by Shivanee Ramlochan, 2013 NGC Bocas Lit Fest Blogger.
Sharing their fiction at the Old Fire Station on April 25th, Courttia Newland and Ifeona Fulani read from their works The Gospel of Cane and Ten Days in Jamaica, respectively. The emotional tension in Newland’s novel has been described by multiple sources as fringing on unbearable, a quality evoked in his reading of a mother trying in excruciating stops and starts to come to terms with the kidnapping of her infant son, Malakay. Fulani’s reading, from her short story “A Striped Silk Shirt”, drew on similar threads of emotional distress, in the account of a mother assessesing an act of violence wrought against her daughter.
Both writers described their non-standard treatment of form, particularly as it relates to time, as beneficial to understanding their own processes in fiction. Fulani explained her use of flashback as necessary, to pause the forward movement of narrative, and in so doing, to invite the reader deeper into the text. Her fiction, she said, hinges on memory, even if those memories do not surge immediately to the fore. Newland expressed his desire to treat with flashbacks in innovative ways, moving away from the staid, predictable uses of that particular literary technique.
Variations of dialogue, Newland continued, in response to a question during the panel discussion segment, can act as different cultural markers of class aspiration and cultural divides. If the character’s voice resounds with strength, and is compellingly written, then it can and will defy ideas of what an “acceptable” level of dialogue in the narrative should be. Newland cited Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting and Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners as dialogue-fuelled stories that are “ace”, in a word, proud progenitors of outstanding extended monologues in fiction.
Writing in both Standard English and Jamaican Creole, Fulani said, in her response to notions of “best practice” governing dialogue use, expresses her desire to connect with the universality of reading that we all share. She tests her Jamaican Creole on both her readers’ ears and her own, striving always for her truest, most authentic voice in the language, as well as in the themes and concerns it portrays.
The Gospel According to Cane and Ten Days in Jamaica share emotional resonances, though they take place on almost wholly different geographical stages: renewed proof of the lines of affinity that exist between works aspiring to reveal core investigations of family life in all its kaleidoscopic complexity, beauty and pain.
Photographs by Maria Nunes, Official Festival Photographer.