For such a tiny nation, the Cayman Islands boasts its fair share of local authors. Books & Books in Camana Bay and The Book Nook in Galleria Plaza on West Bay Road both have sections highlighting local works. The Nature Store, located at the headquarters of the National Trust for the Cayman Islands in Dart Family Park, also has a selection of homegrown books. They make good beach reads and a Cayman keepsake.
With a groundswell of local writers, there is now an annual awards program that celebrates local authors, the Cayman Literary Awards. From diving exploits to murder mysteries to children’s tales, here’s a selection of what’s on the shelf.
Those interested in Cayman’s dive industry can get the inside scoop from two scuba diving pioneers – Bob Soto and Ron Kipp.
Each has written biographies about their escapades in the underwater world.
The late Bob Soto is hailed as the “father of diving” in the Caribbean as he established the region’s first dive operation in Grand Cayman in 1957. His stories are published in the book “Extraordinary Adventures.”
Through his memoirs, readers get an insider’s view of the evolution of the dive industry – including some inventive dive gear that he fashioned himself.
“I built my own backpacks out of bits of plywood and aluminum metal, and made my own weights,” he writes. “I would break up batteries, get the lead out and melt them down to make lead weights.”
Ron Kipp took over Soto’s shop in 1980. “From Big Blue to the Deep Blue” is Kipp’s account of leaving the corporate world to run the dive center – a life-changing experience for the former IBM executive.
Along with delving into the deep, both books reveal what life was like in Cayman’s early days – long before it became a well-established tourism and financial services destination.
Taura Ebanks has written a children’s storybook based on her experiences growing up in the Cayman Islands.
“Let’s Explore the Cayman Islands” takes readers on a unique adventure through each district of Grand Cayman, from Pedro’s Castle in Bodden Town to Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park in North Side to a fish shack in East End. Of course, the journey would not be complete without a trip to Stingray City or a Cayman Airways flight to the Sister Islands of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman.
Readers young and young-at-heart will enjoy the journey of discovery which weaves in historical, cultural, and environmental facts. The storybook is beautifully illustrated by another homegrown talent, Simone Scott.
Among other island-inspired children’s storybooks are Erin Connelly’s “Georgie and the Stingray City” and “Pedro and the Treasure Map.” The books, named after two popular Cayman attractions, are illustrated by Megan Kounnas.
“Pedro and the Treasure Map” follows the exploits of Pedro the parrot as he explores the deep through a porthole of a boat, with an old treasure map in hand. Along the way, he meets Hammie the hammerhead shark, a little stingray named Georgie and a turtle named Reef. The turtle brings Pedro an old sunken wooden chest from a wreck, and the treasure inside helps the parrot on a journey of self-discovery.
“Georgie and the Stingray City” follows a little stingray named Georgie who encounters various creatures and island attractions on her adventurous journey to find Cayman’s famous Stingray City.
New on the shelf is “Alphabet Island,” which chronicles the Cayman Islands letter by letter – starting from anchors and beaches and ending with yachts and zip liners. It’s written by Kate. M. Ure and illustrated by Deborah Kern.
Chickens in the Caribbean
Faye Lippitt writes about the joys and chaos of family life in “Sixteen Chickens on a Trampoline,” published in 2014. The book took runner up in the Cayman Literacy Awards in 2016. The awards came just as the second print edition arrived on island.
Sixteen Chickens is a humorous series of snapshots about raising six children, including two sets of twins, all just eight years apart. It chronicles family life on an acreage in the foothills of Alberta, Canada. After the kids flew the coop, Lippitt moved to Cayman with her husband in 2011.
Her latest is “The Great Caribbean Chicken Caper” which follows a family as they invite 16 chickens to join their adventures growing up in the Caribbean. The book gives young readers an island twist on one of the headline chapters in Lippitt’s first book – which inspired the title – involving her children, some neighbor kids, their flock of chickens and a trampoline. Lippitt, an artist and former journalist, also illustrated the book. Profits from “The Great Caribbean Chicken Caper” benefit literacy in the Caribbean.
One of the island’s better-known personalities is a musician by the name of Barefoot Man, who is also a storyteller. Barefoot – a.k.a. George Nowak – authored “Which Way to the Islands,” a collection of travel anecdotes and adventures that are much like his songs: funny, varied and entertaining.
Bitten by the wanderlust bug at a young age, his travels have taken him to numerous tropical isles. He writes: “My guitar has been my passport. And I’ve never been fussy. My willingness to accept accommodations just about anywhere hasn’t hurt at all, be it a lounge chair in St. Croix, a hammock in Bora Bora or a mat made of coconut fronds in the Cook Islands.”
He also penned “Life on the Wrong Planet,” a collection of short essays, rants, real-life stories and commentaries on the woeful state of common sense.
Nowak is a photographer and captured old-time Cayman in the coffee table book “The People Time Forgot.”
With photographs taken in the early 1970s, the book showcases old Cayman, its people and life as it was before the days of tourism, traffic and financial services.
“I donated all the 35mm negatives to the National Archives rather than have them mold in my closet,” says Nowak. “The National Museum then created this book and they sell it to raise money for their projects.”
The book can be purchased from the National Archives, the National Trust’s Nature Store, and the National Museum, which displays several of the photographs year-round. Individual photos from the book can also be purchased at the National Archives.
Murder and mayhem
Mystery fans will want to pick up a page-turner by Douglas Schofield, a trial lawyer who has prosecuted and defended hundreds of cases of murder and other serious crimes over the past three decades. His books include “Storm Rising”, “Flight Risks,” “Succession,” “Time of Departure,” and his latest, “Killing Pace.”
Schofield captured first-place for his mystery novel “Storm Rising” at the 2017 Cayman Literary Awards.
The Canadian national spent nine years as assistant solicitor general in the Cayman Islands before returning to private practice in 2013.
Another thriller writer of the first order is Sheldon M. Brown. While he is known in the Cayman Islands for his criminal past, the inmate at HMP Northward has been carving a new reputation for himself as a storyteller. With a knack for writing, combined with inside knowledge of the criminal underworld, Brown has written several fast-paced thrillers exploring organized crime, international terrorism, and the world of espionage.
Following his debut novel “Caribbean Cartels,” he released “Unholy Accord,” “Mayflower,” and “Servitude.”
Brown, who was incarcerated in 2006, has another work in the pipeline that is yet to be published, with the working title “Fake.” We would not be surprised to see one or more of his titles eventually make it to the big screen.
History comes to life
“The Wreck of the Ten Sail: A true story from Cayman’s past” recounts the island’s most famous shipwreck. In 1794, 10 British Royal Navy ships ran aground on the reef at night. It is said that King George III granted the islands tax-free status as a reward for the heroic rescue efforts of the locals (though there is no actual record of this royal decree) of more than 400 survivors. There is a stone monument and plaque in Gun Bay that commemorates the event. Perched along the cliff are six small concrete blocks representing those who lost their lives that night.
It’s written by long-time resident Sam Oakley and is a suitable read for young adults as well. The book not only chronicles the maritime disaster but also includes an account of Cayman’s history and modern times, with photos and archive materials.
In Little Cayman, Gay Morse has written about her experiences as a divemaster at Pirates Point resort and the challenges of living full-time on a tiny island. “So, You Want to Live on an Island” is a humorous account of her true-life adventures in paradise. Among her exploits: Searching for lost dentures in the water, chasing after a floating toupee and answering questions from tourists such as: “What time does the 9:30 a.m. boat leave?” or “Does water go all the way around the island?”
In Cayman Brac, Kathleen Bodden-Harris has authored “Quest on the Marl Road.” This engaging tale is told through the perspective of all creatures, great and small, that inhabit Cayman Brac and delivers a powerful message about respecting our natural environment. The book won first prize at the inaugural Cayman Islands Literary Awards in 2016.
A taste of Cayman
Cayman is known for its culinary community and talented chefs. Several have published cookbooks featuring locally inspired cuisine including well-known restaurateurs Suzy Soto and George Fowler.
Soto’s book “Cookin’ and Laughin’ in the Cayman Islands” is filled with popular island recipes such as Cayman-style fish and sautéed snapper meuniere. Soto spent many years in the hospitality industry, including overseeing the popular Cracked Conch by the Sea.
Fowler is the award-winning chef at Calypso Grill, another popular waterfront eatery. The title of his cookbook “Going Down Sticky Toffee Lane” references the restaurant’s famed dessert – sticky toffee pudding. The recipe is included in the book, along with such other culinary delights as conch chowder, moules marniere, grilled ginger tuna and chocolate bread pudding.
Another favorite is “Miss Cleo’s Cayman Kitchen: Treasured Recipes from East End” by the late Cleopatra Conolly, affectionately known as Miss Cleo. She spent more than 30 years in the kitchen at Morritt’s Tortuga Club as the island’s first female chef.
Many remember her famous conch stew, lobster thermidor and fish ’n’ chips, and this noted recipe collection preserves a part of Cayman’s culture and history.
One of the most famous – and prolific – novelists to call Cayman home was the late Dick Francis. The best-selling British thriller writer and former champion jockey turned to writing after he retired from racing in 1957. He wrote more than 40 novels, most of them mysteries about horse racing and the racetrack scene. His works have been translated into languages around the world. In 2000 Queen Elizabeth II – whose mother was among his many readers – honored Francis by making him a Commander of the British Empire.
Francis’ first book, published in 1957, was his autobiography, titled “The Sport of Queens.” His first novel, “Dead Cert,” came out in 1962 and was followed by a new title each year for the next 38 years, until 2000.
Francis retired to the Cayman Islands with his wife Mary in 1992. After the death in 2000 of his wife of 53 years, who was a close collaborator on his books, the author expressed doubts he would ever write another novel. And he didn’t until “Under Orders” in 2006. The award-winning author then teamed up with his son, Felix Francis, to write novels together including “Silks” (2008) and “Even Money” (2009), and “Crossfire” (2010). Francis passed away in 2010 at age 89.
Patricia Cornwell is another noted writer with ties to Cayman. The contemporary American crime novelist is known for writing a best-selling series of novels featuring the heroine Dr. Kay Scarpetta, a medical examiner. Her books have sold more than 100 million copies, and she is recognized as one of the world’s bestselling crime authors.
Footnote: Grand Cayman Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief David R. Legge is also a published author. The long-time scribe co-authored “Self-Made in America: Plain Talk for Plain People about the Meaning of Success.” Written with and about John McCormack, the book tells the story of the business maverick’s winding career path, from a New York City cop making $81 a week pounding a beat in the South Bronx to his ascent – and descent – on Wall Street, to his reincarnation as an entrepreneur to the top of the business world (“Inc. Magazine” on its cover named McCormack “The Hottest Entrepreneur in the America.”) The book offers real-world advice and wisdom on making it on your own, often breaking the rules and always challenging “common wisdom.”