Last week’s column focused on stagnation in the tourism sector and the weak marketing of T&T.
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Hugh Blanc - a unique Caribbean voice
“As intensely complicated as we are, on a human level, we are all very similar. We all desire love, validation, approval, absolution,” says Trinidadian author Hugh Blanc. His debut novel, Between Bodies Lie, first saw the light of day at the end of 2012.
Between Bodies Lie has a unique voice, not often seen in West Indian literature. There’s a flavour of post-war European existentialism to it, a brooding, introspective look at life through the eyes of a jaded, middle-aged writer, who flies to an unnamed island in the Caribbean to write his latest novel.
The island itself will certainly remind us all of a country near and dear to our hearts—traumatic coup and all—but Blanc declines to draw too many parallels between his fictitious country and our own.
“Apart from not wanting people to feel they were being misrepresented, I didn’t want people to get carried away with the thought that I was showcasing Trinidad. The novel is about individual interaction, relationships, our need for intimacy, and the ways we deny ourselves those needs. The foreign environment makes the main character feel more isolated. It’s more about feelings than individual actions.”
The book has been well received by readers and critics alike. Blanc laughingly remembers receiving his first review from the well-known Kirkus Review. “I went through the whole love-hate, love-hate process, and sent it off, waiting for the jury to come back in. I got an e-mail with the review attached, went outside, and smoked a cigarette to calm down. I came back in and read what they had written...and it turned out to be the wrong review.”
Happily, the correct review was excellent, receiving a rare star. It went on to make the Best of 2013 list. “That was the validation for me as a writer.”
As most local authors do, Blanc faced many barriers to getting his books placed on the shelf in local bookstores. Also, writers, whether local or foreign, experienced or new, are facing long wait times when offering their books to traditional print publishers. Often, even after several months have elapsed, the response is a polite “no.” This isn’t necessarily a reflection of the quality of the book, but rather a result of the progressive tightening of the market. In tough economic times, print publishers hedge their bets by focusing on well-known, bestselling authors, rather than take a huge financial gamble on an unknown.
Fortunately, the solution presented by modern technology is self-publishing, which provides many options, including printed and downloadable electronic books. Blanc chose that option, rather than let his novel languish in the “slush pile”—the limbo-like wasteland where unpublished books wait for an editor to read them.
“The whole industry is moving that way,” he asserts. “There are negatives and positives. You pay to get your book out there, but you also get a higher profit. On the other hand, you don’t get the benefit of the international marketing and placement that a publisher can give you.”
While he thinks it is a great thing that everyone gets to express themselves, another downside is the sense of drowning in the sheer volume of self-published books. “It’s vanity publishing. Somebody strings together a few sentences, they don’t understand the craft, they haven’t studied it, and they figure they are a writer. So when someone puts out a good book, it gets swamped by mediocre material.”
And there are two different kinds of writers: those who are just as comfortable promoting themselves and their work as they are writing, and those who prefer to sit at their desks, lost in the fantasy of their own creation. Blanc belongs to the latter category. “I’m not into all that marketing. It’s not that I can’t do it, it’s that I’m not interested.”
The best writers are also compulsive readers. “I have many favourites, but Nabokov is my absolute one. The way he combines the emotional elements, and tells a good, layered story, couched in beautiful language...”
Blanc studied film and creative writing at York University in Canada. “Film was always a big dream for me. My dad and I used to watch a lot of movies, and all of us were big readers. I had an appreciation for literature; I loved storytelling. But I was more interested in film. When I played with my action figures, I would always picture camera angles. There was always a narrative to the sessions.” Still, he admits, there are things a writer can do in a novel that can’t be done on film.
Despite such an artistic educational background, his early career was very practical and left-brained; he provided logistical services for companies in the energy industry.
But he’s not about to abandon his creative side. He is collaborating on other works, including screenplays, and has written freelance articles for local publications. He has also formed a company called i9 Films with a friend, Jason de Freitas. “The letter ‘i’ stands for innovative, independent, imaginative,” he explains, “And nine is the highest number you can have, without compound numbers.”
The company will provide distribution, online streaming and legitimate downloading of Caribbean films to a worldwide audience. He’s also actively pursuing the idea of producing a film of his own, but at this sensitive phase of the project, he prefers to stay mum on the details.
His final thoughts on his novel are that it is almost a cautionary take to himself. “Porter is someone I could have become, if I’d let a certain side of me take precedence.” But while Porter is gummed up by his own self-doubt and uncertainty, Blanc is dynamic, positive and full of plans for many more creations that are as sure to be just as engrossing, just as haunting.
Between Bodies Lie is available for download at Amazon.com, and has its own page on Facebook.
Excerpt from the Kirkus Review of Between Bodies Lie
Blanc is supremely sensitive to the trials and tribulations of the creative process; he writes with the wisdom of an established author grown weary of the literary scene.
Some readers may consider the depiction of an emotionally disheveled yet unconventionally dashing novelist to be somewhat clichéd, but that thought is far outweighed by Blanc’s brilliantly detailed study of human connections and disconnections, in which even the most indiscernible movements of body, mind and heart are painstakingly recognised and charted.
A masterfully written exploration of the beauty and cruelty of love, as sharp as it is sensual.
Read the full review at www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/hm-blanc/between-bodies-lie/