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"Each decision that a parent makes changes the course of a child's life by a fraction, and those fractions add up over the entirety of a childhood."
In Golden Child, Claire Adam takes readers to a rural village in Trinidad where a family is struggling with providing a decent life for their children–twin boys. The children are nothing alike, one believed to be a genius and the other a massive oddity. When Paul, the odd child, goes missing in the bush one day, his father Clyde must go look for him, but as the search carries on and reality comes to light, Clyde must make an incredibly difficult decision. The topics of parenting explored as well as post-colonial country politics made this our top pick for books in 2019.
Claire Adam spoke with us about her process of becoming a full-time writer, what considerations she made about setting the novel in Trinidad, and what it is like working with Sarah Jessica Parker.
How did you become interested in writing?
I don't quite know how to answer this except to say that I have always been interested in it. I've kept notebooks for as long as I can remember–I always thought I would eventually write. I did Physics at university–it seemed more practical than a humanities subject–but once I graduated I moved away from science stuff and travelled around for a while, and I was always writing–just little fragments, mostly, bits and pieces. Then, after I had my children, I quit my job and knuckled down to writing seriously.
You are originally from Trinidad, but studied in the U.S. and now reside in the U.K. In what ways have these global experience impacted your work as a writer?
Writing about Trinidad from the position of an émigré, let's call it, has its pros and cons as you would imagine. On one hand, having some distance from the place actually helps you see certain things more clearly, but on the other hand, the more time passes, the more your memories of other things fade. The consequence of that is that the big brush-strokes perhaps are likely to be right, which is good, but you might find that you have to check up on the details, or even do “research”, and then you worry about anything you might have got wrong.
It's been a balancing act in other respects, too. On one hand, I felt that if I set this story in Trinidad, I had to do it properly, and make it a book in which Trinidadians could recognise their own country–not exoticized or over-explained. On the other hand, I also felt that this story was about more than just Trinidad. This is a story about a father and his sons, and it's about yearning and isolation and betrayal and sacrifice; it's a story that could happen anywhere–in fact, in some respects, it does happen everywhere, all over the world, all the time. So I worked hard to make sure it would be readable and accessible by anyone who happened to pick it up, regardless of where they were from.
What inspired you to write your debut novel, Golden Child?
In one respect, it started with the character of the father in the novel, Clyde. He arrived fully formed, very determined, very isolated, and, in his own way, very brave. I could see immediately what the challenges would be in writing about him, and for much of the time that I worked on the novel, I was trying to find ways to portray him as a character deserving of the reader's compassion.
Also, for some time, I had been thinking about how much education is prized in a place like Trinidad & Tobago, as I suspect it is also in other ex-colonial countries, and the kinds of sacrifices that parents make in order to give their children the best education they possibly can. I'd hardly thought about this while I was living in Trinidad; it was only after I moved abroad that I realised that people in other countries did not live this way.
The novel takes an interesting look at parenting as well as raising children, most especially twins. Why was this something you were interested in exploring in your writing?
We tend to think of parenting in its mundane aspects–the changing of diapers, the shuttling children back and forth to school, or to their various activities–but the truth is that parenting is a fearsome responsibility. Children exist at the mercy of their parents. Each decision that a parent makes changes the course of a child's life by a fraction, and those fractions add up over the entirety of a childhood. I was interested in those moments: how unobtrusively they go by; how each decision made seems to be the best one at the time, but how each one shifts the course of a life–sometimes, when the trajectory finally becomes clear, it is too late to go back and change it.
Trinidad is also very important in this novel as it is the setting. Do you hope that American and European readers of your book will take away a deeper understanding of this place?
I chose Trinidad as the setting because it's a place I know reasonably well, and because when Clyde arrived in my mind, it was eminently clear that he was a Trinidadian man. Some readers have said that they enjoyed reading about Trinidad, but, no, I don't hope for any deeper understanding. The setting is Trinidad because that's clearly where Clyde lived, and because it's a place that I knew; what readers take away is some reflection of their own lives and experiences. Many people from America and Europe know what it means to want, and to sacrifice, and to bear burdens, and to feel loved, and sometimes to feel unloved. Those are the things that will or won't make an impact on the reader, I think, more than any newfound knowledge about the particular island.
In the U.S., Golden Child is being published by Sarah Jessica Parker for Hogarth Books. What was the process of working with her like and why was that imprint a good fit for your novel?
Well, all my friends have been very impressed when they learnt the connection to Sarah Jessica Parker! She's absolutely lovely–warm and down to earth, very much a normal person. More importantly, she's a voracious reader, and she loved the book. It's all been wonderful.
What are you working on next?
I'm working on another novel now, but it's very early days. This is the fun part, just to write and explore, and watch characters take shape, and no preconceptions about where they'll go yet. So far all I'm saying is that it's not going to be set in Trinidad, so it'll be something completely different to Golden Child....