Workshops: a Reflection

My workshops are pretty organic and interactive. That’s one reason I like to keep it small, so that we can keep it engaged and flexible; so that though it is carefully planned, it adapts.

It’s why my favourite moment in the most recent session in my creative writing workshop series – the last of the second series of four week sessions since the start of 2018 – was when, when I pointed out an edit in response to a writing exercise, a participant said, before I could even venture a detailed explanation, “Oh…Oh I see now.” As facilitator, you live for those moments when a participant has an “Oh…I see” moment. Because, presumably, that’s their brain threading together what you’ve tried to impart week to week – through your presentations and discussions, reading and analysis of the works of others, active writing and listening, reviewing and critiquing – and seeing how it applies to their writing. It’s nice to get a positive review on reflection, but that unfiltered, in the moment exclamation says it more powerfully.

At least for me.

I hope to have more of those moments as I press on with the Jhohadli Writing Project Creative Writing Workshop series. The purpose is to jump start writing, enhance understanding of craft, get projects started, move projects forward, expand awareness of creative writing, yours and others, and to just write. I’ve tried to keep the price reasonable with several payment options, focused themes so that it doesn’t feel rushed and scattered, and avenues to participation for people resident in Antigua and Barbuda and elsewhere.

I’m hoping to keep it going as long as there’s interest. So, if you’re interested, contact me and request your name be added to the mailing list for future announcements. New sessions to begin later this month.

April 2018

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Mentoring and Editing: a Reflection

Late last year, I signed on to mentor one of the finalists from the Africa leg of the CODE sponsored Burt Award. CODE is a non-profit based in Canada; the Burt Award is the programme it runs – in Canada, the Caribbean, and Africa. You can read about CODE and the Burt Award generally here and go to my other blog to read this post I did about the Caribbean leg of the Burt Award.

This post though is about my recent mentoring/editing role. It involved critiquing the manuscript and providing tips to the writer for improvement of said manuscript, guiding and nurturing the writer through the process within a specific window of time.

It was an interesting experience. Not my first time mentoring or editing or even working with someone in another country or from a different culture. But it was new in some ways and there was doubt (as good a sign as any that this is a growth opportunity and to be embraced).

In any new relationship, there’s a period of feeling each other out and establishing expectations. Then it was time to read the manuscript. I’m expected to be the script doctor – evaluating its health, and diagnosing and offering prescriptions for any issues (story issues, plot issues, structural issues, character issues, tonal issues etc.). Sometimes, heavy cutting is required; sometimes something less intrusive will do. It’s never easy but it’s necessary work. Also time consuming work – people don’t have a full appreciation of this when they balk at editor fees – and it will get tedious at some point (the degree depending on the manuscript), and your eyes will get tired.

The mentoring and coaching aspect, meanwhile, require an evaluation of the writer’s strengths and weaknesses, a sense how the writer works, and the ability to talk to the writer (or make notations on to the manuscript) clearly (but not without sensitivity). Thankfully, this writer was incredibly proactive, responsive, and motivated. Plus, they were very open to the process, which is a challenge for us sometimes as writers.

Given the target demographic, I also had to project myself in to the mindset of the teen reader and how they might respond to this work. When writing creatively in a particular genre and for a particular age group, a sense of audience will factor in at some stage of the revision and/or editing process (maybe even the writing process for some – though I favour keeping the audience out of the initial round/s of writing a creative piece and just letting characters and story breathe). My first beta reader on my own CODE/Burt book Musical Youth – which was 1st runner up for the Caribbean prize in 2014 – was an actual teen and getting her feedback was less about craft and other writerly things, and more about her response to the story and its authentic or false-feeling notes. I actually sought this feedback earlier than I normally would (i.e. after a single draft) because I was trying to hit the competition submission deadline and wanted to see how a teen would respond to what I’d written.

My assigned mentee was obviously much later in the process and there was considerable work to be done on the script itself, yes, but also on the script relative to its target readership. We discussed this and I got the sense that they understood what I was saying and actually learned something from the experience. I saw the evidence of this in the changes they made on the turnaround (which was surprisingly quick, and yet thorough and on point by the way). Which is what you want.

Here’s what the author said in his evaluation: “The feedback [Joanne C. Hillhouse gave me] was useful because it helped me to be aware of not being wordy but writing with a purpose leading to the climax. Moreover, it helped me to realize that I have to constantly think about the reader and ask myself if what I have written was clear enough to the targeted reader.”

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Talking Movies – Roxanne Roxanne and Annihilation

Okay, let’s try this…

I watched Roxanne Roxanne and Annihilation on Netflix in the same day, on opposite ends of the day, which is good as two more wildly opposite films you will not find – about the only thing they have in common are strongly complex female leads. More of that, please, Hollywood.


I’m trying to think how much hip hop, and especially early to mid-ish ‘80s hip hop history you have to know to appreciate Roxanne Roxanne. What I’ll say is the viewing is probably enhanced if you know the history. But you won’t be lost without it.  The film is indeed the story of a pint-sized battle rapper who took on the boys, and a pioneer who demonstrated that rap was also a girl’s game. But it’s really, as told, the story of a girl in the hood (Queensbridge, NY to be specific) with a talent for rapping that launched her from street battles for pay to radio popularity and club tours after a one-take response to a record aimed at a fictional Roxanne.  It’s about how that girl is taken advantage of and abused, but survives, though never really rising to the superstardom nor affluence her talent and breakout status merit. Her track was called Roxanne’s Revenge. Her name was Shanté Gooden, and that’s really who this story is about – the teen who acts as substitute mother to her little sisters; whose hustle, in addition to rap, included boosting (i.e. stealing clothes for herself and others, for pay); who pulls away from her mother – who is bitter for all the reasons women are bitter in such situations, summed up as heartbreak and hopelessness; and who is drawn in to the spell of a man too old for her and too shady for anyone – though she’s too young to see it and too willful to listen. Her mother is played by Nia Long and her man by Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali (who we need to see in more things, Hollywood); newcomer Chanté Adams plays Shanté. All are good in their role – Long, by turns defeated and ferocious; Ali, charming and dangerous; and Chanté hungry – for fame, love, success, healing.  I’m usually disappointed by hip hop biopics – cheapened by poor production values and/or sanitized re-tellings, good music though. But I thought Roxanne Roxanne was pretty well executed – touching, with strong performances from its leads, and some well-framed sequences and transitions. They obviously didn’t have a huge budget and they left out some gritty details of Roxanne’s early life and post-credits struggles; plus I could pick some nits here and there about pacing, production details, and some supporting performances. But, all things considered, the producers were wise to turn a very tight lens not on the legend of Roxanne Shante but on the girl and young woman behind the legend.

Annihilation, meanwhile, is a confounding sci-fi film starring Natalie Portman with Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson (last seen in Creed and Thor Ragnarok and that dope Janelle Monae video; so glad to see her star rising), Gina Rodriquez, and Tuta Novotny as a team of scientists entering a phenomenon called The Shimmer. The only person who has ever returned – after several military teams have been sent to investigate – is Oscar Isaac, who plays Portman’s husband. Except he is not the same and The Shimmer seems a threat to all humankind. The scientists quickly find themselves disoriented but are perhaps better equipped than the military men who went before them to figure out the rules of this other-place. They do, but not without loss and cost. It’s hard to know what to say without being more spoilery than I’ve already been and it really is the kind of movie you should go in to without too much information as it is by the second act as much mystery as drama and sci fi, and by the third act –for me at least – pure horror. But perhaps creepy stuff doesn’t creep you out as much. After watching it, I watched a couple of youtube videos purporting to explain what the hell happened in the end, and I’m still …okay, so what happened? So if you do watch it, come back and explain, because I won’t be watching it again. It might merit a first viewing though, but probably only if you like that sort of thing…or want to support more female-led action-dramas. I was a bit of both, and still came out confused. I’m not sure though that that’s due to the logic of the story – third act aside, the science is not too hard to grasp (grafted mangos, where one genus of the fruit is spliced in to another, are made of this kind of science; things mutate). Still, what the hell happened there at the end?

Incidentally, the director of Annihilation previously directed Isaac in Ex-Machina – and that you should definitely see – creep factor notwithstanding.

That’s it. I’m thinking I’m going to brand this series Le We Talk Movies (or something) – since I’ve talked movies quite a few times on this blog: example Room and Other Movies, Black Panther (though I was too hyped on it to properly review it), Suffragette, Queen of Katwe, Bazodee, Creed, Birdman and Foxcatcher, and Spotlight. Wha Yuh Say?

I’m making this my Sunday Post – which is a weekly meme by the Caffeinated Reviewer. It’s not book-themed… but it is Sunday. Also check out Love Movies.

Love Movies (Joanne’s Picks)

Hope you caught my Madonna picks…because they’re gone. FYI I highlighted mid-80s to mid-90s era Madonna because apparently that’s my favourite Madonna (Vogue, Live to Tell, Like a Prayer, Take a Bow, Crazy for You, Papa Don’t Preach, Express Yourself, Who’s That Girl, Open Your Heart, Cherish Madonna).

Yes, the ever changing Joanne’s picks pick page has been updated with … love movies. Because I love movies.8-before-sunset

Go here to see the picks. If you want to comment, comment here (because Joanne’s Picks page is here today, gone tomorrow).


TTT: Another Country

The Top Ten Tuesday ( for March 27th 2018 is ‘Books That Take Place In Another Country’. I’m not sure what they mean by ‘Another Country’, other than America probably; but I’m Caribbean-based so I’m going to go with ‘other than the Caribbean’ with an extra challenge ‘but written by a Caribbean author’. Yes, you read that right I’m pulling books I’ve read which are that rare unicorn of a book by an author born and/or raised in the Caribbean, but set largely in a Country other than the Caribbean (though the Caribbean is not a Country). Listed in top to bottom – faves to less fave – with Author’s Country referring to the country the author was born and grew up in (not always the same country), and the Story’s Country referring to the main setting.

Edwidge Dandicat’s The Farming of Bones – “It is 1937 and Amabelle Désir, a young Haitian woman living in the Dominican Republic, has built herself a life as the servant and companion of the wife of a wealthy colonel. She and Sebastien, a cane worker, are deeply in love and plan to marry. But Amabelle’s  world collapses when a wave of genocidal violence, driven by Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, leads to the slaughter of Haitian workers. Amabelle and Sebastien are separated, and she desperately flees the tide of violence for a Haiti she barely remembers.” (from Amazon) Author’s Country: Haiti & USA; the Story’s Country: Dominican Republic.

Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners – “a 1956 novel by Trinidadian author Samuel Selvon. Its publication marked the first literary work focusing on poor, working-class blacks following the enactment of the British Nationality Act 1948. The book details the life of West Indians in post-World War II London, covering a period of roughly three years.” (from Wikipedia) Author’s Country: Trinidad-Tobago; the Story’s Country: (London) Britain.

jamaicajoanne-2015-at-v-i-lit-fest<–me with Jamaica Kincaid, left; USVI Lit Fest 2015

Jamaica Kincaid’s Lucy – “From the beginning I was seduced by the literary style (the use of rhetoric, the imagery and poetic flow of the narrative) and affected by the tale of a young woman from the Caribbean breaking with her past (her homeland, her mother, her previous identity) and redefining herself in NY.” (excerpted from my review) Author’s Country: Antigua-Barbuda; the Story’s Country: (New York) USA. Full review at Blogger on Books.

Hillhouse Read's Kincaid's Lucy, (06.2012)<–This image of me reading Lucy was taken in NYC in 2012 by Mali A. Olatunji. It appears in his book (co-authored with Paget Henry) The Art of Mali Olatunji: Painterly Photography from Antigua and Barbuda.

Marie Elena John’s Unburnable – “Set in both contemporary Washington, D.C. and Dominica, and switching back and forth between contemporary and historical stories, Unburnable weaves together the Black experience with Caribbean culture and history. Among the themes in the novel are the Caribs (the Kalinago), the Maroons, the history of Carnival and masquerade, the practice of Obeah, the fusion of African religions and Catholicism, resistance to slavery, and post-colonial issues.” (from Wikipedia) Author’s Country: Antigua-Barbuda; the Story’s Country: Dominica.

Claude McKay’s Home to Harlem – “With sensual, often brutal accuracy, Claude McKay traces the parallel paths of two very different young men struggling to find their way through the suspicion and prejudice of American society. At the same time, this stark but moving story touches on the central themes of the Harlem Renaissance, including the urgent need for unity and identity among blacks.” (from Amazon) Author’s Country: Jamaica; the Story’s Country: (New York) USA

Jean Rhys’ After Leaving Mr McKenzie – “This is my third reading of a Jean Rhys book after Wide Sargasso Sea, the prequel to Jane Eyre, and one of her short story collections – and the first I’ve come across that doesn’t reference the Caribbean (Rhys is from Dominica) even in passing. What’s familiar is the sense of a daring writer well ahead of her time in her handling issues of gender (and in particular the interior life of complex women) and ‘madness’, and in a broader sense humanity (and too often, the lack of humanity underneath it all).” Author’s Country: Dominica; the Story’s Country: (Paris) France and (London) Britain. Full review at Blogger on Books.

Eugenia O’Neal’s Dido’s Prize – “You’ve never met a pirate quite like this plucky heroine who masques her true identity and holds her own as she deals with the uncomfortable realities of being a woman on a ship full of rowdy men. By turns spirited and fool hardy, Dido’s a pirate you root for – but still a pirate who tries to hang on to her principles even as she gets her hands bloody.  what Dido’s Prize does that most pop culture pirate tales don’t is meet the reality of the world – the reality of slavery (and misogyny) in their world – head on (well, not as head on as say Roots or 12 Years a Slave but it doesn’t ignore it as they do in the world of Captain Jack).” Author’s Country: British Virgin Islands; the Story’s Country: Jamaica. Full review at Blogger on Books ll.

Althea Romeo-Mark’s If Only the Dust Would Settle –Part poetry collection, part memoir, it’s thoroughly engaging capturing not only the character of the various places she’s inhabited in her journeying, but the ways they – Antigua, the USVI, the US, Liberia, England, and Switzerland – have inhabited her.” Author’s Country: Antigua & US Virgin Islands; the Story’s Country: USVI, the USA, Liberia, Britain, & Switzerland. Full review at Blogger on Books.

Caryl Phillips’ Dancing in the Dark – “(about) Bert Williams, real life star of the Vaudeville era and son of the Caribbean, but, perhaps even more so by his stage partner and friend George Walker, and saddened by the tough lot of the ladies Lottie and Ada. There’s a sense of loneliness and desperation about all of their lives, representative perhaps of any African American at the time trying to separate him/herself from the role society wants him/her to play.” Author’s Country: St. Kitts-Nevis & (Leeds) Britain; the Story’s Country: (New York) USA. Full review at Blogger on Books.

Joan Riley’s The Unbelonging – “And one of the things the writer handled deftly was the shifts between her physical world and the fantasy world that was her homeland Jamaica, another was the hostility of the environment, and yet another was how damaged this character was by her experiences.” Author’s Country: Jamaican; the Story’s Country: Britain. Full review at Blogger on Books.

And a few Bonus picks by non-Caribbean authors writing ‘Another (not necessarily Caribbean but other than their own) Country’ – in no particular order:

Alan Brown’s Audrey Hepburn’s Neck – I’ll admit I picked this one because of the Audrey Hepburn in the title but I liked it. “The American author Alan Brown crosses both racial and cultural lines to tell his story through the eyes of a young, handsome Japanese cartoonist, Toshiyuki (“Toshi”) Okamoto, who traces his strong attraction to Western women bock to his ninth birthday, when his mother took him to see Audrey Hepburn in the movie ‘Roman Holiday’.” (from Goodreads) Author’s Country: USA; the Story’s Country: Japan

James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room – I’ve been reading Baldwin since my university days and he is, in my head, just part of the American canon. So, I was surprised watching You Tube reviews after viewing the 2017 Academy Award nominated documentary ‘I am Not Your Negro’ based on his last uncompleted book about race in America that each of the five (all white, three American, all old enough to have been around awhile, all clearly interested in the arts) reviewers I saw had either never heard of him or heard very little. Considering his stature in the Black arts community, I was surprised. How is that possible? Takes me back to a point made in the documentary about blacks knowing more about the white experience than vice versa (because of cultural dominance, yes, but also because it was at one time a matter of survival). I thought Baldwin was one of those people who had ‘transcended race’ though. Guess I was wrong. Anyway, the book:  “In a 1950s Paris swarming with expatriates and characterized by dangerous liaisons and hidden violence, an American finds himself unable to repress his impulses, despite his determination to live the conventional life he envisions for himself. After meeting and proposing to a young woman, he falls into a lengthy affair with an Italian bartender and is confounded and tortured by his sexual identity as he oscillates between the two.” (from Goodreads) Author’s Country: USA; the Story’s Country: (Paris) France

Joanne Harris’ Chocolat – “In tiny Lansquenet, where nothing much has changed in a hundred years, beautiful newcomer Vianne Rocher and her exquisite chocolate shop arrive and instantly begin to play havoc with Lenten vows. Each box of luscious bonbons comes with a free gift: Vianne’s uncanny perception of its buyer’s private discontents and a clever, caring cure for them. Is she a witch? Soon the parish no longer cares, as it abandons itself to temptation, happiness, and a dramatic face-off between Easter solemnity and the pagan gaiety of a chocolate festival.” (from Amazon) Author’s Country: Britain; the Story’s Country: France

Tracey Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring – “Set in 17th century Delft, Holland, the novel was inspired by Delft school painter Johannes Vermeer’s painting Girl with a Pearl Earring. Chevalier presents a fictional account of Vermeer, the model, and the painting.” (from Amazon) Author’s Country: USA & Britain; the Story’s Country: Holland

Andrew O’Connor’s Tuvalu – “Tuvalu, is described in an exchange between Noah and Tilly as a physical place in the Pacific but also that mysterious place beyond the horizon that eggs us on…a dream. Its appeal lies more in the possibility than the reality of it. Tilly: ‘We all have to look forward to something don’t we?’ Of course, at the time that she said this she already knew her own fate which makes the whole exchange just kind of sad in retrospect.’ Author’s Country: Australia; the Story’s Country: Japan. Read the full review in Blogger on Books V.

Karen Connelly’s The Lizard Cage – “The bulk of the book is an unflinching look inside of a Burmese prison from the perspectives of a political prisoner, two of the guards (one kind, one sadistic), and an orphaned boy who has never known anything different and who though he has committed no crime is as trapped as the other prisoners.” Author’s Country: Canada; the Story’s Country: Burma/Myanmar. Read the full review in Blogger on Books lV.

Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey and Glamour in Glass – “Also interesting to me is the way the explanations of how glamour works are woven in to the plot and even used as a plot device in a major budding romance – it’s an interesting way of exploring where technique ends and instinct takes over in creating (and appreciating) living art.” (excerpted from my review) Author’s Country: USA; the Story’s Country: Britain (Shades of Milk and Honey) & France (Glamour in Glass). Read the full review of Shades of Milk and Honey and Glamour in Glass in Blogger on Books lV.




Big up to the Queens

(I’ll add pictures to this post when I get them but in the meantime) I wanted to share some moments from an event I was honored to be a part of yesterday (March 25th 2018), Queens’ Collaboration presentation of Empress Menen’s Dawtas of the Soil Appreci-Love Day, which was held at the Nyabinghi Theocracy Church […]

via Dawtas of the Soil — Wadadli Pen

The Sunday Post (March 25th 2018)

This is my Sunday Post, shout out to the Caffeinated Reviewer. The Sunday Post is weekly which provides the opportunity to recap and look ahead, re books, blogging, and life. ETA: Also making this my post for the meme It’s Monday, What are You Reading?

This Sunday I’ve mostly been reading through submissions to the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize’s annual writing challenge, which is part of its mandate to nurture and showcase the literary arts in Antigua and Barbuda. I’m not the main judge – she’s at work, but several members of the team, including me, spent some time over the past month or more benched by the flu and other illnesses – but I will be singling out some submissions for mention/encouragement, it being a winner-take-all year (normally, the prize breaks down in to categories along age lines and then a top three overall). We’re doing this in part because we just couldn’t cope with taking on the full scale challenge this year but didn’t want to shelve it and have it lose momentum. We’re behind our usual schedule but in addition to the late start re planning and illness, there’s work, life, and growing pains…there’s probably even some election hangover (it was election week in Antigua and Barbuda); but we’re working toward having the results out as soon as possible (Wadadli Pen not election, those results are already out). We’ve already started to receive follow-up queries.

As I write this, I’ve got to get ready to leave shortly for an event. More about that another time…maybe. ETA: Read about that event on my other blog.

And that’s my Sunday.

Last week on the blog

I did the 50 Questions you’ve never been asked Tag

The Boy from Willow Bend - COVER.p65

A Study Guide (Author Edition) for my book The Boy from Willow Bend (which is read by students in the Caribbean)

Speaking Intention (which I described in my reply to a comment as the scariest post I’ve done in my blogging life)

And though written a year ago, a poem that fits right with my mood, post-election, Antigua

I also added some throwback reviews from my My Space days (now back online) to my Blogger on Books series – most recently With Silent Tread by Frieda Cassin


Around the Blogosphere

The posts by other bloggers that caught my interest (well, there were a few but especially) were:

The Merchant of Venice as a Once Upon a Time Book set in Venice at Definitely Lorna

Zeezee with Books post on The Demon Lover by Juliet Dark

Art Exhibition: Jacqueline Bishop’s “By the Rivers of Babylon” at Repeating Islands

And *shameless plug* Protest magazine published my article Where’s Storm’s Movie?

Other stuff

Be sure to check out my services, my books, my media page, and other things.

I’m still reading all the books I’ve been reading, most actively this week A Brief History of Seven Killings, All the Joy You can Stand, Outliers, and Nobody owns the Rainbow. Fingers crossed I finish one soon.