McCaulay thrilled with second Commonwealth prize win for Caribbean
‘I had a lot more time for introspection during COVID-19’
“It feels wonderful!”
That sums up the emotions of Jamaican author Diana McCaulay, who is now a two-time Commonwealth Short Story Prize winner for the Caribbean.
In 2012, The Dolphin Catchers earned her the prize, followed, a decade later, by Bridge over the Yallahs River.
McCaulay has a “soft spot” for the Commonwealth Writers Prize because it’s the first literary prize she yearned to win in her early days as a writer.
She’s gratified by the honour because it offers affirmation that her work matters and resonates.
“Writing can be a very lonely occupation, and you don’t necessarily know how your work is being received, so a prize is both recognition and encouragement,” she told The Gleaner.
McCaulay’s story was selected from a shortlist of 26 by an international judging panel.
She beat off strong competition from 2019 winner Alexia Tolas from The Bahamas and fellow Jamaican Sharma Taylor.
“A tale of simultaneous triumph and botchery; loss and reclamation; comedy and tragedy,” is how the judge representing the Caribbean region, Trinidadian novelist Kevin Jared Hosein, described the winning piece.
The environmental activist and writer will go through to the final round of judging up against winners from Africa, Asia, Canada, and Europe and the Pacific, and the overall winner will be announced on June 21.
McCaulay shared that Jamaica’s current Poet Laureate, Olive Senior, was an early influence on her writing journey.
“Her work made me think I could be a Caribbean writer, although not a poet. I think contemporary Caribbean writing is getting much deserved attention just now. I’m especially enjoying reading women writers from Trinidad and Tobago – Lisa Allen-Agostini, Ingrid Persaud, Claire Adam, Amanda Smyth, and Monique Roffey. And I loved Kei Miller’s Things I Have Withheld,” she said.
McCaulay offered a peek into her writing process, explaining that she wakes up early and writes for at least two hours.
Once she has a good first draft, she works on revising and editing in longer blocks of time.
For a few weeks, she does not look at the piece – whether it is a short story, article, or novel – and then goes back to it with fresh eyes.
“I had a lot more time for introspection during COVID-19, and that’s important for a writer – we live a lot in our heads. On the other hand, ideas do tend to come from interaction with other people, and that was missing during the lockdowns,” she said.
On the upside, writing events, festivals, workshops, readings, and seminars moved online, so she was able to attend many that she would not otherwise have seen or listened to.
But for McCaulay, nothing beats an in-person event.
On the horizon is McCaulay’s sixth novel, titled Roots of Stone.
It tells the story of a 99-year-old woman who hears the excavated stones she used to build her house moving and speaking to her.
“After doing its submission rounds, I’d like to return to environmental non-fiction. For me, it’s the major issue of our time,” she said, as she encouraged emerging Caribbean writers to tell their stories.
“Put words down, send them out, handle rejection, and never lose faith in your own work,” McCaulay urged.