So there I was in my little boat of a novel in the middle of the sea, and no wind. Not even the tiniest breeze.
Every day, religiously, I sat down at my computer and tried to write. And nothing happened.
Words came, indeed, but they were stilted, tortured words, and few.
This was not how writing was supposed to be; not for me.
It’s supposed to be a joyous thing, the story pouring out of my fingertips and into the keyboard and onto the screen.
If I don’t feel the joy, however will a reader?
If the story has lost its breath, where can I find a second wind?
Where do stories come from, anyway?
I’ve always felt there’s something almost magical to the act of storytelling, a theory that my more prosaic writing colleagues will lambaste but which worked for me – till now.
How I wished, now, that I was simply a craftsman, and could just write! Who needed magic! I wanted a contract!
But the magic was gone, and I had no idea how to reconjure it, or how to write without it.
My story was dead. And I think I know why.
Dorothea Brande in her wonderful little book “Becoming a Writer” explains it in a way I can follow.
I don’t have the book with me here so I can’t quote directy, but she says that when we have a story living inside us we should keep it a secret. Never tell a soul, because a story can be told just once. If you let it out, talk about it, discuss it, the unconscious mind assumes it has already been told, and won’t tell it again. Talking about your book before you have written it, she says, is the surest way to kill it.
And that’s what I had done. Killed my story.
And I didn’t have another one to take its place.
And I didn’t have a contract.
I was really, truly, out on the open sea. I didn’t even have a boat, much less a wind.
But life goes on. The summer holidays were upon me, and I never write in the holidays anyway. Perhaps a new story would come in September. I could only hope.
In September, however, I was summoned to Guyana.
My mother told me that Mrs Janet Jagan had read my books, loved them, and wanted an official launch.
(Janet Jagan photo: Reuters News Service)
History lesson begins.
Janet Jagan is a living legend in my home country. American-born and passionately idealistic, she was the widow of Dr Cheddi Jagan, the country’s most prominent political leader. Jagan was the son of abjectly poor East Indian sugar estate labourers, but had grown up to study Dentistry at Howard University. Returning to the then British Guiana with his young bride Janet, he’d plunged into political activism, got himself elected as the country’s first Premier, was thrown from power with CIA help, railed on as Opposition Leader for several decades, and was finally elected Prime Minister. At her husband’s death, Janet became Prime Minister until retiring for health reasons.
Cheddi Jagan had been a thorn in the side of President Kennedy, who had feared a second Cuba in Guyana. He was a people’s hero, well liked and acknowledged as the country’s greatest leader, truly dedicated to justice and equality, but sometimes fatally stubborn. Though his politics were often one-sided, most people agreed that his heart was in the right place. After his 1992 election victory, in a fair election overseen by Jimmy Carter, Jagan had moderated his Marxist policies and introduced a free market in Guyana. After decades of economic slump under a corrupt USA puppet, the tired country was now slowly limping back to normality
History lesson over.
(And yes, it’s relevant)
My father had been Jagan’s Press Secretary for many years before his (Dad’s) death, and while growing up I had met both the Jagans several times at Dad’s office or occasionally at his home. Now, my mother said, Janet had nominated me for the Guyana Prize for Literature, and had been disappointed to find that I was not eligible, as I was no longer a Guyanese citizen. But she wanted me to come; Janet had herself written and published several children’s books, and was active in promoting all the arts.
It was one thing to look forward to.
Having nothing better to do, no books to write, I went.