I write strongly from landscape and many of my stories contain elements of magic and folklore. I’m very conscious of using the environment as a barometer for creating conflicted characters. I’m always readjusting the lens of point of view. My characters look not only upon their world but they also look out at the larger world. In some cases, they must gaze unflinchingly into that foreign eye and report back. This was a conscious decision, done specifically to reverse the metropolis gaze, which has long defined small “exotic” locations such as my island home.
To say a bit more about landscape: for me, landscape is vital for world building, and I am very precise in naming places, plants, trees, wildlife, landmarks, food. I am conscious of wanting to map the Trinidad landscape into the larger literary imagination: conscious of wanting to remove my characters from the umbrella of the “Caribbean” character. If I do my job properly, I can develop universal fully fleshed characters who are relatable to anyone in the world without having the reader think – Oh, here I am reading about a Trinidadian character, doing what I expect a Trinidadian or Caribbean character to do. In 'The Whale House and other stories' I think I’ve succeeded in that aspect succeeded in conveying our complexity.
I was not interested in altering the world around me. On the contrary, I wanted readers to have the concrete details as touch points to guide them through the collection. I was careful in using classic “Trinidadian” motifs such as Carnival, the fete mentality, the idea of the easygoing Trickster or Anansi figure. And if I did stray into these areas, the idea was to change the angle subtly so that the terrain was both familiar and unfamiliar
I have a deep suspicion of sentimentality and have tried to excise it whenever it appears in the work. This allowed me to deal with difficult subject material and to address violence in ways in which I might have found impossible had I allowed even an element of the sentimental to permeate the world of my fiction. Quite late in the writing of the collection, it became obvious that this was going to be a series of loosely linked stories. It was not planned but this was how the stories began speaking to each other on the page. It worked because information about characters could be introduced at different stages. I think this provides an element of satisfaction to the reader that may not have been possible in stand-alone stories.
Are they violent stories? In some part yes they are. But they are also incredibly tender stories and it was this juxtaposition of violence and tenderness that, I believe, became the real engine of the collection. I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed writing them.