I was born in Jamaica and spent my early childhood in Kingston, before my family migrated to Toronto Canada. There the bitter cold shattered any illusions I had about enjoying the romance of a ‘white Christmas.’ It would be several more years before I met my Australian husband-to-be in New York, and travelled with him to Sydney. There further shocks awaited me, including destruction wrought by drought, flood and bush fires. But this blog isn’t about the environment, it’s about finding your passion later in life and being rewarded for sticking with it.
After completing grade 13 in Toronto, from the outside my choices seemed right. I was on a creative path of my own choosing and success of a kind followed. First as a contemporary, professional dancer with Toronto Dance Theatre. Then on arrival in Sydney, I gained entry to the Australian Film Television and Radio School. This helped me to shift into documentary filmmaking as a producer, director, writer. I was disciplined, persistent and good at what I did, but through it all, there seemed to be something missing. And gnawing away underneath was the relentless sense of un-belonging. Who was I in these vast landscapes of others? Where did I fit in?
It was during the process of writing my debut novel Master Of My Fate that my sense of self began to change. Recognising that although I thought I had been living my passion, my choices had left me feeling unfulfilled. And ironically enough, the title of the book reflected not only my main protagonist William Buchanan’s journey, but my own.
My research for the novel started accidentally while I was a guide at the UNESCO World Heritage listed Hyde Park Barracks: https://hydeparkbarracks.sydneylivingmuseums.com.au/
It’s where male convicts were housed after being transported from all the far-flung parts of the British empire. During that period, I dived deep into Australia’s Colonial past. It felt like even the walls whispered stories about the men housed there. But the stories were always about European convicts. So, one day, I idle typed the words ‘West Indies’ into the convict data base. To my total surprise the names of 18 men flashed across the screen. They had arrived in the colony on 31st August, 1836, on the convict ship the Moffatt. I was covered in goosebumps. What excitement to know that my fellow countrymen had stood, lived, breathed in the very room I was standing in. And, I was bearing witness to this, 170 years later to the day!
One of the men was William Buchanan whose convict indent listed him as a rebel. I would later discover, William was born into slavery in 1800, on a plantation called Rock Pleasant, in the parish of Saint James. He was transported for participating in the Christmas Day Rebellion that took place in 1831-32, led by the legendary Baptist Preacher, Sam Sharpe. Although not an ancestor, the research was providing me with a direct channel to a shared collective dreaming. It felt like I was bringing the past, into my living present: echoes of which I believe surrounds us, lives on inside us.
A new awareness started to unfold about myself and a history of Jamaica, that I should have known about, but didn’t. It helped me to understand, in a very visceral and intimate way, what life may have been like in the early 19th century. It was only then that I was able to empathise as to why people behaved the way they did. Gained a deeper understanding of the society, within which our ‘past selves’, dressed up as our characters lived in. And how, a ‘perfect storm’ of events could give rise to ordinary people doing exceptional things.
While I was writing Master Of My Fate, I was driven by the questions – how does a mother explain to her child, they are born into slavery? How does the culture shape that child to accept the lack of freedom for the rest of their life? And how even within that terrible landscape of bondage can there still be joy, love, shared community and the resilience of the human heart to shine through. So, while I spent a great deal of time making sure all the factual historical details where right, ultimately my goal was to embody what it felt like to be in bondage. What it felt like to long for freedom. And I tried to articulate those states using the written word.
It took about seven years of research and writing early in the morning and late at night, after my event management day job, before I was not only able to finish the novel and lucky enough, to have it published in May 2019, by Penguin Random House: https://www.penguin.com.au/books/master-of-his-fate-9780143787532
It was a huge journey and one in retrospect, I now realise was the beginning of a profound, transformative cycle. One that moved me out of the feeling of un-belonging, into a place of being at one with myself. The inner reward was to discover that ultimately writing was the craft I had been pursuing all along, underneath my other careers. It allowed me to bring together all the skills I had acquired and pour them into my passion for the written word.
I was humbled and grateful when I gained outward recognition. At the beginning of this year – Master of My Fate – won the MUD Literary Prize for best debut novel written by an Australian author in 2020. And later in October, out of an entry of 185 novels, was not only longlisted for the inaugural Historical Fiction Prize: https://hnsa.org.au/2020-ara-historical-novel-prize-longlist/ but also shortlisted: https://hnsa.org.au/2020-ara-historical-novel-prize-shortlist/ .