I’ve never met Gayle Gonsalves but I’ve enjoyed her writing on the pages of In the Black: New African Canadian Literature and So the Nailhead Bend, So the Story End – the anthology of new Antiguan and Barbudan writing. When Best of Books manager Barbara Arrindell contacted me to let me know that Gayle had a book out, Painting Pictures, and an Antigua launch planned for
late June (actually July 5th, 6:30 p.m. at the Best of Books), I promptly offered to add the information to the Wadadli Pen blog and to feature a guest blog with her here on my personal writing site. Gayle blogs about the assumptions people make about her writing and how far off the mark they are in this post on character and the imagination.
by Gayle Gonsalves
After Painting Pictures and Other Stories was published, I was surprised by the number of people who wondered if the book was autobiographical. While having dinner with one person, her voice rose in excitement as she exclaimed, “I didn’t know that you had an aunt who paints!”
“I don’t,” was my shocked reply.
She picks up the book and looks at me very seriously, “Do you mean you made all of this up?”
This wasn’t the first time someone asked me this question. Many of my close friends were looking for incidents and people from my past and present – trying to place them within the context of a story.
“Are you sure that it wasn’t …”
“I swore that you were talking about…”
And I’d always shake my head.
If I had lived my life like all the eight stories in the anthology, I’d be a person with a very varied past.
I’ve never created any story from an incident in my life; all my stories come from my imagination. Each story and character is fictional. Early in my writing career, I got stuck on a story because I was creating a character from someone I knew who had very unique traits that I thought would work well in a story. This was one writing lesson that no class could teach me because I discovered that paper and life are two different mediums. What works well in a social setting, doesn’t necessarily translate into a good story. I remember being stuck and getting further stuck because I was trying to be true to someone’s flesh and blood. My character didn’t evolve, the story stagnated and I just stared at the words because it was as if this story had lost its way. I was desperately trying to carve the story to fit someone and it wasn’t working. I laboured at my desk for hours, writing and rewriting that story, hoping that the plot would come together, but it didn’t. Eventually, I recognized the problem was with the character, I was trying to make that character reflect a real life person.
Finally, in a fit of despair, I changed the name and everything about the character, and created something from my imagination; the words and plot came together. This lesson stayed with me and I never again associated a character with someone – I learnt that I needed a fictional character whose nuances and language could breathe life into my story.
After that, I created characters who were appropriate for the story, who could push the plot forth. Even the few times when I write poetry, I find myself vying away from the experience I want to put on paper, and creating drama that’s far from the initial emotional turmoil.
In the writing workshops that I’ve attended, the writers and I agonized over characters, writer’s blocks and trying to make a story readable. But everyone came with fresh ideas and the determination to create something new. To be honest, it’s was amazing how many creative stories were out there waiting to be told. No one was writing anything autobiographical – we were always using our imagination and words to write stories.
As I look at my first book, it does reveal that I’ve lived in two countries, but other than that, it’s all fiction. I’ve come to accept that there will always be someone wondering if I based these stories on incidents from my life. But, more than anything else, these words are evidence that I nurtured my imagination through hours of dedication to this art form. Even I’m awed by the power of the imagination and its ability to create something from nothing. And this reminds me that the world becomes a better place because of our imagination.