Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Soundtracks are harder than you think!

I didn't really have any particular songs in mind as I wrote Jessamine but now that the novel is finished, however, and now that I am thinking about it, here are some songs I could see playing in the minds of the characters if they'd only known them.
This is the song Arabella might have heard in her head when she left Jessamine to be with Leando -

Okay - I can't think of a scene this fits but I can see it as a song Arabella and Leando would have danced to, together.

When Leando left to intercede for some of his friends, this was the song in Arabella's heart -

When Grace got off the plane, "Hot, Hot, Hot" was exactly how she felt!

Madman's Chant covers almost all the issues that made Julian decide he had to run for office so he could make St. Crescens a better place to live.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Brick Oven of Long Ago - Snapshot Saturday

About forty or fifty years ago, before most people had regular GE ovens, this is what our ovens looked like in the Virgin Islands.  The wood was made to burn inside and you'd have a long, wooden ladle-type thing (don't know if it had a name) which you'd use to put your bread in.  I've never actually seen one used so I don't know exactly how it would have worked but the old-timers say the bread from these brick ovens tasted way better than those from the modern ovens.  The ovens were also used to bake cakes!

Making the brick ovens was something of an art and few are able to build one now.

That's either a plantain or banana tree towering over it.

Today, I'm once again participating in Snapshot Saturday which is sponsored by Alyce of At Home With Books! Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don't post random photos that you find online.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Bush Doctors and Medicine Women of the Caribbean

In my upcoming novel, Jessamine, Arabella hears of a mysterious woman by the name of Ma Bett who is resorted to by women eager to get pregnant. Later, Arabella meets Ma Bett when she goes to the home of a child who has been the victim of a horrific assault. Ma Bett is a medicine woman, she can cure the sick but she is also much more. During slavery and in the post-emancipation era which is the setting for much of Jessamine's action, black people did not have access to standard medical care (such as it was at the time) but resorted to traditional healers who used their extensive knowledge of plants to cure or treat many illnesses.

Diseases common in the Caribbean during the plantation era included yellow fever, yaws, ulcers, elephantiasis, dropsy (now known as oedama), leprosy, cholera and dysentery. Epidemics often carried off scores of people on a plantation with whites being as susceptible to many of the afflictions as blacks but Europeans quickly noted that Africans were able to treat maladies on their own.

“When [the slaves] are sick, there are two remedies that cure them; the one an outward, the other, an inward medicine,” wrote Richard Ligon in 1673. “The outward medicine is a thing they call Negro-oyle, and tis made in Barbary, yellow it is as Beeswax but soft as butter. When they feel themselves ill, they call for some of that, and anoint their bodies, as their breasts, bellies, and side, and in two days they are perfectly well. But this does the greatest cures upon such, as have bruises or strains in their bodies. The inward medicine is taken, when they find any weakness or decay in their spirits and stomachs, and then a dram or two of kill-devil revives and comforts them much.”

This video below gives an idea of some of the plants used in traditional healing throughout the Caribbean.

In the late 1700s, Edward Long noted that “the chief medicaments among the Negroes are lime juice, cardamoms, the roots, branches, leaves, bark, and gums of trees and about thirty different herbs. The latter have been experienced in many cases wonderfully powerful and have subdued diseases incident to their climate which have foiled the art of European surgeons at the factories.”  He pointed out, however, that “the Negroes generally apply them at random without any regard to the particular symptoms of the disease; concerning which, or the operation of their materia medica, they have formed no theory.”

In the early twentieth century, Bessie Pullen-Burry reported on the bush bath: “This consists of equal proportions of the leaves of the following plants: ackee, sour sop, jointwood, pimento, cowfoot, elder, lime-leaf and licorice. The patient is plunged into the bath when it is very hot, and is covered with a sheet. When the steam has penetrated the skin, the patient is removed from the bath, and covered with warm blankets leaving the skin undried. A refreshing sleep is invariably the consequence, and a very perceptible fall in temperature.”

Nowadays, you can get a bush bath at your nearest spa!

Years later, observers were still remarking on the effectiveness of local remedies. “Anyone who has lived for some time in Jamaica has come in contact with really marvelous ‘Bush remedies,’” Joseph Williams declared. “For example, a throbbing headache is quickly relieved by the application of a particular cactus which is split and bound on the forehead; and a severe fever is broken effectively by a ‘bush tea’ made from certain leaves and twigs known only to the old woman who gathers them and whose only explanation is ‘Jes seben bush, Sah, me pick dem one one.’”

Even now, many people in the Caribbean turn first to the plants growing in their yards and gardens or along the roadsides to treat anything from fevers to 'sugar.'

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Jaguar Sun Reviewed

Jaguar Sun (Jaguar Sun #1)Jaguar Sun by Martha Bourke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the Jaguar Sun world which is based on Mayan mythology, shifters shift into the forms of their spirit companions or naguals. Everyone knows about shifters but they’re not universally accepted so when teenaged Maya finds out about Balam, her jaguar spirit-companion, she’s very ambivalent, not least because she wonders if this will be the last straw that destroys her relationship with Matt, her jock boyfriend. But when she finds out about the Mayan end-of-the-world prophecy just as the members of an evil group begin to take too great an interest in her, she realizes that her life will truly never be the same again. Interesting supporting characters include the twins, Lyssa and Damian, who support Maya through thick and thin and Maya’s own grandmother who fits the role of elderly Wise Woman. If anybody was a tad underdrawn I think it was Maya’s father who didn’t really have much to do or say and seemed rather remote.

I enjoyed Jaguar Sun very much. As other reviewers have said, it was a well-written, fast-paced read and I enjoyed learning about Mayan history and culture. I recommend this for anyone wanting to read a YA novel with an unusual setting.

View all my reviews

Saturday, 19 May 2012

The Ginger Lily - Saturday Snapshot

Today, I'm once again participating in Snapshot Saturday which is sponsored by Alyce of At Home With Books! Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don't post random photos that you find online.

The beautiful ginger lily is one of my favorite flowers. The plant doesn't grow well in all parts of the Virgin Islands since it needs a lot of water and good soil and some parts of the VI are quite dry. This one is flourishing in my garden thanks to recent rains.

The pipes in the background used to support an old grapevine that bore the sourest grapes in the world.  It was replaced by an ixora and another flowering vine which recently volunteered for duty.

The waxy flowers look unreal, don't they?

Friday, 18 May 2012

Review of Jessamine and Dido's Prize Giveaway

I'm giving away copies of Dido's Prize today to the first five people who leave a comment under the review of Jessamine over at Historical Novels Review.  Do come over!

Here's the blurb -

Dido, a slave on a Jamaican sugar plantation, runs away to join Henry Morgan's privateer fleet and find the treasure that will allow her to buy her family's freedom. What she doesn't bargain on is falling in love with El Negro, a pirate captain with no particular yen for a long-lasting relationship. As Morgan sails the Spanish Main, sacking first, El Puerto del Principe in Cuba, and then the great city of Porto Bello in Panama, Dido becomes a valued member of El Negro's crew.

After the ships return to Jamaica, Dido thinks she will never see the pirate captain again, but he comes to her rescue when she is in peril. They flee deep into the Blue Mountains, but El Negro knows he will never be safe on the island. Together, Dido and her pirate, head back out to sea to find a place where they can live and love in freedom.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

We Have a Winner!

Alyssa of MyLittlePocketBooks is the winner of my recent giveaway, A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness!  Yay!

Alyssa, I'll get an email out to you shortly!

Better luck next time, everybody.  Stay tuned for other giveaways!

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Four Star Rating for Jessamine

A wonderful Four Star review of Jessamine from Booketta's Book Blog:

Jessamine is "a wonderful story about political conflict, corruption and racism. Grace not only faces moving to a small island after living in America but she has to come to terms with the small-minded community. Even though Grace is black, she is an outsider and seen as different by the wives of her husband's political party associates and friends. "

To read the rest, please click here.  Jessamine releases on 1st June!

Monday, 14 May 2012

Kwei Quartey's Children of the Street

Children of the StreetChildren of the Street by Kwei Quartey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Detective Inspector Darko Dawson is called out to the Korle Lagoon where the near-fingerless body of a homeless boy was found he has no idea that more murders will follow. A killer is preying on the children and others who live on the margins of society in Ghana’s teeming capital city. The mutilated bodies and their disposal in Accra’s dump sites suggest the killer is sending a message but what it is Darko has no idea.

Even as Darko struggles to unravel the mystery before the killer strikes again he is beset by worries over his son whose heart condition appears to be worsening. On top of that, the boy who led them to the first murder victim’s body disappears without a trace. Darko had felt an instant connection with the boy and he’s deeply worried because he knows all the terrible ways in which the city takes its toll on its street children. Another potential problem is the possibility that his police career could be derailed if his own addiction to marijuana or wee is discovered which becomes a distinct possibility when his dealer is drawn into the murder investigation.

Children of the Streets is Kwei Quartey’s second novel and the first that I’ve read. The setting, Accra, is vividly described and I was thrilled to find a detective story set in a country mostly unknown to me. The challenges and struggles faced by Accra’s street children and by others struggling to make ends meet actually resulted in my finding the city itself more menacing than the killer! I found this a fast and interesting read.

View all my reviews

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Views of Road Harbour, Tortola - Snapshot Saturday

Road is the old nautical term for harbour which was how Road Town, the capital, of the Virgin Islands got its name back in the 1600s.  These are a couple shots of the main seaport of entry in the heart of the town.  The pictures were taken around the same time on different days.

The white boat with the red stripe is one
of the ferries to St. Thomas in the USVI.

The rising sun gives this one a rosy glow.

In this shot you can see another of our ferries - the green boat.
In case you were wondering, the huge building will one day be our new hospital.

Snapshot Saturday is sponsored by Alyce of At Home With Books! Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don't post random photos that you find online.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

International Giveaway - A Discovery of Witches

As promised, I'm announcing another giveaway - this time it's a paperback copy of A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness.  Read on for more details!

From Goodreads - A richly inventive novel about a centuries-old vampire, a spellbound witch, and the mysterious manuscript that draws them together.

Deep in the stacks of Oxford's Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.

Debut novelist Deborah Harkness has crafted a mesmerizing and addictive read, equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense. Diana is a bold heroine who meets her equal in vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, and gradually warms up to him as their alliance deepens into an intimacy that violates age-old taboos. This smart, sophisticated story harks back to the novels of Anne Rice, but it is as contemporary and sensual as the Twilight series-with an extra serving of historical realism.


Rules for the Giveaway are simple:-
1. Follow me here on my blog or
2. Follow me on Twitter. (if you do both that's two entries)
3. Leave a comment with your email addy telling me what you've done.

You also get a bonus entry if you blog about this giveaway or tweet it and then email me the link. (eugeniaoneal [at] gmail [dot] com) This giveaway will end Wednesday 16th May so there's lots of time to get in as many entries as you can.

Good luck!

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Why I Love the Internet! ...and why any writer should, too!

Years ago I used to bemoan how difficult it was as a writer to live in one of the smallest Caribbean islands, far away from networks of other writers and from the great research libraries. (An inter-library loan once took me six months!) It isn’t a coincidence that most of the Caribbean’s great writers (in fact, all I can think of) don’t actually live in the Caribbean. 

Now, because of the internet, the challenges aren’t as great as they once were and I thought I’d chat today about some of the great ways in which the internet has made my life easier.
1.)    Google. Of course, I had to start here. With Google everything is at my fingertips. Google is like having my very own research assistant/library right there on my desk.

2.)    One of the best Google innovations is Street View – having trouble imagining a street in Chicago or Paris? No problem. Call it up on Street View and it’s almost like you’re there yourself. (Imagining the smells and sounds is up to you, though.)

3.)    Wikipedia. This site is often the top listed after a a Google search regardless of whether I’m looking for information on Henry Morgan or on women’s prisons. It is a fabulous resource for writers and a great place to start researching your topic.

4.)    You Tube doesn’t always immediately come to mind when thinking of great places for writers on the Net but it should. Why? Well, one of the issues for me is that if I want to attend, say a thriller writers conference or a conference for science fiction and fantasy writers that means a long (and expensive) trip. Similarly, the chances of my being able to hear Ray Bradbury or Alice Walker speak are pretty slim unless I journey overseas but there they are on You Tube. It’s still not as great as being there live but with more and more conferences being livestreamed, even that distinction will be all but lost. 

5.)   You Tube also offers writers a great opportunity to put themselves out there by filming themselves reading excerpts from their books or showcasing book trailers which are a great promotional idea.  You can see me reading from Dido's Prize and the trailer for Jessamine, my upcoming novel, on my You Tube channel.

5.)    And if I’m researching a location that’s pretty well-known (and even some that aren’t) chances are someone has filmed it on You Tube and, if I can’t find it on Google Street View, I’ll find something I can use on You Tube.

4.)   Non-copyright books. Books from the 1800s and earlier are freely available either through  the GutenbergProject, Google Books or on Amazon. For a writer of historicals, this is a treasure trove beyond measure. Books that I couldn’t find on local library shelves or in bookstores are now appearing as ebooks giving me access to loads of information about how people dressed, how they spoke, what they ate, etc. You can find some of this information in secondary sources, yes, but these books can give you a more rounded and authentic experience. (One caveat is that since I wrote this Amazon appears to have begun restricting the availability of its copyright-free books to the U.S. only.)

5.)   One of my Facebook friends took copies of his first book to Grand Central Station and started handselling them outside. In a month, he’d sold something like 500. One Sunday, he filled his tank with gas and his trunk with books and went around to some of the bigger churches. He sold enough copies to make him repeat the exercise over the next few Sundays. A month later he went to New Jersey and did the same thing. Now this isn’t something I can replicate over the Net but by interacting with people on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and other social media sites I’m reaching a lot more people than I previously could. I also don’t have to just rely on bookstores listing my books – I  can list them myself at several online sites like Manic Readers and get additional exposure.

6.)   Online critique groups. An island of about 17,000 people isn’t going to have a writers group where writers can critique each other’s work and support each other. Not to worry, though, because several online groups such as Critters and Critique Circle exist to do just that. (Big up to the critiquers of the Circle who gave me invaluable suggestions when I was writing both Dido's Prize and Jessamine.)

The Net isn’t all good, or I should say isn't used only for completely good purposes, few things are. There are privacy issues and concerns about identity theft among others but, for a writer, from a small (very small) island it makes a lot of things possible that ten or fifteen years ago, were not.