On its own merit…judging a book

booksThey say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but we all do. Don’t you? Well I do, more often than not. And I don’t get to walk into book stores much any more, but I love book shops and I can remember spending so much time in Water stones, (our first Christmas in England 2007), so engrossed in all those books on display -judging covers – that we (me and my daughter) missed the coach to London!! Our first coach trip, on our own, to London! We had to wait another two hours for the next one!! Anyway, this is to say that I just love looking at the covers and trying to tell how interesting a read they would be. I think I bought The Pirate’s Daughter, by Margaret Cezair-Thompson. And I thoroughly enjoyed that read! So yes, I judge books by their cover a lot. I will advise against judging books by their movies though!

And in my opinion, just as books should be judged by the cover, so should the contents be judged on its own merit.
Force Ripe is no “To kill a mocking bird or Angela’s Ashes nor is it Jayne Eyre. And I don’t claim to be no Harper Lee, Toni Morrison or one of the Bronte sisters.

Force Ripe is not a piece to show off no intellectual writing or intelligence. It is not a thriller with John Grisham plots, twists and turns, nor is it a fairy tale with a “happily ever after” ending. Force Ripe is what it is – the story of a little girl, of her experiences, during an important historical era. It portrays, among many themes, the way it used to be, growing up during the days when “doors were never locked and the road was my playground.” It takes the readers into Lee’s life, in her village, and with the use of sensory images, paints very vivid and memorable scenes of: her Mammy’s biasness towards her brother, as we see in this excerpt from chapter one.
“Eh eh! What taking you so, Peeya!”
Mammy spit out Peeya so hard, some of she food pitch out from she mouth with it. I don’t even know what Peeya mean. I used to wonder if is somebody who does pee in bed. But I does not pee in me bed. Mammy never call Rally names like that. She does call him Beta. And when she say come Beta, it does come out soft and nice – like sweet potato pudding. But she does spit out Peeya, just like she does spit out coconut husk from she mouth – after she suck out all the milk from it. She does spit it out just like she does spit out nuts, after she suck out all the sugar from the sugar-cakes.

It shows Lee’s bond with her father, even though his visits were brief and sporadic. It takes the reader into the Rastafarian commune and, for example, demonstrates the many uses of the coconut tree and its product.  ‘Once I hear Daddy say, “You see this coconut? Jah make it specially for Rastaman”.  It also shows us a child’s experience of the revolution and how Rastafarians were treated, and offers a very palpable taste of Lee’s emotions, her fears and shows us how she copes.

Force Ripe is a voice. The voice of this little girl, Lee. Her voice through her experiences, from her perspective. It is what it is. Her story. It does not try to explain, demoralize, take sides nor cast any blame. And it certainly does not call for any actions. It has gone through all its phases of trying to conform, fit in with what you learn you should and should not do, how you should and should not write, especially as a new and inexperienced writer. And it is certainly not forced ripe, because it has matured and is now confident to use and own that voice.

judge book

Press Release..


B&W01Grenadian Author Cindy McKenzie publishes her first novel after working on it for several years. The book is  entitled “Force Ripe” and is written from the perspective of, and in the voice of Lee, the main character. Lee  takes the reader on  her journey from her first memories of life in a Rastafarian commune, through foster care  and her subsequent reunion with her mother when she is a teenager. Lee draws from images, characters,  stories  told and historical events, to weave a beautiful portrayal of a little girl’s survival and an important part  of her  island’s history.

The book makes liberal use of Grenadian creole dialect and local idioms, adding to the authenticity of the  characters. Themes of immigration (barrel children), the extended family structure, Rastafarianism, The  Grenada Revolution, amongst others, hold special appeal for a wide audience, especially readers with an  appetite and longing for more Caribbean literary works.cover pic01

“I have been on a long, lonely journey of learning and healing. I have matured along the way and so has Force Ripe. I feel proud of this achievement and ready for where it will take me – on the next journey.”

Cindy McKenzie was born in the northern parish, St Patrick, Grenada. Her first years of education started at Miss Redhead’s pre-school, continued at the St Patrick Roman Catholic School and later the St Joseph’s Convent, St George. She is the mother of three. She has lived in the UK briefly and currently resides in Confer, St George, with her husband and daughter.

Force Ripe is available for purchase on Amazon –  For more information, please visit Cindy McKenzie Author on Facebook.

Contact: Cindy McKenzie
Phone: 1 (473) 414 6737

Email: Cindymacwrites@gmail.com


On the road to publication – my journey

Where do I do I start – when I first started penning this story or when I started dreaming of getting published? I don’t think I can type fast enough or have enough time to go back there, but all I can tell you is that this has been a long, lonely and very expensive journey for me. And it has not finished as yet.

As I am nearer to the end of that road- the one to publication of Force Ripe, I feel I can now share a bit of that journey with you- where it has taken me, who I have met along the way and where I am now.

When I completed the first draft of this book, I christened it Celestial Shades. I chose this name because of the many evenings I spent sitting on our veranda with my mammy and papa, watching the sun gown and the brilliant shades of every colour you can imagine, painted in the clouds. I wrote with no experience, no guidance, except for that burning need and that voice which kept jooking me to write this story.

I started writing what came to me in my journal, as it came to me. Then I took a basic computer class, and started my two finger- attack on the keyboard. I tried to impress, using the thesaurus with maximum regularity, in search of words I didn’t even understand myself. I wrote the way I though it should be written. And when I finished the first draft, I felt so pleased with myself for this huge accomplishment, I printed my hundred and something pages and made a journey to The Bench, to see my friend Marcelle Toussaint and entrusted her with my baby. Then I proceeded to look for a publisher. I googled Caribbean publishers and clicked on Ian Randle publishing, in Jamaica. I printed two copies, copyrighted one by registering it and mailing it to myself and mailed the other, to Mr Randle. Well to cut this very long story short, Mr Randle gave me some very helpful comments and by the time I heard from him, I knew exactly what he meant by going “back to the drawing board”.

And that’s exactly what I had to do because in 2005 (well I told you this has been long in the making) a house fire melted my computer to a heap of plastic and though I had a copy on a CD, I lost all my revisions! So back it was really back to the drawing board for me. And that was when I decided to take my first writing course and a few followed. But the rest is most definitely not history. I have learnt so much and I am still learning lessons- self teaching, creeping, stumbling, falling and pulling myself up again, discovering, developing and spending.

It’s very ironic, how I started spending at same time I signed up with a publisher! But that piece of history I rather not go into (in case it is used against me in the court of law). In fact I have already been threatened with a law suit. But back to the spending- I paid for the book jacket design (done by a Grenadian) the first few hundred dollars dent in my savings, a trip to the UK for proposed editing purposes, with promise of reimbursement (hubby paid, no reimbursement received). Lessons learned, especially the one that says everything with time, so I remained patient. But is one lesson I did not learn, because I kept paying. Because as a writer, especially a first time inexperienced one, who wants to fulfil that goal of being read, seeing your work on the shelves of book stores. Ursula K Le Guin said, “The unread story is not a story. It is little black marks on a wood pulp. The reader reading it makes it live; a live thing, a story.” And so one is prepared to do almost anything it take, make big sacrifices. Well I did.

The submitting and getting rejected came next. But I can’t boast of any JK Rolling experience, because I only submitted to a handful of select publishers and literary agencies, Peepal Tree being one of them, after very regular recommendations. But the next sacrifice was almost an entire month’s salary (in pounds sterling) to Conerstones Litarary Agency to have my work read, assessed and a written report. I must say that this report was very thorough and very helpful with the subsequent revisions.
Yet even after several revisions, long breaks and life happening in between, that niggling doubt that my writing was not good enough still remained. So against my principles and common sense I paid a creative writing teacher more than I even made in a month- even after working every extra hour I can grab- to have my work assessed once again, help me improve my manuscript. And a trip I will never forget.

This editor did not do written reports, so it took a trip to London, getting lost on my drive to Peterborough train station, (luckily my son was with me for company) almost missing my train to Kings Cross, six hours, at Waterloo Station, going through the manuscript and taking notes. Then, emotionally drained and head full to the brim with more doubts than ever, that I would ever get this manuscript right; I somehow managed to make my way from Waterloo Station to Peterborough station without too much hassle. But my drive from the train station to Morton, the little village where I lived, was a very stressful and tense one.
I was alone. It was dark. And I had never driven that route in darkness before. That thirty five minutes drive took all my concentration, focus, keeping my eyes on the busy dual carriage way, reading road signs, counting the exits- careful not to take the wrong one, like I once did when one wrong turn pelted this little small island, country girl into a four-lane dual carriage way with traffic zooming pass me at lightning speed!! So I focused on the road. I even had to switch off the radio. And listening Heart FM in the car was one of my special treats, something that relaxed me. But no radio could relax me that night! With iron grip on the steering wheel, my foot of the ex, and I held all the anxieties of getting lost, the writing stuff, the challenges of revising, all the doubts about me thinking I was a writer and could actually publish a book, I tensed up in my neck. So by the time I pulled up safely in front of #5 Primrose Close, I could barely turn my head. My neck was locked stiff! I had never been more thankful for a safe journey home.

Later that night, I eased into bed, although it was warm under the duvet, I felt cold with a little bit of anger as I looked at hubby, nice and cosy in bed, while I was stressing!
But the spending did not stop there. Because after several phases of revisions, I felt confident and brave enough to employ the use of the Creole language, inject some pure dialect into my text, for authenticity. But another few hundred pounds later, I was back to square one, because of my lack of confidence in myself as a writer.
And I could go on, because it still did not stop there. Especially since I took the decision to self publish! But that is Part II, for another blog. And am sure get the picture, right. And you will understand why I will not be able to give away, for free, several years of hard work, investments and sacrifices.

And of course I want to be best seller, reach an international market, but if Force Ripe is able to reach just the local audience and our Caribbean Diaspora, that would fulfil one of my goals.journey03

The country girl and the two coconuts….

coconutwaterYou  know sometimes the Most High does manifest in all kinds of ways.  And the other day , this country girl felt it for sure. It was in two coconuts she had sit down in the yard for weeks. She bought them off a beach hustler who was trying to beg a small change. She two coconuts in her hand – perhaps for her coconut bakes for the family supper, but I offered to buy them off her and she gladly agreed- eating her cake. .. And since then, they in the yard keeping one another company and waiting to flavour up some breadfruit or rice and peas or something. And wondering when this woman going to do something with them.

Well the day she got two breadfruits, and decided on oil down, they watching to see what she gonna do, because they still wearing their thick, hard, brown skins. You see, they didn’t know that she is a country girl to the bone! That she peeling coconuts since she ten years old, That she could even peel a coconut with a stone!!So they sit down there, watching and waiting, because they know is more than hitting them on a stone this time. And she does like to do that – crack them on the big stone in the yard, drain the sweet water into her hand and guide it to her mouth, wetting up all she clothes.  That is why she can’t live nowhere without  a yard with big stones.

Well she  get out she cutlass – one dull piece a thing! It new, but like the more she file it, the duller it get.  But anyway, she psych up sheself, getting ready to mappou (pound with force) they backside to bits, because is blend she blending them so it didn’t matter if they mash up. She put the first one on the wall, behind the kitchen, aim and make a chop, willing the cutlass to hit well. The cutlass connect, and stick. The coconut shell cling on to it so tight, she could not take it out, so she start to mappou- with the coconut still clinging to the cutlass. One. Two. Three. SPLIT! The coconut shell (outer skin)open up and the coconut come out clean clean. Not a piece ah shell on it!  She settle the second one. Aim. Chop. A little more mappouing, but to her relief and amazement, the next coconut come out clean clean again!!! No knifing required. No messing about, jooking up she fingers to remove them stubborn shells that does glue on tight tight to the coconut. All she had to do was chop up and blend.

And  sometimes that  little traditional thing she have in her does try to force her to grate the coconut eh. The same thing that does make her grate the sweet potatoes when she making pudding, and the tannia, when she making log (porridge), but she does put she foot down when it comes to grating coconuts yes!  She does work them hands too hard to already to inflict more torture by grating coconuts too!  Mm mm. No sah! Blender for they backside!

So yes, this country girl felt that manifestation. Little things.  Small blessings. Give thanks.

Country Girl to the bone…

long ago time I am a country girl born and bred! When you see I driving up the Western or Eastern side to go up  North, to visit family and friends, I does get this real nice nice feeling that is a different kind of  feeling.

I used to mostly go up the western side more, and I used to enjoy that route too, especially from  the time I hit Gouyave. But now that I am on the South eastern side, so I take the Eastern route.  And from the time I reach La Tante – all them fellas liming by the road, corn roasting, big pot on  the fire, a bunch a fellas – only fellas eh, because I swear I never see a woman amongst them yet- deep  in some debate. People passing, bunch a grass on their head, cutlass (machete) in hand, children by the  roadside, bare-feet-some naked as they born-hanging on to dress tails, hands of bigger brother or  sister or running behind to keep up. Some going and tie out their goats. Amd it have some very special individuals walking alone, in tatty clothes with holes in the bambam, hair knot-up, knot-up- cause it en see comb for years-talking to theyself, laughing away as if somebody give them the best joke ever! That does just bring out me smile. And that smile does lime on me face all when I reach Hope Village.

And that’s where you find the woman and the children, in the river. There is still some hope in the world, I say. Half or completely naked children, catching crayfish or splashing about in the shallow waters, if not helping their mothers, aunties or sisters with the washing. The women, plaits under head ties, combs stuck in hair, bent over river stone washing- scrubbing, rubbing, rinsing, ringing and piling them nice clean clothes in basins. Some does spread them out to dry right there on the big river stones. Then they would fold them, bundle them on a sheet, tie up the bundle and carry them home-expertly balancing them on their heads, with, perhaps a bucket of wet clothes in one hand and holding a child or two, in the next one. Boy, I does feel I could fit in right there with them.

And I like all them lean-to shacks in the yard, with a big stone under a tamarind or mango tree, where people does cook up a pot or just sit down in the shade to ole talk. And all them little jupas they does pelt up all about the place. One day you pass, four Glory Cedar posts stand up square square. Next day, a piece of galvanize sit down on them posts. Then they fling up a branka (counter come table top) with a piece of ply and two nails. Stick up two shelves, put a few packs of cigarettes, a few tins of sardines, condensed milk, corned beef, two pack of Crix and call them shop!

And all the way up to Marqui, I used to enjoy the scenery, the images of country life, how the cooling sea breeze does kind of nudge me, reminding me I am entering big Parish and how it does feel on my skin and that fresh, salty smell of seaweed fill up my air box (lungs). Well I did say I used to, because these days when I reach Marqui area, I have to hold on real tight to my breath, before that shocking stink from all the sea weed invading the coast, suck it right out of me and knock me down! The wonders of nature – so awesome, yet can be so destructive!

I arrive in La Baye (Grenville), and the place busy and lively as always. Market vendors haggling, people shopping, children hanging about in front shop doors, waiting for their mothers. And La Baye girls dress up dress up. They always dress up like something special happening. Bus drivers chatting up them girls or debating some current affairs, while their conductors hustling passengers!

And all the time I driving, trying to soaking in a little piece of that authentic, West Indian culture and the way things used to be, but still is for “The common people who never saw the telephones, disposable panties and imported eggs, live as they always had,” as Isabel Allende writes in her novel Eva Luna – I had to contend with bus drives driving up me backside, trying to push me out the road. And I just there, taking me time, driving with due care and attention, me smile still liming on me face, and I still feeling that nice nice feeling eh, but these damn bus drivers trying to make me look like I can’t drive! Well this brings to mind a saying used when I was growing up, that goes like this “if dey send all you for me, go back and tell dem all you en see me eh.” Because just so they come and kill me good vibes. Hm!

PS. I am currently reading a manual on Simple Blogging. It teaches about Focus – (in the middle of writing this a phone call send me rummaging through my daughter’s wardrobe and making a trip I had no intention of making today. Life happens! It teaches about the purpose of this blogging thing. Now it has me questioning myself. Why I do this blogging thing. About the purpose of the pieces I write. What is the purpose of this piece? Well I love writing about everyday people and their experiences, life that is happening around me. And I like sharing these stories with like minded people. So I will keep sharing. It also teaches about consistency and the routine thing. Now I always have a problem with them things eh! But I will keep sharing. I hope you keep reading. Feel free to share them too.

On the writing thing again… them rules!

stone  On The 10 Commandments for writers 

I was looking through my Writers Diary 2013 and bumped into a little piece I wrote, based on an    article I must have read on The 10 Commandments for Fiction Writing. I might have posted it a  while back; however I just wanted to revisit it a little bit.

But really, there are so many rules when it comes to writing!! Rules about how many words you should write daily. How quickly you should write. To revise first draft or not to. About POV, characters, dialogue. What you should write about, should not write about. How, where, when you should write. Don’t do this. Don’t do that! Oh, you must do that! Bloody hell!! How does one keep up?
I say, for every rule, there is someone, somewhere, who has broken it. Stepped outside of that constraint; scathed that wall, climbed over that fence, jumped into that unknown territory or into their own territory, which lead to new discoveries.

Creativity is the key. It is essential. I say tell your story as only you can tell it. As Anne Enright ( Irish Author whose novel The Gathering won the 2007 Man Booker Prize) said, “Find a place to stand.”

I agree. You will search, try to copy what the others do–the greats and the ones who make those rules. I tried some of them myself! The daily journal entries; which went from daily to as and when something was worth writing about. The putting aside written work , to brew – I found very useful. Show not tell!  And sometimes the telling is unavoidable, but worth the effort in showing. After my first review and report on Force Ripe, from Corner Stones Literary Agencies, I laboured on my revisions, searching for every scene where I needed to Untell and Show instead ; by creating a scene- for example in this excerpt from my unpublished novel Force Ripe 

Sunday morning, and outside bright and hot;  just as if the sun have a special shine.  It cover the whole of Celeste with a bright, happy kind of glow. Is the kind of Sunday that does pass nice and slow and put people in a good mood –  cooking their Sunday food; taking it easy; sitting down a little bit. Laugh a lot.  The kind of Sunday for bathing outside in sun- warmed water and children playing shop under the house – weighing up dust, sand, flowers and all kinds of things, on leaves, with stick scales and stone weights – to make mud cakes with bougainvillea icing.  Then laze about under mango trees, belly full and niggeritis taking over, until the sun give them chance to play in the road.

Or by using dialogue – another excerpt from Force Ripe to illustrate –

“What wrong with you Millie? What we do you? What we do you, you hate us so! Your own grandchildren! Eh? Your own flesh and blood! What we do you?”

Mammy look up at me mother. She sucking she cheeks–in and out, in and out–like a little mullet.

Papa watching he hands in he lap. He mouth open.

“I come from your daughter. The Only daughter you have. The ONLY chile you make! She what make me! The same daughter who take up all she children up in England, and leave me here.  Me Alone she leave behind, for you to make see trouble! You tink I forget all the trouble you make me see?”

And what a time consuming but rewarding challenge this was!

In the end though, it always boils down to what works best for you. So I say, when you find that place, that space, where someone said must have a door! I disagree, unless that door is metaphorical. Quarantine Point is one of my favourite writing spots. If it is a room with a door, make it a place where your smell resides, your pen only fits into your hand, your elbow has eroded a spot on your desk and your bottom has carved a comfortable mould into that cushion. Make it a space where no one else will find what you do,when you stand there. No one else will see what you see. So only you will see the way the lizard on the Neem tree corks its head as it scopes you out- perhaps wondering why you crowding its space. Only you will hear the dew drops falling onto the AC unit outside the window and get on all fours to lick that fragrance rising from the tarmac with the heat, after the light drizzle. Feel the presence of danger as cold bumps raise your skin. So only you know the taste of your lover’s skin and how that whiff of cigarette mix-upwith Davidoff’s Silver Shadow Attitude didn’t just arouse you; but it sucked your inverted nipple out of hiding, hardened their flatness into little peaks and rippled crazy sensations from your core!  Oh boy…getting carried away here! Where was I again?

Yes, back to finding your place. I was just standing in mine for a while there! I say when you do find it, make it your space. Plant your feet in it. Set your own rules and work with what works best for you.

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen

Break the rules. Find that crack. Let your light in.