An Evening of Tea and Readings, May 25th

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Official event flyer, designed by Kevin Hackshaw.

Official event flyer, designed by Kevin Hackshaw.

Dear Friends of Paper Based,

As the shop’s proprietress, Joan Dayal, said in her opening remarks at our most recent Evening of Tea and Readings, we’ve so much to celebrate, in terms of Caribbean writers, books, and publishers. Ms. Dayal saluted the unflagging endeavours of NGC Bocas Lit Fest founder, Marina Salandy-Brown, who was front and centre in the capacity-filled foyer at the Normandie last Saturday. The Bocas Team, Dayal said, has worked tirelessly to promote books written and supported within the Caribbean and abroad.

Joan Dayal delivers opening remarks to the audience.

Joan Dayal delivers opening remarks to the audience.

It is precisely this spirit of bookish inclusiveness that Paper Based hopes to foster and encourage, with the Tea and Reading series. This third evening of readings for 2013 featured the works of five published writers: James Christopher Aboud; Beverley-Ann Scott; Barbara Jenkins; Raymond Ramcharitar and Hugh Blanc.

Aboud

The evening’s first reader was poet James Christopher Aboud, who shared selections from his second collection of poetry, Lagahoo Poems, first published in 2004 by Peepal Tree Press. The collection is defined, Aboud said in a preface to his readings, as a series of devotions on “shapeshiftedness”. In the folklore of Trinidad and Tobago, the lagahoo or li gahoo is a shapeshifter, a creature capable of morphing into multiple forms, including that of a headless man bearing a wooden coffin. “Wind, Water, Fire, Men,” the first piece read by Aboud, was a favourite of the late Trinidadian author and literary mentor, Wayne Brown. Aboud also shared selections from his work in progress.

Scott

Reading in second place, author and medical doctor Beverley-Ann Scott shared a series of passages from her second novel, Is America She Gone?, published in 2012 by AuthorHouse. The novel tells the story of Sandra, a struggling single mother who emigrates illegally to the United States, in hope of providing a better life for the children she leaves behind in Trinidad. Among the excerpts shared by Scott were comparisons between the polite chill of autumn rain in Brooklyn, versus the unbiddable rudeness of Trinidad’s showers. Scott’s first novel, The Stolen Cascadura, was the focus of NALIS’s 2012 One Book, One Community Project.

Jenkins

Reading the story “I Never Heard Pappy Play the Hawaiian Guitar” from her collection of short fiction, Sic Transit Wagon, Barbara Jenkins shared the evening’s second set of prose work. Jenkins was named the inaugural recipient of the Hollick Arvon Caribbean Writers’ Prize, at this year’s NGC Bocas Lit Fest. She also officially launched Sic Transit Wagon, a Peepal Tree Press title, on the final day of the Bocas’s programme of events. Jenkins introduced the story’s premise as “a girl child coming to request child support from her itinerant father, down at the docks.”

Raymond Ramcharitar, the second poet of the evening, read offerings from his 2013 Peepal Tree Press publication, Here, described as a “book-length autobiographical poem in five parts” in the official blurb. Of these five segments, Ramcharitar shared excerpts from each of these sections: “Here”; “Yearning for the City”, “Toronto”; “The Dream Diary”; “The Last Avatar” — the final segment a movement written in dedication to Lloyd Best. Ramcharitar’s previous published works with Peepal Tree Press are the poetry collection, American Fall, and the short fiction collection, The Island Quintet.

Blanc

The evening’s final reader, first-time author Hugh Blanc, read a passage from his novel, Between Bodies Lie, which tells the story of a disillusioned writer’s trip to a Caribbean island, and recounts the romantic misadventures he conducts while installed there. Blanc and Scott were both panelists on a Do-It-Yourself discussion at this year’s NGC Bocas Lit Fest, where they read from their work and spoke about the experience of self-publishing. Between Bodies Lie was featured on our blog as our inaugural Book Club pick.

The authors’ titles on display, flanking our event flyer.

We remain hugely grateful for the participation of writers and readers alike in these Tea and Readings events. Do stay tuned to our updates here, as well as on our Facebook and Twitter pages, as we look forward to hosting our next installment over the long vacation.

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Q & A with H. M. Blanc, author of Between Bodies Lie

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Reading and highlighting Hugh Blanc’s debut novel, Between Bodies Lie,  as our first official book club pick, was a no-brainer, frankly. It’s written with grace, astonishing sensitivity, and bears the feel of a classic story told by a promising young writer. Following up on the book’s feature, Hugh kindly agreed to visit us on the Paper Based blog to answer a few questions about his work and thoughts on the book, as well as looking forward to what the future holds.

Hugh, congratulations on your publication, and the success its garnered! Did you anticipate warm, mixed or unfavourable reactions to your novel while you were writing it?

Thank you. I have been pleasantly surprised by the overwhelmingly positive response. The anticipation through the writing process would change from day to day. I imagined everything from acclaim to ridicule depending on the given day. Once the book was finished, I expected a mixed response. However, the feedback so far has been positive across the board, and more than one person has told me that, although it is not the type of novel they would normally pick up, they were engrossed and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Many writers feel that they write for a specific audience, an ideal kind of reader — who is H.M. Blanc’s ideal reader? What are his/her traits, and other favourite authors, or great works of literature?

I cannot say that I have envisaged an “ideal reader,” but I suppose the audience for this novel would be, like myself, interested in examining human nature and also with a love for language. Based on that they may perhaps enjoy literature I enjoy: classic authors such as Vladimir Nabokov, F. Scott Fitzgerald, as well as contemporary authors like Michael Ondaatje, Jeanette Winterson, Steven Heighton and works like Ada or Ardor, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, maybe even The Subterraneans.

Have you always been compelled to write? Was there a galvanizing moment in your life when you knew with certainty that writing novels was what you were meant to do?

There wasn’t a singular moment, but when I was twelve my father brought home an IBM electric typewriter (yes, you read right!), and I began typing out short stories on it. I was always interested in storytelling, but writing for the first few years was an avenue towards film. It was probably when I started reading Nabokov that I began to appreciate what could really be done with literature. By the time I finished my first year of university I knew that it was something I had to do, regardless of whether the work was ever seen.

Tell us a little more about the process behind writing Between Bodies Lie. Did you have to do much research, and did you encounter any unforeseen difficulties along the way?

One of Henry Miller’s rules was “When you can’t create you can still work.” I found this to be true. It was important to establish a routine to write regularly. Luckily I had the support of two roommates at the time, who are also writers; Neala Bhagwansingh (whose sister Marsha provided the cover artwork) was a constant sounding board and fantastic editor-of-ideas, and Norris Blanc, both provided regular discussions to fuel the literary fire. Since the novel is set on a fictitious island, based on a place where I have grown up and lived, there was not much in the way of research required. The trial came more from digging down to lay things out honestly. Because the novel is an exploration of intimacy it was necessary to lay a lot bare and I found myself having to rail against the natural instinct to hold back for fear of revealing truths which might be embarrassing. In the end the story demanded exactly that though, that vulnerability.

Any big writing plans in motion for another book? What does 2013 look like in terms of your writing projects, goals and intentions?

I haven’t settled yet on what novel I will pursue next, though I have a few ideas and a couple already started, and I intend to make a commitment to one before the end of February. I am currently working on a screenplay short, as well as considering pursuing a couple of other projects; including a feature-length screenplay and possibly even a graphic novel. And then, of course, there is Between Bodies Lie which I will be working on getting more exposure for, so hopefully you will be hearing even more about it in 2013.

Thank you again, Hugh, for taking the time to share your musings and insights with us! We certainly look forward to your upcoming creative projects, and of course to hearing more about your plans for Between Bodies Lie. 

H. M. (Hugh Michael) Blanc was born in Burlington, Ontario, to Trinidadian parents. The family returned to Trinidad when Hugh was 3. There Hugh attended St. Monica’s Preparatory School and then St. Mary’s College. He went on to study Film and Creative Writing at York University in Canada. He currently lives in Trinidad.

Our Book Club Pick: Between Bodies Lie by H. M. Blanc

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Welcome to the beginning of a brand new feature here at Paper Based: our very own online book club! Few activities can encourage a warm sense of readerly community like an intimate gathering of friends, discussing the novels that have moved and inspired, confounded and shocked them, over glasses of wine and potluck dinners. A book club is that reassuring reminder, bolstered by the voices of its members, saying, “The way you feel about books matters; you needn’t be a critic or fancy reviewer for your opinions on good (or lousy) literature to count!”

With that sentiment firmly in mind, we’re especially pleased that our first book club pick is also a first novel, one by a promising young talent in Trinidadian fiction. Between Bodies Lie tells an age-old story in a specifically Caribbean setting: that of two life-weary, intelligent souls finding and clinging to each other amidst chaos and declining personal fortunes. Down on his luck as a novelist, Cristobal Porter flees to an unnamed Caribbean island (ostensibly Trinidad, or modelled after it) in search of inspiration and information for a new book. His disenchanted, dominant mistress Nadia follows in his wake, but her waning charms are a paltry match for the mystery and sad beauty of Ana Kaplan, wife of an overbearing American consul. As Ana’s husband and Nadia find their way into each other’s arms, Cristobal and Ana embark on an intense, complex relationship, one whose borders are hard to define, and whose results will be impossible to predict.

Lavishly imagined, composed with a fine ear for the rhythms of language, Between Bodies Lie makes for gritty, satisfying reading. Summed up in a starred Kirkus review as “a masterfully written exploration of the beauty and cruelty of love, as sharp as it is sensual,” the novel’s chief strength lies in its unflinchingness. Blanc really pares down to the marrow of his subject matter, giving the reader frank assessments of human sexuality, island politics and personal frustrations, while imbuing his prose with an almost feral beauty. The novel may not comfort she who reads it cover to cover in one unputdownable sitting, but it seems impossible to walk away from it unmoved, or without several burning questions that crave discussion.

On that note, here are some reading circle questions to get you started! If you’ve got any additional ones to contribute, feel free to leave them in the comments section.

Discussion Questions for Between Bodies Lie:

  • Cristobal insists on calling Ana by her full first name, when he learns what it is. Is Ana made up of two distinct selves, a personal and a private one?
  • To what extent are all the characters in the novel intensely personal about the secrets in their lives?
  • Real love or sun-soaked tropical infatuation: how would you describe Cristobal’s feelings for Ana, and how do you think they’re altered by the final scenes of the novel?
  • Cristobal’s  research for his novel focuses on the island coup — how wise do you think he is, to delve so deep into tropical politics?
  • Do you get a strong sense of Trinidadian society in the author’s portrayal of this unnamed Caribbean destination?
  • What do you think of the roles of the less focal characters in the novel, particularly the islanders?
  • Focus on Cristobal’s relationship with Coraline — does it strike you as odd, or do you feel a “rightness” to it?
  • Say you were Cristobal: would you favour the sad, contemplative mystery of Ana, or the wild, ambitious devastation offered by Nadia?
  • Is it possible to say that Cristobal has one ideal type of woman, or does he seek out attractive traits in every woman he sees?