A-CHOICES: As an Antiguan and Barbudan’s first male non-fiction writer with international status, what is the inspiration behind your new book, “Betwixt 2 Shores”? What’s it all about?
William: Inspiration for writing the book: Correcting the inaccurate news coverage of the Windrush generation is of utmost importance. The media failed to give due attention to the experiences of this group’s descendants or the Windrush generation’s origins, focusing solely on their contributions to the UK economy and society.
A-CHOICES: As a descendant of the Windrush generation, tell us briefly about your personal story?
William: As a descendant of the Windrush generation, my personal story is a stark reminder of the far-reaching impact of empires, colonisation, slavery, and displacement on the lives of individuals within this community. It must be acknowledged and understood that the intricate historical factors have shaped the experiences of the Windrush generation and their descendants. Only through a comprehensive understanding of this history can we work towards meaningful change and justice for this community.
As a descendant of the Windrush generation who answered the call, I left Antigua as an unaccompanied minor to join my parents, not by choice, in the “Motherland.” It is important to note that the Windrush experience was not always positive or idyllic, as some media outlets have portrayed it. Many Windrush generations were subjected to a harsh, inhospitable environment. As a result, the traumatic experiences of the Windrush generation have become a legacy that many descendants continue to bear.
I would highly recommend reading the book Betwixt Two Shores, as it serves as a powerful catalyst for amplifying the voices of marginalised individuals. It provides a platform for those traditionally silenced or ignored, allowing their stories and experiences to be heard and understood. This book is an excellent resource for those seeking to broaden their perspectives and deepen their understanding of the diverse voices that exist within our society. Its purpose is to encourage individuals to share their stories and struggles with the world, raising awareness of their issues and inspiring others to speak out. Through this ground-breaking memoir, individuals who have been ostracised and subjugated can find the courage to express themselves and be heard, to foster greater compassion and understanding among all people, creating a more just and equitable society for everyone. Betwixt 2 Shores is vital for those seeking to make a difference in education and the world and promote positive societal changes.
A-CHOICES: You were born in Antigua and Barbuda. Could you tell us a little about your birthplace?
William:I was born in NewWinthropes Village, Antigua, in 1960. Antigua is a small island and is part of the Leeward Islands. My maternal grandmother, sisters, and extended family members primarily raised me. I was the youngest of four siblings born in Antigua and the only male. My family (maternal grandmother Mary Henry, (aka Mem), my sisters, nannies, Mama Juliette, and Harty were all significant to me; they were all I knew and had.
My ancestral family home is on a hill, which was, back then, the highest habitational point within the village. I have fond memories of my childhood growing up in New Winthropes. My siblings and I had daily chores such as cleaning the house in the mornings and preparing breakfast and laundry. Weekly pocket money was unheard of in my family home. We all had duties and got on sweeping the yard, feeding chickens and going to the hills to gather firewood. My efforts were insignificant compared to my siblings, as I was too young to make a difference. All of the daily duties had to be completed before going to school. Therefore, our day would start at 6 AM.
Our house was made out of pitch pine wood, comprising two bedrooms, a living room, an outside kitchen, a bathroom, planks for the pillows, galvanised sheets for the roof and sides, and the same with the outdoor toilet, (latrine), a prominent pit hole. An elevated seat was made from board and cut to the size of the pit. I never liked using the pit for the fear that I might fall in; the stench was unwelcoming. Instead, I opted for the mobile night-time toilet, the Poe, where I only had to contend with my smell and no fear of falling in. We never had electricity. We relied on hurricane lamps and kerosene; surprisingly, the bright, dazzling, glowing light was sufficient for our purpose.
We did not have direct running water, so water had to be carried from the village to the hill, assuming the main water supply was not turned off. Water shortage was a standard feature in the village. We could go several weeks without having access to fresh water. If the main water supply were turned off, we would have to walk miles to the nearest pan (pond) to get water. The roof of the house was covered with galvanised sheets, and the sidings had gutters all around the building with spouts, one at the front side, middle and back.
My family was always present for me. In retrospect, I was very well cared for; the way I was nurtured and socialised, I would not trade for anything. I was ten when I first met my biological parents; throughout my primary age, I never received a phone call, any letter or postcard from my parents. Due to the “answering the call” with rebuilding the “Motherland,” I suffered the loss of never bonding with my parents.
As a child growing up in Antigua, I had to respect my household and my community. There were rules with clear boundaries that dictated how I should behave and compose myself. For instance, if an elder visited my grandmother, I would greet the elder and disappear from their presence, as it would be considered rude to remain in their company. I was raised to respect my elders, which included teachers.
Education was paramount in the Antiguan culture; it encouraged young people to do well in school. Antiguan parents saw education as the way forward for unlocking talents and preparing young people for the world of work. We afforded teachers the same level of respect as we would our parents. I have never known who set those rules, but they were set to be followed; they were not one-off decrees but lifelong. Maybe some were created from conception and handed down from birth to the grave.
NewWinthropes is held very close to my heart; I am very proud of where I come from and the treasured methods of nurturing and socialising. Households differ considerably. Some families were okay with playing secular music, young boys used expletives reserved for an adult male, discipline was not rigid and strict, some young people did not have chores, and some got a penny a week for doing chores.
In the village, some older adults were entrusted by parents to look after their children. They would also help by collecting clothes from the line before it rained and keeping an eye on the pot on the fire until the parent returned from town. Those bygone days gave true meaning to the adage, “It takes a village to bring up a child.” The idea of employing a nanny as we know it today was unimaginable and unforthcoming except for a lucky few. A neighbour was not just the person who lived across the street but a person if you were short of cooking oil, sugar and salt that could be asked, which was the norm in NewWinthropes.
A-CHOICES: What is your opinion on the current crop of writers coming out of Antigua and Barbuda?
William: Antigua is a nation with a rich and varied cultural heritage closely intertwined with its past and present. Despite recent progress in the literary world, a lack of adequate financial investment remains a significant challenge for the country. Antiguans continue to grapple with the long-lasting effects of colonisation, including a dependence on tourism as their primary source of income. This reality has resulted in many residents feeling trapped in what could be called “economic enslavement.” Despite these obstacles, the people of Antigua remain resilient and committed to forging a brighter future for themselves and their country.
The Antiguan population has been dramatically affected by brain drain, which has resulted directly from economic enslavement. As a result of this troubling trend, many Antiguans have been forced to relocate to countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada in search of better opportunities. This displacement has become an increasingly widespread issue not only in Antigua but throughout the entire Caribbean basin, as the aftermath of slavery continues to impact the region in many ways.
In Antigua, there is no shortage of talented writers, but unfortunately, many young writers struggle to find opportunities to hone their creativity and skills. This lack of support can be incredibly disheartening for those passionate about their country and its literary traditions. Even those in the diaspora may feel alienated by this disconnect.
This issue extends beyond just the literary community, as demonstrated by the author’s personal experience with the former Minister for Education, Michael Brown. Despite possessing expertise in their field, the author was dismissed when seeking a teaching job by someone who failed to comprehend the value of their knowledge and experience. This highlights the need for greater recognition and support of those trying to contribute meaningfully to the country.
A-CHOICES: What writers working today do you admire the most?
William:Jamaica Kincaid, a highly acclaimed American novelist who also goes by the name Elaine Potter Richardson, penned a mesmerising novel entitled “My Mother.” The book delves into the intricate emotional journey of a female protagonist on an island, beautifully capturing her thoughts and feelings through a poetic style. With a poignant portrayal of love, fear, and loss, the story showcases the woman’s growth as she navigates the complexities of life and overcomes numerous challenges.
A-CHOICES: What motivated you to become a professional writer?
William:As someone who values effective communication, I recognised the importance of honing my writing skills. With diligence and dedication, I delved into the intricacies of grammar, punctuation, spelling, and conventions, striving to perfect each aspect. Rather than shying away from missteps, I embraced them as opportunities for growth and continued to refine my craft. As a testament to my efforts, I ultimately produced a polished book that captivated readers and earned two glowing five-star reviews.
Despite encountering several obstacles during my writing journey, I remain passionate about the craft. I firmly believe that writing is a skill that can be refined through persistence and dedication. As such, I am committed to enhancing my writing abilities each day by investing time and effort into my work. This includes devouring an array of literature, attending workshops to learn from experts, and practising my craft regularly. I am confident that my unwavering commitment to the art of writing will enable me to continue to grow and improve as a writer.
A-CHOICES: What are the major benefits & downsides of being a professional writer?
William:As an individual with a passion for writing, I have been gifted with the opportunity to work on my terms. This means I can choose my optimal schedule and environment, enabling me to produce my best work quickly. Depending on my mood and preferences, I can select a peaceful and serene workspace, a bustling coffee shop, or the inspiring beauty of nature. This allows me to create and craft my writing in an environment that genuinely resonates with me, resulting in a successful outcome reflecting my unique individuality.
Writing can create a lasting impact on both the writer and the reader. One of the greatest thinkers of our time, Benjamin Franklin, once advised us to write something of worth that will leave a lasting impression on those who come across it. This timeless advice holds even today, as writing remains one of the most potent and effective means of communicating thoughts, ideas, and emotions. Whether through a personal journal, a work of fiction, or a persuasive essay, crafting a well-written piece can make a difference.
It is a well-known fact that writers must dedicate a significant amount of time daily to their craft. This often means extended solitude, preceding the opportunity to socialise or indulge in leisure activities to focus on their writing projects. Despite the potential challenges, many writers find the creation process deeply fulfilling and are willing to make such sacrifices to pursue their literary passions.
In writing, competition is abundant, with countless individuals receiving rejections regularly. For any writer, the ultimate goal is to attain publication and achieve success, which requires a combination of the proper mindset, innate talent, and unwavering persistence to overcome any obstacles that may arise along the way.
A-CHOICES: Were there any book characters you connected with when growing up?
William:I was thoroughly captivated by the character of Anansi the Spider. Originating from West Africa, his popularity spread across the Caribbean during the Middle Passage slave trade era. Anansi was known for his quick-wittedness and guile, often outsmarting his adversaries with his cleverness and ingenuity. Despite being a trickster, Anansi was usually depicted as the hero of his stories, learning from his mistakes and emerging victorious. His tales conveyed powerful messages of triumph and virtue, making him a beloved figure for generations.
A-CHOICES: Is there any significant difference between fiction and non-fiction?
William: When it comes to writing, there are two main genres that authors can choose from: fiction and non-fiction. The former involves creating a story from imagination, including made-up plotlines, settings, and characters. On the other hand, non-fiction is based on real-life events and people and requires extensive research to depict the subject matter accurately. Both genres have unique challenges and rewards and can appeal to different types of readers depending on their interests and preferences.
A-CHOICES: How do you know when a story you’re writing is not going well?
William: As writers go through the process of creating a written work, they will likely encounter various obstacles that hinder the smooth flow of their ideas and result in writer’s block. These challenges may come in different forms, such as feeling disconnected from the material, lacking motivation, experiencing frustration, or feeling trapped in a particular section. Writers must recognise these signs early to overcome them and produce a coherent, compelling, and engaging final piece.
A-CHOICES: Do you show your works-in-progress to friends before you send them out to publishers?
William:I have found that sharing my progress with friends has been a beneficial practice. By doing so, I received helpful feedback that allowed me to improve the quality of my writing. Additionally, this process often sparks new ideas and perspectives I may not have considered. Overall, I view this approach as essential in enhancing my work’s creativity and effectiveness.
A-CHOICES: Do you have any secret flaws as a writer?
William: It is essential to remain focused on the main story to effectively maintain control of the narrative. By keeping the main storyline at the forefront, one can avoid getting side-tracked by tangents or irrelevant details that can detract from the overall message. This approach helps ensure that the narrative remains clear, concise, and impactful, essential for effectively conveying one’s letter to the intended audience.
A-CHOICES: Is it true that any great writer ought to have a talent for writing?
William: There is a common belief that writing is a talent that only a few possess, but it is a skill that can be acquired with practice and motivation. While some individuals may naturally be inclined towards writing, anyone can learn and improve their writing abilities with consistent effort. Therefore, it’s essential to acknowledge that writing is not solely a talent but a learnable skill that can be honed over time.
A-CHOICES: To what extent do you edit your stories before you send them out to publishers?
William:It is imperative to meticulously edit the manuscript before submission to increase the likelihood of having a book published by a traditional publisher. This entails ensuring that all errors and typos have been removed to the best of one’s ability. While an utterly error-free manuscript may not be required, the query letter must be devoid of any excessive errors or typos to present a professional and polished image to potential publishers.
A-CHOICES: Do you make money out of writing?
William: Crafting quality written content can be a daunting task, one that requires an exceptional level of skill and diligence. However, if you understand your goals and the key factors that are most valuable, making a living from writing is entirely possible. Success in this field requires focus, determination, and a strong work ethic. While there is no secret formula for achieving success, you can turn your passion for writing into a lucrative career by honing your craft and staying committed to your goals.
A-CHOICES: Do you find it challenging to create characters for your stories?
William: When it comes to crafting characters for a story, it can prove to be a pretty daunting task. The reason is that characters can develop a life of their own, which can lead to them acting in entirely unexpected manners. This can make it challenging to predict and control the direction of the writer’s story, as the characters tend to take on a mind of their own.
A-CHOICES: What other things do you do besides writing?
William: As a writer, I hold myself accountable to a rigorous work schedule, dedicating no less than nine hours daily, six days a week, to my craft. While I take great pride in my work, I also recognise the importance of self-care and consciously prioritise it. This includes taking leisurely walks at the end of each workday, scheduling regular spa visits to unwind and rejuvenate, and practising Pilates via YouTube to maintain my physical and mental well-being.
A-CHOICES: What advice might you offer to young people interested in writing?
William: Budding writers must surpass the constraints of academic assignments and venture into many literary genres or delve deeper into a particular one. It is essential to follow creative impulses while taking note of striking phrases and annotating with coloured Post-it notes or underlining words with a pencil.
To progress with a writing journey, seeking a mentor who can offer objective feedback and assist with the development process is also helpful. It is recommended to choose someone who can provide constructive positive and negative criticism; family members should be avoided, as this can be helpful with character building and improving writing skills. A good mentor should be able to identify strengths and areas for improvement.
Lastly, setting practical and achievable goals and tracking progress but continuing to write until contended with the outcome. Always remember that the writing journey is about becoming a writer, growing, and discovering a personal, unique voice.
A-CHOICES: What are you working on next?
William: The unspoken truth of slavery
Book Launch Event
Hosted by William Henry
20th September 2023 @18:00-20:00
Venue: The Old Fire Station Community Centre
84 Mayton Street, London N7 6QT
Email: email@example.comThe book can be obtained from Betwixt 2 Shores
Author: Gbenga Teejay Okunlola