Michael and Helen asked me to send some words for their first launch event in Jamaica for their Island Fiction titles: Night of the Indigo and Delroy and the Marog Kingdom ( respectively). Here is the speech I sent which was read by proxy:
(With Trek-like reverence), Greetings from Trinidad, fellow fiction lovers.
I hope you do not feel short changed on hearing the suggestion, but one could reasonably have expected a series editor of speculative fiction in 2009 to at least beam herself over via SKYPE video conferencing!
Truly, what IF I could project a hologram from my living room just after I've left the callaloo soup dinner to simmer?
What IF I could be there with you all having hit the road over the past few days across bridges and chunnels, leisurely island hoppng my way from Trinidad to Jamaica in my solar powered amphibious vehicle?
What IF instead, I am now using astral projection and my gorgeous, intelligent forty-something Trini-mix of a woman self inhabits this: (person reading describes him/ her self).....hmm!
So, WHAT IF! indeed.
That "I" - "F" capital IF is the impetus for Macmillan Caribbean's new "tween" novella series and its name Island Fiction.
Our first season is unprecedented not only because it is a "first-of-its-kind" series for our region, but also because it is rarely that so many previously unpublished authors make it into print in the same series at the same time - Five of the six first titles were crafted by first time authors, including Michael and Helen whom we celebrate tonight/ today.
In the works since 2006, Island Fiction is for me as much a privilege as a responsibility. Beyond the folk tales, popular music styles and shared carnival and culinary cultures there is something less transient that unites us. BUT it is my sincere belief that we must unravel, not discard these navel strings and use them as artistic lifelines which enable, not limit our creative freedom. The more West Indian-specific and intimate our storytelling, the more universally appealing and infinite our bounty.
Our Island Fictions are First World fare, and now our authors are free to spin yarns of WHAT IF firsts. And so the tables for once have been turned - non West Indian authors who dare to submit manuscripts for Island Fiction, ( and there have been many), are held to the highest "Come good!" standards - because our Island Fiction Caribbean is not merely a back yard play ground for other peoples - unless of course we choose to share our sand box beaches and turquoise pools with rum loving, invading aliens.
Two Jamaican authors made the cut from our first season call for submissions - Michael Holgate, Jamaican by birth, and Helen Williams, aka Billy Elm - Jamaican by choice. They now share the world stage with a rare and privileged breed of humans - published (NOT self published) authors. Their books enjoy the opportunity of competing for sales and attention from reviewers alongside their counterparts in the most viable and vibrant book markets.
I must say I am delighted to be included in any shape, way or form during this auspicious celebration of two Jamaican heroes - Marassa from the Night of the Indigo and Delroy from Delroy and the Marog Kingdom. Their author-gods fashioned these boys-turning-men to move freely in and out of worlds old and new. They share the universal quest for self knowledge but traverse unique territories, always reflecting the bold, imaginative thought moves of their makers.
In Night of the Indigo, we are as taken with Kundo, the dreadlocked warrior who mentors Marassa the Marshall himself. And Lobo the androgynous blue being remains with us long after the book itself. While we spin in and out of bizarre blue worlds and eerie smell-o-visions the WHAT IF of it all takes root in our human experiences - loss, power, fear, conflict. Like all good epic quests it is characters who people our mind scapes that determine the satisfaction. Only a Jamaican could have crafted this book, in this way and it is my sincere hope that it will be richly embraced at home.
There is nothing about Delroy that tries too hard to be West Indian - the plight and pitfall of many wanna be IF authors. I love the big picture pay back of this WHAT IF tale - What if a boy bent on boiling frogs for laughs actually found that he had turned into some kind of freaky frog-like amphibian? And What if we cared about that frog bully because we could feel that he felt not good enough? And What IF through the twists and turns of under ground worlds, zeta stones, and Bob Marley choruses we cheer for Delroy, to.... simply return to being just himself, flaws and all?
What I admire most about both authors and their books however is their growing maturity in the process of "invisibility" - As much as craft and style, voice and resonance may be heralded or critiqued, a good read really determines to keep our reading minds on the story and off its author and the behind the scenes effort of his or her work.
Although I have never met either author in person, the process of revising endless drafts to mutual satisfaction is as intimate and self revealing as any other human intimacy.
And while something as mundane as air travel remains economically challenging if not altogether inaccessible, the power of fancy flight never gets old or out of reach. So I ask that we allow fiction, and specifically Island Fiction on this occasion, to remind us that we are never more connected than when we inhabit the universal geography of Imagine Nation.