As part of our Caribbean Summer Read series, our editor Laure Deprez caught up with Rasheda Ashanti Malcolm – author of Swimming with Fishes – in a Q&A session to find out a bit more about what led her to pen this novel in the way that she has, and other influences on her life and writing.
1. Swimming with Fishes is your first novel – what inspired you to write a romance novel?
I guess it was seeing too many broken hearts, shattered lives, listening to women across generations talking about the lack of genuine love, the absence of sincere men, all these factors driving them to dating sites with the ultimate goal of finding someone to love and who will return that love.
2. Swimming with Fishes is partly set in rural Jamaica – was it important to you to show the other side of “the sea, the beach and the hotels”?
Yes that analogy was crucial. The real lives of locals who live on an island that tourists/holiday makers find idyllic, perhaps without ever really considering how the majority of the locals live or think . . . it was important to show the sub cultures that exist inside the main culture and how tourists are viewed by some.
3. Mother Cynthy, the town herbalist who predicts Kat will have a child, has a very important place in the community. Do you feel herbalists and elders still have a lot of influence in small towns?
Without a doubt. What the West sees as superstition can be held as the norm for many rural communities. In some sense, even the deeply religious will turn to the ‘Obeah’ man or woman in times of desperation, and the belief in what they have been told by the ‘Obeah’ man or woman is unshakable. Jamaica has not been left untouched by modernisation, but in some rural communities, time has stood still, as in development and seeking advice from elders is still valued.
4. Kat and Ben are taken by passion and love, but they both hold secrets which have the potential to destroy their relationship – is it a situation you have previously witnessed?
Yes. It’s called life, living, you can’t get away from it. When an emotion such as strong attraction teases you, before you know it you’re thinking love. Love ignites some kind of chemical that wraps you in such warmth it distorts everything and gives you the belief that a feeling so strong, so beautiful must be followed through to its end, no matter the consequences. At that time you’ll chance it all for love.
5. Did you feel it was important to use light touches of Patois in your story?
Definitely. I wanted the reader to hear the rhythm and get an understanding of the beautiful way Jamaicans have with words, and explaining happenings.
6. How long did it take you to write Swimming with Fishes? Do you have any tips for authors when it comes to “writer’s block”?
Truthfully? I have been writing Swimming with Fishes for many, many years, but of course the storyline and the form changed as I grew as a writer. It would change depending on what influenced me during that time, what caught my attention. When I finally decided to bring it up to publication level, I’d say it took around eighteen months, writing every day and through the weekends.
I approach writer’s block as a health warning to take a break. The brain cannot maintain the awe-inspiring creative energy surging, spiralling, emitting from the mind, so it blocks it. Time out. I usually have me a spa day with hand-picked friends, or go spend some time with listening to my favourite music and marvelling at the stories I hear in the songs. Basically it’s about taking a break to do something enjoyable, something different, or just be still. Sometimes that’s all it takes.
7. Did something surprise or astonish you when it comes to the publishing process?
Having my background in publishing I know the hard work and commitment it takes to keep going, so not astonished but truly appreciative of the patience and the skills the publishing team possess.
8. If you had to recommend to our readers a book by a female author, what would it be?
Their Eyes Were Watching God, the story of a black woman looking for love and happiness in America’s South, by Zora Neal Hurston.
9. Do you already have ideas for your next novel?
Oh yes! I’m on the case.
10. Can you tell us a bit about the work you are doing with women?
I detest injustice. And as most of the injustice in this world is largely done against women and girls, I work to empower them, economically, socially, mentally to take charge of their lives and to live a life free from domestic abuse.
Request Swimming with Fishes on NetGalley.