I have a great partnership with Chalk co-director Jo but it was really put to the test last Sunday when I flew off to Barbados to lecture on a cruise liner leaving her to teach in sunny Balham. My arduous duties don’t start until next week when we cross the Atlantic so I have been on shore visiting a different island in the Eastern Caribbean every day.
The British Virgin Islands were disappointingly American with the US dollar as currency and remnants of Caribbean culture, like the tales of  Black Beard the murderous pirate, preserved as a cute curio for the tourists.  Whole islands are owned by private individuals like Richard Branson’s Necker; one is even owned by an American dentist which must represent a lot of root canals.   St. Kitts and Nevis, populations respectively 35,000 and 9,000 (about the same as Tooting?), were pretty enough but local agriculture had been supplanted by scuba schools and the coconut oil I bought in a depressingly bland supermarket was imported from Kerela in South India because the coconut palms had all died. Antigua was much the same with fabulous beaches full of fat pink tourists being taught to dive, body board, wind surf, and jet ski by skinny black locals.
Mountainous volcanic Dominica, however, is a different story.    The steep inclines, dense forests, narrow beaches and black sands have spared the island from the full onslaught of the tourist invasion. The capital Roseau is still shabby and higgledy-piggledy with wooden houses, stalls selling dasheen and green bananas and a ‘jelly’ man expertly chopping young coconuts, Nature’s original soft drink in its very own bio-degradable container.
Roseau still has the quaint charm and the buzz of real, non-tourist- orientated, local life.  Apart from the old trucks and taxis, Roseau is probably very much as it was a 100 years ago when its most famous daughter, the writer Jean Rhys was growing up here.  She describes wistfully the dusty, ramshackle streets teeming with life, laughter and music during Carnival, an African tradition from which  her colour  and class excluded her.
Jean, the daughter of a Welsh doctor and a French Dominican woman, is most famous for her inspired  novel Wide Sargasso Sea, a prequel to Jane Eyre, in which she evokes the first Mrs Rochester’s early life as an impoverished member of the ‘sugar aristocracy’ just after the abolition of slavery.  Rochester and Antoinette’s doomed marriage starts forebodingly with a honeymoon near the little village of Massacre (given the bloody history of the Caribbean one can only speculate as to what horrors led to this name).
Appropriately I drove through Massacre as the sun was sinking and the smooth sea glinted silver in the twilight; the atmosphere felt moody and brooding even before I saw the sign  Massacre Elementary School.  For a moment all the history and associations Rhys conjures up so concisely yet  movingly filled my head but within minutes I was back on the quayside surrounded by jolly old holidaying Brits discussing the price of a Kubuli beer, my glimpse into the past was over.
Ardella Jones live from Cheers Bar, St. John’s quay, Antigua, BWI
Wide Sargasso Sea is on Chalk the Sun’s tutors’ top book list (downloadable from our home page).