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Fearless Trini author inspires young writers
Amalie Howard wrote her first book at age nine. It was written out by hand in a copybook and was about a girl with magic tattoos.
At 15, she won a Commonwealth essay competition for a story about a man who played the violin as a way to communicate with his dead daughter, whose soul was trapped in a weeping willow.
She had a vivid imagination that was nurtured at home by her mom, a secondary school French teacher, and her dad, a primary school principal.
“My parents never stifled my creative drive at all,” she recalled.
Howard has parlayed that creativity into a career as an author, carving out a niche in the increasingly crowded young adult fantasy genre, which has exploded in the last two decades, with the success of book/movie series Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games.
Howard is about to release her sixth novel and is even in talks to have one of her books made into a television series.
Howard’s success is especially important to T&T because she was born here 40 years ago as Reshma Amalie Gosine. She migrated to study and work, spent time in Boston, New York and France, before settling in Colorado with her Australian husband.
Howard’s mom, Nazroon Ramsey, a retired French teacher, said she knew her daughter was special when at three, the little girl had a battle of wills when an aunt offered her juice in a plastic cup when Howard wanted a glass.
“She said, ‘No thank you. I don’t want the juice’. That showed me that she had a mind of her own,” said Ramsey.
Howard recently returned to T&T for the first time in ten years. The trip was a brief vacation and to celebrate her mom’s birthday, but she took the opportunity to hold a book signing at Mohammed’s Bookstore in La Romaine, which carries her books, make TV and radio appearances, and to visit her alma mater, St Augustine Girls’ High School.
She gave a classroom of wide-eyed teen girls advice on writing and on life.
“Dare to be different. Be the exception not the rule. Your differences are what’s going to make you you,” she said.
“Don’t be afraid to take chances or try anything new because you’ll never know if you’ll be able to do it or not,” she added. “Believe in yourself and you can’t fail. Be resilient.”
She was swarmed afterwards by eager students wanting her to sign books and bookmarks and answer more questions. Her presence gave hope to those with ambitions to write. “It made me realise I can do it,” said 13-year-old Amba Mohammed. “I shouldn’t stop writing.”
Howard always dreamed of writing. But she deferred it in favour of a corporate career until five years ago. A fan of fantasy novels and the young adult genre—she admires JK Rowling, JRR Tolkien and Anne Rice—she thought she could do better than Twilight author Stephenie Meyer.
“My biggest problem with Twilight was that Bella was so weak,” she said, referring to the series’ teen protagonist.
“I wanted to write about girls that inspired other girls,” she said.
She wanted to send the message to young readers that “no matter if you’re born with a disability or other problems you can surmount that.”
She wrote her first book, Bloodspell, got an agent, who got her publishing deals for that and subsequent books.
Bloodspell is about a 17-year-old girl who discovers she’s a witch and faces a curse. Waterfell and Oceanborn are a series about a mermaid hiding in the human world and seeking to reclaim her lost birthright from enemies. In Alpha Goddess, the human avatar of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi has to fight to save the world from an evil god.
The fearlessness of the characters is reflective of Howard herself.
On her Web site she boasts of extensive travel, bungee-jumping 765 feet in China, and attending a Halloween party at the Playboy Mansion.
St Augustine Girls economics teacher Pearl Balgaroo remembers Howard as a “brilliant student” with “an inquiring mind.”
“She challenged what you had to say. She didn’t take anything as is,” said Balgaroo.
Howard hopes her success can send another message: Race and gender shouldn’t keep back any author. Neither should being from a small island.
“You write a novel, if you believe in it enough, you get an agent, they send it to a publisher and you get published. You can totally do that from here,” she said.
“I’m an international writer. One of my publishers is British. That didn’t stop them from publishing me,” she added. “Publishers are looking for a good story.”
In fact, Howard said, her Trinidadian heritage has helped her work.
“Growing up in a place that is multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious is phenomenal. It gave me an appreciation for different cultures, different stories,” she said.
“There’s so much folklore and imagination, richness and diversity,” she added.
“It was a huge contribution.”