Musical Youth – An Extract

Caribbean Reads has posted an extract of my teen/young adult novel Musical Youth. So, if my First Page and the Reviews I’ve posted, nor the fact that it was first runner-up for the Burt Award (a prize offered for books and manuscripts focused on the Caribbean teen/YA market), a win that netted my then rough manuscript a publishing deal, haven’t been enough to prompt you to check it out, maybe this will do it. <—Click the Link

That’s it! Check the link, read the extract, hopefully be inspired to buy a copy for a teen in your life…and here are some pictures:

Musical Youth

Here I am reading from Musical Youth at an event in St. Croix during the Virgin Islands Lit Fest and Book Fair in 2015.


Reading from Musical Youth

Here I am reading from Musical Youth during a mini-schools tour I organized in Antigua in 2015. This is at Clare Hall Secondary.


Signing copies of Musical Youth

Here I am signing copies of Musical Youth at the launch in 2014.

Musical Youth

About the Book: Music, Discovery, Love. Can one summer make the difference of a lifetime? Zahara is a loner. She’s brilliant on the guitar but in everyday life she doesn’t really fit in. Then she meets Shaka, himself a musical genius and the first boy who really gets her. They discover that they share a special bond, their passion for music, and Zahara finds herself a part, not just of Shaka’s life, but also that of his boys, the Lion Crew. When they all get roles in a summer musical, Zahara, Shaka, and the rest of the Lion Crew use the opportunity to work on a secret project. But the Crew gets much more than they bargained for when they uncover a dark secret linking Shaka and Zahara’s families and they’re forced to confront some uncomfortable truths about class, colour, and relationships on the Caribbean island of Antigua. Musical Youth placed second in the 2014 Burt Award for Caribbean Literature.

A Teen’s Review: “I was very impressed with this book mostly because I am a teenager myself and I found it very relatable. Firstly, I will state that I was impressed with the evolution of the relationship from friends to lovers between Shaka and Zahara. I especially liked how it grew off of their deep passions for music. Also, I loved your usage of the ” Antiguan Dialect” in the novel and the use of modern technology. The usage of these two things allowed myself as a teenage to better relate to the book. Finally I would just like to say that this book kept me on my toes especially considering a finished it within a day!”

Carnival Hangover

Note, Trigger Warning, & Disclaimer: This is a re-post of a fictional piece that ran on a website called The Crier (under a different title) – the problem with online pubs is sometimes they up and disappear and so does that publication credit. This one I didn’t write for the credit (well, I don’t write anything for the credit) but because I wanted to speak to an issue that casts a shadow over one of my favourite events, Carnival –  that blurry line between over consumption and consent, rape and silencing, self-blaming and victim blaming (for the record, no amount of perceived “vulgarity or lewdness” is an invitation to rape). As with so much else, I’m writing to explore the things I’m trying to understand, and to talk back to our society. It is a work of fiction, but it does reflect a reality it would do us well to confront. Any resemblance to actual events, people, or locales is coincidental. 

Burgundy beads on Bourbon Street

When she wakes up, she is alone, on the back of a float, pieces of her costume missing and other pieces askew, and the mas yard is all but abandoned. She can hear voices but it’s dark and she can’t see anyone. It gives her a disconnected feeling, like she’s not quite in her body.

Last she remembers, she had a glass in her hand and music in her bones.

They were jigging up High street, wet and high, dancing the way toddlers do, no sense of their own body, just happy to be moving. And she remembers feeling in that moment like she could do this forever and be happy.

When a body eased up behind her, she leaned back in to it after a head tilt to see, as much as one could see in the waning light, if he was wearing the same mas colours as her – to make sure he wasn’t some random guy tiefing a wine.

It have people who, when they play mas does get tired, does need to pee, does complain they foot burning them. Not her. And though she was the kind of can’t mash ants girl who never let no man pass his place with her – the very cliché of a stoosh bank employee, Carnival was different. Is like Shorty sang back in her mammy time, the time of the leggo tourist, Lucinda, and all dem so, Carnival is fantasy.

A fantasy of body suits and shiny things, music and rum – the very act of Carnival itself a masque or an unmasking, she supposed, depending on how you chose to look at it.

Time jumped because next she know herself she was at the top of High street, sun had long set, and they were turning toward the mas camp. Still a good hour of jumping and wining to be had.

She looked around for her friends, impossible to find anybody in the dark. She felt for her cell, but what was the point in all this noise. She briefly considered sending a text but couldn’t hold on to the thought long enough to follow through. She went instead to the moving bar to top up her vodka and cranberry. Then she kept on dancing, like the thousands of bodies around her, going where the music and good feeling took her.

Last thing she remember was a hand snaking familiarly ‘round her waist.

She aches and not just in her legs and feet, in places not touched by the music.

She can’t find her phone and walks instead toward the voices.

“Girl, ah looking all over for you!” One of her friends recognizes her before her eyes adjust enough for her to make out any details in the dark. Her friend stops an inch shy of hugging her, studying her. “Mmmm like somebody get some!” She opens her mouth to ask who before she realizes she is somebody. And she wants to ask then what her friend sees when she looks at her. What’s so blatant to her even in the patchy half-lit mas camp. What does it mean that she can’t remember any of it?

She showers so long when she gets home her mother has to come and tell her to stop wasting the little Government water allowed them.

And when she lies down, she can’t sleep. Her skin feels like it is being zapped with electricity. She can’t remember a face. She can’t shake the feeling that she has been violated. She can’t put voice to what she is feeling.

A man on the radio calls them jezebels, these girls with everything hanging out at Carnival time, delilahs, luring men with flesh and the promise of flesh. She turns off the radio. It is the usual post Carnival nonsense, as if the society feels it has to do penance for blowing off some steam, even though life is a constant pressure cooker. She doesn’t usually have time for the hypocrisy of it, as if woman is sin-self, as if man don’t have no mind of his own, as if wining and jumping have to be about anything but you and the music, as if a woman, any woman who dare to have some fun, just asking for it.

Her body breaks out in goosebumps and the staticky feeling catches her again right there on the highway on the way to work and she has to pull off lest she ‘cause an accident because she feels in that moment like she is going to come apart.

She still hasn’t found her phone. Even so, the bank doesn’t take kindly to workers calling in sick the day after Carnival – two days holiday is plenty, the way they see it, never mind that revelers spend every waking moment of those two days on the road, taxing every inch of their bodies before returning to being bone-tired, hung over citizens.

“You okay, miss,” somebody pauses his car alongside hers to ask.

He waits through the inevitable eruption of horns behind him.

And she considers telling him, this stranger, the truth, that no she isn’t okay, that she thinks maybe she was raped, but – between flashes of unsympathetic police, accusatory headlines, online chatter, and streetside side eyes, and her own uncertainty about what was and was not – she just nods and he nods back and moves on.

-by Joanne C. Hillhouse. Neither image nor text is to be reposted or used in any way without permission. Feel free to share the link, of course.


My First First Lines Lime

ETA: I’m going to cheat and make this my Sunday Post as well, as there’ve been no new developments except *no spoilers here* the reading continues. I was so close to the end of In Time of Need, I thought I might finish it before Sunday but alas! In my defense, several of my client projects this past week have been (and are) editing related, so a lot of reading is being done; just not so much for leisure.

sunday post


New book alert!

No not one of mine, new book in the active reading pile. Yes, I know there are already six (6) books in that, let’s call it, arp, and many more unread books on my book shelf; so I really shouldn’t be adding. But it’s my treat to myself for hitting 10 books (don’t judge). But instead of purchasing, I hit up the library for the first time in forever. In Antigua and Barbuda, the whole library thing is a long story; like 1974 (the year the quake destroyed the original library building) to 2014 (the year the new library building slowly eased its doors open) long. The lending system is not yet digitized (sigh) but we can borrow books (by signing them out old school). The book I sought (one from my book wish list) was not where I initially was directed (fiction) and after the librarian in that section told me it must be out (no way to check for sure? I wondered), I almost left but then I remembered that the librarian in the reception area had told me to check the third floor if I didn’t find it on the second (I wasn’t going to but then I did). And the librarian on that floor was super helpful. She told me to check the West Indian section (and then she came and checked for me). And there it was. I have to admit I questioned her about this because, while I love that we have a section for Caribbean books, I hate when books are segregated in to a section where they might not be found by readers not drawn to that particular genre (say, people who associate Caribbean books with school and fiction with fun); but I suppose there has to be some kind of organizing system (if there are two copies of a book though, say, why not put one in the West Indies section and one in fiction or non-fiction or wherever else it fits, to increase its odds of being discovered?). Anyway, nitpick aside, that librarian was very helpful (and patient with my questions) and I left the library smiling and clutching a copy of the first book I had checked out in years upon years upon years…upon years. Pray I finish it before its due date.

What was it?

Well, here’s where First Lines Fridays comes in. first-lines-fridaysThis is a feature on Wandering Words, which speaks to the very issue of how people discover books by asking, what if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?  If you want to make your own post, feel free to use or edit the banner above, and follow the rules below:

•Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page

•Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first

•Finally… reveal the book!

Don’t mind if I do!

*reaches for first library check out in forever and ever* I promise this is just the first two sentences…

“See now then, the dear Mrs. Sweet who lived with her husband Mr. Sweet and their two children, the beautiful Persephone and the young Heracles in the Shirley Jackson house, which was in a small village in New England. The house, the Shirley Jackson house, sat on a knoll, and from a window Mrs. Sweet could look down on the roaring waters of the Paran River as it fell furiously and swiftly out of the lake, a man-made lake, also named Paran; and looking up, he could see surrounding her, the mountains named Bald and Hale and Anthony, all part of the Green Mountain Range; and she could see the firehouse where sometimes she could attend a civic gathering and hear her government representative say something that might seriously affect her and the well-being of her family or see the firemen take out the fire trucks and dismantle various parts of them and put the parts back together and then polish all the trucks and then drive them around the village with a lot of commotion before putting them away again in the firehouse and they reminded Mrs. Sweet of the young Heracles, for he often did such things with his toy fire trucks; but just now when Mrs. Sweet was looking out from a window in the Shirley Jackson house, her son no longer did that. ”

Okay, so the title of the book is in the very first line (literally the first three words) so it gives itself away.

See now then

So far I’m enjoying it. Not sure yet where the story’s going but the seductive storytelling style of See Now Then’s opening pages is what I’ve come to expect from Jamaica Kincaid, the first author I ever knew from Antigua (one of the reasons I came to believe it was possible to be a writer from Antigua). Yes, she is an inspiration and I’ve read most (though not all) her books; but I am a fan (never a stan). Looking forward to how this turns out and, like I said, pray I finish it before the due date.

How about you? Care to share the first line of a current read?

Harlem Renaissance Find

Did you know there was a woman writer during the Harlem Renaissance named Nora? Yup. One of the things I wanted to do with The Nora White Story project is to make everything make as much sense as possible. I know how important it is that everything fits the era to include names. Thus, I […]

via Black History Fun Fact Friday – Nora Holt — Pearls Before Swine

IC Excerpts

In December 2016, Interviewing the Caribbean, a Caribbean arts journal edited by Opal Palmer Adisa, ran two of my poems, a short story, and an interview. Half a year on from the publication of those pieces, I’ve decided to share the interview with you, though I invite you to check out the entire issue and all other issues of IC, after reading my review of  IC 2016 Part 1, of course.

IC: Both poems reference the violence of poverty, where hope collapses in lieu of things, basic needs. You are known primarily as a prose writer, where does poetry fit into your portfolio?

Interviewing the CaribbeanJoanne C. Hillhouse: I write probably just as much poetry as fiction, and have published some in journals, but fiction is my one true love and poetry …well, maybe it’s the fact that I’ve never studied poetry writing, not the way I’ve studied fiction, or maybe it’s the editor whose rejection included the shade that my poetry is not up to the standard of my fiction but, to my mind, my poetry hand is not as strong as my fiction hand. But I work at it, I keep coming back to it, I enjoy reading and writing it, and I don’t like to paint myself into corners when it comes to writing. I experiment across genres and sub-genres, so for me poetry is another area of expression and experimentation.

IC: Are there specific issues/subjects that demand poetry, while others demand prose?

Joanne C. Hillhouse: Good question. I’ve never really thought about that. I think my
poetry tends to deal with more personal themes but then my better poetry, like the ones you’ve chosen, are not really personal at all. So, I don’t know. I think fiction tends to come to me through characters and trying to map their journey, while my poetry tends to be more responsive to instinct and feeling. But I’ve dealt with the same themes in both, in some way.

IC: The man or persona in “The Bamboo Raft” seems like a good candidate for the “Election Season” politicians as his dire poverty is for sale, with just a little hope. Can you speak to the violence of poverty in the Caribbean and its impact on people’s lives.

Joanne C. Hillhouse: I don’t know if I can speak broadly to the violence of poverty. I
also don’t believe that poor people are more inclined toward violence, criminality, or corruption. What I will say is that, as evidenced by Election Season, I get frustrated that the people continue to be sold a six for a nine and continue to allow themselves to be sold a six for a nine, in this five year political carnival that leaves the most economically vulnerable just as vulnerable as they were. But when you’re trying to make life sometimes you don’t have the luxury of looking at the big picture, even though you’re the person who most needs to. I think the status quo works for who it works for, and it’s not the most economically deprived. It can be a self-defeating cycle. That said, I grew up in the working class community of Ottos, Antigua, and what we lacked was a “reality”—what I mean is the material things, and whatever status they conferred, we lacked, but the absence of those things didn’t define us, not in our own minds, and with our parents emphasizing education and hard work and resourcefulness, we knew it didn’t have to limit us. And I don’t think we were unusual in that.

IC: As a writer who loves and cares about her island, where do you see hope? Do you see an end to the senseless violence.

Joanne C. Hillhouse: I see hope in the children always. I am very engaged with my nieces and nephews. I volunteered with the Cushion Club reading club for kids over the years and have seen people come through that programme who had chips on their shoulder because of where they come from in society and how they might have been perceived because of it, come through and surprise themselves with how great and full of potential they are. I’ve done youth writing and youth media training workshops where you see the growth even over the course of a two week programme that you wish the funding was there to allow to continue year round—especially when they meet you in the street and ask, when we doing it again? And you can’t believe it’s the same person who didn’t seem to be that into it to begin with. I’ve seen some slip through the cracks as well, don’t get me wrong, and I know what it is to stand in front of a classroom and feel the undiluted impact of teen apathy and entitlement. But the ones that grow into themselves give me hope. And also, I run the Wadadli Pen youth writing programme; I’ve seen people write themselves free of their insecurities (as one testified years later in an open letter) through using their voice—which is why I’m a big proponent of the arts in the becoming of young people— and feel that we are not doing enough to create programmes and programme continuity when it comes to youth development. Not just the literary arts or just the arts. It can be sports, as in the case of one of my nieces, or whatever stimulates them, but something they can focus on that can be an outlet for their confusion and imagination, something that can begin to suggest to them their value, or can give them a space to work through their anger as they begin to come to terms with how unfair the world can be. Also, hopefully, they can see how beautiful it can be; because creativity is the very definition of beauty in the world. So, yeah, cliché as it is, the youth, that’s where hope lies. And it’s crazy disorienting (pleasantly so) to then have a conversation with them as a young adult after everything—you just want to squeeze their cheeks and squee look at you all grown and bout your business…but you restrain yourself, of course.

IC: “Zombie Island,” despite its nihilistic title and the trajectory of the story that descends into total chaos, ends on a romantic and positive note—not everyone is jaded and even in the worst of situations, people can care for and protect one another. That’s a very hopeful and affirming ending. Do you believe that good overcomes evil?

Joanne C. Hillhouse: I’m not Pollyanna and I have my dark and despairing periods when it comes to all the evil and suffering and badmindedness in the world, but I suppose I do lean toward hope or some days, if I’m being real, the hope of hope…how else are you supposed to get out of bed in the morning?

IC: What would you say is the antidote for this violence in the Caribbean? It seems to me that some of us have always been able to keep the violence at bay, to continue to live in harmony, to reach deep down and come up with a smile as Sammy and the protagonist of the story manage. Do elaborate.

Joanne C. Hillhouse: I don’t know that there’s a single antidote. We have the pain of
our history, the baggage we still carry, poverty, violence, disconnection from ourselves. I suppose my actions speak to some of the things that can be done, what worked for me—giving our young people an opportunity to tap in to their creativity, a forum to express themselves, to connect with what they’re really feeling, and to know that that’s okay, to listen and to hear each other, all of that. I don’t have faith that the politicians will do it and so we do what we can in our homes and in our communities, however big or small or personal our community is. As for Sammy’s smile, never underestimate the power of laughter.

IC: I have heard it said that the violence in the Caribbean is a failure of independence, that the Caribbean was better under colonial rule. What are your thoughts on this perspective?

Joanne C. Hillhouse: I don’t believe being subject to the vision and will of another is
ever better; however, more…orderly…it might have been. The worst and most sustained violence we experienced as a people was under colonialism, pre and post emancipation, beginning with the violence of being torn from our homes. We’re still unhealed in a lot of ways. So, I am not a colonialist, nor am I pro-capitalists who act like colonialists, sometimes with our permission; I am pro-Independence all the way—political independence, economic independence, independence of the mind. But when the foolishness get me vex, the pettiness and the politricks, I sometimes have to remind myself that we are young in our Independence and are going to eff up, but sometimes I wish our learning curve could be sharper and that we could shake the tribalism of partisan politics which is stunting us. One of my favourite songs is King Obstinate’s Believe; we sing it and its vision of who and how we could be, if we harnessed our collective will to the purpose of nation building, but sometimes I don’t know if we hear it and its call to, “believe in yourself, most of all as one people.”

IC: As a Caribbean writer, what are your hopes for the Caribbean/for

Joanne C. Hillhouse: That’s a big question. I hope we get better, do better. And if I can hit an environmental note for a moment, I hope we realize how blessed we are to live in one of the most beautiful and biodiverse places in the world, respect the balance, and resist the impulse to destroy it in the name of the almighty dollar. I hope we truly start acting like we really believe our people and especially our youth are our most valuable resource by investing in programmes and the sustainability of programmes meant to nurture their potential—including creative/arts programmes. Beyond that I guess I hope we center ourselves in our own story.

IC: What keeps you writing and where do you envision your writing in the next five to ten years?

Joanne C. Hillhouse: Honestly, I wish I was doing more writing. My spirit is never so full, my mind never so focused as when I’m writing. My writing, I mean. Writing gives me life and there are times, I’m convinced,  that it saved my life. The pull of the characters, the many things I don’t know, the sunset I saw this evening …all these things keep me writing. And yet I have so many unfinished things. I make my living as a freelancer (writer, editor, writing coach, course/workshop facilitator, etc.), so the hustle is real, but I also feel blessed that I’m able to make my living doing what I love. I hope my writing hand will continue to grow stronger. I hope to still be a freelancer, emphasis on free, but I hope for a better balance of the writing I do and the writing I have to do…good health and more travels. So, if you know of any programmes looking to sponsor a writer…

IC: What is your writing process?

Joanne C. Hillhouse: I write. Wherever, whenever I can. I write.

IC: Your story, “Zombie Island,” seems to straddle genres, but more importantly tries to find a “logical” reason to explain the surge of violence in the Caribbean. Speak about the impetus for this story.

Joanne C. Hillhouse: I love zombie movies and TV shows. I wanted to write one. I like to try my hand at things I’ve never written before. That’s how I ended up trying my hand at noir, and the teen/young adult genre that resulted in my book, Musical Youth, a Burt Award finalist, or the fairy tale, With Grace, that’s shortly due out as a children’s picture book. So, it was that impulse to try something I hadn’t done, to experiment. It was also the reality of violence—everything that happened in that story including a raging man banging down my door happened in life, though none of it, as is always the case with fiction, happened as it happens in life. My irritation with the politics is there as well, so it must have been political season when I wrote it. But mostly it was me wanting to see if I could tell a zombie tale at all, and then more specifically a zombie tale in a Caribbean space, not the snarling horror of it, but the creeping awareness of it…and then, of course, the snarling horror of it.

Reviews – Musical Youth

Updated to add this new goodreads review: “This was a really sweet story about friendship, love, family values and music, and it really felt like travelling to this little Caribbean island. It also deals with colorism within the Black community, which is a topic I haven’t read much about in books so far. (Also) I’ve discovered cool music while reading this book.”

Oh, and it’s currently on sale.

Source: Reviews – Musical Youth