1. What was growing up in Guyana like ?
Like most Guyanese who grew up pre-independence, I can get very nostalgic and sentimental about my “small days”, as we call childhood in Guyana. I grew up in the capital, Georgetown, which was such a beautiful, mellow, friendly place. I grew up in a middle-class family so I am privileged: my memories are full of fruit trees, beautiful gardens, fun at school, friends, uncles and aunts, trips to the beach or to the creeks in the Interior. This was MY British Guiana, though; of course there was also suffering, particularly for families who worked as labourers on the sugar plantations. As a child one is oblivious to such problems; thankfully, our elders were aware and fought for a better world for the underprivileged. I’m proud to come from a politically active family: both my parents threw their lives into the struggle for fairer conditions.
2. What was your favourite book as a child?
I was a thoroughly addicted Enid Blyton fan. I can still recall the enchantment that would surround me when I read books like The Magic Faraway Tree, or the excitement as I read the adventure and mystery series! Her boarding-school books made me pester my mother to send me to England to boarding school! However, when I was ten I read My Friend Flicka by Mary O’Hara and that was the first book that reduced me to tears. I can still quote the line that made me burst the moment I read it: it went like this: “I wanted a little girl too.” And come to think of it, that very line may be the hidden motivation behind The Sugar Planter’s Daughter! For the first time I became aware of the emotional power a book can have over a reader. I read it many times since then.
3. What authors have influenced you.
As mentioned above, Mary O’Hara taught me of the power the written word can have over a reader’s emotions. Later on it was the great family sagas that made me want to emulate the authors: Colleen McCullough (The Thorn Birds) and Susan Howatch, as well as a Guyanese author, Edgar Mittelholzer. But there’s no denying the power the classics had on me: Charlotte Bronte and of course William Shakespeare. I can still quote passages from various Shakespeare plays – I had to learn them in school, and I think that by-heart learning of poetry and beautiful texts helped me to develop a sense for good language and rhythm.
4. What is the hardest part of writing a book ?
I write mostly historical fiction, and it’s often difficult getting hold of the facts. Not so much the great events of the time, which are well documented, but the small everyday details. How did people cook, clean, what would a woman wear in 1910 British Guiana, what expressions would they use, and so on.
Apart from that, I find the actual act of writing terribly frustrating! It takes so long to get a book down; I wish I could get the story into my computer without having to actually type it! Someone should invent a brain-to-screen device which would get ideas into visible words simply by thinking them!
5. What advice would you give to new authors?
I am an advocate of not following trends, of writing from the heart, writing that story that won’t let you go. I think those are the most viable stories in the long term, the most authentic. Trends come and go and you can never predict what’s the next big thing; by the time you’ve written the next “insert-bestselling-author-or-genre-of-the-day”, that train might well have passed. Trust the stories that rise from deep within, as those are the ones with the strongest legs. And good luck!