I kept my appointment with myself.
On October 1st 2004, 4 am, I sat down to start my big Next Novel.
I’d discarded Novel E, so this was Novel F.
I could only hope that F, in this case, did not stand for Fail.
But no, how could it?
From the very first day the story danced. I loved it. It was the story of a foundling, a baby left on the banks of a Georgetown canal; the wonderful family that found and raised her, and her hero, the boy who loved the wilds, who knew the Rainforest like the back of his hand and went on to love and protect jaguars; her mother, and her own story of forbidden love.
And all interwoven with Guyana’s extraordinary history.
The more I researched that history the more excited I grew. For the first time ever, I discovered Jock Campbell, the Scottish reformer. Jock had been Chairman of Booker Brothers, the legendary company that owned most of my country in pre-independance days. Coincidentally, that very month a new biography, Sweetening Bitter Sugar, on Jock Campbell was published. As far as my novel was concerned, that book was buried treasure.
Here’s the cover; that’s Jock, in a field of sugar cane .
Now, remember Cheddi Jagan, from my last post?
Cheddi had grown up on one of the very sugar estates owned by Booker Brothers, under appalling circumstances. He knew the desperate situation of the sugar workers from first hand. He grew up with one overriding passion: to free them from their yoke. And one goal: to kick Booker Brothers out of the country. He vowed to bring the British Empire to its knees, and with it President John F. Kennedy. He was our local Gandhi, but an angry, wilfull, stubborn version.
Cheddi walked right into my novel. So did Jock Campbell. Jock represented the almighty Sugar Gods; Cheddi stood up for the Small Man, the downtrodden kuli. The son of a sugar labourer and the son of a British aristocrat., a communist and a capitalist, natural enemies, and yet – a white hand stretched out..
Could a Sugar God be – on the side of the Small Man?
Cheddi didn’t believe it. He was wrong. And he paid the price.
What a story!
Cheddi, Jock and my cast of fictional characters told the story of Guyana’s struggle for independence, the racial violence of the early 60’s, the challenge my people faced as our country faltered and fell and tried to find its feet.
It’s the story of a small country with a great heart. I loved it. It was my big book; through it I celebrated life and declared my regained pride in my homeland and showed it to the world. Guyana had made me who I was, and this book was my thanks.
I wrote between 2000 and 3000 words a day, and in two months I had finished the first draft.
I spent all of December revising it.
In January I sent it to my agent. Its title was The Last of the Sugar Gods.
Yes, it was an early draft and it needed work, but I had always delivered early drafts. That’s so that if my editor had suggestions, I could incorporate those before revising further. They – my agent and my editor – would see through the unpolished surface to the jewel that would one day shine.
Yes, they were expecting a big Indian novel; I was sending them a big Guyanese novel. So what? It was a novel from my heart, my best one yet. I believed in it 100%.
They were going to love this.