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Writer 'tek bad tings mek joke' - Culture inspires Shelley Sykes-Coley

Published:Monday | July 16, 2018 | 12:00 AMStephanie Lyew/Gleaner Writer
The cover of Shelley Sykes-Coley's first book.
Shelley Sykes-Coley with her book.
Sykes-Coley shares her work with ordinary people she meets on the street like these two construction workers.

Shelley Sykes-Coley has been writing professionally in her previous capacity as a marketing specialist for over 20 years - but for the last five years has invested time and energy into her first publication.

The book, Chat 'Bout!: An Anthology of Jamaican Conversations, is inspired by conversations about daily life experiences, traditions and, most important, the 'labrish'. "The stories Jamaicans share, the things they speak about from day to day connect us and make us unique in our common shared experiences," Sykes-Coley told The Gleaner.

She added, "It was also inspired by the desire to keep our oral traditions alive through storytelling to stir conversation about, and interest in, our culture at the ground level; and to entertain audiences with a tongue-in-cheek look at these mundane exchanges."


Fan of Comedy


The author is a fan of comedy in whatever shape or form, and says she has an appreciation for the unique sense of humour and blunt approach to situations that Jamaicans exhibit, particularly through social commentary.

She believes Jamaican literature, although not popular among the lion's share of young adults, still has a place in the world of entertainment because of our rich history and beloved culture that is constantly evolving.

"Look at the memes or 'meh mehs', that is the creativity and focus of Chat 'Bout! - local culture from a humorous, sometimes satirical standpoint is reflective of this ability of ours to 'tek bad tings mek joke'," said Sykes-Coley.

Five poems from the book: 'Jamaican GPS', 'Crukkin' Lizzad' (speaking of the most relatable phobia)', 'Fluffy Diva', 'Seh Feh' and 'Runnin' Belly' - embarrassing as it is, are some of the titles that she uses to show that Jamaicans don't take things too seriously and can laugh at the worst situations.

"Our stories have the power to inform, shape ideals, stir passion, evoke emotion, illuminate minds, transport readers and entertain," she said. "Moreover, the inclusion of our dialect - the Patois - in our writing makes our voice so much more expressive - adding colour and vibrancy to our message."

Sykes-Coley revealed that unlike her literary colleagues and our local recording artistes, she had never been one who could find the courage to share her work verbally until after the book was released.


Open Mic


"At my first open mic at Calabash - I was shaking so bad my legs almost collapsed under me as I left the stage - I'm not a natural public speaker and so I am always nervous before I go on a stage."

Today, (since her Calabash experience) Sykes-Coley exercises a routine for live readings, even with 'butterflies' she gives herself a little pep talk in addition to taking a few deep breaths. "The adrenaline does the rest," she said, in pushing her to speak.

Literature as a form of entertainment, demands constant promotion and she has found herself doing the unusual, reading to random persons on the streets of Kingston. "There will always be an individual who wants to hear what we have to say, so there is a need to look at the demand for, and popularity of, exceptionally talented Jamaican writers such as Louise Bennett-Coverley, Lorna Goodison, Marlon James, and Kei, just to name a few."

Miss Lou and Kei Miller she lists as inspirations, along with Pluto Shervington, singer/songwriter of the popular 1976 single, Ram Goat Liver.