Somerset Grove: A Novel
by Dionne Peart
Somerset Grove, A Novel by Dionne Peart
Three generations of the women in the Wright family all dream of leaving their home in a small Jamaican town, but each woman encounters obstacles that keep her from living the life she wants.
Angelique, strong-willed and adventurous, chooses between her daughter and opportunity as she contemplates leaving her behind to move to Canada. After experiencing heartbreak, proud matriarch Ruby is determined to see that no one ever has a reason to look down on her or her family, even if it means alienating the ones she loves.
Granddaughter Carmen is torn between her feelings of resentment and longing, as she strives to be independent while trying to build a relationship with her distant mother.
Traveling between the tropical heat of the fictional town of Somerset Grove, Jamaica and the cold promise of Canada, the women struggle to resolve the conflicts within themselves and between each other.
Genre: Mainstream Fiction
Target Audience: Readers who like African American, Caribbean or Women’s fiction.
Primary Topic: Multi-generational conflicts and the choices we make to live the lives that we want.
Purchase Somerset Grove: A Novel by Dionne Peart
Available at Barnes and Noble: http://bit.ly/XfZf5s
Available in paperback and ebook on Amazon at: http://amzn.to/14H7BaA
Excerpts From Chapter 2
The early morning light filtered in through the yellow lace curtains. Ruby lay in bed still wearing the dress that she’d had on from three days ago. It was thoroughly wrinkled now, showing no signs of the crisp starchiness that she had carefully pressed into it when she had first put it on. The other dresses she owned had been neatly packed into the worn suitcase her mother had borrowed from her friend, Lily.
Lily had been more than happy to part with her only luggage so that her goddaughter could pack all of her things to join her new husband in England though she couldn’t figure out for the life of her why the girl’s husband never sent money so that his bride could buy a trunk of her own.
Four days earlier, Ruby had said her goodbyes to one of her two best friends. Anne had come over before Ruby was to depart on the ship in two days. Though she was sad that she may never see her friends again, Ruby enjoyed seeing what she thought was envy flickering in her friend’s eyes as she told her about her anticipated journey to join Winston. Her friend had listened with a half-hearted smile on her face as Ruby reminisced about how Winston had swept her off her feet, promising to take her away from the little two-room house with the outhouse in back that she shared with her mother. Their new home in England, Winston told her, had running water and a beautiful indoor kitchen, so she wouldn’t have to prepare their meals in a cook shed anymore. And with the money he would save working as a mechanic, there would be enough to send her to school to become a nurse or teacher if she wanted. Ruby was disappointed that Anne’s sister, Cynthia, hadn’t come to see her off, but didn’t think anything of it when Anne told her that Cynthia had gone to visit family. She was sure Cynthia would stop by before she left, maybe even ride with her to the ship’s dock.
After losing her father to an unexplained illness five years ago, and then losing their family home when they couldn’t pay her father’s debts, it felt like life was turning around for 18-year-old Ruby.
Ruby’s mother, Ingrid, came into the bedroom the two women had shared since they moved into the house and told the girls it was time for Anne to leave. Ruby missed the grave look on Ingrid’s face as she was hugging Anne goodbye before turning back to finish her packing.
“There wasn’t anything at the post office for you,” Ingrid said to Ruby’s back.
Ruby stopped packing, but didn’t turn around. “It’s fine. The mail must be delayed, that’s all.”
“You don’t even know where you’re supposed to be going when you get there. Did he tell you when he was picking you up from the port? Did he even tell you the address where you’re supposed to be living?” Ingrid fired off questions as she watched Ruby moving about the room looking for things to pack and avoiding eye contact.
Three days ago, Ruby received news about her husband, but it was not what she had anticipated. When Winston hadn’t sent the money to pay for her fare, Ruby walked to her godmother’s house to see if she could borrow the money from her and her husband. They reluctantly parted with their little savings with the assurance that Ruby would send it all back just as soon as she received it from Winston. When she reached home, she informed her mother that there was no need to worry about the fare now.
“I’m just waiting for the sponsorship papers. If you can take me to pay for my fare now, I should have everything together by the time I’m ready to leave,” Ruby said.
It broke Ingrid’s heart to tell her daughter what she had learned that day. Ingrid had been at the post office when the twins’ neighbor had come in complaining about Jamaica’s rough roads as he picked up his mail. He grumbled on about the cost to repair his car’s axle, which was damaged during the drive to Palisadoes airport to drop off one of the twins who was going to England.
Ruby watched her mother’s lips moving, but couldn’t comprehend the words coming out of her mouth. “Cynthia…England…Winston.”
( Continues... )
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Somerset Grove: A Novel by Dionne Peart
Intimate Conversation with Dionne Peart
Born in England to Jamaican parents, Dionne Peart grew up in Canada and later moved to the U.S. Her debut novel, Somerset Grove, was inspired by the many stories of Caribbean transplants she grew up with while living in Winnipeg. When she isn’t writing, Dionne loves to read stories that explore another time, place and culture.
Dionne currently resides in Washington, D.C. where she practices law and is working on her second novel.
BPM: Tell us about your journey becoming a successfully published author. Do you have anyone in your life that was heavily influential in your deciding to become an author?
Since childhood, I’ve always wanted to be a writer and long before I went to elementary school, I’d always loved to read. I remember my parents would scold me whenever I read at the dinner table or used the TV as my reading light.
Growing up in Canada, diversity was everywhere, but the numbers representing each ethnic group were very small, especially where I lived in Winnipeg. As a first generation person of Jamaican heritage, I never came across books by or about people that looked like me. That all changed when I entered university and was introduced to writers like Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. I think that’s when I first thought that I really could become a writer too.
I ended up taking a different path and became an attorney, partly because my parents wanted me to be one, and it was a safe choice. It’s been a great experience and I’ve been exposed to a lot of different people and places as a result. But, somewhere around my sixth year of legal practice when other associates were seriously contemplating partnership in the firm, I was seriously contemplating becoming a writer and challenged myself to write a novel. It took me over two and a half years of waking up an hour earlier every morning so that I could do some writing before going to the office, but I did it. I had a lot of support from friends and family along the way, so that helped me accomplish my goal of publishing my first novel. I really enjoyed the writing process and I’m looking forward to finishing my next book.
BPM: What is your definition of success?
My definition of success has expanded over the years. The truly successful people are the happy ones, so I think when you can wake up grateful for what you have, feel fortunate for the family and friends that you are blessed with, and be optimistic about what your future holds, you have found success.
BPM: What books or authors made a difference in your life?
Authors like Toni Morrison and Alice Walker made a difference for me when I discovered their books in university. These authors opened up a whole new literary world and developed my love of stories that explore another time, culture and place. It was wonderful for me to find authors who looked like me and who wrote about characters that looked like me.
BPM: What are some of the benefits of being an author that makes it all worthwhile?
I really enjoy the creative outlet that being an author provides. I’ve also met some wonderful people along this journey. Writers are always willing to share advice or words of encouragement and there’s no experience like when a reader you don’t know sends you an e-mail saying how much they enjoyed your book.
Being an author gives me a real sense of personal satisfaction because writing can be a solitary process, at least in the beginning. Authors have to hold themselves accountable for completing their projects, particularly if they don’t have any external deadlines looming over them. My novel began with me and I saw the project through from start to finish. The feeling I had when I held that first copy in my hands was indescribable.
BPM: Do you have any advice for people seeking to publish a book?
Decide on your goal publication date and then work backwards from that to set realistic deadlines. Writing the book is the fun part of the process. Publication can be fun too, especially when that first proof copy arrives in the mail, but the work to get to that point can be stressful if you don’t plan well enough. Once it’s all done, it’s time to celebrate!
BPM: Introduce us to your book and the main characters. Do you have any favorites? What genre is the book? On Kindle or Nook?
Somerset Grove is a story about a family of three generations of Jamaican women whose conflicts and family ties take them on a journey from a small town in Jamaica to Canada and back again. You get to experience their internal conflicts, as well all the life challenges they face, such as issues with education, socioeconomic status and immigration. The biggest challenge they each face is dealing with their pride, which keeps them from connecting with each other on a level they really want.
The first character you meet is Angelique, a beautiful and savvy 16-year-old who sees herself as an uptown girl trapped in a rural existence. She’s ambitious and prideful, and those things get in the way of her being the person you really think she can be. It is 1967 when Angelique discovers that she is pregnant and contemplates how to handle the situation with her mother. Ruby, Angelique’s mother, is the second character you meet and her story begins in 1949. We find Ruby as a young woman in a marriage where her heart gets broken and her pride takes a blow. Finally there is Carmen, Angelique’s daughter. She is headstrong, determined and smart. She’s a survivor, but she is always looking for affection from her mother and estranged father. She doesn’t know how to get it, and so we see her bitterness emerging as a result.
Ruby is my favorite, though she didn’t start out as a main character. Ruby asserted herself in my story and demanded to have a bigger role and she got it. I like the way she evolves as she gets older, but still remains true to herself.
Somerset Grove is available in paperback on Amazon and through Barnes and Noble. It is also available electronically on Kindle, Nook and Kobo.
BPM: What compelled or inspired you to write this book? Why now? Ever experience writers block?
The idea for Somerset Grove came to me because growing up in Winnipeg, I knew so many families that came from many different countries and cultures, but had similar stories about their family’s migration to Canada.
What interested me most were the stories behind the stories; some families came as a whole unit, sometimes spouses were separated, and sometimes children were left back home with relatives while their parents got settled in Canada. People didn’t often talk about it, but you can imagine some of the longing, tension, and awkwardness that came with being apart from and then reuniting with a parent or child you haven’t seen in years or being introduced to siblings for the first time.
When I decided I that I was going to write my first novel I knew that I wanted it to be a multi-generational story featuring Jamaican characters.
I didn’t really experience writer’s block, but I did struggle with moving past the first section of the book because the lawyer in me wanted to go back and keep re-editing that first part. I attended the Black Writers Reunion and Conference in Atlanta where I learned to just get that first draft done – there would be plenty of time for editing after the full story was down on paper. That really worked for me because Ruby’s character never made it to the foreground until I stopped editing that section.
BPM: Are any scenes from the book borrowed from your world or your experiences?
I once knew somebody whose father essentially started a new life after he moved to Canada. The initial plan was to send for the entire family, but I guess absence didn’t make the heart grow fonder in his case. He met someone new and never sent for his wife, though he did eventually send for the children. This story inspired a scene with Ruby.
BPM: In writing your novels, how do you develop the plot? Did you have difficulty keeping the story on point? How much research was required, if any?
I don’t really outline my stories, but when I get an idea for one, I’ll decide on a goal for one or more of the main characters. Where do I want them to end up? Do I want to leave them with unanswered questions? I then decide what other major characters will influence them or interact with them and what obstacles will get in the main character’s way. I don’t always have the final resolution in mind when I begin writing, but that’s part of the fun for me. The characters can do what they want, because I can always go back and rewrite whatever doesn’t work.
I had to do some research to make some of the events in Somerset Grove more realistic, especially since Ruby’s story begins in 1949. My parents were a great source of information for what my grandparents might have experienced back in the 1940s and for what my parents would have done in the ‘60s and ‘70s. I then supplemented that with some other research and my own memories from when I visited Jamaica.
It was important that everything be authentic and I think I achieved that goal. Several native Jamaicans have commented, “I didn’t know you grew up in Jamaica.” To which I’ve respond with a smile, “I didn’t.”
BPM: What particular scenes from the novel will grab readers and serve to stimulate spirited discussions?
Ruby and Angelique both find themselves in very similar dilemmas at the start of the book when each young woman discovers she is pregnant. They handle their situations very differently. The way Angelique handles her condition will make some readers smile or laugh; she turns it into an opportunity. The way Ruby handles her situation may make some readers feel sorry for her, because she reacts with a little desperation and resignation. Readers might also feel anger towards Ruby for the way she responds after finding out about Angelique.
BPM: Will the digital age or social media usage change the face of publishing?
Absolutely. I do love opening up a paperback copy of a novel by one of my favorite authors, but I also enjoy the convenience of downloading a book and reading it instantly on any number of devices. The digital age means more accessibility for readers and authors. Social media gives readers a chance to get to know authors better and authors can more easily communicate directly with readers.
BPM: How do feel about selling digital books vs. selling in a brick and mortar store?
There is nothing like walking into a bookstore and seeing your novel on the shelf or seeing a stranger walking around with your work in their hands. I personally love browsing the shelves in brick and mortar bookstores and finding a book that catches my eye. I also enjoy the convenience of downloading a book as soon as I hear of its release or the ability to take several books with me in digital form when I travel, so I believe there is a market for both forms of books. For black authors, and particularly those who are indie authors, electronic books allow us the opportunity to get our works into the hands of readers for a relatively low cost. It’s also a fast and easy way to reach international markets.
Facebook: Dionne Peart Hayes
Purchase Somerset Grove: A Novel by Dionne Peart
Available at Barnes and Noble: http://bit.ly/XfZf5s
Available in paperback and ebook on Amazon at: http://amzn.to/14H7BaA