The story begins in utero. Audrey McLean’s mother was bleeding while pregnant. It’s the start of the memoir that parallels the Jamaican’s struggles and triumphs from childhood to adulthood.
“The story starts with a bang — life or death,” said the author of The Diamond Trap.
“My hardship started in utero. I asked the question, ‘Can’t an unborn baby get a break?’”
The self-published, non-fiction novel came out at the end of last year followed by parenting handbook Twins-to-One and children’s book Miss Underwood.
Contrary to what she thought, it is the most popular book of the three. Readers from Britain and Canada have posted reviews on Amazon and connected with her “harsh” yet “hilarious” tale.
“It’s not a boring autobiography,” said the Bermuda resident. “It’s hilarious ... they say. And engaging.”
She said comedy comes naturally.
“I like to make people laugh, and I like to laugh. I’ve been getting this reaction since the time I was in Jamaica two decades ago.
“Every time I’d give a little excerpt of my life, people would burst out laughing. I wasn’t trying to be funny, but apparently the joke and the experience was extremely embarrassing and extremely hilarious.
“Everybody has a favourite chapter.”
Her favourite is My Pet Rooster.
When her father, the breadwinner, died, he left her mother with an ectopic pregnancy and necessary surgery. Once out of the hospital, she took her five children back home from their grandmother’s, but there was nothing to eat.
“There was no food, nothing. Except for Sammy, my rooster, who was 100 years old,” she recalled.
Her sister was tasked to pick the weevils from the rice; she to catch the rooster.
“Normally, Sammy would be coming up like a little dog and behave like a normal pet. He would eat ice cream and he would eat chicken,” she laughed.
“But Sammy picked up on something when we were approaching him. He started running like Usain Bolt.”
They eventually caught him, but the meat was too tough.
“It was cooking for like ten hours and it was not palatable,” she laughed. “I didn’t eat any, but everybody else had to settle with sucking it.”
Another favourite is The Shoes, an episode she described as “embarrassing”.
Her mother had promised that if she got in to a good high school, she would buy her a new pair of shoes.
Ever “thrifty”, when reminded of the promise, she took her daughter to local shoemaker, Mr Binns.
“I said, please mummy, that cobbler has the talent of a lizard. She didn’t argue with me. We had to go,” she remembered.
Ms McLean wanted Mary Janes. Instead, she got “the biggest ugliest, indestructible pair of shoes”.
“It was as big as a row boat. I used a machete and tried to cut the sole. I walked in water when it rained on the road. I twisted it, but it was indestructible.
Being bullied only bolstered her sense of humour, but the story is not all laughs.
“It has some very sad moments like the death of my father, the death of my mother, the death of my ex, my children being very ill,” she said.
“It carries your emotions up and down.”
The pharmaceutical rep has lived on the island for more than a decade after she married a Bermudian.
She started writing The Diamond Trap three years ago, but was held back when struck by doubt. She identified her target audience, the Caribbean Diaspora, yet doubt still crept in.
Then she dreamt about Oprah.
“Somebody just burst through the door and said, ‘Surprise!’ It was Oprah Winfrey in a red dress,” she laughed. “I thought Oprah ... Book Club ... I should finish this.”
There’s a chapter dedicated to her transformation. Debts were paid off, her divorce settled and she began to see herself clearly.
“It was very therapeutic to write that book,” she said. “I didn’t realise I was so strong until I looked at myself properly in totality.
“There’s a chapter that I titled Déjà Vu, which shows the parallel of Jamaica to Bermuda, childhood to adulthood. There’s also a parallel with the process of diamond formation. Trapped in the core of the earth as charcoal under intense pressure that we can’t even imagine and it can’t move, but it slowly forms into this beautiful diamond.”
“It’s engaging, I can assure you,” she grinned.
She left out some of the “juicy” moments in her relationship out of respect for her children, seven-year-old twin girls.
The second book is a parenting manual for “anybody that feels overwhelmed”.
“Twins-to-One is a play on the term two-to-one and it talks about the unbalanced ratio of parents to children,” she said.
“This book was inspired by people without twins asking me how I was doing it.”
She says she doesn’t preach.
“It’s very comprehensive and very helpful. I talk about money management, time management, legal aspects, support, boundaries.
“If you’re a single parent you have to de-stress and you have to get time by yourself.
It also goes into managing a career; she has to travel often for her work with Merck Sharp & Dohme;, and coping with divorce.
Miss Underwood is her favourite book, the name is a play on the word “misunderstood”.
In the book, a primary schoolteacher from a fictional tropical island, Isle of Gold, migrates to teach primary schoolchildren in an undetermined country that could be the US or Canada.
There is no patois in the book. She uses English words and phrases that are commonly misunderstood in different cultures. She wants to see her book in schools in Japan, the US, Canada and Bermuda to bridge the gap between Jamaican culture and theirs.
“The whole book is a misunderstanding,” she said. “It’s teaching children cultural diversity.”
• Audrey McLean’s books are available at Bookmart, The Bermuda Bookstore, Nubian Nook Bookstore on Court Street, Caesar’s Pharmacy, Somerset Pharmacy and Robertson’s. The e-book can be found on Amazon.com. Ms McLean will hold a book signing at Brown & Co on January 26 and 27