Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Guest Author Interview with Eugenia O'Neal

I would like to welcome Eugenia O'Neal - author of Jessamine to my blog.

My review of Jessamine can be found here.  

 Available to buy on Amazon - ASIN: B0088O8C4Q

I am honoured to have Eugenia over here today.  Eugenia's blog can be found here.  I urge you to check it out.

What or who inspired you to become a writer?

I loved to read as a child - reading took me into different homes, different countries, different worlds and, in my teens, I started to write my own stories, the kinds of stories I like to read.

At what age did you start writing?  Was this a passion from childhood?

Yes, it was and I remember writing from an early age but mostly poetry.  In fact I wrote mostly poetry and short stories until turning more fully to full-length novels in my late twenties.

You have already published several books starting with From The Field to the Legislature: A History of Women in the Virgin Islands - a non-fiction book published in 2001.  You've been a civil servant in the British Virgin Islands for a number of years.  To what extent does your knowledge of government inform your books and how has being a writer made you look at government?

Politics has interested me for a very long time as I grew up in a family that discussed political issues keenly and which paid close attention to the local, regional and international issues of the day.  My first book, From the Field, was actually based on my thesis for my M.Phil degree from the University of the West Indies and reflected my desire to tell women's history - the histories that had been written previously had been written by men and so had the memoirs, so people weren't very aware that women had worked in the fields alongside the men during slavery, that they set up huckstering businesses, that they participated in rebellions and so on.  I wanted to help restore women's place in history so it wasn't forgotten or revised.

As a civil servant I was able to see government up close - see how it worked, see the good and the bad and some of that is reflected in Jessamine.  The Caribbean has been plagued by many political scandals in the last ten years or so - the wealth brought by tourism and offshore finance has also proved a fertile ground for greed and corruption.  Our societies are also increasingly plagued by violent crime and other ills but I'm not sure much of that is making it into modern Caribbean literature.  I hope I'm bringing attention to some of those issues and to the need to address these.

You have also published two works of fiction Just An Affair in 2003 and Dido's Prize in 2008.  Your newest novel Jessamine came out earlier this month.  Will Jessamine only be available as an e-book through Amazon Kindle?

It is also available through Smashwords and will be distributed through their system in the next couple of weeks so it should soon be available at other retail channels like the Apple store and Barnes and Noble. 

You have written a few short stories which have been published in The Caribbean Writer and other regional publications.  The former is a literary journal publishing writing from both established and upcoming new talent.  Are you actively involved in promoting upcoming home grown writers become established?

No, not actively.  In addition to writing, I home school my daughter, do freelance writing, and I'm active in a community group so I don't have much free time but when people ask me to take a look at their writing and give them some advice I do that or when they ask for information about publishing I send them what I have.  There's so much great information out there now for writers that people can easily Google for info but I always tell them to make sure their writing is the best it can be before looking for an agent or thinking of self-publishing.  Online critique groups can be invaluable for that and have been so for me.

You regularly contribute to Experience BVI, the online magazine promoting the island's tourism.  I read your article under Arts and Culture.  Do you think the British Virgin Islands gets enough promotion as a tourist destination?

Not really but I guess the BVI Tourist Board has to work with the budget available to it.  I do think that it can try to make more use of free opportunities like social media to get their word out.  Participating in festivals or special events in big cities like London or Toronto can also help get the word out in creative ways.  Recently, the UK's Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Henry Bellingham, was here and noted that the BVI isn't well known to British people and that he'd like to do more to promote the territory in the UK so we'll see how that works out.  As he pointed out, most of the UK's bio-diversity is actually Overseas Territories - we've got the iguanas, flamingos, pelicans, mangroves etc. and , since we're British territories, it would be great if more British people actually knew about us.

You were born and grew up on the islands.  Which island do you live on and could you tell the readers something about it?

I live on Tortola which is the largest of the British Virgins.  Something many people might not know about the BVI is that it is home to more people from elsewhere than it is to British Virgin Islanders.  A construction boom in the 70's and 80's meant that many people migrated here from the other Caribbean islands and, in the last couple decades, they've been joined by Americans, Filipinos, Brits and other people drawn by our tourism and offshore finance sectors.

In your latest novel Jessamine, the fictional island is named St Crescens.  Is this based on your 'home' island in the BVI?

I've lived for extended periods on a couple other Caribbean islands and those I haven't lived on, I've visited so St Crescens is really an amalgamation of them all.

Besides home-schooling, writing novels and contributing to various publications.  Do you find time to enjoy any hobbies or activities? 

I love going to the beach!  A day at the beach with a good book is the perfect day!  (Particularly if I've just finished a manuscript and have made whatever deadlines I've set myself.)  And I love to travel though I haven't done as much this year as I'd like to.

If your book was to made into a film, who would you cast in the main roles?

I think Angela Basset would be wonderful as Grace and Emilie de Ravin looks very much like Arabella to me.  Dennis Lambert would be Leando.  Jamie Foxx would be Julian Hylton (you suggested that and I think he'd be perfect!).

Eugenia, thank you very much for sparing your time to give us an insight into your very interesting life.

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