In Conversation with Diana McCaulay

When this book first came on my radar, I admit the premise sounded a bit strange to me. Mostly it’s because I’m used to reading books by Caribbean authors that focus on immigration, living in the diaspora, or something cultural from home. But this book is different. It centers on climate change and it sounded from the summary to be a kind of futuristic, science-based book and I admit it leaned heavily on the advice of another bookstagrammer, who encouraged me to read it.

 In the end I’m so glad I did! Daylight Come is unlike any kind of book I have read. Diana McCaulay, an environmental activist and author living and working in Jamaica, is the founder of the Jamaica Environment Trust which she retired from as CEO in 2017. She is also the author of four other novels that focus on contemporary life in Jamaica, and she’s been recognized with numerous awards during her writing career.

Mostly, I’m glad that I stepped out of my comfort zone, because McCaulay awarded me with such an eye-opener that was so far from what I was expecting, that I knew I wanted to have to opportunity to have her join this author interview series.

So, please welcome Diana McCaulay and below is our conversation.    


Tricia: The main thing I loved about Daylight Come was the authenticity and believability of the climate disasters. How did you decide which crises to highlight in the book while remaining realistic?

Diana: I started with the main idea of heat—that it has become too hot to go outside in the day on a fictional island. This had its genesis in a real event in the Middle East which I saw reported in the media where construction workers fell from scaffolding because of the heat. Then I imagined what would flow from heat: heavier rain, or rain bombs, extreme drought, causing dust storms, crop failures, and the idea that the inhabitants of this new world would have to run from the sun. I made a reasonable attempt to write about realistic outcomes, even about events that have already occurred in some parts of the world, but I also wanted to be free to imagine not-so-realistic happenings, such as a major temperature difference between lowlands and mountains. My occupation as an environmental activist helped.   

Tricia: Why did you choose the main character, Sorrel, as a teenager as opposed to, say a climate expert?

Diana: I think a lot about the damage my generation has done to the futures of young people, so I wanted to write about a youngster grappling with a much degraded and dangerous world. Many of my books have young protagonists—that period of adolescence and teenage contains much drama for me as a novelist.

Tricia: You twist some conventional norms on its head in the plot. For example, the temperature becomes dangerously hot during the day so society operates at night. How did these decisions come about for you?

Diana: A  real newspaper story sparked some thinking about what would happen on an island where much of life occurs outdoors if it became too hot to go outside in the day. In the summers here [in Jamaica], often people start work early to avoid the heat, so I just stretched that to what seemed a logical response to extreme heat.

Tricia: For this book I imagine you would have had to wear both your environmental activist hat as well as your writer hat. Which informed the other while writing Daylight Come?

Diana: Being an environmental activist meant I had some facts at my fingertips, but first and foremost, a novelist has to tell a good story. So although I do have strong environmental concerns I still had to construct interesting characters and a story that would keep people reading. There is a very old literary tradition, including in our own literature, of escape to the hills—an example is the Maroons—so I wanted to refer to that idea of the mountains as refuge, as resistance, as a place to mount a defence.   

Tricia: This book is fictional but very much rooted in the environmental hazards of today. Yet you chose to write this as an adventure story. Can you explain your decision to do so?

Diana: I love reading adventure stories, loved them when I was young, love them now. Writing a novel occupies you for a long time, so you have to choose a form you enjoy. I wanted to appeal to people’s imaginations, to their hearts instead of their minds, to get them to wonder, “Huh. Could this really happen?”  

Tricia: Jamaica isn’t a place that automatically comes to mind when I think of countries that experience climate hazards. However, I’m sure it does happen. What are some of the main environmental crises that Jamaica faces?

Diana: Oh gosh, that would be a very long answer! Jamaica is extremely vulnerable to climate impacts, in fact, they have already begun. We are already affected by extreme rainfall events causing flooding, which in turn can cause landslides, along with droughts. The entire Caribbean is affected by a much more active Atlantic hurricane season, and we have seen sister islands devastated by very strong storms. The Caribbean has always had hurricanes, but what seems to be changing is strength and also how rapidly they intensify. We’re also facing sea level rise which threatens beaches and coastal infrastructure like roads, airports, housing and hotels. And there is the long, long list of other environmental impacts: deforestation, destruction of biological diversity, poor air quality, very poor solid and liquid waste management, degradation of coral reefs and so on. 

Tricia:  Do you see similarities in terms of the mental toll that COVID-19 has caused our current society versus the mental toll your characters face trying to survive?

Diana: Yes, I think in a way the threat is the same. Our refusal to be good stewards of our home place and planet which unleashes a torrent of threats, including viruses that jump from animal to human hosts. And then the response necessarily leads to the kind of isolation we’ve experienced in COVID-time, and which Sorrel feels because she has no young community. Humans are social animals, we need to be around each other, but so many of our modern societies put more value on individualism than collectivism and cooperation.

Tricia: Sadly, none of the environmental circumstances you describe in Daylight Come feel far-fetched. Did you intend this book to be a warning?

Diana: My intention was really to tell a compelling story that would spark the imagination of readers. But I say in the author’s note that I hope Daylight Come remains in the category of speculative fiction, so at some level I wanted to transmit a warning. I do feel humanity faces a catastrophe and the hour is very late, yet we are all going about our lives as if there is no such threat.    

Thanks so much Ms McCaulay for being a part of this interview series and please read my review of Daylight Come.

You can follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and at www.dianamccaulay.com.

Photo courtesy Diana McCaulay.

 

One Comment Add yours

  1. Nkeisha says:

    I really enjoyed this interview with the author of one of my favourite books for 2021. I am happy to know where the author grew inspiration from to write this warning for us and how seamlessly she integrated her expertise as an environmentalist and her skills as an author to write a very compelling story told through a young protagonist….yay!

    Like

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