I recently received an information request from a student at LaGuardia Community College in New York. I thought I’d share my responses because it’s not always possible to respond to individual requests and so I’ve gotten in to the habit of sharing what’s shareable on the slim chance that others have similar questions.
Original message (the relevant bits): I am a student at LaGuardia Community College and I am taking an English course in Caribbean Literature. I read one of your short stories, “Amelia at Devil’s Bridge” and I thought it was really moving. I just had a few questions if you don’t mind me asking you about the short story. Would you be willing to answer them?
1. What was your inspiration …?
2. What and where is Devil’s Bridge and Lover’s Beach? And Why was this the setting of the story?
3. Did your upbringing have any influence …?
My responses (for the most part):
It started with a girl. In particular, the actual case of a girl’s body washing up at Devil’s Bridge in Antigua and me being bothered about it, and me wondering what was this girl’s story. I still don’t know but the story of Amelia at Devil’s Bridge allowed me to imagine one possibility and give this girl a voice. Because part of what bothered me about that case was her voicelessness and how quickly, news cycles being what they are, we seemed to move on. Making her unseen and unheard – a ghost – seemed a good fit for the story. In writing it, I don’t doubt I was also subtly and indirectly influenced by the many stories I’d come across in work and life, as a journalist and as a person paying attention, crafting instinctively a commentary of modern society and its relationship to its most vulnerable. Devil’s Bridge, when I locate stories there tend to be on the darker side – I had a character commit suicide there in another story, for instance – because beautiful though it is, it is a place where in local lore, in some of the mythos (1) of that time, our ancestors plunged themselves to their death in their desperation to get back home to Africa. Fact or fiction, I suspect that plays on my mind. But it has also in addition to being a popular tourist attraction and a beautiful natural location, become over the last decade or so home to the annual kite festival, music, children, laughter, kites lighting up the sky, a place for play. I liked the mix of play – kite flying – and darkness – the death of this child, and sunrise – because I’ve actually driven to that spot in the blinding dark for a sunrise shoot. You draw on what you know and what you imagine.
(1) the mythos footnote is in order to point you to this short blog I did on the enduring appeal of unproven mythos in the imagination of a people – Devil’s Bridge is referenced.
Re location …
Devil’s Bridge is the jagged, water-bashed Eastern edge of Antigua; Lover’s Beach is a little inlet along that narrow bumpy off-road to Devil’s Bridge. Why? In addition to the catalyzing event, the actual girl that washed up at the Bridge, it’s one of the places that draw’s my imagination. Some more insight to the whys and wherefores of that may be found here.
Re upbringing as influence …
Not in a deliberate way but probably. Certainly my imagination, unless I deliberately steer it elsewhere, almost always returns to Ottos, Antigua – not just as a physical space but as a social, psychological, imaginative space – if I’m writing random village, Antigua. There is a contrast to the world I grew up in and the world that Amelia grew up in that’s implied; Amelia lives in a world where a girl can disappear and fade from her community’s memory; that wouldn’t have happened in the where and when that I grew up. Or maybe that’s my romanticizing of it, to some degree; because I have no doubt that there were abused and lost children during my coming of age but I think it’s fair to say that the community was a lot more watchful.
The End: Thank you so much for taking time to respond to my questions!
For those who don’t know, Amelia at Devil’s Bridge is a story of mine that was short listed for the Small Axe Fiction prize and published in a collection which hand-picked top finishers from the Commonwealth short story prize for a collection entitled Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean. I have been fortunate in that critics and readers have responded positively to the story (the entire collection!) and as this exchange suggests it’s had the effect of bringing my writing to new readers.