Of the 33 manuscripts or self-published books submitted for this year’s award, three books stood out for general writing strength, beauty of language, innovative structure, solid themes, riveting plots, strong conflicts and memorable characterisations. These three books in order of their awards, Children of the Spider, The Dolphin Catchers and Dancing in the Rain all transcended Caribbean literature and became world literature that displayed a dazzling mix of genres.
Richard said, “Dancing’s strengths are its internal conflict and main character, its sense of incident or plot arc, and the conviction of its main character. Spider’s strengths are pace, language and surprise. I value surprise when I am reading, and that book genuinely surprised me a couple of times. It was never boring.
When it comes to judging a good book in general, Richard said, “I read for voice, character, language, incident, pace, probably in that order. But the sum of these, the overarching thing I want more than anything in a story, is conviction. Believability. Do the characters sound authentic? Are their motives credible? Are the pictures clear? Are the incidents believable and yet surprising enough to keep me interested? Do I want to keep reading? When I finish, am I satisfied? Our three titles are the best of the lot. They all have conviction.
Verna said, “The Dolphin Catchers offers rhythmic writing that is sharp and concise. There is dramatic tension with enough emotion to hold the attention of young adult reader along with excellent social commentary without patronising the poor. Dancing in the Rain benefits from good description and a sense of foreboding, leaving the reader to want more. Children of the Spider is a magical story. The characterisation is strong and holds throughout. In the Yong Adult (YA) category, it might be an idea for us all to remember that ‘teens ain’t what they used to be!’”
Aspiring writers should take note of Verna’s comments about the submissions in general: “It was obvious that all the writers had varying and interesting ideas for a novel, but were mostly failing on the technicalities of executing the ideas effectively. Publishing is a business after all, and publishers are searching for good stories to sell well for profit. I believe that good Caribbean stories have universal appeal and would sell inside and outside the Caribbean.
Joanne said, “Sometimes there’d be a good premise but maybe too much exposition and not enough forward movement - one of the things that set Children of the Spider apart from other submissions in that genre. Sometimes there was an interesting story idea, but the writing itself felt flat — something which sets Dancing in the Rain apart. Sometimes, there was a lot going on with no engaging character to solidly anchor it — Dolphin had a lot of them beat in that regard — that plus the rhythm of it seduced me into being invested in the story so that I wanted to get to the end not just because I had to, but because I had to know. There were some other stories that had possibility, and really interesting moments, where the writing felt alive, but they didn’t sustain it…and often for me there was just no… magic.”
“One of the things I thought Dolphin did well, by the way, was even when it shifted to the grandfather’s perspective, it was his memories of a younger self so that it still felt like a perspective relatable to a Caribbean teen, said Joanne.
As for me… I found that a third of the manuscripts had poor or lacklustre language. The themes of family, the environment and loss propelled the winners forward. The energy of The Dolphin Catchers comes from the boy’s determination to find his grandfather and the subtle, unspoken theme of perseverance.
Dancing in the Rain captures that agonising and unfair position that so many children or Young Adults face in terms of feeling responsible for their parents’ happiness. Children of the Spider feels like the natural magic of the Caribbean that we don’t see anymore, and it offers a future for Wilson Harris’s magical realist voice.
There is no doubt that the winning novels created a sense of energy by mastering the literary elements that they converted into something magical.