Lawrence Scott is a prize-winning Caribbean novelist and short-story writer from Trinidad & Tobago.
Where were you born, and where did you grow up? I was born on Petit Morne Estate, a sugarcane estate in southern Trinidad which my father managed for the Usine Sainte Madeleine Sugar Company owned at one time by Tate & Lyle. I went to primary school in the nearby town of San Fernando. I went north into the mountains for my secondary school with the Benedictine monks of Mount Saint Benedict. Before leaving Trindad, I had been in a Junior Seminary from the age of 15. I left Trinidad at 19 to go to England to join the Benedictine Abbey at Prinknash in Gloucestershire.
What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences? My father read books like The Ascent of Everest by John Hunt. He had been educated in England at Shrewsbury Public School and was very attached to that story, especially as Hunt was himself from Shropshire. My mother was educated by nuns in Port of Spain and was a pillar of the Catholic Church; however, she read Graham Greene and loved to discuss the controversies over his writing. She particularly loved Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter. She was aware of the fiction of the 1940’s and 1950’s and a great storyteller herself.
Papillote Press is based in Dominica and publishes fiction and non-fiction, including children’s books, reflecting the island’s rich culture and literary heritage.
Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself. We had books at home but I wouldn’t consider my parents as having been “great readers”. I remember a long, low bookcase in the sitting room with the Encyclopedia Britannica gathering dust on the bottom shelf. The books were mainly non-fiction — illustrated tomes about art or classical Greece — and Readers’ Digest. I don’t remember my parents reading novels but I do remember some tut-tutting about the trial of Lady Chatterley’s Lover — a book that certainly wouldn’t have been their bedtime reading. We lived in a school — a boy’s preparatory school — which my headmaster father founded in Richmond after the war (then mainly a place of bedsits and residential hotels) and there was an interest in learning but it wasn’t an intellectual environment. Most of my early childhood seemed to be spent sitting at the top of the school stairs watching life unfold below me, with small boys lining up outside my father’s study to be admonished (unusually for the time my father disapproved of corporal punishment). Being able to play in the classrooms and in a large garden (climbing trees and playing cricket) during the holidays was a bonus. I went to school in London and then on to Edinburgh University where I studied politics and began to think about things such as class and race and feminism, certainly not part of the domestic discourse.
Did you want to work in the publishing industry from the start? No — but I did briefly and many years ago work at Heinemann’s in the Rights department where I had to type formulaic letters giving other publishers permission to use extracts from works (Graham Greene novels mostly) for which Heinemann held the rights. A fearsome boss had her office one floor below and an even more intimidating secretary shared my office. I left after one year — and went into journalism where I spent the rest of my working life. I was on the Observer for many years where I was features editor of the Magazine; my last job was on the obituaries desk of the Guardian. I published my first Papillote Press books when I was still at the Guardian.
“Here at the window of the turret room, Lavren, at the sill of the Demerara window, Marie Elena behind him on her deathbed telling the last tales before the end of the world as bachac ants attack the rose bushes in Immaculata’s sunken garden, and woodlice eat their way through the pitchpine floorboards, and Josephine sits by the kitchen door shelling pigeon-peas: from this vantage point, Lavren can listen and write and tell the history of the New World.” So begins a hallucinatory Caribbean tale involving the imperialist land-grab, sexual anarchy, abandoned women, religious mania, “the destruction of the Amerindians, the enslavement of Africans and the indentureship of the Indians,” and culminating in self-rule and independence. “People were dreaming in the twilight barrack-rooms, in the kerosene-lit villages for the setting of the imperial sun.”
Caribbean-style magical realism
Lawrence Scott weaves a magical, lush tapestry of words and images, bringing alive local legends and family narratives; and redressing written histories. The impact of the events recounted still resonate in Caribbean society today. A quasi-historical novel, Witchbroom recounts the story of a colonial white enclave on an offshore island through muddled memories. The central narrator repeats what he remembers “from the distracted mind of his muse Marie Elena, and her art of telling stories while they eat Crix biscuits, rat cheese and guava jelly together in the turret room overlooking the Gulf of Sadness.” The stories are bewitching and highly disturbing. The reader surfs a tidal wave of addictive fascination like a Dickensian tricoteuse sitting beside the guillotine in Paris watching heads roll during the public executions of 1793-4.
Lesley Blanch was Features Editor of British Vogue 1937-45. During the Second World War, she was on the front line of women journalists covering a wide range of topics. She covered various aspects of Britain at war for the Ministry of Information, and documented the lives of women in the forces with her friend the photographer Lee Miller.
In these unsettled, divided times in which segregation and racism are making an unwelcome comeback, positive historical reminders of tolerance and kindness are to be celebrated and shared.
The exhibition, Giles: Friendship in a time of war, curated by social historian David Cain, tells of the British cartoonist’s all-but-forgotten friendship with two African-American GIs, Butch and Ike, based near his Suffolk home during World War Two.
In the early 1940s, Giles lived with his wife, Joan, in Badger’s Cottage in Tuddenham St. Martin. He befriended several men serving with 923rd Engineer Aviation Regiment based at nearby RAF Debach. He often welcomed Butch and Ike at his home for drinks. Giles loved Jazz and their musical evenings frequently spilled over into the local village pub.
“I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of ‘interposition’ and ‘nullification’ − one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.” The spirit of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech made on 28 August, 1963, underpins this captivating and lyrical children’s book, deftly translated from the Italian by Siân Williams. Thrills and spills galore, compelling characterisation, fast-paced action and a suspenseful plot combine in this satisfying, thought-provoking read. The Oh Freedom! playlist at the end of the book is a natty touch.
Freedom of thought, religious freedom, freedom to live a fulfilled and happy and better life . . . People fleeing from the violations and abuses of tyrannical regimes all around the world dream of it. Oh Freedom! How precious you are! To what lengths will people go, in the hope of starting a better life? Continue reading Review | Oh, Freedom! Francesco d’Adamo | Book of the Week