JIS News

Born in England of Jamaican parents, her debut novel has been hailed as a “wonderfully vivid and beautifully written” tale of homecoming.
‘What Goes Around’, written by Maeve Clarke tells the story of Frank who returns to Jamaica after almost 30 years of “voluntary exile” to bury his father.
Miss Clarke, whose parents migrated to Britain many years ago, tells JIS News that the book was produced over nine months as part of her thesis for her Master’s degree in Novel Writing. She says the story came to her in a recurring dream that she had, and at first was set in medieval England.
“The first draft I wrote in nine months, because I was doing a Master’s in Novel Writing and part of the thesis was to write a novel and that was my novel. We had a deadline, so because of the deadline I had to write quickly and it was really hard, but I am glad I did it that way,” Miss Clarke says.
“I tried to make it into a story of people finding themselves when I started to write the thesis. After my dad died, I started writing it, set in Jamaica, and it was very therapeutic for me when I transferred it to Jamaica,” she says.
In some respects ‘What Goes Around’ also echoes the experience of her parents who returned to Brown’s Town, St. Ann in the 1980s, after living in Britain for more than 25 years.
Miss Clarke, who now lives in Bologna, Italy, where she teaches English as a second language, is now working on the sequel to ‘What Goes Around’, which she says has many challenges.
“In a sense, it (the sequel) is easy because the characters are established but it is also harder because you can’t repeat certain things. And things I would like them to do now would not make any sense because they did other things or reacted in a certain way. So it’s trying to balance what I have already written with what I would like to write and because I don’t have a deadline, I am not being as consistent as I should be with writing it,” she tells JIS News.Writing the new novel, which is also set in Jamaica, has also bought with it a longing to return to the island, Miss Clarke notes.
“I need to go back to Jamaica, to smell it, to feel it, as a lot of it is coming from memory. When I wrote before I had really just been there (in Jamaica) and I went back again so those little tiny details I could put in, because I was there living it again,” she says.
Although not born in Jamaica, she says she feels a strong connection to the island and her memories of her fist visit are still clear.
“It was incredible being there. To hear expressions that my parents would say in Wolverhampton, I was able to put things into context, things they talked about but you can’t really imagine it until you go there. It felt great, the intensity of colour, you feel as if you should belong there, but you don’t quite, but there is a strong feeling of recognition. I liked the way people treated me and I could relate to them. I could see my parents’ stories in the real context,” she adds.
Miss Clarke was born and grew up in the Birmingham area. She was christened Mavis Clarke but adopted the Irish spelling and pronunciation Maeve, because she felt Mavis was too much of an old lady’s name.
She counts herself as being very lucky growing up in the Barewood community where the family doctor and the principal of her school were both black. That was still unusual in the 1960s, especially in an area where her family was one of only a handful of black families living there.
After gaining her degree in European Studies with Spanish from the Wolverhampton Polytechnic, Miss Clarke moved to Spain, first working with a travel company then as a teacher of English. She says Spain was one of the countries where she had always wanted to live.
“It was strange at first because there were not many black people around.
In Spain in the early 1980s, people did stare at you, never offensive, but it was strange and when you grew up in Britain where it is considered rude to stare. But there was genuine interest in your background. It just felt like a very comfortable place to be. I did not feel I had to be on the defensive or anything like that but I had to get use to the staring,” she adds.
After six years in Spain, Miss Clarke moved to Italy and at first she found it to be a shock as the people were not as warm or as friendly as in Spain.
“Italy was a bit of a shock because I thought it would have been very similar to Spain, but it was colder. It’s a bit like if you moved to England from somewhere else. People are polite but not overwhelmingly friendly. It takes time to make friends but friendships are more long lasting,” she notes.
For now, she says Bologna is home as she concentrates on completing her second novel but a family reunion is planned for later this year in Jamaica.

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