You've reached the Creative Space of Antiguan and Barbudan writer Joanne C. Hillhouse. Author of seven books of fiction; and numerous short fiction, poems, and articles. Welcome. For info on my writing, services, and more, scroll down. If you need to contact me directly, email firstname.lastname@example.org. I update this space regularly; book reviews to news of my own books, #theWritingLife, and my CREATIVE SPACE column. Sharing with links and credits is fine but unauthorized use and/or duplication of site content without permission and credit is strictly prohibited. For my other blog, go to wadadlipen.wordpress.com
A reading setback today. Despite reading both in print and by audio book, I had to re-start Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah when I realized I had lost track of the people; not the plot – that I think I have – but I didn’t know who was who. The perils of distracted reading. And I was up to chapter 8 too. The good news is that I remain interested in reading it.
Which is more than I can say for Death on the Danube by Jennifer S. Alderson, a travel mystery I really thought I’d be in to (and which I still think others will find entertaining) but which, in the whole scheme of everything else going on, I just don’t have the energy to commit more time to, half-hearted as I feel about doing so.
I made some reading progress on Marlon James’ Black Leopard, Red Wolf – another book I’ve restarted a couple of times and still feel kind of lost (now up to page 282), Maeve Binchy’s Chestnut Street (now up to page 279), Diana McCaulay’s Daylight Come -perhaps my favourite read of the moment – up to Chapter 9 on kindle (the other two are physical books).
I also got in a copy of Shakirah Bourne’s Josephine Against the Sea which I’m looking forward to reading.
I don’t yet know if this reading update diary is a series, not ready to commit, but for now it’s helping me keep track of my reading progress and making me feel less like I’m making no progress at all. So while it gives me that feeling, I guess I’ll continue. The writing diary (which I won’t be sharing here) is on track as well even if the writing isn’t where I want it to be.
If you’re here for the books, you might also find this post on favourite gothic reads interesting. And there’re my books of course, including Musical Youth which, if I’m reading this statement right, has had a wee bit of a sales bump after making Kirkus’ list of best indies at the end of the year (thanks for that and let’s keep it moving).
“CaribbeanReads hired Ms. Hillhouse to edit several stories for the USAID/OESC ELP Write-to-Read program in August 2020. As in the past, she asked great questions, her work was thorough, and her suggestions really helped to improve the books. We look forward to working with her again.”
I haven’t read a lot of gothic novels (I don’t think) and unfortunately my list will largely be limited to reads documented in Blogger on Books over the last several years – though I do have vague recollections of drafty halls, shadows, and spectres in books from my reading past. Time for a little literary play.
My list (such as it is) using the definition of gothic as stories in dark, picturesque settings with a general sense of dread, often involving a house:
Interview with the Vampire… hear me out…okay, so I read this all the way back in college (way-way-way pre-Blogger on Books) but…it made an impression… as with The Witching Hour, in which a modern woman has corporeal interactions with an incorporeal being in an old house in New Orleans’ garden district, also by Anne Rice, the moody tome spends a great deal of time in an old house in this atmospheric city with all of the attendant eeriness as a young vampire is born …and then in the dark corners of old Europe… it’s historical fantasy, yes, but there are gothic qualities in the settings and general strangeness in this opener to the Vampire chronicles.
I’m going to cheat a bit and pair Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte with the book it inspired Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys which tells the tale of the woman in the attic, pre-Jane Eyre. Both books bear the hallmarks of gothic horror, picturesque settings to atmosphere of dread to old houses that seem to have an energy of their own.
The definitive book by the definitive writer in the horror genre: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. From my review, speaking of the house: “In the end, there’s a sense that once it has ensnared your mind, you can’t really escape it – and for at least one of the characters, it ended quite tragically because of this.”
My most recent read in this genre is an author Foxes and Fairytales also mentions Daphne Du Maurier (Rebecca), in my case The Rendezvous and Other Stories, about which I said: “But just as it started strong with a compelling whyshedunit triggered by a suicide, the book rallied with the last couple of stories, especially the hauntingly sad, even creepy, final story of the woman who lost her way and, maybe, fell out of time.”
The White Witch of Rosehall by Herbert G. de Lisser is, like Wide Sargasso Sea, Caribbean-set, historical, and spooky. I said in my review: “One of the book’s strengths is its effective handling of the supernatural elements – there is a spook factor that both the characters and readers are aware of – though with reactions ranging from fear to doubt to something like, well maybe.” (sidebar this makes me think of Derry Sandy’s modern Caribbean supernatural horror-fantasy , Greyborn Rising, which does have a couple of houses where eerie things happen and a generally odd narrative but it’s more of an action-adventure then gothic horror…I think).
My bonus mention – bonus because it’s not a book – is ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by Charlotte Perkins Gillman in which you are trapped with a mentally declining character trapped in a room in a house. It is the story on this list that filled me with the most dread.
This Top 5 series is a weekly meme created by Amanda @ Devouring Books. Each week we’ll 5 book featuring the common theme provided. These can be books that we’ve read, or ones that are still on our TBRs. I’ll note beside each one if I’ve read the book yet or not, and provide a […]
Facebook is hoping to cut the spread of misinfromation on its platform by prompting users to read a news story before they share it on the massive social platform. Starting Monday, Facebook said, it is testing “a way to promote more informed sharing of news articles. If you go to share a news article link…
So far this year I’ve averaged 1.75 recreational books per month, three of which (Turtle Beach by Barbara A. Arrindell and Zavian Archibald, Finny the Fairy Fish by Diana McCaulay and Stacy Byer, and The Talking Mango Tree by A. H. Benjamin and Daniel J. O’Brien) are children’s picture books. This low count made lower still by the 3 books so far DNFd in 2021. Yet, I’ve been reading non-stop, or so the tiredness of my eyes and janky sleep ‘schedule’ suggests. Of course, part of the reason for this is that while reading is my happy place, it’s also my work (having books and other documents to read or edit is a good problem to have because it means that there is still some form of work to be had, but it takes its toll). Between my own writing and client work, and 72 Wadadli Pen entries, when it comes time to play, if such time can be found, my eyes want to tap out (which is why I’ve reluctantly been doing more audio books where doable). Two of my completed books (Rebecca and Other Stories by Daphne DuMaurier and In Time of Need by Shakirah Bourne) are audio books; and only two (Cold Case by Faye Kellerman and my favourite read so far this year The Festival by San Joaquin by Zee Edgell) were physical reads.
I am trying to consciously put reading time and writing time back in to my schedule (after focusing for a long time on what had to be done not what I want to do) – mixed results so far. Journaling helps. Since my last Reading update blog, I’ve dipped in to Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie up to chapter 3, I think, and The Art of White Roses by Viviana Prado-Núñez, up to chapter 13, (grouped together because by the time I dipped in to both, I’m pretty sure I mostly just re-read what I’ve read before, sigh), Fireburn by Apple Gidley, up to page 52, and, mostly on the go because it’s light, the Skin Deep journal, up to page 37 of the flipside, which has three of my poems and took a year and change to get here from the UK; and I’ve started My Stories have No Endings by Gayle Gonsalves, up to chapter 2, and the writing is already so delicious (food references) I can already tell I’m going to like it. And so this post isn’t just me griping about all the books I haven’t read, here’s an excerpt:
“In Antigua, we experience one season. The days are an unending cycle of sun dotted with the occasional burst of rain. This sun makes trees grow, flowers blossom and fruit ripen. It gives the island its unending lushness, so that it looks like a ripe fruit ready to burst. On this little island, we mark time by the temperature of the sea and the seasons of our fruits. In the humid months of June and July, when the sea is hot, mangoes are in full bloom, and at Christmas we don’t go to the beach—the water is too cold—but the land bears sugar apples. Tamarinds come into season around May, when the water begins to warm and we again enjoy the sea.” P 11
This is a screen capture from my YouTube live with Trinidad and Tobago poet and artist Danielle Boodoo Fortune, illustrator of my books Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure and The Jungle Outside (from which the above image is taken). You can watch the whole World Book and Copyright Day, April 23rd 2021, broadcast on my AntiguanWriter YouTube channel but I wanted to share part of our conversation, the parts that speak to our efforts to break with convention.
In terms of our own creativity
Me: “The beautiful thing about the creative arts, isn’t it, if you’re doing the thing you’ve always done, then you’re not really creating. For me, as challenging as these new endeavours are, because I always like to experiment, you’re always trying to discover the boundaries not only of your talent, of the ideas that are in your mind, of your potential, of your ability to imagine the world…. as a writer, you don’t get to see the side work as much, but I feel that we do that as well…it’s always about challenging yourself, push your boundaries technically but also express, …for me the things that I’m trying to understand, or the things that I’m trying to explore.”
Dani: “…I’ve actually been thinking this a lot lately that had it not been for specific illustration projects, I would be probably very happy to stay in one comfort zone all the time. …It takes effort of course but it’s good, it’s healthy, and it pushes me to grow and to try new things and to afterwards be like, wow, you know, it worked, and I learned something.”
And it would be remiss of me not to mention that Danielle’s latest project, announced after our Live, is this colouring book for adults, women especially, and especially mothers:
In terms of race, and diversity in publishing
Me: “I wanted her to be Blacker, I wanted her to be on the dark-skinned side of the spectrum, and I wanted her to have natural (hair)… part of it for me…is in the world of children’s picture books*, we don’t see enough people at the darker end of the spectrum, and especially as people, as characters that children can feel affection for and love and recognize themselves in; so that that becomes almost a mirror that beams it back into themselves, that they are beautiful that, they are loved…so I wanted a grandmother who they could see as their grandmother…obviously, I hope children of all colours read this book but look at me, I wanted the grandmother to be someone who could be my grandmother.”
Dani: “The notes were exciting…. It makes me think of what we automatically go to. …Tanti is so much more of a person and I had fun doing it. She was the character that I kind of got attached to…I was actually really grateful for your notes on Tanti because she’s a really memorable, gorgeous character.”
See also the cover of my other picture book (this one a Caribbean faerie tale illustrated by Barbadian artist Cherise Constant) With Grace:
In terms of Gender
And so we come to the image opening this post, Tanti up a tree.
Me: “One of the folk things that used to be said is, you know, girls shouldn’t climb trees because they might blight the tree. I don’t know if you have that in Trinidad…”
Dani: They will sour the fruits.
(for non-Caribbean readers, blight here suggests that the tree, so offended by being climbed by a girl, won’t bear and, as for the Trinidad variant of the sentiment, well, everyone knows sour guava will nedge your teeth)
Me: Yes, and all of that is a whole mess, it really is, it’s a whole mess. So there’s a part of me that’s bringing that sort of gendered reading in to the story. …it moved me to see that girl up a tree as the most natural thing in the world.
Dani: This might actually be maybe my favourite image in the whole book…to begin with it was interesting to envision Tanti as a girl, and I just kind of fell in love with the character of Tanti because I wish she was my grandmother… she is just so cool. That came to mind as well when I was doing it, that ridiculous saying that girls should not climb trees. I deliberately put a million mangos in the tree and she is so comfortable in that tree…I love this illustration. she is very much in her element and it gave me a fuller sense of Tanti as a character and her relationship with the garden and what she is passing on to Dante as well. I love this one very much.”
I do too. In fact, I dug up my response to Harper Collins’ publishers on first seeing it. I emailed in response:
“Love the image of Tanti up the tree – a Black girl climbing isn’t something you see often – there’s something so joyful about it – it’s Dante’s story but this is an important image – especially when you consider the things said to discourage girls from climbing trees – I might write about that at some point (maybe a tie-in promo essay). Maybe.”
And maybe has become reality.
Thanks for watching the video. Thanks for reading the books. Now go get the books. And if and when you do, post a review. Thanks in advance for that, as well.
Not much has changed since last week’s reading update but I’m updating to record books received and other writerly and readerly developments between now and then.
I’ve received a copy of My Stories have No Endings, by request, from the author Gayle Gonsalves, a Canada based Antiguan. I requested it not due to an abundance of reading time (still working my way through a couple of client edits, that screenplay I mentioned in the last post – requiring feedback from me, and the 72 entries to the Wadadli Pen prize of which I am a judge, among other things) but because I liked the cover and the sample. I look forward to reading and reviewing it, along with other books recently added to the TBR – including the 2020 edition of the Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books which has its own website now, actually an Antigua-Barbuda studies website with a downloadable version of the Review. I’m still reading 2019 by the way, so wish me plenty time and clear eyes.
My personal reading week has included:
Death on the Danube – I’m up to page 58 – it’s a cozy read I’d be enjoying more if I wasn’t reading it in drips and drabbles on the run – you might remember I’ve been reading this at least since my one and only reading marathon sometime in 2020
The 2019 Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books – I’m up to page 154 – through skipping a lot of things I might otherwise not skip and just reading the things of particular interest – it’s a scholarly journal, so I think that’s okay (lol)
Joan H. Underwood’s First Aid Kit: A Practical Guide to Remedy the Three Most Common Managerial Challenges – an author copy from my former coaching client – not my typical read and I’ve only just cracked it at page 2
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – I’ve actually lost track of the page count as I haven’t cracked my physical copy at all this week but I have continued ‘reading’ via the audio book
I’m not sure if I’m going to keep up with this reading journal but there it is for now.
I’ve also started a writing journal as a way of holding myself accountable and prioritizing my writing even in the midst of family disruptions and feeling overwhelmed personally and professionally. And I find that I’ve engaged with the page more than I recognized, reaching instinctively for the pen even while on the go. My email to my writing partner as a result should include first drafts of four poems and redrafts/edits of two stories from my short story collection in progress; I also did some work on the novel but not sure I’ll be sharing that as yet (lol).
Finally, here’s an out of left field ICYMI I was asked to participate in a radio discussion on George Orwell’s Animal Farm and its relevance to these times, and while I had to demur (due to severe time constraints), I was able to share with them this review of the self-same book from my Blogger on Books series.
Now you, how’s your reading life, writing life, or just life?
Final wrap up. Post awards. Winners’ edition only.
What have I seen. What do I plan to see. How do I feel about the outcome.
What have I seen
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Winner – costume design, make up and hairstyling – reportedly a first for Black women) – read my review
Two Distant Strangers (Winner – live action short) – a modern day horror; watch (on Netflix)
Promising Young Woman (Winner – original screenplay) – as I said in my last movie post I liked this, ending and all
Soul (Winner – original score, animated feature)
Judas and the Black Messiah (Winner – supporting actor, original song) – I would have liked to see Lakeith get the best actor spot held by Gary Oldman instead of a co-supporting actor nod and, though there was a sense of inevitability about it, for anyone who’s been following the awards season, big up Daniel Kaluuya on his win in the supporting actor category (and HER, sure, though I really don’t remember the song)
What do I plan to see
Sound of Metal (Winner – sound, film editing)
Tenet (Winner – visual effects)
Minari (Winner – supporting actress) – a part of me is just tickled that Steven Yeun from The Walking Dead is in an Oscar film and an Oscar nominee for best actor himself
How do I feel about the outcome
Production stumbles and fumbles (the re-ordering, the overlong speeches, the lack of clips, host please) aside, I mean kudos to the winners. I still think Chadwick Boseman should have won best actor, no shade to Anthony Hopkins. I don’t know if I’ll be able to watch The Father but the bits I’ve seen it’s obvious he did his usual good work. I do feel that can be said for all the nominees (possible exception Gary Oldman, as I couldn’t make it through 15 minutes of Mank). Chadwick was really good in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (and Da 5 Bloods for that matter) and he’ll never have another shot, and we know it’s not all about meritocracy with Hollywood and the Academy, otherwise Denzel (Malcolm X) would have won over a long overdue Pacino (Scent of a Woman) in 1993. That’s subjective, Joanne. Yeah, that’s the point.
Anyway, let’s talk about who the real winners were. Was it Colman Domingo in that pepto hot pink suit, Regina King with the silver-blue wingspan (even my mom was impressed with her confident strut to start the show), stunning lady in red Amanda Seyfried, Zendaya being a whole yellow vibe with hair blowing in the wind like she had her own personal Beyonce-fan, or Lakeith Stanfield making the fitted jump suit sexy again?