On the heels of winning the 2012 Commonwealth Writers Short Story competition, Diana McCaulay is set to launch the novel she says she was always meant to write. Huracan, published by Peepal Tree Press jumps across Jamaica's history, covering three centuries and marries real and fictional characters. Huracan is McCaulay's second novel.
"This is the book I've always wanted to write," says McCaulay, describing Huracan as a far more complex and ambitious story than her first novel. "Dogheart was a diversion really." McCaulay explains that she has always been drawn to the story of her great grandfather, John Macaulay, a Baptist missionary who is one of the characters she borrows from history and inserts into her novel. Her interest in his story and the reasons that have brought various people to this island are married in the story. Another of the characters McCaulay borrows from history is Zachary Macaulay an 18th century Scottish abolitionist counted amongst the prominent colleagues of William Wilberforce.
Yet Huracan is not a historical novel as it is about contemporary society. It surrounds Leigh Macaulay, a 30-something year-old Jamaican woman who returns to the Island on the death of her mother. She attempts to reconnect with her father but also has to reconcile with they history and heritage of the country of her birth.
"It's about how we built the society that we have and why," McCaulay explains. McCaulay explains that she deliberately wanted Huracan to be released during the commemoration of Jamaica 50 as it is relevant to formation of the nation. “Some of the things that we see in life, in society today, the seeds go way back,” she says. “We have to understand the source of things, the soil,” she explains noting that she has always been fascinated about writing about historic Jamaica.
Even so, she had found the thought of doing the research daunting. “I was scared of the research, but I actually enjoyed it,” she reveals. McCaulay explained that with both John and Zachary Macaulay she tried to stick to as much of the truth as she found then fictionalized the rest.
McCaulay’s Dolphin Catcher earned the 2012 Common Wealth Writers Short Story Prize. She explained that the story had originally been commissioned and rejected. The therefore decided to enter it into the CWW competition.
“An image came to me of a boy sitting on a wall in the pouring rain,” she says explaining the story's origins. “In the mysterious way that these things happen, who he was and why he was came to me.” McCaulay says she is exploring the idea of extending Dolphin Catcher into a novel.
Huracan is also an award winning story having received a Silver medal in the 2008 Jamaica Cultural Development Commission’s Literary Arts Competition. McCaulay describes the competition as generally useful also because it helped her to work to a deadline. “There’s a little money that comes with it and that’s helpful because book writing does not make money.”
Indeed, it is the making of money from writing that is the hardest part. McCaulay confesses that she is currently grappling with whether she will continue to write novels for publication. “It’s not the writing that’s hard but the publishing journey is,” she said. “Broadly we’re introverts. We are people who live in our heads. We don’t have the best social skills.” However, in today’s publishing game writers have to be their most avid marketers whether through readings or engaging readership through social media. Additionally, readings require that they also learn to perform well, not just write well.
McCaulay she finds marketing her books a chore and approaches it with gritted teach. “I kind of drive myself with a whip to make me do these things that I don’t want to do,” she says. McCaulay explains that she has begun to view her books as a small business requiring the same kind of investment.
And of course, there is the upside. “The best part of the whole journey is when people start to engage with the material," she says. So although Huracan is just approaching that part of the journey, she looks forward to it.
“I’m glad I wrote these two books. I’m proud of them.” McCaulay explains that although neither book is perfect they were both written for Jamaica, which she describes as her longest love. She notes however that the wish to succeed in the writing world may actually take her away from here.
“It’s a very sobering thought that the best thing I can do for my books is migrate," she says. She explains that at present it feels as though the two sides of her life, her writing and her work with the environment are on diverging paths.
McCaulay is also working on publishing a collection of her newspaper articles published in the 1990s. The collection, titled Writing Jamaica, explores the people, the place and the struggles. Writing Jamaica will be her first digitally self-published.
Yet despite her struggles with the marketing side of the modern writing life, McCaulay expresses a continuous love for the art. “It’s how I process the world. It’s catharsis. It’s solace. It’s comfort. I would write even if I never wrote another book,” she says. “I’ve been writing books in secret all my life. Now I’m not doing it in secret anymore.”