause, laughs)

(laughs) I have always felt so.

Really. And told in dialect, too, which took me a while to get used to, but I love the language.

Well, you did a very good job with the dialect in the book.

Which surprises me! (laughs)

I’ve seen it done badly. I’ve seen it done badly by Barbadians, but you really did quite a good job. It’s distinctly Barbadian. It’s not psuedo-Jamaican, it’s not quasi-broad West Indian, it’s very distinctly Barbadian.

I’m really happy to hear you say that, because I rendered it really the way I hear it. There are many examples of other treatments of dialect, from Lamming to Sam Selvon to Austin Clarke. Jeannette Layne-Clarke has a certain way of doing it which is hard for me.

It’s very hard for everyone, I think. (laughs). Because you want to have the cadence right, you want to have the sound of the phonetics right, but you don’t want to change it into a completely different language when the person has to read it. So there’s always that balance, I think.

I wondered at times who the audience of the book was – was it Barbadians or Canadians.

Because that would make a difference as well.

Yeah. I had some comments that … ‘you know, this is not that easy to read’ … this is by people who do not know the West Indies, who have really no exposure to it. But the bulk of the response was positive. In fact, I even had West Indian authors tell me that it was too heavily dialect, and I thought to myself, really I’m writing it so it’s authentic to me and I’m not going to change it. I think that’s one of the strengths of the book, that authenticity it has.

[END of Part I. 'Part II: A Classic West Indian Novel' is available here.  Part III is here.]

Reviews and news

I’ve had some computer issues (not yet resolved, but the situation is workable for now), so I haven’t been posting for the last two weeks or so.  In all the computer drama I almost lost the audio file of an interview I did with Thomas Armstrong, but now I can settle down to work on it and produce some posts on the great conversation we had on his novel in particular, Caribbean literature in general, and more!

It’s been nice to see more positive mentions of Redemption in Indigo on the internet.  This review by Laura Miller at Salon was a particularly good Christmas present!

We’re into the second print run, and there’s an audiobook from Recorded Books on the horizon.  Many online bookstores seem to be temporarily out of stock, but don’t worry because Small Beer Press has stock from the second print run as well as some signed copies of the first edition.  The only other place you can get signed first edition copies is at Days Bookstore in Barbados, so if you happen to be in the area, go to Speedbird House in Bridgetown next to the new General Public Library and pick up a copy.

I had a great Christmas, mostly involving food, family and friends, which is precisely how I like it.  I hope yours was as excellent, and may 2011 be marvellous beyond all expectation!

Gold for Of Water and Rock

Congratulations to Thomas Armstrong!  His book Of Water and Rock (DC Books, amazon.com, amazon.ca) won gold at the National Independence Festival of the Creative Arts in Barbados.  Redemption in Indigo was awarded silver.

I first met Tom when we were taking first and second prize at the 2008 Frank Collymore Literary Award ceremony for the unpublished manuscripts that would become those books.  Since Canada claims some award-winning West Indian born writers (like Austin Clarke) via naturalisation, it feels great to turn the tables by stealing this Canadian born writer!

Congrats again, Tom, and may this lead to more awards and wider recognition for your work.