The Redwall Report: Sunday, 25 September, 2022

Imran Tahir celebrates victory

 Amazon Warriors eliminate TKR

Guyana Amazon Warriors secured their place in the 2022 Hero Caribbean Premier League (CPL) play-offs with a 37-run win over Trinbago Knight Riders.  

Loop Trinidad

How to publish a book in Trinidad and Tobago

It may be cliche but there’s a Chinese proverb that comes to mind: “When someone shares something of value with you, and you benefit from it, you have a moral obligation to share it with others.” But publishing is a business, and because the purpose of business is to make money, business obligation overshadows moral obligation. The wonderful news is that although I run a small publishing house, I do what I do for the fun and love of it. I have no business obligation to company secrets. My duty, then, is to clear the path of shrubs and bramble for future writers who may benefit in some small measure.

 In 2008 I finished my first book—unpublished writers do this all the time: call a manuscript a book or a novel because they’re imagining their work in its ultimate form. So, in 2008 I finished my first book. Perhaps like every other writer who doesn’t know where to start, I began scouring the Internet and Yellow Pages for “Caribbean publishers”. In retrospect, I was hoping to secure a publisher that would stand the cost of publishing, printing and marketing; plus—I’m chuckling—pay me a handsome advance.

I called around, sensing I was more of a bother to the publishers. Some recommended I send them my manuscript. But I didn’t trust the idea of mailing or emailing my work to people I didn’t know, so a new chapter of investigations into copyright opened. This took me to Legal Affairs where the staff were helpful but only told me things I could have learned from a textbook. The most useful thing I learned about was “the poor man copyright”. It involved posting a copy of the manuscript to myself by registered mail. When I collected the package, it was all stamped with little red circles. Inside each circle was the date, marking each stage in transit. To date, the package remains sealed in a safe location.
Nevertheless, the enthusiasm from publishers wasn’t forthcoming. Wherever I called, the “right man” to talk to was never around. If he was, his secretary was more protective than his wife. I’m still waiting on some to call back. Clearly there were no serious publishers on the island. I was thinking local. Looking outside never occurred to me.

To get it done, I had to publish the book myself. This meant a couple things: I had to open a publishing firm; I had to get an ISBN number because all books have ISBN numbers, right? And I had to find a printer who was inexpensive, trustworthy and could print by December because Christmas was perhaps a good time to sell books.

Choosing a name for the company was more difficult than establishing it. Prior to “my book”, I was working on a Caribbean recipe website registered as Completing the registration form at The Ministry of Finance, it occurred to me that I could use the existing website for the publishing firm. I could have written “Potbake Publications” but the name didn’t embody other interests such as film and software so, without giving it much thought, I scrawled Potbake Productions. Since then I have experienced moments of regret, embarrassment and ridicule at the selection, but I have grown to love it as a homemade recipe.

During this time, I was simultaneously working on securing a printer and ISBN number. Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t rocket science. The ISBN Programme for the Caribbean Region is administered by the Regional ISBN Agency, Caribbean Community Secretariat. The Secretariat’s website has request forms and details on processing. Following the instructions took me to The Technical Services Department in NALIS with a bank draft and application form for 10 ISBN numbers as I might—just might—want to write a second book.

By the end of November I had the ISBN numbers and a printer I could work with. It was a chance meeting really, one of those great things that just happen. Another printer, just before he ended a telephone conversation we were having, said:

“Try this number. Ask for Fareed Mohammed. His printing company, Graphic Scripts Printing, is in Cane Farm. Tell him I referred you.”

My heart leapt for Cane Farm was nearby. We must have met that very day, going through process and qualitative and quantitative concerns: 500 copies would cost ‘x’ amount per copy, 1,000 a lesser amount. As silly as it sounds, I remember being utterly confused that the cost per copy decreased as the numbers increased. Mr. Mohammed patiently explained that although they were capable, Graphic Scripts’ primary business, as most other “publishing” businesses in Trinidad and Tobago, was printing—not publishing in the traditional sense where the publisher absorbs all costs and pays that handsome advance you might be thinking about. Truth being told, you’re fortunate and remarkable if you score such a deal as a first-time author. I had to take a loan. In essence, what I was doing, without knowing it, was self-publishing my book.

If you want to save money you’re going to have to do a lot for yourself. This often means depending on those close to you. I was fortunate to have technical skill and a strong support team. I designed the book cover. Others proofread or shared their views on the cover design. In my spare time I worked on nothing else. If you rely on your talent alone, chances are the final product will be sloppy.

Despite Graphic Scripts’ tight schedule, they printed and bound 1,000 copies of 90 Days of Violence by mid-December. My calculations are usually off, but when I did the math, calculating the number of houses on each street and people I knew in the area, I arrived at a startling conclusion: I could sell 1,000 books in one week. The same day the books came home, I slung a market bag with eleven books over my shoulder. If the bag had enough room I would have taken one hundred. I walked through the avenues of Trincity, stopping to talk to residents. Turning the book over in their hands, each congratulated me, but no one bought.

When I returned home disappointed, my dad said, “You think you’re selling bread?”

And he was right. A book isn’t a necessity. As with all habits, it is a luxury to those who can afford it. The very best have to accept that their work isn’t going to sell as well as they would like. But there are avenues of opportunity: social media for networking; there’s the national library where you’re guaranteed to push off at least 35 books; The Rudranath Capildeo Learning Resource Centre also accepts books for consideration in school libraries; through Kindle Direct Publishing, has made self-publishing an electronic breeze, an excellent resource for visibility and building capital; local bookstores are opening up more to Caribbean writers. But to date, experience shows that in the Caribbean the best resource for publishing, marketing and selling your book, is you, the author.

Corona, the 1990 coup and trivializing slavery

You’re upset. I get it. You’re upset because During the lockdown you did your part: when you went out your wore your mask (over your mouth and over your nose) , you shared memes on Facebook, you learned how to make bread and doubles.
But somebody had to go and spoil everything for everybody. Yes, Nick (Nick is a fake name), we’re talking about you. You’re a delivery driver, you’re sick and you’re going to work. You’re a disappointment to Trinis around the world. Trinis don’t go to work when they sick. Pandemic or pandemic.

There are are two people I love to hear talk. Myself. And Gary Griffith. Referring to the 1990 coup and the police service’s technological advances, he said, We will be able to outgun, out-man, out-think any criminal element or organisation that intends to do anything remotely close to what happened in 1990.” The issue will be solved and individuals will be neutralised in seven minutes,” he said. 

And Covid-19 was like, “Hold my beer.”

Yeah. The police Administration building was shut down after an employee tested positive.  In a way you could say it’s a hostage situation.
We’re human. Sometimes we say stupid things. And sometimes we say really stupid things

For example you have AUXILIARY fire officers saying they are treated worse than slaves, as they are working without vacation, sick, injury or any leave.
Then, during a virtual meeting, you have the opposition leader saying that the Govt’s treatment of stranded Trinis is worse than slavery. I agree. That being locked out of your country is bad. But to go as far as saying that it’s worse than slavery?
That is a really really bad comparison. It trivializes slavery. Makes you sound like a blank man. Or a blank woman.

Grants and Trinidad and Tobago’s IT failures

Today, we’re talking about two things: the government of Trinidad and Tobago’s use of technology; and Grants. Not Hugh Grant or General Grant. I mean relief grants, particularly the salary relief grant and the grant promised to hotels and guesthouses in Tobago.

I should warn you that when I wrote this episode of #RedWallNews I did so with a growing bitterness in my heart. Because when it comes to IT and software systems that work well, the government keeps dropping the ball. I’m a programmer. I know how fast and easy it is for one programmer or a team of skilled programmers to build software systems that work, evolve as needed and, like Janelle Penny Commissiong, get better with age.

I should also remind you that I have no political affiliations. I have never voted. I support a unified Trinidad and Tobago, which means that I support neither PNM nor UNC.

Let’s get started.

In Trinidad and Tobago, the government is like that friend you lend money to but when it’s time to pay back you could never find them. Yeah, Nick, I’m talking about you. Where’s my hundred dollars that you borrowed on Friday, 27th July 1990? You said you were going Port of Spain; and I never saw you after that.

In early August, the prime minister said, the last lockdown cost billions. How much billions are we talking about, exactly? 5, 10, 50?

I always assume the best in people so I’m pretty certain the government is spending these billions sensibly. In other words, the money is going into the right pockets, the pockets of the people who need the money the most. What’s baffling is that in the newspapers and on social media there are people complaining about not receiving grants. (Who knows; maybe they’re mischievous UNC trolls.)

It doesn’t end there. In Tobago, we have the Business Chamber calling on the incoming government to urgently begin disbursing the $50 million grant promised to hoteliers and guesthouse operators months ago, in March.

March. That is a long time ago. Consider staff, suppliers, farmers, fishermen, the people who need the money the most.

Mr Prime Minister, Sir, as I write this do you know what just crossed my mind? That time Sandals pulled out of Tobago. A blessing or a curse?

Based on what we’re reading in the news why does it appear that money is taking so long to get into the hands of the people who really need it?

Is it because in Trinidad and Tobago, the state, it seems, has a knack for building really stupid Information Systems? I mean, who implements a system to accept requests for salary grants via email? Sorry, how could I forget all about you NIB. At what point did you all realise that one email address to serve all of Trinidad and Tobago was a terrible idea? I imagine your IT department called a meeting. Young programmers, ancient bosses, around a wooden conference table that somehow makes everyone feel more important than they are. The young programmer’s cautiously saying:

“Boss, this system is madman thing, we have thousands of requests in one email address. I have a suggestion.”

“What’s that?”

“The country has good programmers. Let us build a dedicated system to effectively manage the process. The system could even help decrease fraudulent claims. Improve transparency etc.”

The boss smiles and says:

“That, young woman, is a terrible idea. What we really need to do is set up four email addresses. One for north, south, east and west Trinidad. Tobago’s small so they’ll get one email address.”

Another big smile and the boss says:

“That way we will have less emails in every email address.”

Listen, whether or not NIB has an “IT system” that the public doesn’t know about, it should be obvious by now that the thing ain’t wo’king.

When it comes to sound IT systems, the Ministry of Education is another failure. For months (maybe years) they’ve been working on developing a school transport app to improve the payment process to maxi taxi concessionaires.  There’s talk about RFID tags and all that jazz, tracking students’ movement in and out of vehicles. Where are the results? Can you imagine how relieved the programmers at the Ministry of Education are that schools are closed. I could hear them saying, “Yeah, boy we getaway.”

It may not be so, but it seems that more often than not the government (PNM and UNC) fails miserably when it comes to implementing sensible software solutions. And I imagine these are costly failures. Failures that cost taxpayers millions, if not billions.

So, forgive me for not being excited when the PNM announced a Ministry of Technologies and Records to bring about modernisation in record- keeping. This should have happened years ago, but, I’m practicing optimism, so I look forward to it. Hopefully by 2025 we’ll be voting online.

Oh. A quick reminder that cyber threats are against the law. The police has a cybercrime unit, monitoring social media. And it is apparently effective:

I’ll end with a quote attributed to Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith, a man I regard as a man of few words:

“The good thing about social media is sometimes people like to talk too much and when they talk too much it gives us enough information in our law enforcement bank. We’re seeing a number of different comments being made. People are very emotional, some exuberance, some frustrated and because of that they have started making very irresponsible, reckless comments that can cause crime to be committed or try to incite violence and that is where the police will get involved.”

#RedWallNews It better than blues.