Part 4 of our literary journey through my novels takes us far, far away from my former Liverpool home, the principal setting of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, to the gritty and exotic island of Jamaica.
Liverpool has had a small, but significant Caribbean community since at least the early part of the 19th century. Concentrated in south-central Liverpool, a vibrant social scene is associated with it, which includes a number of night clubs and dance halls. Some of these only just survived into the 1980s, following the infamous Toxteth riots of 1981, like the fictitious New Jamaica Club where Gina finds the first clue to the whereabouts of her missing father, Godrell Clark.
The occasional late night drink in my student days at one or two of those surviving social clubs is as close as I’ve ever got to Jamaica though. Of course, it would have been wonderful to visit the country in the ‘interests of research’, but that wasn’t going to happen.
Keen to hit a note of authenticity, I spent some time on Mr Google, but that didn’t really give me the feel for the country I was seeking. So what was I going to do to get under the skin of the place?
Well, it probably won’t surprise you to discover that I turned to the world of fiction. I’ve always enjoyed reading novels set in places I’ve visited, or wanted to visit, so that was the voyage of discovery I took. The books I found were these.
Augustown by Kei Miller is a superb book! Just what I was looking for. It gave me the real essence of the people and the place and is a wonderfully engaging, yet gritty, story. A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James is a much more challenging read, both in terms of the language and content. I regret to say I abandoned it about half way through. I could have persisted, and the reviews it’s received suggest that I should have. But life’s too short… and I had a book to write.
One final piece in my journey. How to get the sound and rhythm of my Jamaican characters’ speech? Well, it just so happened that an early series of the British-French TV series, ‘Death in Paradise’ was being aired on TV here. Policeman, Dwayne Myers, played by British actor, Danny John-Jules, provided the perfect voice for me to play back in my mind as I was writing.
Now, will you feel the sun on your face and the heat rising from the dusty ground?
Excerpt from ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’
The afternoon sun beat down on the dusty road outside C&J Motors where Dixon Jones was polishing the bonnet of a boxy blue Volvo. He hummed along to the song on the radio, which was playing inside the workshop. He wiped the sweat from his face with the sleeve of his overalls and stood back to admire his handiwork. Alerted by the sound of an engine, he looked around to see a shiny red MG pull up in a cloud of dust. The door opened and the driver got out.
“Hey Dixon man, what you doin’ workin’ in all this heat?”
“Hey Godrell, what you doin’ drivin’ up like that, stirrin’ up all the dust?”
The two men greeted each other shaking hands, gripping thumbs and bumping fists three times before crossing their forearms across their chests. Dixon extended his arm around his friend’s shoulder. “So, let me get you a beer and you can tell me what brings you all the way out here from old Kingston Town.”
Godrell sat down on the bench in front of the workshop in the shade of the old mango tree while Dixon went through to the little back kitchen to fetch two bottles of Red Stripe. He handed one to Godrell before sitting down beside him. They chinked their bottles together.
“Seriously though,” said Godrell. “Why are you workin’ when you don’t have to? That’s what we employ the boys for.” He looked around, “Hey, where’s Jimmy and Crazy anyway?”
“Oh, they’re deliverin’ a car we just sold. Over on the other side of the island,” replied Dixon. “The ’64 Chevy. Nice price we got too.” He looked over at the Volvo. “I just like to do a bit of tinkerin’ and polishin’ now and then.” He laughed. “You is the real sleepin’ partner, but I like to keep my hand in here and there,” he said. He punched Godrell’s shoulder. “You just concentrate on makin’ a fortune wit’ those modern records in that shiny new studio of yours.”
“Sure, man. It’s the music what makes the world go round, eh?” Godrell did a little shimmy, making the gold chains around his neck rattle together.
“So, anyway, what do I owe the pleasure of your company, this fine afternoon?”
“Ah,” Godrell nodded, “just you look at this.” He pulled a folded up copy of the Kingston Gleaner out of his back pocket. He unfolded the newspaper and turned to the overseas news. “Look here,” he pointed to a small article and handed the paper to Dixon.
Dixon read the headline: ‘New Jamaica Club opens in Liverpool.’ There was a picture of the building with a man standing in the doorway at the top of the steps. The article went on: ‘The former Jamaica Club opens its doors again, with an exhibition of photographs and documents relating to the Caribbean community in Liverpool. People are invited to come and tell their stories and trace their past.”
Dixon turned to Godrell, “My, oh my, in our Liverpool home. I remember that building.” He smiled. “That whole scene…” his eyes glazed over for a moment. “And all those things we got up to when we were off the boat,” he grinned, hugging himself, his eyes dancing.
“Well, when you’re in a band…”
“…it’s only to be expected.” They both laughed.
“You remember the girls?”
Dixon looked down. “I remember that one girl,” he smiled. “But she had already fallen for somebody else.” He sighed, “Marie… that was her name. I suppose she married him and lived happily ever after.” He took a long pull from his beer and shook his head. “It was long ago, eh? Another time, another life.”
“But there’s more,” Godrell tapped the photograph. “See that man standing outside?” Dixon read the caption again and shrugged. Godrell continued. “It was Gracie Lloyd who showed me this. She’s the man’s sister. She came around this morning, hammering on the studio door and kicking up a ruckus, just to tell me that her brother here’s been trying to get hold of me.”
“That man’s Gracie’s brother is he?” Dixon peered at the photograph. “Devon Lloyd,” he shook his head. “I can’t say I remember him.”
“No, I don’t either. But I didn’t even know Gracie had an elder brother ‘til she showed me this.”
“And he’s a-wanting to get in touch wit’ you all the way from Liverpool, eh?” Dixon chuckled. “Maybe your past is catching up with you finally!”
“And what past would I have to worry about?” said Godrell, his eyes widening in an imitation of innocence.
Dixon raised his eyebrows, but said nothing.
“Anyway, it got me thinking. About the band,” said Godrell. “I thought maybe we could get the boys together one last time; have a reunion of the famous Kingston Jazz Cats. What d’you say, man?”
Dixon thought for a moment. “Those were the days,” he muttered to himself. He looked up to the left, then up to the right, pursing his lips. Finally he nodded and said, “I think it’s a damn fine idea, Godrell Clarke. I think it’s a damn fine idea.”
You’ll Never Walk Alone: available in paperback, ebook and on KindleUnlimited. Also available from other online stores.
Image credits: Wikipedia, Goodreads