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[Guest Post] No Blue, No Green: Reflections on Gone to Drift



Teaching young people about the important issues of our time benefits their development, and helps shape their passion for social justice later in life. Social justice, whether it be environmental, political, gender oriented, or economic is a crucial subject to discuss with children if we want them to grow up to be compassionate global citizens. This is the second essay in a new author series in which we're publishing guest posts by children's and YA authors who've written books with social justice themes. Today, May 22nd, is International Day for Biological Diversity and it's also United States National Maritime Day, making it the perfect day to share Diana's reflection centered on her debut YA novel Gone to Drift. Diana is an environmentalist by training and while the book isn't only about environmental justice, it does deal with issues surrounding the environment, marine conservation and pollution. Without further ado, we welcome Diana to the site!



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I was born in Kingston and Kingston Harbour has always been my front yard. My parents and paternal grandparents were recreational fishers, so I grew up with the sea. My mother told me I went to sea before I was three months old; my protagonist in Gone to Drift, Lloydie, does this too. As a teenager, I read books about going to sea by Hemingway, Monserrat, Defoe, Melville─ novels of exploration, war, shipwrecks and castaways. The sea meant adventure, escape, freedom, drama.

My relationship with the sea was never one of risk, however, and I never had to eke a living from the sea. As a child, I saw fishers in their open boats, in calm seas and rough ones, day and night, and I admired their skills and their bravery. I learned to fish myself and later, to snorkel and much later, scuba-dive.

And as I grew older, I realized that the sea I loved was dying─ beaches were strewn with garbage, reefs were covered with algae and Jamaica’s waters were heavily overfished. I became an environmentalist in 1990 on the day I stood on the Palisadoes strip─ the sandy spit that forms Kingston Harbour ─and saw it had become a garbage dump. That same year, I visited the Harbour View Sewage Treatment Plant, which then had not worked in 15 years. Raw sewage bubbled up out of the pipes and flowed across the land into the sea. In what universe, I asked myself, is this okay?

I knew nothing about the environment but I started reading and the more I read, the more concerned I became. As an islander, I focused on the sea. I learned that all life came from the sea and all life on earth still depends on the sea. As pioneering oceanographer Sylvia Earle famously said: “No water, no life. No blue, no green.” The ocean covers almost three-quarters of the planet and gives us the air we breathe and the water we drink. About half the earth’s people live in the coastal zone and rely on the sea for food and livelihoods. Here in the Caribbean, we live on islands in close relationship with the sea.

I thought my task was a simple one─ I just had to tell people the ocean was under threat, and once they knew, they would act. Of course that was naïve. As the years went by, I began to see that while facts about the state of the sea are important, it is more important to touch people’s hearts. And the best way to do that is through stories.

I have interacted with countless fishers through my environmental work and it seems there are two kinds─ men (yes they are mostly men) who know and love the sea and do not intend to do harm, and men who do not care, who perhaps cannot afford to care. I have seen that a whole way of life is dying in the Caribbean─ the fishing markets and villages, beaches, and the sea itself.  New types of livelihoods have emerged─ some legal, many illegal. My environmental work has also brought me into contact with the captive dolphin industry. I visited one of the dolphin facilities here in Jamaica and I watched those extraordinary marine athletes─ the dolphins ─perform tricks for thoughtless people. Again I thought: in what universe is this okay? I wanted to write a story about this clash between the old ways of fishing and new ways of exploiting the sea. I imagined an old-time fisherman in conflict with a modern fisher and a boy standing between them.

Stories often start with a “what if?” question. Mine was: what if the old-time fisher and the modern fisher were father and son? What if they were in conflict about the capture of dolphins for the tourist trade? And then one night as I was falling asleep, an image came to me of a boy sitting on a wall at night in the rain, staring out to sea. He was waiting for someone. Whom was he waiting for? It had to be someone lost at sea. Why was this person lost at sea? The story of Lloydie’s search for Ma’as Conrad began to unfold in my mind.

Jamaican coast guard patrol vessel. Photo: Mark Matta.

I decided to set the book in Treasure Beach on Jamaica’s south coast, because dolphins still visit the fishing villages there and also because it is a departure point for fishers leaving for the Pedro Bank and Cays. What if something happened to Ma’as Conrad on the Pedro Bank? Was there somewhere he could be stranded and survive? I spoke to people who worked on the Pedro Bank and learned about Portland Rock, the northern-most of the Pedro Cays group. How could Lloydie get to the Pedro Bank? I knew the Jamaica Defence Force Coast Guard went to the Pedro Cays once a week. Could my young protagonist stowaway on a Coast Guard boat? I had no idea. I asked if I could see one of the boats and somewhat to my surprise, the Commander said yes. I stood on the dock, toured the ship and figured out how Lloydie could climb aboard. I had all the major elements of my story.

Although we Caribbean people live on islands, many of us are not really “island people.” We don’t swim, we don’t go to sea, and we’re scared of the sea which brings us storms and holds our tragic history. This may be particularly true for the upcoming generation. I wanted to write a story to introduce readers of all kinds, but especially young readers, to the skill and trade of fishing. My story pays tribute to the old-time fishers who respected and loved the sea, and to seagoing people everywhere. It is also a story about what we’re losing, about the increasingly empty sea that now surrounds us. My hope is that the characters in Gone to Drift have revealed what is at stake through their struggles.


About the Author

Diana McCaulay is an award-winning Jamaican writer and environmental activist. She has written three novels for adults, White Liver Gal, Huracan and Dog-Heart. Gone to Drift, her first young adult novel, placed second in the 2015 Burt Award for Caribbean Literature and won the Vic Reid Award for Young Adult Literature at Jamaica’s national Lignum Vitae Awards in 2016. Both Dog-Heart and Huracan were shortlisted for the Saroyan Prize for International Writing. She won the Hollick Arvon Prize for Caribbean writing in 2014, for her non fiction work-in-progress Loving Jamaica: a Memoir of Place and (Not) Belonging. Diana’s short fiction has appeared in Granta, Eleven Eleven, Fleeting Magazine, The Caribbean Writer, Afro-Beat, Lifestyle Magazine and the Jamaica Observer. She was the Caribbean regional winner for the Commonwealth Writers Short Story prize in 2012 for her story "The Dolphin Catcher." You can find her online at dianamccaulay.com.

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About Anansesem

Anansesem is an online magazine of Caribbean children's and young adult literature by adults and children. We strive to bring you the best in news, reviews and creative content from the world of Caribbean children's publishing.
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