Thursday, 3 July 2014

THEN AND NOW: Gillian Royes' writing life draws on her island-girl roots

WELL VERSED: The Jamerican mystery writer addressing the reading party on Tuesday.

Atlanta-based novelist Gillian Royes may travel the world for work but she'll tell you that her heart remains on the sunny island of her youth: Jamaica. "I never stay away too long; I try to visit every year or two because it's like returning your soul to where it wants to be," reflects Royes, standing inside Hope Road's Bookophilia, where, on Tuesday, she hosted a reading party for her new book, The Sea Grape Tree, and hung around long enough to engage the audience in a fitfully enlightening Q-&-A session. "My relationshio with Jamaica is about that soul connection. Even something like the food; when I go to the Jamaican restaurants in the States it's not like having the food here - the avocado pears, the mangoes. Jamaica will always be home." 

Small wonder then that her island paradise provides the lush, anything-can-happen setting for her critically acclaimed mystery books. The Sea Grape Tree is only the third in an intended 10-book series, which already features the bestsellers The Goat Woman of Largo Bay (which introduced readers to Royes' knack for humour, stylish narrative and dramatic flair) and the follow-up The Man Who Turned Both Cheeks (which reintroduced such colourful and well-defined characters as Shad and Eric). 

Royes, who was raised in Kingston and attended St. Andrews for Girls, describes writing as an imperative that can't be helped. "I write simply because I love to write," she tells TALLAWAH, signing copies of the new book. "You wake up in the morning and you have to write; it's the first thing that comes to mind." 

Having the novels adapted into feature-length films is a dream of hers. "I studied film and television at Emory University," she says, "and so I had to learn to write treatments and scripts and to see the pictures in your head as you're writing. So that has helped me a lot." 

At age 65, Royes says it doesn't get any better than indulging her passion for the written word and passing on what she's learned to the next generation of Caribbean storytellers. "I enjoy teaching; I teach in the winter in St. Croix in the Virgin Islands. My life is full at this point," says the author, who is also looking forward to releasing the fourth book in the series, The Rhythm of the August Rain, in late 2015. "This happens to be a very contented but extremely busy period in my life. I enjoy every single day."  

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