I am delighted to share the news that one of my critique clients, Juleus Ghunta, will have his book Tata and the Big Bad Bull published by CaribbeanReads on 31 May 2018. The book is part fable, part adventure story as Tata attempts to get to school, overcoming various obstacles, not least of which is a fearsome bull whom he has to outwit. I asked Juleus a few questions about his publication journey.
What inspired you to write Tata?
I grew up in Jamaica in a single–parent home with my mother and three siblings. Due to financial constraints I began formal schooling a year later than most students. While I was in primary school, mother struggled to pay for my lunch and bus fare. I was determined to go to school so I decided to take a shortcut through a pasture. The pasture was home to some fierce bulls but the route cut the distance in half. One evening, on my way home, I was attacked by a bull. We stared at each other for a few minutes before I climbed through the barbed wire fence. When I stepped into the pasture, he charged and I got stuck. I was lucky to escape unharmed. I sprinted the long way home. It was terrifying but the following week I was in the pasture again. I had no choice. The ‘big bad bull’ character was inspired by this real–life experience; however, the bull is also a metaphor for the wide–ranging challenges I experienced as a child and the way I endured and overcame them.
Because of financial and other challenges, I learned to read at age 12 and was the only student from my class who was forced to repeat the 6th grade. Learning to read improved my self–confidence but I was saddened by the fact that there were no books in the school library with stories about black boys like me. I vowed to write such stories, I’m glad this lifelong dream has come true. There are many “hidden” stories in this book that readers will never know unless I tell them. Hopefully, I will get opportunities to share.
How old were you when you realised you were a writer?
I spent much of my childhood in the home of the late Jamaican writer, C. Everard Palmer. I couldn’t believe that such an influential writer grew up in my village. It felt surreal. Becoming a writer was the farthest thing from my mind though. That didn’t seem possible. I started writing ‘seriously’ four years ago; however, I don’t think of myself as a ‘writer’, despite my success. Writing has been an outlet for my grief; the way I unpack my traumatic childhood. Maybe one day I’ll feel comfortable with the ‘writer’ designation. I’m not there yet. For now, I’m content with the way writing helps me ‘breathe’.
How did the critique process help you?
It was a major turning point. Many of your suggestions made it into the book, including the very important point you made about humanising the bull by giving him a name. I was surprised by your detailed response and moved by your generosity. The book needed a lot of work, but you did not dwell on that. You showed me what was possible.
How did you find your publisher and what was it like working with them?
I did research to see who’d be interested in publishing Tata and received many rejections. I’m glad those publishers said no, because I kept searching and eventually found CaribbeanReads. I could not have asked for a better publisher. CaribbeanRead’s editor, Carol Mitchell, helped me rewrite and reshape the manuscript. It is a much better story than what I submitted. Her patience and vision are legendary.
Did you have any involvement in the illustrations?
CaribbeanReads helped me with the storyboard. I sent instructions to the illustrator, Ann–Cathrine Loo. Ann–Cathrine and I come from very different cultures. She grew up in Sweden so many of her initial sketches were inspired by images from her childhood. I instructed her on every detail of the illustrations and she did a truly remarkable job.
What do you hope children will gain from reading Tata?
The book reminds readers of the importance of compassion and forgiveness. There are lessons inside regarding how children should respond to bullying and ‘othering’. I hope Tata will encourage children to think more deeply about the emotions and experiences of others, especially their peers. Tata is a gift to children whose courage, resilience and leadership are needed in this troubled world.
When will you launch the book?
And finally, what’s next for Juleus?
I’m working on a picture book manuscript and a poetry collection.
You can pre-order Tata and the Big Bad Bull on Amazon. Juleus can be found at www.juleusghunta.com and on Twitter as @Ghunta100. He is currently pursuing MA Peace Studies at the University of Bradford. His poetry has appeared in several journals including The Missing Slate, Moko, Easy Street, Chiron Review, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, and has been anthologised in Cordite 81: New Caribbean Writing and In This Breadfruit Kingdom. He was awarded the Catherine James Poetry Prize by Interviewing the Caribbean in 2017. In 2015 and 2016 he was shortlisted for the Small Axe Poetry Prize.