I don’t exactly know why I kept the old peso note a Cuban fisherman once gave me. But I did and his words stuck with me –
” …be careful how it is you spend your freedom.”
For years I carried the note around with me, as if waiting for the right moment to spend what was, really, worthless. When people ask me why I started to write I think of his advice. In some ways practicing my Spanish with that fisherman was the spark that drew pen to paper or fingers to keys. What I learnt during those months I lived in Cuba so caught me by surprise I had to find some way to share it. And it began with the water.
I’ve always been attracted to water. When I was 3 years old I launched myself fully dressed into the depths of a hotel swimming pool, forcing my dad to drop our suitcases and dive in after me as I sank to the bottom.
And so it was with The Waterfields. I had hardly written anything before attending one of Vanessa’s writing workshops, held in Dublin. But after her stellar encouragement I just jumped in.
“It’s the story that counts,” Vanessa said. “You only have to tell it.”
And I did want to tell it. I wanted to shout it out as loud as I could. And I’m thrilled that that moment has finally come.
In The Waterfields, time and place mix with those special memories that finally led to something quite unexpected. Although contemporary fiction, it combines stories from real life experiences that many Cubans shared with me. And there came a problem. There were too many characters to fit into one book. Too many voices demanding to be heard. And to add to the noise and confusion, I was still trying to find my own voice to tell it all in.
I began to see The Waterfields in everything. Headlines I’d never noticed before screamed out at me. I understood for the first time the haunting songs of some Spanish and Cuban singers, even though I had listened to their lyrics a thousand times before. I remember reading Stevie Smith’s poem, “Not Waving But Drowning” and wondering if she too had passed along the same Cuban shoreline and accidently seen what I too had seen. There was no shortage of inspiration.
My previous years working as a professional diver before sailing long-distance, fooled me into thinking that I knew the secrets of the sea. I didn’t know its secret like those I was to write about. They knew it in a different way and as Hemingway said, the challenge in writing is to find the right words. And so I began my search, slowly whittling the stories down to a group of characters, and the framework for the novel was born.
Maybe you can imagine what it is I am trying to show. Can you? To have no choice, unable to explore for yourself the very life that you live. What would it take for you to sell your own body or leave behind those that you love? Your family. Friends. The very people that have made your existence possible and those you come home to. Can you imagine it? Really?
It’s there where The Waterfields flows through the friendships you couldn’t bear to abandon and the love you wouldn’t live without. It’s all about the love, and the hope we should never let go of. And of course, it’s about what that Cuban fisherman, who I called Ulysses, told me back then. It’s about the freedom.
It was different for me, compared with them. I could choose what I wrote and I wasn’t alone. I was surrounded by my characters and I could take my family and friends along with me, exploring the themes and emotions of what is- almost unimaginable. And that’s how I like to write, as a journey that I want to explore.
And although the journey of The Waterfields came to an end, I couldn’t help but look for another course to steer. This time I’ve set off in another direction, a second novel with a satirical look at the financial crisis.
But for now I’m impatient to share The Waterfields with you. In general I am a little that way-impatient. I can’t wait for a publisher to tell me that they will let you read it. I wrote it to be read so I won’t hang around until someone takes a chance on me. Instead, I’d rather take a chance on you.