Sunday, March 30, 2014

Naming your character

New book from Carlong Publishers ( Caribbean) Ltd

Having just completed a battle with one of my characters about her name, I am more now keenly interested in the names to chose for characters in my stories.

Names can be a clue to period in a story as names, like other things, go in and out of fashion. You wouldn't (normally) want to give a character in a historical story a modern name.Whenever I hear someone named Hazel, for example, I know  that person is usually near to my age group. I suppose George will be back in fashion after the new English prince was named. If you check a search engine you will see that some names are perennial - bible names for example. Some never go away David, Daniel, Matthew, Mark, John, Samuel. Mary, Martha, Ruth and so on.

If you are writing a contemporary children's or YA story, especially in Jamaica, (maybe elsewhere too) you had better be aware of the names which now exist. I was alerted to this when the proof reader at the company producing my latest book Ash the Flash (co-written with Nattalie Gordon) asked that the name of the secondary character be changed. Both of us writers agreed that to change his name at this late stage would be alarming both for us and the character - as if he would become a different person and change the mood of the story. Nattalie had named him Kenroy and the reader thought that this was too old fashioned for a contemporary twelve year old. I compromised by changing the spelling to Kenroi which made it look more modern, even if the pronunciation was the same.

Photos: Bryan Cummings

The recently concluded Girls and Boys Track and Field Championship in Jamaica was spectacular for broken records, the courage of the children and their compassion for those injured or for those who didn't win a race.

One of the interesting things for me was the names of the competitors. There were a few sprinklings of names like Christopher, Anthony, and Robert. I remember when Travis and Akeem seemed new and daring. I was aware that parents had started uniting parts of their names for their offspring, but some of these names had me sitting up and taking notice. I suspect that it's only the familiarity of the commentators with the stars of track and field that made them able to pronounce some of the names and even then sometimes they had to back track.

I am not saying there is anything wrong with these names. Just be aware if you are writing a contemporary story that you should pay attention to current names.

Here are a few, I wrote down..

Ackeliah, Argyanna, Asaine, Asschani, Avagay,
Cameena, Camira, Codi-Ann
Daejan, Delicesha,
Janeek, Jynell,
Khanoy, Kissi -Ann
Olian, Oweneika
Sanique, Sherdia, Shaneil, Shelica, Santanya, Sheriann, Sashell, Semoy
Tachece, Tulia,

Dejour, Detroy, Devannah,
Chadrick, Chevenne, Chadoye,
Jauvaney, Javon, Jevuaghn, Javad,
Rajay, Rakeem

Of course, you can always make up a new name for your character or change the spelling of a name you like. I was thinking that if I combined parts of my name I could get something like Hadesim, or Hadecam. Trouble is I wouldn't know if this was a girl or a boy. Many interesting possibilities here.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

My friend and fellow children's writer Diane Browne is among the names on the shortlist for the Burt Award for YA literature in the Caribbean.I am singling her out primarily because I was the editor of her book as well as Series Editor for the Carlong Sand Pebbles Pleasure Series - this is the 9th book in the Series from Carlong Publishers (Caribbean ) Ltd.

I do congratulate all those shortlisted and wish them well. I know a few of the other writers.

I suspect that there might not have been a lot of entries fitting into the Young Adult (YA) section of writing for children in the Caribbean. There might still not be many writing for this age group.We still seem a bit hesitant to recognize that books for children differ according to the age range for which they are written. As soon as one mentions children's books, many people immediately think of picture books with bright colourful illustrations for the very young.

As we know, children develop at different rates, so books are geared to different stages of their development in quite arbitrary age ranges which should be used only as guidelines. The age divisions are mostly  marketing categories for grouping books on shelves by the target audience, and overlap for different publishers.

Broadly speaking the divisions are
Picture books for infants through preschoolers (read by adults to the children)
The early readers cater to those learning to read and include picture story books and early chapter books.
Next come  the middle grade novels for the age range  8- to 12 - the so called golden age of reading
Then there are the tweenies roughly for the 11-14 age group bored with the usual middle grade material but not yet ready of YA.

Young Adult (YA) stories and novels are effectively on the same mature level as works for adults, but deal with the concerns of that age group anywhere between 12 and 14 to 16/18. Here you will find books closer to the younger or higher end of this age group. Some of the contemporary YA novels are quite popular with adult readers.

I am happy that the Burt competition specified YA material and didn't just say books for children. It seems quite unfair to have a competition which includes all the different groups in one. Not even middle grade and YA books should be judged in the same category.

The Burt Award shortlist 

The shortlisted titles are:
  • Island Princess in Brooklyn by Diane Browne, Jamaica (published by Carlong)

  • All Over Again by A-dZiko Gegele, Jamaica (published by Blouse & Skirt Books)

  • Barrel Girl by Glynis Guevara, Trinidad and Tobago (manuscript to be published)

  • Musical Youth by Joanne Hillhouse, Antigua and Barbuda (manuscript to be published)

  • Abraham’s Treasure by Joanne Skerrett, Dominica (published by Papillote Press)

  • Inner City Girl by Colleen Smith Dennis, Jamaica (published by LMH Publishing)
The finalists were selected by a jury administered by The Bocas Lit Fest and made up of writers, literacy experts and academics from the Caribbean and Canada.

The first, second and third place winners will be announced at the NGC Bocas Lit Fest in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, on 25 April 2014.

Good luck y'all.


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

More on Hi/low readers


Several yeas ago, I was commissioned by the local UNESCO office to write a series of booklets dealing with social issues aimed at adult new readers. Since there is often differing levels of reading competence, I tried several ways of making the material available.One such was to split the facing pages with captioned illustrations, comic style, on the left and the story text on the right.

Sharon's Song, one of the booklets, used this technique. The story told of a family- father mother son and daughter. The father would hold  regular drinking sessions at home with his friends on weekends and command his son to clean up the mess. The teen began to drain the bottles of rum and eventually became alcoholic. In search of liquor one night, he is gunned down. The family falls apart. The mother becomes crazy, the daughter wild and into drugs. The father, aware now of how his behaviour affected his son, tries to put his family back together, He seeks counselling and assistance.
Here are two sample pages

The theme for all the stories was that was that although things might fall apart, there is help for those who seek it. 

Sharon's Song should have had a cd to accompany it, as the story is told in what could be the lyrics of a song - soca and reggae style for the different sections.(In the illustrations, the storyteller is actually a singer with accompanying band.) This would also enable the reader to follow the text. Unfortunately, that part of the exercise fell through. I am aware that the text should have had a more reader friendly layout.

However, I am wondering if that presentation, comic version on one side and accompanying text on the others would entice reluctant readers. It would be interesting to try this for the hi/low readers I am compiling and evaluate the results as a project.