I’m delighted to publish an interview with Sharon Maas on my blog today. Sharon’s latest (and fabulous) book, The Sugar Planter’s Daughter is published today by Bookouture.
Q. What inspired you to become a writer?
I guess I was born that way! Seriously: even as a child, I loved writing down the stories that my imagination dictated to me; second to reading, I loved writing. All through my school life, the one subject at which I excelled was writing. Unfortunately, story-writing didn’t seem like an area in which I could make an honest living and so, after leaving school, I did the next best thing: I became a journalist.
But even then, I was almost 50 before I had the confidence to try writing a full-length novel. So my life as a novelist started very late in life. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, however, since by then I had the maturity to know exactly what I needed to write, and to stick to my guns.
Q. What obstacles did you face when trying to achieve your ambition to be a writer?
The first novel I wrote found an agent almost immediately, but not a publisher. I rewrote that novel five or six times – on a manual typewriter, you understand – in order to bring it up to scratch. I revised it, restructured it, polished it for several years, all at the encouragement of my then agent. It still didn’t find an publisher. I broke down in tears, then gave up and started again. The next novel was Of Marriageable Age, and that one found a first-rate publisher at first try.
I had a few “good” years in publishing after that, but then, with my fourth book, I ran into rocky waters again. My publisher, HarperCollins, didn’t want me to write books set in Guyana. Unfortunately, that was the one matter on which I could not compromise. I had grown up reading books that I loved, but did not in any way reflect my own background. I knew that my job as a novelist was to write from the heart, and that meant, about the experiences that shaped me as a human being.
That stubbornness meant that I was rejected not only by HarperCollins but by the British and American publishing world in general. Guyana as a setting was judged to be not commercial enough; the consensus was that the reading public is xenophobic and would not want to read books with a setting they weren’t familiar with.
So for ten years I kept writing novels that kept getting rejected. I was determined to prove the agents and editors who rejected me wrong, and the only way to do that was to write books that the public would love, books that woud sell. That is still my aim: to show that the reading public, that is, that the white reading public, is not as xenophobic as the publishing experts insist. The only way to do that is to produce a bestseller! So it all depends on how well the books are received. The only thing that speaks are sales!
Q. Who is your favourite character from your books?
That’s really hard to say! I guess it’s a draw between Savitri from Of Marriageable Age, and Winnie, from books 1 and 2 of the Quint Chronicles trilogy. But I have a very soft spot for Dorothea, of The Small Fortune of Dorothea Q!
Q. Who or what inspired the character of Winnie?
She was directly inspired by my paternal grandmother, whose name was also Winnie, and who married a George. It was their wedding photo that lit the spark: they are so elegant, so confident in that photo, yet I could easily imagine the drama it must have caused back then, a white woman marrying a black man. My grandmother went on to have eight sons, and so does Winnie Quint. The rest is purely fictional – my grandmother did not come from a sugar plantation family, so that part is made up, as well as the conflict between the made-up Winnie and her sister, Yoyo.
Q. Can you recommend any books for those of us who want to learn more about Guyana?
There are several good contemporary Guyanese writers. There’s David Dabydeen, for instance, Jan Shinebourne, Oonya Kempadoo, Fred D’Aguiar, Grace Nichols. Then there’s the late Edgar Mittelholzer, whose novels set in the early 20th century were recently reprinted and are enjoying a bit of a comeback.
Q. What’s your favourite book (written by someone else)?
There are so many; I can’t choose! If forced to name a single book, I’d say the Indian epic Mahabharata.
Q. What book do you wish you had written?
The Mahabharata — so much so, that I did write (and self-publish) a shortened version of it! But I greatly admire the works of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and would love to have written Half of a Yellow Sun.
Q. What genre of books do you enjoy reading for pleasure?
Historical family sagas.
Q. Can you tell us anything about the next installment of the Quint Chronicles?
It’s not written yet, so I don’t know the details or the main story “hook” yet myself, but I do know it will be about the boys growing up and going their ways; World War II will play a part, as well as the struggle for Independence in Guyana, what happened to the sugar plantations and in particular, what happened to Promised Land in the end. A surprise character in The Sugar Planter’s Daughter is Mary Grace and I suspect she will take over from Winnie in becoming the main female character. Winnie will become the matriarch at the centre of the family – as already hinted at in The Small Fortune of Dorothea Quint. That sounds like a lot – maybe too much for one book!
Thank you to Sharon Maas for her time and answers which helped provide a little more insight into her world and her characters. I’m eagerly awaiting the not-written-yet third instalment of the Quint Chronicles.
About The Author
Sharon Maas was born in Georgetown, Guyana, in 1951 and educated in Guyana and England. After leaving school she worked as a staff journalist at the Guyana Graphic and the Sunday Chronicla in Georgetown.
Sharon has always had a great sense of adventure and curiosity about the world we live in, and Guyana could not hold her for long. In 1971 she set off on a year-long backpacking trip around South America. In 1973 she travelled overland to India through Europe, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and spent two years in an Ashram in South India.
For more information, visit her website.
My review of The Sugar Planter’s Daughter
This is another beautifully told tale from Sharon Maas. Continuing the tale of Winnie, from The Secret Life of Winnie Cox, this story centres around Winnie and George as they come to terms with their unusual marriage, Winnie’s mum and delightful sister Yoyo. It’s told in alternating chapters, centred around life in Georgetown and on the family plantation Promised Land.
Sharon Maas is a great storyteller and you can imagine yourself transported to British Guiana with the sights, sounds and smells… I absolutely loved this tale and felt quite bereft when it ended. I can’t wait for the next instalment in Winnie’s story.
My thanks to Sharon Maas and the team at Bookouture for my advance review copy of The Sugar Planter’s Daughter, which is published on 22nd July and is available from Amazon.