Thursdays with Lamming – Learning from top Bajan author at EBCCI

This was way overdue, I know, sorry – better late than never. From the start of this year I was presented a rare opportunity to interact and learn directly from one of the main icons of Barbadian Literature. From February 14 to June 12 I was privileged to hone my skills under the tutelage of Professor George Lamming, I was one of a few selected by UWI’s Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination.

When we started, there were 12 of us – when we finished? There were eight for a brief period and now seven…

Professor Lamming emphasised the importance of combining the “Organics of Writing” with the “Politics of Reading” and he was very careful to state by using ‘politics‘ he was not referring to Barbados’ seasonal cock-fight every half a decade – what he meant was to be aware of your surroundings and trends that evolve, in other words… ‘Read‘ your society in addition to acquiring knowledge from books as it makes YOU a better writer in the end!

The best writers break the rules, but they can do so as they know which rules to break and how, Lamming admonished. The author also elaborated on other matters…

Fiction is usually delivered one of two methods – Summarising/Telling OR Presenting/Showing. One also has to establish who is telling the story, 1st Person or 3rd Person – 2nd Person is when you are a fiction author of a highly advanced calibre.

1st person narratives are most of the time either an observer, or a participant in the flow of events or a dramatised narrator – like Harper Lee’sTo Kill A Mockingbird” where the little girl Scout is telling the tale, but it was her father Atticus Finch who was the protagonist.

The drawback to 1st Person is also its very strength – it limits the perspective given to a reader by denying access to outside influences; the advantage is that you have full disclosure on their immediate perspective – an eyewitness report if you will… As an author, you can make your narrator unreliable or reliable – unreliable like in the sense of Agatha Christie’s “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” where the nice guy relaying the details of the crime was actually the murderer, but it was withheld until the last moment.

3rd Person Narrative opens the vista of unfolding your fictional tapestry – are you an OMNISCIENT teller where all events are open, or are you describing the moves of the protagonist and some other aspects of the story – as the lessons progressed each Thursday we learned there was more to it than just those basic applications of disclosing your tale.

Professor Lamming
looked at creating fiction similar to building a house, if you cannot craft the door then make a window or a wall and then look at the roof and once all of the areas are made then you assemble them in their proper order – he does not necessarily follow that a writer must prepare a story from 1 to 39 or however many chapters a tale may have.

He also does not see coincidence as a tool of a true author – Lamming is of the view that when crafted well, a story/book/novella would flow naturally and therefore a Deus Ex Machina should be considered as superfluous. With the challenge of creating a tale of Caribbean interests, the dialect is one that gives pause – the spelling should remain standard English but do not deny the speech-rythm of an island; the professor sees a glossary as a way of avoiding confusion with overseas readers so as to keep a novel’s pace moving.

A transition is the ability to carry a reader forward in the story and the developments seem flawless, in addition – imagery use can be effective if applied at the right moment. ‘The Happy and Short Life of Francis Macomber‘ from Hemingway was one example of story-flow and how characters and scenes evolved naturally to carry the message to its apt conclusion. It’s intriguing to note that while Professor Lamming appreciated the craftwork of Ernest Hemingway, as a person he despised the American author’s misogyny and overemphasis on masculinity.

Nevertheless, Lamming sees Hemingway’s “Macomber” as vindicating how a true writer can parcel out what a reader needs to know, since it is the author who decides what is revealed; if too much or too little is delivered then the power of the narrative is altered.

In total, there were – apart from yours truly (Caribbean Fantasy/Sci-Fi) –

Sonia Williams, teacher and director;
Margaret Brito, UWI dramatic teacher;
Michelle Springer, Nation reporter;
John Springer;
Maria Squires, Grenadian transplant & former airline crew (Caribbean Romance/Crime);
Sam Lewis (Fantasy);
Alvin Cummins, noted author/composer (Bajan History/Apocrypha);
Melissa Goddard, poet/student (Caribbean Sci-Fi/Fantasy);
Michelle Cave, student and NCF Award winner (Caribbean Adventure);
Gina Moss, student (Fantasy/Sci-Fi)
along with
Debbie Callender, poet/author/beautician and Co-Ordinator of NCF’s B’dos Writers Collective (Caribbean FictionMulti-Genre).

The authors whose categories are listed were the folk who stayed the course and travelled the distance, Professor Lamming himself learned from the seminar – he was surprised at how many Fantasy and Science fiction enthusiasts in the group and so at his advanced stage in Life, he set about learning some of the basics pertaining to both SF & Fantasy – in order to better communicate with his pupils, BRAVO!

We all had to take ‘lashes‘ for the original works we submitted as qualification to be initiated into the training from EBCCI, but it was those who braved the rough seas, so to speak, that we became better word-mariners for it! It was not criticism just to castigate, it was advice to hone latent skills observed in each of us.

One of the writers who eventually joined the drop-outs originally posed that one MUST have a political axe to grind when writing a story. This was a view I vehemently opposed and stated that in the context of SF or Fantasy that is optional, Professor Lamming himself seconded my opinion – which is ironic, when considering the content of most of his fine works.

It was after this refutation, a large chunk of the group fell to the wayside – great for me! Better teaching from the professor as he had fewer to concentrate with… Like when Lamming explained that a 3rd Person tale can be when B tells C the story of A, Lamming just wanted us to remember when placing scenes and characters that it has to be vivid so the reader clearly knows where they are heading – even if it is ambiguous only in the sense that curiosity drives the reader FWD.

I also enjoyed the lecturer’s observations on various aspects of Barbadiana – Plantocracy has never stopped, it’s only been reworked over time. The Abundant Life Assembly is now thronged with what many can consider as Upper Middle-Class with White Leadership; juxtapose this with St Michael’s Cathedral when Lamming was a boy the Curate held the Evening Service for Black Barbadians as the day was for the whitefolk, but nowadays? Not a white soul is to be found except for Special Occasions.

This withdrawal applies to Cricket as well as Church, he suspects that since they’re no longer in charge of either then they have chosen to remove themselves from both. (Although more recently at CARIFTA games and in U-15 cricket, there have been a few instances of young white Bajans taking part. There is at the moment one white cop in the RBPF, but he is not the former Soca Surfer from years gone by – I do remember asking him myself in either Xmas 2005 or 2006.)

For copyright reasons I have deliberately stayed away from my colleague’s works. What I can say is that Sam Lewis reminds me of Robert E. Howard or Edgar Rice Burroughs in his Sword&Sorcery; Alvin is already successfully published and you should look for “The Royal Palms Are Dying” at Book Den in Belleville. As more places become known I will inform you!

Gina Moss has an interplanetary fantasy and Melissa Goddard’s tale is rather morbid side of a Moral Majority gone amok like Hitler; Maria Squires used to work at one of the popular regional air-carriers and based her romance on some of the oddities she thinks may have happened here and there with them; Deborah touched on everything Caribbean under the sun and was always honing her craft – more than likely even now in Heaven she’s doing a rewrite, LOL!

My story was “Nondescript” which is a Bajan fantasy that won Bronze in NIFCA 2003, when Lamming was through analysing my tale, I realised that I could have earned a Gold with his advice! This is a course which even if one got for free, you would find the advice utterly priceless and you willing to pay even more!

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