Winning the Commonwealth Short Story Prize in May seemed to cement for Sharon Millar that she is a writer–a label that for many years she approached with hesitation and experienced with some discomfort.
"When I was sitting on the stage accepting the prize that's one of the things that I talked about; the fact that, now I can be confident in calling myself a writer," she said in an interview at Rituals Coffee House, Maraval Road, Port-of-Spain.
The 46-year-old writer also found validation last year in winning the Small Axe Literary Competition and completing a Masters of Fine Arts Creative Writing programme at Lesley University in Massachusetts, USA. She was also featured in the New Talent Showcase of the Bocas Lit Fest. Yet, after all these accomplishments Millar's cement isn't thoroughly dry.
"I'm not convinced that this is something I can live on. I have the time and space to do this now, but in terms of writing being viable I'm still not sure. I'm still not published yet."
Winning prizes has also brought Millar some new-found attention that the self-described "extroverted introvert" is still coming to terms with.
"I really don't like being the centre of attention. It's been good but it's also been distracting because you suddenly realise that so many people expect different things from you and it's very strange when you have a story that goes out and leaves you and you no longer have control over it," she said.
The prize also put some of Millar's doubts about her work at bay.
"Here (in T&T) you constantly question yourself. It's a small country and there's a lot of dialogue about what constitutes national literature, and who has the authority to write that literature. To be judged by a panel of judges that's so diverse was real validation because they just get what we're trying to do as emerging post-colonial societies.
"There's still an incredibly emotional response to work in this society. People don't quite know how to come to work sometimes so the conversations about literature can be polarising in a lot of ways and that's not doing us any good at all."
Millar believes that media reports can be polarising as well and sees literature as a way to perform a balancing act. She's currently developing a novel from one of her early short stories where the "anti-hero" will be thoroughly examined.
She said, "I'm really fascinated by the anti-hero. There are so many characters here and people are either glorified or villianised. That's what the average person is getting in the media everyday–glorification or villainy. And, I think that fiction has to kind of fit a role to try and present more rounded characters. It's not that easy to point fingers at one person. How do bad people get to where they get to be? What makes them bad? Are they 100 per cent bad, 90 per cent bad, only a little bit bad?"
Having the time to examine these and other questions through writing is a new chapter in Millar's life. Growing up, Millar said she always wanted to write.
"Anyone who loves to read would want to write because of that entry into another world–you literally walk through the doors of an entirely different world. So from very early on I remember wanting to try and recreate that."
In the late 1990s, Millar participated in creative writing workshops with the late Wayne Brown. When they were completed she "returned to real life," however.
And it would be another 15 years–after working in advertising, pharmaceuticals and writing for magazines–before she started writing creatively again.
"Writers need a patron. Writers need money and space. And I'm very lucky to have a supportive husband, but if I was 25 and I had to get up in the morning and find a job to make car payments, like I did, I couldn't do it. I just couldn't do it," she said.
Millar's return to writing, however, has come at an opportune time. She now sees herself as part of a "literary revolution" in T&T and credits writers like Barbara Jenkins and Alake Pilgrim paving the way for her.
Social media has become imperative to the revolution Millar is part of and that's something she didn't entirely realise when she started blogging in 2007.
Millar envisions the local literary movement as becoming more vibrant and giving the public an alternative way to see themselves. "I think the more people that write, the better. I think the more people that are published, the better.
At the moment the only thing that we have as a self-reflection is media and that has to be having an impact on the psyche of the country. So I can only write my story but if the stories are coming from all over the country, it would become humanised. I think that's the most important thing. I think people really have to learn to see the human being behind all the stories that we hear."
To read Sharon Millar's piece, The Whale House, which won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, you can visit Granta magazine online: www.granta.com.