Allison is on the write path
THE THIRD TIME’S A CHARM, they say, and Allison Cadogan can attest to that. It has been a long journey but she is the 2016 recipient of the Frank Collymore Literary Endowment Award, the highest honour bestowed on writers of prose fiction.
Allison was always a bridesmaid, never a bride in the prestigious competition that she has entered twice before.
When she entered in 2010 for the first time, no one received the first prize award and she and another writer, Glenville Lovell, then tied for second place.
How did Allison, who never had any formal training in writing and actually dropped literature in third form at Queen’s College, end up being the author of three novels, one soon to be published? She herself cannot put a finger on it.
“I used to play the fool at school. I had a free period in fifth form and I remember the headmistress telling me that I could not have a free period and enrolled me in art and geography. I was hesitant as that meant I had a short time to study them for CXC.
“I played the fool for the first time, but the second term I had to knuckle down and worked.
“I realised I loved art. I have a conviction that everyone should do art, especially if you have a good teacher.”
That was the start of her creative design journey, leading her to do a two-year associate degree in visual communications at the Barbados Community College and also a three-year bachelor’s degree in the same field at the University of Central England in Birmingham.
“My time there was fantastic. I enjoyed just being in a different culture and a small part of my course was in Barcelona. Seeing different approaches to creativity was exciting.”
Allison said she always wanted to be in the creative field, even though unsure of which one exactly.
The vice-president, creative services, at G&A Communications Inc., is in charge of creative strategy and concept development. In a nutshell: “I write ad material for traditional or new media, for television, radio, print and social media.”
She has been there since 2003, rising through the ranks. She has also worked at Lonsdale Communications Inc., in advertising.
Allison, who is small in stature, said she spent a year in Jamaica doing missionary work after leaving Lonsdale. She reminisced on the beauty and people of the island as she recalled her year there.
“Our church, The International Churches of Christ, has a branch in Bridgetown and one in Kingston, Jamaica, and it would have some of the ministers go places to work with people. I went there and studied the Bible, teaching people and also learning myself.”
She laughed as she relived memories of travelling to places in Jamaica, even hitchhiking, which she was warned never to do again, but she said she felt safe as she was doing the Lord’s work.
“Looking back now if I had to do it again, I might think twice about going to those places. But it was interesting and there was a time I thought I was going to live there forever. It was fast-paced and definitely a different way of living.”
In 2010 Allison took an ambitious step and entered her first prose fiction work in the Frank Collymore Literary Awards.
In her first attempt she won second prize. The second time she entered she won the Prime Minister’s Award and this year she won the Frank Collymore Literary Endowment Award.
Her first entrant was a “funny book” called Three Little Pigs of 35 000 words.
“I work an 8 to 5 job and overtime so the spare hours I used to write. It was an ambitious undertaking. It was set in post-war England and I had to do a lot of research to try to understand that era.
“It was about three people who lived together . . . very unlikely bedfellows but the story is being told by an unreliable narrator because as he talks you realise you cannot believe everything he says.”
She started the novel at the end of 2007 and entered it in 2010. She said she kept going back to it when she had time and asked her friend Kay Mussel-White, who was from Britain to read it before she submitted.
“She gave me some great feedback and asked me some poignant questions that really helped me to think.”
Her mum then proofread it.
The second novel was Winter Of Contentment, also 35 000 words.
“I started it when I was writing Three Little Pigs but I finished it in 2012 and submitted it.”
This was a sequel to the first one that took a different angle with the same characters. It is now a few years on and two of them have come to Barbados on holiday. One of the “pigs” was running away from a bad situation and tricked the other to come to Barbados also. They were both living in New York at this time.
“My mum proofread this one. She actually proofreads all my stuff. She has a degree in linguistics.”
Her big score was The Economist of 41 000 words and the one she is looking to publish so she can’t let the cat out of the bag in terms of content.
“I had Peter Alleyne read it. Peter asked a lot of good questions as well and was very excited about the book. I changed a few things and it is really good to have someone read your work as you can take into consideration something that someone else see that you haven’t.”
The book is about a guy who was going to study economics at the London School of Economics but before he leaves, a night out with friends changes his course completely.
Allison reminisced about the night she won the award, how nervous she was, sitting there sweating.
“I really, really, really wanted to win the top prize. I heard them calling out the John Wickham Award, then the Prime Minister’s Award. When I heard third, second and it wasn’t me, I said OK I still have a chance. Then they described my book and I squealed,” she said laughing.
A citation from the judges read: “The judges found this novel remarkable for its economy of style and unusual structure, combined with a complex plot and numerous different social themes. Moving backwards and forwards in time, it shows us both what happened, and the after-effects of that happening. The novel offers a realistic portrait of a community, with good and bad characters, in the form of a mystery story whose key is in the distant past. For its avoidance of clichés and its literary qualities, in the category of fiction, winning a grand prize of $10 000, the first prize goes to The Economist by Allison Cadogan.
Allison said even though she is in the creative field she has always liked storytelling but not literature.
“My mum thought dropping literature was the worst decision I could have made. But I strongly believe that God puts you where He wants to put you. And He will guide you.
“I feel if I hadn’t done art I wouldn’t have developed a love for storytelling.”
Allison has a method to her writing.
“For these first three I knew the beginning and the end and then I write the middle. I usually write the first couple of chapters, then the last chapter. I have some others in process that haven’t started that way though.”
Allison is looking forward to publishing The Economist and said while the book is fiction it has some truth to it.
“A lot of the characters in this one is a lot I would have heard about. There are some characters that people will recognise as I write fiction around. If you remember Barbados in the 1980s you will be able to identify some of them.”
Allison says she would love to enter the words every year but the way she writes doesn’t lend to that.
“I write when I have time, but I like early morning in my living room. If I get an epiphany in the middle of the night I would jot it down.
“I enter when I can let go of the novel. I wanted to enter The Economist in 2014. I was scrambling to finish it to enter it and I knew I wasn’t confident in how it was. One of the reasons I feel I have been successful so far to some degree is because of that mindset of entering it when I feel there is nothing more I can do with it after it has been edited and proofread.”
Allison said she had a fear of doing something “formal in literature”, like a degree: “My fear is that it would turn me off. I did design formally and after I finished my degree I said I am not designing anything and I went more into video. But I think I studied it to death with those two degrees.”
Allison’s hobbies are rollerskating and watching movies – calling herself a movie buff.
“My favourite is Melancholia, a brilliant movie and another brilliant movie is Requiem For A Dream – which you should only watch once.”
Allison is a heavy critic of movies, saying that it goes hand in hand with her being a writer.
“Many times I watch I say why did you do that or why didn’t you do that?”, she said laughing.
“Never watch a movie with me,” she chuckled.