Clara’s Heart was published when I was in my late twenties; the sequel, In Clara’s Hands, was published fourteen years later. Just after the sequel was published I was in London promoting the book and was taking a black cab to an interview. Once the driver began to speak to me, I could tell he was from Jamaica and we began to chat. As someone who normally downplays the fact that I am a writer, I very uncharacteristically told him that I’d written a novel and a sequel whose protagonist was a Jamaican woman. He asked me the name of the books and I told him and he’d actually read Clara’s Heart and was surprised to hear there was a sequel. He asked me the plot of the sequel, and I told him and there was silence – I couldn’t tell if it might be the silence of disapproval. After a few moments, he asked, “Do you think you’ll write another book about her?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m still too close to the one I just finished.”
“Well, this one you just finished doesn’t at all take place in Jamaica,” he said.
“Well, the first one only has a few scenes that take place there,” I told him.
“No,” he disagreed. “The first one has flashbacks, several of them.”
“Oh,” I said. “I guess you’re right. I guess you’re more familiar with it than I am.”
“How can that be?” he said. “You wrote the book.”
“Yes, but it has been a long time since I’ve looked at it.” His sudden quiet I could tell was the quiet of disbelief. Consider this,” I said. “If you spent a few years with someone, say a lover, and then you break up and fifteen years go by and there have been other people in your life…maybe you wouldn’t remember nearly so much about that first person you were with.”
The man caught my eyes in the rearview mirror and grinned.
“Okay,” he conceded at last. “But back to what I was saying, “How about you write one more of these books. And set it entirely in Jamaica. Maybe have it take place before Clara’s Heart. After all, she leaves Jamaica to go to America and doesn’t come back. Maybe you could write it up the point where she leaves Jamaica.”
“That’s an idea. Now I have to think of a story.”
“I have the story,” he said. “The novel begins with Clara visiting her sister and they are sitting outside on a veranda. She has something terrible on her mind: that she knows she cannot take care of her baby, can’t afford it and must go to America and is afraid that the environment in America might not be hospitable to her child. So she comes to ask her sister to take the baby and of course giving up the baby nearly destroys her.”
Many people have made suggestions to me about what might make for a good novel, but this was the only time one of these suggestions gave me a chill. Moments passed and I, at last, said to the man, “Ever thought of being a writer yourself?”
“Why should I?” With a jovial flourish, he banged on the steering wheel. “I have what I need. But you, you must write it.”
I’m still thinking about it.