5 Questions with…

This is the text of an interview I did last year right around the time Oh Gad! was getting ready to hit the market. The interview never ran…these things happen…but I thought I’d share it with you, since I took the time to prepare the responses ‘n all.

1. At what age did you know that you wanted to be a writer?

I would say in my teens I knew. I’d always been a dreamer, a reader, and a writer, but I think it was in my teens that I realized I wanted to do this and a little later still before I could give voice to it.

2. What three important facts do you want readers to know about your books?

That I write my characters’ truth irrespective of any internal or societal censor; I try to be true to them and their story.

That I am a Caribbean writer through and through; my writing is informed by the world from which I come – a world more rich, complex, interesting and diverse than suggested by the tourist brochures.

That I believe that human emotion is universal; that readers anywhere can make a connection with a character written by a Caribbean writer in the same way that I, as a Caribbean reader coming of age, read and related to Jane Eyre or Little Women or Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret or the Last of Eden or To Kill a Mockingbird. Experience and context may vary but the thread of human connection knows no such barriers.

I’m kind of counting on that.

3. Who are some of your favorite authors? Who inspires you?

I love too many books and authors to ever pick favourites. In fact, I blog on books at http://wadadlipen.wordpress.comwhich was actually set up to promote the youth writing programme I coordinate but has become sort of a window to the literary arts in general and the Caribbean – and specifically Antiguan and Barbudan arts scene – in particular. I can’t pick just one. But on any list, you’d have names like Zora Neale Hurston, Harper Lee, Edwidge Dandicat, Maeve Binchy, Langston Hughes, Anne Rice, Toni Morrison, Jamaica Kincaid…Alice Walker … I always leave her work feeling the urge to write, she gets my synapses firing…but really too many to mention. As for inspiration, it comes not from a ‘who’ but from everything that is; life, experience, people, mood, circumstance… and sunsets.

Re inspiration, I should have also mentioned calypso and calypso writers like Shelly Tobitt and Marcus Christopher, the latter pictured with me at my launch in 2012. I've appreciated his feedback on the book and sometimes have to pinch myself that one of the writers whose calypsos I grew up listening to has read a book I've written. (Photo by Eustace Samuel).

Re inspiration, I should have also mentioned calypso and calypso writers like Shelly Tobitt and Marcus Christopher, the latter pictured with me at my launch in 2012. I’ve appreciated his feedback on the book and sometimes have to pinch myself that one of the writers whose calypsos I grew up listening to has read a book I’ve written. (Photo by Eustace Samuel).

4. What do you have coming up in the future?

Well, Oh Gad!debuted this week actually – April 17th – so I’m still busy trying to get the word out about that. I have individual pieces coming up in a few journals and anthologies, plus readings… but the best way to keep up with all that is via either http://www.facebook.com/JoanneCHillhouseor http://www.jhohadli.com

I’m looking forward to a writing workshop that I’ll be taking in early June, simply because I’m looking forward to just writing for a while. Mostly right now though I want to encourage people to go out and buy the book; read, share, blog. My goal is to expand my readership. These characters deserve it.

5. What advice would you have for anyone wanting to break into writing today?

For me it began with reading and the imagination…and that’s still the core of the process today. I love to read; I don’t understand writers who say they don’t read. Beyond that, I’m going to quote a colleague of mine; just write. Focus less on I want to write a book, or I want to be published; focus on writing, developing as a writer, accessing the story; focus on the art and craft and not just the business… because at the end of the day the story has to be there and the writer has to develop the skills to render it. Oh, and rejection may break your stride – it’s part of the cycle that is a writer’s life – stumble, but to reference an old Antiguan calypso, Press On. Keep growing, and keep journeying. That’s what I aim to do.

 

There’ve been strides and detours and set backs…but it’s all still pretty much true.