Picture Courtesy Mark Lyndersay
My name is Caroline Mackenzie and I got a Netflix deal out of my first novel, One Year of Ugly, which is being published this month.
I was born, raised and still live in Town. But I lived in Acono Village. I’m not ‘fraid to pass the lighthouse!
My father, Christian de Verteuil, my younger brother, Justin, and my youngest brother, Sebastian, and I lost our mother, XXXX, to breast cancer when she was only 45. I was a month shy of 20. It made the survivors closer. One Year of Ugly begins after a death in a large family.
I grew up very close to my three aunts and did not feel lost in the world when my mother died. At university, partying, living wild and reckless, you really don’t need parents. It was only in my 30s, when the big milestones of marriage and kids came around that I truly felt her loss.
My mother would stay up reading to us until after midnight. When I was 12, my father pushed me to go beyond teen dramas to tackle heavy memoirs on poverty and heartache. My mother, [denied] her desperate goal to be a painter by her parents’ well-intentioned pragmatism, led my brothers and me to view artists, writers and musicians as infinitely more impressive than lawyers, doctors and businessmen. It’s no surprise I’m a writer, Justin is a painter and Sebastian is a music producer.
[Being] a newish mother has wreaked havoc on my writing schedule but completely enriched me as a writer. It’s given me a much deeper, broader empathy. For women in particular.
My childhood was surrounded by greens and blues: ocean, sunburn, the grit of sand between your teeth; saltwater-tangled hair; blue crabs, boat rides; sno cones, pholourie and boiled corn around the Savannah. My adolescence was similar, except with copious screwdrivers at [nightclubs Coco-]Nuts and Base thrown in, all that early-2000s dancehall and hip-hop, and hours upon hours of ballet.
After ten years of ballet and all my Royal Academy of Dance grade exams, I stopped when I went to university. Studying and getting shit-faced took precedence. [But] ballet taught me focus, discipline and the satisfaction of putting in hard work, even when you don’t feel like it. Hugely beneficial for any budding novelist.
If I hear music I used to dance to – particularly Chopin or Tchaikovsky – I get goosebumps and all the feels. But I do not twirl around, I just visualise the movements. At uni, I [was in] a paid psychology experiment involving [hearing] very emotive, depressing music in a pitch black room. I was crying hysterically after ten minutes. Maybe ballet honed a sense of musicality, teaching [ballerinas] to visualise the stories told in music. Maybe I’m just crazy.
I love ballet as an art form and hope to get my son to appreciate it. [Despite] the Trini chauvinist heteronormative forces working against him.
As a little girl, I wanted to be a novelist. I compulsively kept journals from age nine up to my mid-20s. As I got older, my blossoming neurotic disposition made me too insecure to think myself capable. [So] I clung to my other major interest – languages – and became a translator. The daily journalling only stopped when I started writing fiction in earnest.
I never studied English literature beyond CXC but my BA and [translation] MSc introduced me, in the original languages, to Allende, García Márquez, Lorca, Borges, Camus. Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. completely shaped my world view and life philosophy. Completely. My French literature professor, Ben O’ Donohoe, broke those texts down in ways that opened my mind up more than an acid trip would've. Made me a true existentialist.
I always wanted a family full of boys. Only after having a baby and realising how crucial women are to, well, everything, did I want a daughter. To mind me in my old age. Women, nurturers and givers, [are] ultimately the glue families need.
Boys [require] none of the complexities of teaching a girl how to walk the tightrope of her sexuality or the myriad challenges of womanhood, which I myself am barely managing. Boys seem so much easier to guide: (1) don’t be an asshole and (2) always wear a condom. Check me in 15 years, though, and I’ll probably be eating my words and tearing my hair out!
Five books that blew my mind: Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes. A memoir, not a novel, I first read it when I was 12 and have read it six times since. Mc Court contributed to my impulse to be a darkly comedic writer. Marlon James’ The Book of Night Women is one of those books that, as a writer, you think, “Ah shit, why even bother trying?” Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things is perfection. Charles Bukowski’s Post Office and its terse, testosterone-fuelled, drunken, messy chauvinism is pure gold. Ah, to give as few fucks as a man! VS Naipaul’s genius book, A House for Mr. Biswas is the novel I’d take with me on a deserted island.
Anything by Kurt Vonnegut, the indomitable master of satire, I can guarantee you I’ll love.
Green is my favourite colour. Growing up in a verdant island valley thing? But, for clothing, I have an almost compulsive pull to grey. My entire wardrobe is grey. It's a uniform. I keep re-purchasing the exact same clothes over and over. It might be some kind of syndrome. I'm working on it.
Before baby, relaxation was: gym, gym, gym. God, do I love a gym. Weights training all the way. Maybe I'll get back in there eventually. A gal can dream! [Post-baby, relaxation is] reading, writing and wine. Copious amounts. And the beach and nature, not hiking, just chilling with my husband in the bush. Soothes the soul and whatnot.
I tend to create soundtracks for whatever I'm writing. I have a playlist saved from when I was writing Ugly. Every time I hear those songs now, it pulls me straight back to those scenes, like if they were actual memories I lived first-hand. Kinda weird.
I am a total film lover but, unfortunately, not a legitimate film festival-film lover who knows why Citizen Kane was so important. I'm a mainstream, basic-ass movie lover. And I love series like Mad Men or Vikings. Reality TV is the best way to shut off after a long exhausting day. Try not to judge.
If Ugly were ever made into a movie, I'd love Guy Ritchie to direct it. He just nails dark humour and his movies just have such a dynamic, edgy feel.
If I make it to 90, only two things will be on my nonagenarian bucket list: 1. eat nothing but bread-and-cheese; and, 2. try heroin. So I probably won’t make it past 90.
Not getting time to write makes me anxious, high-strung, tense, catty and weepy. All the bad things. I’ve been compulsively writing every day since I was nine. To call it an addiction would be accurate.
I was nine months pregnant, lugging my ginormous belly around Port of Spain, doing chores with my husband, and I get this email from my agent, Sue, telling me that Netflix wants to option Ugly. Well, how I didn’t go into labour on the spot is beyond me. Surreal is an understatement. I started laughing wildly and told my husband someone was playing an elaborate joke on us.
I am such a Netflix lover already, so to see my characters come to life on screen, and with Netflix-level production quality, would be incredible. Honestly, I don’t feel any need to control the adaptation and wouldn’t be upset if changes were made to the core story or characters. Screenwriting and adaptation are the next facets of writing I’d like to tackle, so I’m more interested in observing how screen adaptation works, learning the do’s and don’ts, the reasons behind certain choices, etc.
By optioning the book, Netflix purchased the film rights but aren’t contractually bound to actually do anything with those rights. It could be years before they put anything into production, or they might not produce anything at all. But let’s hope we’ll all be snuggling down to watch season one of Ugly some time in the not-too-distant future!
I have no experience of LA and Hollywood at all. I am a lamb ready for slaughter.
Diane Guerrero (Orange is the New Black) could pull off the youthful spunk and biting sarcastic humour of my protagonist, Yola. If Netflix decides to shift the story from Venezuelans in Trinidad to Venezuelans in Florida, or Mexicans in California, the book’s universal themes and plot could easily transfer.
The best part of a Netflix deal would be making connections and learning about the adaptation process. The worst part is, I’m thrilled, but it can [still] feel a little disheartening to be consistently referred to as ‘the Netflix girl’. I’m like, “What about HarperCollins? Simon & Schuster?” Incredible publishers! But I’m not complaining!
A Trini is someone who knows how to wine, chip and season food right. How to tell — and take — a joke. Someone who knows how to waste time with panache and has a link in every government office. A walking paradox: warm and extroverted yet hostile and cutthroat. Sunny and tropical, like the island, but with an ugly urbanity. But, to me, a Trini, any Trini, anywhere I am in the world will mean one thing only: home.
For me, Trinidad and Tobago is a creative bottomless well and a place as multi-layered and complex as any well-drawn fictional character. It’s [as] full of darkness [as it is] of light, and as gifted as it is flawed. It will always be my muse.