Back in 2014 the first novel I’d ever written, Holding Paradise, was published.
At the time, it was the happiest moment of my writing life. Many more happy writing moments have happened since then but this year on Mother’s Day I thought about that first publication.
Authors are always asked what inspired the story behind their books and in posting this photograph of my mum on Instagram on Mother’s Day, I'm reminded why I wrote Holding Paradise in the first place.
When I was growing up my mum always told us stories. In fact she would come and stand in front of the television while we were watching and say, ‘Let me give you a story.’ Now these were not the usual stories that parents tell their children, not fairytales from books or make believe stories before bed. No, Mum told us real life stories of things she’d seen, experienced, heard about, as she was growing up herself.
With her stories, Mum created the world of her Caribbean island, the colours and textures, the atmospheres, the smells, the people, her school life, religion, society, everything.
The wonderful thing about Mum’s stories were that they lived in her mind like books on a shelf, ready to pull down and tell, over and over again.
Mum continued to talk about the things that shaped her life, including her time when she first arrived in England, voyaging all the way from the West Indies to the unknown. How brave were those times? How hopeful the West Indians that came hoping for a new and better life. The Motherland, UK press and media told them, needed them to help make Britain great again. And so they came. We all know the story of Empire Windrush. Well, Mum and Dad didn’t come on that famous day but they came, giving way to these amazing stories having a new home to reside in, a new land to grow from.
As I got older I started to reflect on Mum’s stories and began to see the people she talked about in my mind as living breathing characters. I began to read about the history of the Caribbean people coming to this country. Adventurers, explorers, I saw them as in my mind, though that wasn’t the way they were treated.
In later times, when the writing bug took hold of me, I began to conjure up this split narrative story of Josephine, a religious, hard-working mother of five children trying to make her way in a new country, dealing with the many challenges and a woman called Angelica, who like me, was the first in my family to be born in this new country.
I began to imagine the two worlds and somehow bringing them together. Holding Paradise took a very long time to write because of my struggle to disassociate the characters in the book from the people they were based on, i.e. me and Mum, to creating two entirely different people, fictional characters who had their own lives.
I’d like to talk about this more in a future post but I wanted to get back to what made me write this post in the first place. My mother. Mum suffered from dementia and by the time I was a published author, she never really understood what being published meant to me or was ever able to read the book. It makes me tearful when I think about that but I like to console myself with the fact that Mum would have been proud of me had she known what I’d accomplished. Being an author, a published one, no matter how well known you are, is a big deal and I feel so successful and grateful to have got this far.
In the first edition of Holding Paradise, I dedicated the book to my deceased father and brother, both taken too young.
As Mum is no longer with us, I will be dedicating the second edition to her when it publishes in January 2024 because without her, Holding Paradise would never have come to life and I would never have found the story teller in me.