Leaving Jamaica, Bocas Lit Fest, Shark and Bake

kenMy last two days in Jamaica for a rush to see family, especially Auntie Gloria and Uncle Ken. Ken is 79 but still racing around the island in his bright red Mini Cooper. “If I stop work, I’ll die” he told me, and indeed, something is keeping Ken sprightly. He’s my dad’s half-brother, ten years younger. When my grandfather told an 11 year old Ken he had to leave the house because his new wife didn’t like him, Ken caught the bus to Kingston. “I was on my own since then” he said.

I didn’t have a number for Gloria until the day before my visit, and then only vague directions – “Go to Stirling Castle and ask for me” she said, and surprisingly, everyone at Stirling Castle knew where my Auntie lived. Gloria is 85 but she had her walking shoes on and had already been out for a ramble that morning. If anyone knows what this flower is, please let me know. It’s driving Gloria mad.

me and gloria


I flew to Trinidad, 1150 miles from Jamaica, for the Bocas Lit Fest on Thursday. It’s been a brilliant few days. Colin Grant and I read work and discussed father figures at the opening session. Colin’s dad was “Bageye”, a larger than life gambler with um, baggy eyes, who I reckon might well have known my dad at some point. “Bageye at the Wheel” is a very funny and very sad story of Colin’s childhood growing up with Bageye in the Caribbean Luton of the 60s and 70s.

Another favourite author of mine is here too – Kerry Young – who’s new novel “Gloria” follows on from “Pao”, loosely based on the story of her Chinese gangster father living in Kingston.

Here’s a pic of me Colin and Margaret Busby, the first black woman publisher in the UK, founder of the influential UK publishers Allison and Busby. Oh and here’s another with Irvine Welsh…one day it’s me and Jimmy Osborne…now Irvine Welsh – whoever next?

colin margaret


Bocas is in its third year. This year had an amazing packed programme of readings, panels and conversations with writers, and the The Edinburgh World Writers Conference had chosen Bocas as one of 14 platforms for international literary conversations to take place. I was involved in the panel discussing A National Literature? yesterday and in the audience for today’s panel, Should Literature Be Political?

Bocas has been so busy, I can’t say that I’ve seen much of Trinidad. But I am struck by how different it is from Jamaica – there’s far much more wealth here for one. The population is also incredibly diverse – visible different from Jamaica with people whose origins are East Indian, African, European, Chinese and Syrian.

I have been fortunate enough to try some of the local cuisine, rotis and doubles. “Doubles” is a Trini speciality, born when schoolboys asked to double up on the bread for the chana snack sold by street vendors. I might try and introduce the word in the UK, as a new term for sandwich. “Tuna Doubles”, “Ham Salad Doubles”…you get me.


Tomorrow I’m on the hunt for “Shark and Bake”. Not “Shake and Bake” as I mistakenly said today. This is, well, shark, and bread, and can only be found on Maracas Beach. I’m going to brave the torrential tropical rains we’ve been having to make it a Trini food hat-trick, before catching a plane home….