After six weeks of planning and a life time of cosmic ordering (remember that?) the date for Songs Of My Soul book launch arrived. I was delighted with the venue, the gorgeous OSO Arts Centre in Barnes. I was nervous, of course, that no-one would show up, but I also felt that it wasn’t about numbers, it was about the VIBE. And the vibe was amazing; relaxed yet professional, joyous, yet as poignant as the verses demanded. Here are a few pictures which I hope capture the mood, as for occasions like these, words can sometimes be superfluous.
Long before Songs of My Soul was conceived, I remember the living room floor at my mother’s house strewn with handwritten manuscripts, paperclips, highlighter pens, squiggles on note paper and lots of colour photos. It looked like a crazy unsolvable jigsaw – it was to become my mother, Cas Walker’s, first edition of Focus on the Caribbean, published in 1988. Her book was one of a series of books aimed to assist the primary classroom teacher, to help kids in their increasingly multicultural schools, to learn and understand more about the cultures of some of their classmates.
It seemed hideously complicated to me, writing a book; I was glad it was my mother who was battling with research and deadlines and not me, as I slunk up to bed at about 11pm. She often worked well into the night, ‘burning the midnight oil’ she called it and was up early the next morning for her job as schools’ curriculum adviser at Birmingham City Council.
She was tired but she also exhilarated at being commissioned to write this book; born and brought up in Jamaica, my mother was proud of her country of origin and keen to share the rich culture of it in a simple and digestible way to help promote greater understanding. One of the remarkable things about my mother was her beautiful speaking voice – she sounded like a BBC Radio presenter – precise, yet warm and clipped, with a dash of Birmingham and the merest hint of the Caribbean! She spoke highly of the English schooling she received in Jamaica and was often shocked about how kids with Caribbean parents who were born in the UK, seemed to lack the basics in terms of English diction and grammar. Perhaps it was a Brummie thing and wanting to fit in?
The work continued and the book was finished – it was beautiful and I treasure the copies I have with photos of her in them and her signature. Even though it was hard work, there is always a sweet spot in writing – when you are immersed to the exclusion of everything and everyone else. Bound up in the words, characters, history, stories within stories – everything is suspended in the thick gloop of everyday soup, but you fly in the cloudless sky of your imagination. For me, this is where bliss resides. I’m sure mum would have had a more pragmatic approach – just get your head down and keep going until it’s finished! She was a no-nonsense lady in many respects.
Who was to know that years later, I would write a book of my own, with a bright yellow cover? Our books define our differences, hers: factual and educational, mine: fanciful and spiritual – but both bound in the yellow glow of a hopeful future.