Chaired by Jenny Brown
The clear theme that links both novels is the shadowy past of Scotland that links it with Barbados. Andrea’s book is about a series of migrations that where happening at that point in history, 1 in 5 people were leaving the Britain to find a better life. This is a story that we as a culture have forgotten. Barbados was that first British colony in the region and it was the place that the sugar revelation took place, sugar was known as the white gold of the island. The story of sugar is pivotal to the story of the region. Chris’s novel is also set in Barbados and it is a story based on a true line of research, of a woman being sent out to Barbados to be an actress.
The story of this vast migration has been written out of British history. The majority of the earlier settlers died and you would have had no idea of what you were going to be faced with when you got there. It was a one way journey, it was a chance to completely reinvent yourself.
The idea for Chris’s novel started with a work trip to Barbados for three months. In his first week on the island, Chris joined the national trust and they took you on walks of the island. Through these walks he discovered the poor white community that is present and is known as the Scotland area. What madness makes a community like this work? It took 21 years to write the book and he has learnt that you should just write the book then do the vast majority of research at a later date. In the early days the island was very much a Scottish island. Scots were better educated and supplied a lot of the doctors and book keepers (dealt with the slaves) for the island. Everyone wanted the novel to be a classical historical fiction but this was not what Chris wanted to achieve. What is history and what is fiction? The odd thing about fiction is that you can use it to discover a deeper truth but we have created a culture that there is an expectation in the reader’s mind that everything within a historical novel is true.
Andrea’s novel is non-fiction and she is well known for her biographies. However this time she has turned her attention to her own maternal family and in a way she always knew she would write about them. If it wasn’t written down then this link to the past may be lost through time. It is a story of slavery, settlement and sugar. The cheapest way to plant sugar was to use slaves. In many ways this was the beginning of the slave trade that were used for this specific purpose. It is the great historical tragedy of the island however the slave trade money enriched the area but the history of this money is never taught. The book aims to try to bring back history and remind us of the reality of the situation. There is a question of how one writes history? People who’s history gets preserved tend to be in the military or royalty. The slave trade have been deliberately written out of history. Andrea always wants to focus on the smaller people in history, so their story gets preserved for generations.
With that final thought, an interesting hour was brought to an end.