Yesterday, I made a post on facebook which included the throwaway line that The Boy from Willow Bend came out 10 years ago. No sooner had I posted those words then it hit me, wow 10 years ago. Wow. This means I was still in my 20s when I landed the deal (for what would be the first publication of this book…it would later be re-issued by Hansib) and had just turned 30 when it hit bookshelves. It feels strangely like just yesterday and at the same time a life time ago. I had to hit the scrapbooks to remind myself and reminisce.
The first thing I saw (in the dusty scrapbook) was a letter from the Rick James Theatre Ensemble informing me to collect a $150 cheque (my first creative writing cheque) for Barman’s Blues which had won a joint second prize in the Ensemble’s One Act Play competition in 1992, incidentally also the year I started University of the West Indies. I say first creative writing cheque because I’d started part-timing as a reporter since my Antigua State College Days and between ’91 and ’92 would’ve been full-timing-it. Anyway, the memory of that RJTE contest is vague but I’m sure the play is somewhere gathering dust. Gotta wonder though what I knew about a barman’s blues’ at 18 going on 19.
I, also, found a card signed by all my classmates in the Mervyn Morris led Fiction Writing course I took at UWI, all wishing me congratulations. I think it was on being accepted to the Caribbean Fiction Writers Summer Institute at the University of Miami. That would put it at 1995. Wow. CFWSI (with workshop leader Olive Senior) was my first experience of that type and will always be remembered as the summer of a thousand adventures including, to stay on topic, the summer I shelved Those They Left Behind after it was thoroughly torn apart, and started working on Closed for Repairs and The Boy from Willow Bend. The tearing down was traumatic but finding the will to rebuild something new well that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it. I have to credit my flat mate CinD for being my sounding board and cheerleader as new writing emerged; her poetry collection July and Joanne is a favourite memento of that summer. Of course, of the three titles I wrote over that summer, only one has since seen the light of day.
I also found the brochure with my first international publishing credit… in the 2000 edition of Ma Comère alongside much more established Caribbean writers like Velma Pollard, Lelawattee Manoo-Rahming, Donna Weir-Soley, and others some of whom I’ve now had the opportunity to meet either in person or virtually. I remember feeling relief when that poem, part of the Philly Ramblings series of poems I’d written while visiting a friend in the City of Brotherly Love, was accepted. I was doing the 9 to 5 and wondering if the dream of being a writer was pie in the sky; this was a good sign that maybe it wasn’t.
Then I found it, ah, the first Boy from Willow Bend’s publication notice (and another some time on) – in the LIAT Islander; I remember flipping through the publication and sighting it while on the bus either going and coming from a shoot for No Seed on which I was then moonlighting as production manager. That first notice had no picture but a later notice would of me and the book, that I put at around 2001-2002 (because the picture is from a No Seed publicity shoot – in that picture I had dreads not braids or man head or straightened hair or simple twists or any of the other styles on my hair journey … so that narrows the timeline). I would soon cut those locks, just one in a series of many Big Chops.
From the first notice, the book had a while to its actual release. I remember seeing the listing on the Macmillan Caribbean website (yes, I dogged the website) and in their catalogue. I remember receiving a copy of the cover at a meeting with the sales rep at a restaurant at Dickenson Bay, grinning and zoning on the impossibility of that moment, on all the possibilities that lay ahead, and, at the same time, just not knowing how to feel or what to do. Excited and scared, hopeful and hesitant all wrapped up in a ball and deposited in my stomach. I found some of the mostly local press clippings (Antigua Sun, Young Explorer, Daily Observer, Business Focus) accompanying the book’s release; flipping through those as well.
The way Mickel Brann begins her February 14th 2013 article (the first article-article on the Boy from Willow Bend) makes me chuckle:
“The conversation surrounds the public consultation being held at the Multipurpose Centre. She prefaces the shift with an ‘oh, by the way…’ and then says ‘my book is in print’. She could have easily said saltfish, boiled eggs and antroba for breakfast this Sunday, the way she’s contained the emotions sure to be swelling inside. That’s just who she is confident and unassuming.”
Of course the last thing I was feeling was confident; I was nervous as hell, nervous and excited (my “pins and needles” acknowledged later in the article)…but yeah it was all pretty tamped down. She included in the article, this review of the book
“The coming of age story is well crafted, lively and absolutely believable.”
The book’s first review and it was a positive one; joy, relief. And a bit of that external validation we tell ourselves we don’t need – validation not just of the book or whatever talent or skill went into writing it, though of that too, but, also, of the world of the story, a world I knew so intimately because, though fictionalized, it drew on the Willow tree lined, dead end, dirt road of my earliest memories; and at the same time was a world others recognized because it was their world too, either the physical or the emotional landscape. It was one of those I am a writer moments (a dream barely whispered in my heart of hearts now being proclaimed out loud…and with evidence to back it up).
I said in that interview, or was quoted as saying, that when I learned the book had been accepted for publication,
“The excitement could not be contained because it had really been a long, long journey and I was happy, excited and filled with emotion. (It was) something I’d been working for all my life (and), finally, here was the baby to show for it. It was a defining, powerful moment in my life and each step of the way it becomes more real.”
I sound so young, don’t I?
I’m relieved actually that the interview doesn’t make me cringe 10 years later. I credit that to friend and fellow writer, Gisele, who said before my first radio interview about my book,
just tell the truth and you won’t have to worry about remembering what you said…
It’s true, even if I say something stupid in an interview at least (provided I’m quoted accurately which hasn’t always been the case) I can own what I’ve said because I know I’m just being me. Pretending can get tiring so I’m just me, still.
There’s a picture of my first book signing, just outside of the Best of Books at its British American location. It was just a signing – no reading, my heart might have exploded…my launches have gotten better. A book store rep was quoted in the article as saying
“the word is out that the book is very good. People are enjoying it. It’s very insightful.”
Best of Books; can’t say enough about how supportive they’ve been of my writing career, 10 years and counting. 10 years…a lot of ups and downs in those years…it’s been bumpy like you wouldn’t believe (seriously) and I haven’t exactly hit literary superstardom (or stardom for that matter)…but you know what, 10 years later I’m still a working writer with a bibliography that also includes Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Oh Gad! and Fish Outta Water (and writing is all I’ve ever wanted to do..so on my worst days I’m still doing what I love) and I’ve had some memorable adventures along the way. No, I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now.
Happy 10th anniversary to The Boy from Willow Bend – a book it thrills me to know is still being read and discovered by young readers in the Caribbean (circling back to the inquiry from a student in Anguilla that prompted my walk down memory lane); and a book still being read by adults as well as this very recent facebook discussion reveals:
I just (finally) finished reading the Boy from Willow Bend and I feel curiously empty. Like I’m not sure if I feel happy, or sad, hopeful or resentful, so instead I feel empty. This is gonna be one of those books that I’m still wrapped up in days after I finished reading it.
This is the only book I’ve done that I started to write a sequel to. Still unfinished, long abandoned, maybe to return to again…I don’t know …but I just felt so driven at the time to find out how he turned out or maybe to make sure he was okay. So I’m finding your reaction interesting and wondering if it’s for similar reasons or other. Just curious.
I wanted to tag u but I’m on mobile. You hit the nail on the head exactly. I feel as if I am one of the spirits that Vere may or may not be able to see who was watching over him over the years and then suddenly he was gone. I feel somehow invested in the outcome of his life. The way the book ended left me with a sense of uncertainty, so unless you dig up the sequel and polish it off I suppose I’ll always wonder.
Certain elements of the book also make me feel as if however his story ends it’s positive. Particularly the moment where Dead End Alley was dubbed Willow Bend. It felt like a positive omen.
I appreciate those insights. It was intended as a positive omen…though tomorrow is never certain. I may yet dust it off and find out how things turned out.
Will I? Time will tell. But this walk down memory lane ends with this reminder from my younger self to my older self, or my older self to my younger self, or today’s me to tomorrow’s me…remember to soak up the moments. A scrap book is nice but nothing beats actually being there.