Diana McCaulay is a Jamaican writer and environmental activist. Her short fiction has been published by The Caribbean Writer and in 2008, her story, ‘The Blue Tarpaulin’, won The David Hough Literary Prize. Her first novel, Dog-Heart, won a Gold Medal in the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission’s National Creative Writing Competition in 2008. We spoke with her about her writing and the connections to Britain and the Commonwealth in her stories.
How much do you feel a connection in your stories to Britain and its Commonwealth ties?
Contemporary Jamaica is directly a product of its history, and our relationship with Britain necessarily looms large. Though the entangled relationship between history and the current moment is central to my writing, the particularities of Jamaica’s connection to Britain and the Commonwealth is usually not a focus. My forthcoming novel, Huracan, however, begins in 1986 in post-colonial Jamaica, and journeys back and forth in time through the 1780s, 1880s to the 1980s. Britain is present through two Scottish characters, a missionary and an abolitionist, and in the themes of the novel which grapple with the effects of history on the present. August 6th 2012 will mark the 50th year of Jamaica’s independence. Huracan is very much a novel about the making of post-colonial Jamaica, and given our common experiences, is a novel from the Commonwealth.
Does having a global readership alter the way you approach writing stories?
No. Though I hope for a global readership, I don’t attempt to craft my stories to anticipate or suit that readership. For example, I have written in a version of the Jamaican language which conventional wisdom would say limits appeal. But since I write about universal themes in my stories and novels, and my approach is focused on the story telling, a global readership should be able to access and engage easily with my writing.
Is place, the landscape and language of where you’re from, something that has a bearing on your writing voice?
Very much so. Particularly place. The world has come to know Jamaica and Jamaicans as fantasies – a tourist paradise, rebel musicians, elite athletes. And of course we sometimes make headlines as a violent people. I want my writing to be grounded in the real and complex place, without nostalgia or idealization, but giving readers a chance to see a gorgeous island and come to know an irrepressible people.
Photograph © Brooklyn Book Festival