To celebrate 10 years of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize we are inviting previous winners to share something new with us—it might be a story, a podcast, an interview or a blog. Here 2018 Prize winner Kevin Jared Hosein shares his blog, ‘The Fishing Line’.
To read Kevin Jared Hosein’s 2018 prizewinning story, ‘Passage’, click here.
To read his 2015 story, ‘The King of Settlement 4’, which won the regional prize for the Caribbean, click here.
THE FISHING LINE
by Kevin Jared Hosein
There’s a skit in Sesame Street starring Ernie and Bert. They’re out pond-fishing and Ernie tells Bert that he doesn’t need a fishing line. He has a special call, he asserts. “You call them?” says Bert, punctuated by that laugh that sounds remarkably like a child imitating a machine-gun.
Ernie nods and continues to chant, Here fishy fishy fishy! and fishes begin flopping up and filling their pirogue.
In my early twenties, I believed that this was possible with publishing. I could write a novel, sit in my boat without a line and just yell out for publishers to pay attention. Since I was twelve, I knew I wanted to be a writer and it seemed like the world was against that. My secondary school did not offer literature. Many secondary school teachers dissuaded me. I was turned down from doing entry-level literature courses at the university (with good reason, I was a student of Science). And it was quite difficult for a student of Science to get guidance on the entire process—I knew nobody and nobody knew me. The only thing I’d entered and won something for turned out to be a scam. For a long time, there were no significant local avenues to get your story published unless it was for a $20.00 voucher from the Kids Section of the Trinidad Guardian, or you entered a competition writing about your favourite supermarket. As value-added tax was enacted on books, it was met with comments akin to: Why not? Trinidad and Tobago is not a book-reading country.
It’s true. Literature gets short shrift here. Why? That’s for another post.
So it was terrifying to cast that fishing line. The most terrifying thing to draw up was not hate, not rejection… but nothingness. A silent phantom. A dark echo of a dead dream.
It didn’t deter me from writing—I love crafting characters and stories. It keeps my mind rich. It has always been deep in me, even though my path has led me down a road of mathematical formulas and biological jargon. Science and literature may not be the most tempestuous lovers nowadays, but they’ve been married before. Darwin’s journals as he delves into the geology of the Galapagos and Tierra del Fuego; Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron, who based computer code as we know it today from poetic stanzas; and even Oppenheimer, inventor of the A-bomb, who quoted on live television, Now I am become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds. Even my Commonwealth-winning story Passage was intertwined with my ecological studies back in University.
I entered the Commonwealth Short Story Prize for many years before shortlisting and eventually winning. It was my first validation in years—that what I put on paper meant something. It’s a shame it had to come from another country—but I remain very grateful. Since then, I’ve published two novels and hopefully, a third on the way. After winning the Prize, I was signed by an agent at Aitken Alexander, which was instrumental in helping me complete my manuscript, “Devotion”. It should be making the rounds now. Keep your fingers crossed for me.
A fun fact is that Aitken Alexander was also V.S. Naipaul’s agency, a man I have very little feelings for. I’ve a canned reply for people who come up to me and say, “Aye boy, you plannin to be the next Naipaul or what!”
It is, “No. I want to be the first Kevin Jared Hosein.”
I want to tell our Trinidadian stories with our Trinidadian Creole, entangle it with our Trinidadian history, colonial, post-colonial, everything. My stories and Trinidad are interlocked. They are one and the same. I am indebted to this island and its diversity of people and culture and geology and compliments and insults and paradoxes and pains.
Aldous Huxley wrote a book called Science and Literature. In it, he quoted, “The precondition of any fruitful relationship between literature and science is knowledge.” Knowledge. Writing helps me attain knowledge of Trinidad and Tobago, helps me understand it and appreciate it, and helps me forgive the hurtful parts of it. I’ll never leave. But it’s forced me and many others to construct a fishing line that spans half the world just so we can feed ourselves.
Kevin Jared Hosein is an award-winning writer from Trinidad and Tobago. He was named overall winner of the 2018 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, and was the Caribbean regional winner in 2015. He was shortlisted twice for the Small Axe Literary Competition. He has published three books: The Repenters (shortlisted for the 2017 OCM Bocas Prize for Fiction) and The Beast of Kukuyo (second-place winner of the 2017 CODE Burt Award for Caribbean Young Adult Literature) and Littletown Secrets. His writings have been published in numerous anthologies and outlets including Lightspeed Magazine, Moko and Adda
He has recently completed his new novel manuscript, a mystery-drama set in 1940’s Trinidad, Devotion, which is currently in the hands of editors.