David Bradshaw’s trip to Montserrat, via Antigua, late last year, wasn’t just a return to his roots (he was born just outside Plymouth, the pre-volcano capital, and grew up in Amersham, in the 1950s). The well timed trip – in time for both the Antigua & Barbuda International Literary Festival and Alliouagana, Montserrat’s Literary Festival – marked the Caribbean launch of his book, Growing Up Barefoot Under Montserrat’s Sleeping Volcano: Memories of a Colonia Childhood in a British Caribbean Island 1952 – 1961.
It has, as its main characters David and younger brother John, both left in the care of their great-grandmother after their parents migrated. The boys eventually went to the United Kingdom where Bradshaw went on to pursue a career in law, including working as in-house counsel with the BBC. Bradshaw is now, in his semi-retirement, a writer.
“I cannot honestly say that writing for an audience is something that I have always wanted to do,” Bradshaw commented. “Indeed in order to get ‘tenure’ at UWI, one had to publish – and that is probably where the impetus to get writing first began in a serious way.”
That’s right; Bradshaw is also a former lecturer at the University of the West Indies’ Cave Hill campus in the Law Faculty. His prior writings, then, centred on his specialty, copyright law; articles and even a book chapter. His biggest challenge in writing Growing Up Barefoot, then, according to him, was curtailing the legalese that came naturally to him. He wrote it, he said, to share something of himself and home with his now adult children and also to share what he believes to be an “unusual” tale with a wider readership.
Furthermore, Growing Up Barefoot is only the first in what is planned as a series on his life.
“It only covers the first nine years until the day I left Montserrat for England to re-join my parents there,” Bradshaw indicated. He’s wrapping up the sequel, Swimming without Mangoes: Memories of a West Indian Boy Growing Up in the English Railway Town of Swindon in the 1960s and early 70s, he indicated, with hopes of publishing in 2011.
“Mangoes is about the period from my arrival in England. Indeed, I cover the boat journey across the Atlantic beforehand to until I leave school at 18 years,” he indicated.
Book three is already in progress; “from leaving school to my university years, then on to my getting married, my teaching at Leeds University, the arrival of my first two children, and my emigration from the UK to take up my post at UWI, Barbados in 1979.”
A fourth book is expected to cover his time at UWI; and there may well be a fifth, dealing with his 10 years plus at the BBC in the 1990s.
Revisiting his life in this way has, Bradshaw said, been a cathartic experience. For one thing, he had to dig through the cobwebs, get at memories as much as 50 years old. But, in the end, he feels he got it right and revealed that his brother agrees for the most part, with some quibbling on perspective.
“I tried to be as honest about major incidents in my life as possible,” Bradshaw said, including “a secret that I have kept hidden for nearly all my life.”
That secret, he indicated, touches on a core issue, British colonialism “or a ‘rapacious product’ thereof” which he said has “had a profound effect on the person I am today.”
The actual release of the book was also a moving experience for the first-time author and, given that the book is self-published, first time publisher.
“I nearly cried with delight when I saw the final proof of the book – in all its shiny laminated ‘glory’,” he said.
It must also have been encouraging to sell out all available copies at the Montserrat launch.
That his family has responded appreciatively – “my children have all said ‘thank you’” – likely means more to him than sales though.