I Find Inspiration in the Cuban People
EXCELENCIAS INVITES YOU TO SHARE THE STORY OF EDWARD NICHOLLS, A BRITISH MAN WHO HAS TRAVELED TO CUBA FOLLOWING THE TRACE OF HIS FAMOUS ANCESTOR
Edward Nicholls works for a bank in Singapore in the Acquisitions Division. In 2014, he traveled to Cuba for the first time to follow in on the footsteps of an ancestor of his, Domingo del Monte's footsteps, one of the most celebrated figures of the 19th-century's Cuban culture.
That visit turned out to be the initial driving experience this British man has been living in Havana for months. He requested his boss to give him a sabbatical for a full year just to write a novel in this corner of the Caribbean. In a bar of Old Havana, Excelencias sat down with Mr. Nicholls, a man who's very passionate about both the history and the people this island nation is marked by.
What is the book about?
It is the story of an African tribe that are enslaved and sent to Cuba in the 1800's. One family are separated and, despite being in a country and culture so far removed from theirs, it is the story of the fight to find each other once again. They take on the brutality of the ruthless plantation owners.
African culture plays a big part in what Cuba is today and I wanted it to be a central theme of the book. DDM was originally the main character, but as I delved into the period more I realized that there were two stories that complemented each other well.
Was Domingo del Monte often mentioned at home?
I always knew that my grandmother was Cuban but did not find out anything more until I was about 20. I remember sitting at the dinner table with my dad, when we started talking more about my grandmother. My dad said that she had once told him about a relation who was a famous Cuban and who played a part in Cuban independence. All he had was a name. Domingo del Monte. From that moment on, I took it upon myself to find out about Domingo.
How and when did you find that personal motivation to write this novel?
On that first trip to Cuba I learnt so much about the people, the culture, the history of the country, as well as some more information about my family. I had never written a novel before, but as I toured around the country and learnt more about the country and my family, a story started to form in my mind.
Every day I walk around the streets, to take in the characters of Cuba, the incredible architecture, the culture and feel the history. It is inspiring to sit and write in the cities (Havana and Trinidad) where my story acts out and to imagine what life was like 150 years ago. I feel lucky to have this opportunity. This may sound cliché, but I find inspiration in the Cubans I meet on a daily basis.
I make sure that I have the family tree on me at all times, because when I say I am related to DDM, most don't believe me. But when the family tree comes out I feel like royalty. On the flip side, the African slaves made a massive impact on the Cuban culture of today, and so when people ask me about my book and they have African heritage I get more and more unexpected information and inspiration to keep going. I get excited about my novel because it excites the people that I speak to about it. That is inspiration enough to make me keep writing.
diarias, y hasta ahora he alcanzado mi objetivo (he escrito palabras buenas y malas). El empeño me ha permitido crear nuevos personajes, desechar otros y establecer un marco inesperado para la primera parte de mi libro. Sin distracciones laborales, pienso en personajes, escenas y conflictos mientras hago ejercicios, durante las clases de salsa e incluso en la playa.
En su opinión, ¿qué distingue este destino de otras naciones de América Latina y el Caribe?
«Esta es una pregunta difícil, porque cada cultura que he visitado en América Latina es diferente. Los cubanos tienen una identidad fuerte y son una nación llena de orgullo. No importa si has conocido a alguien durante cinco días o por cinco minutos; ellos te reciben con la misma calidez que le profesarían a un miembro de la familia. Son una cultura generosa, llena de gente que se complace en mostrarte el camino si estás perdido, y lo hacen sin esperar nada a cambio.
«Este país es también un lugar seguro para visitar, uno de los más seguros del mundo. Los turistas con los que he hablado dicen lo mismo.Todos se sienten tranquilos caminando por las calles, incluso a las 3 de la mañana. Entonces, este es mi consejo para los que aún no lo conocen: visita Cuba si puedes, y pasa más de cinco días aquí. No te decepcionará y, al final de la experiencia, querrás volver una y otra vez.
What rituals do you have when it comes to writing your novel?
Well that's a good question. Up until this point I have had none. I have done several courses that talk about how to establish characters, plot, settings, point of view etc. but above all I have the voice of my sister (an actual writer) in my head Don't get it right, get it writ!' So, for the month of August I set myself a target to write a thousand words a day, and so far, I have hit my target (good and bad words have been written!) The task has created new characters, got rid of others and established an unexpected framework to the first part of my book. Without work distractions I know find myself thinking about characters, scenes and conflicts while I do exercise, during salsa lessons and at the beach.
In your opinion, what are the elements that makes Cuba different from other nations in Latin America and Caribbean?
This is a difficult question, because every culture that I have visited in Latin America are different. The Cubans have a strong identity and are a proud nation. It doesn't matter if you have known someone for five days or five minutes; they will greet you with the same warmth that they would do a family member. They are a generous culture and are happy to direct you if you get lost without expecting anything in return.
Cuba is also a safe place to visit, one of the safest in the world and one evening while I sat watching sunset on the Malecon I asked a local why Cuba is so safe. Everyone feels safe walking the streets, even at 3am in the morning. So, visit Cuba if you can. And please spend more than five days there! You will not be disappointed and by the end, you will want to return again and again.
«No importa si has conocido a un cubano durante cinco días o por cinco minutos ellos te reciben con la misma calidez que a un
miembro de su familia» «It does not matter if you have met a Cuban for five days or for five minutes; they welcome you with the same warmth as a
member of their family»