Something happened at my book launch, something big.
The room was packed, with most of Guyana’s cultural leaders present. A few women who had known me as a child spoke; Janet Jagan, and – horror of horrors – Mrs Jarvis, my old English teacher and one-time headmistress of my High School.
Mrs Jarvis said she had known me as a lazy and rebellious student, but very talented in English.
“We are so proud of you!” she said, and tears pricked my eyes. That old dragon Mrs Jarvis saying such nice things! She was human after all!
Later, I gave my own talk. I told them a little about my books, about growing up in Guyana and my first writing attempts; my first job at a local newspaper. I told them a little about my adventures in publishing.
I told them that my editor had rejected a novel set in Guyana as “unmarketable”.
Guyana was too small, too insignificant, too untrendy for Western readers.
I could almost hear the mental booing.
I told them about the problems I’d had getting a new contract.
And then, without thinking, I blurted::
“I’m going to write a new book, and it’s going to be set in Guyana.”
As one person the audience applauded, loud and long, sealing my fate.
After the talk I signed books for several people. Here’s me signing for Mrs Jarvis:
When I went home to England it was with new purpose and new strength.
I had fallen in love with my home country, the people, the history, with the very idea of Guyana, and something big was moving inside me, and I knew it was a book.
It was the Big Book my editor had asked for; only thing, it was not going to be set in India, but in Guyana.
Even though she had forbidden me to write about Guyana.
Even though I did not have a contract, and even though I was facing the Deep Dark Option-Book Pit.
Something was stirring inside me, and I knew it was the magic. It was back, and it would not take no for an answer.
This time, I would not talk about my story. It would be my secret. I would preserve the magic, protect it from prying eyes.
I would not tell anyone what I was writing.
I would not even tell anyone that I was writing.
Let them think I had given up.
I would simply write it, and then present it as a fait accompli, Guyana and all.
If it was a good book – and I knew it would be – surely they couldn’t reject it?
I had to take a chance. I really didnl’t have a choice – I could feel this new story moving inside me, eager to come out. It was a tiny seedling benetah the earth, nudging at the surface of my consciousness, aching to see the light. I had no idea what plant would come forth. A flowering shrub? A tree? No inkling. I just knew I wanted it to grow.
But there was a problem.
Because of my financial straits, I had started a small business with my son, a business that just kept us above water, and took most of my time.
Where would I find the hours needed to write my new Guyana novel?
I decided on the morning, before I started the day.
I set a date and a time:
On October 1st 2004, 4 am, I would start writing, write every day until 7am, and not stop until the book was finished, my big Guyana book.
They say that all writers are a little bit crazy.
I certainly was.
Don’t you agree?