Photo above: Forensic scientist and author, Cheryl Corbin, left, seen with Itah Sadu, co-owner of local bookstore, A Different Booklist, where her book, “Architects of Destiny”, was launched. Photo by Neil Armstrong.
By Neil Armstrong
PRIDE Contributing Writer
TORONTO, Ontario — While science might be Cheryl Corbin’s life, writing is her passion.
The director of the Forensic Sciences Centre, Office of the Attorney General in Barbados, is also known as Cher-Antoinette, a writer and visual artist.
It’s not that she doesn’t like talking about her life as a scientist, but as she puts it, “I’m trying to nurture my creative side now that I have the time that I can do it.”
Speaking with Pride, while in Toronto to launch, “Architects of Destiny,” her collection of poetry, prose and musings of the heart written over a tumultuous period of her life, Cher-Antoinette said she started writing in 2011.
She was coming out of a separation then. “As I keep telling everyone, two marriages, two children, two divorces, one bad-ass relationship later, my writing tends to be cathartic.”
Having never been trained as a writer, she credits her adopted daughter for seeing the poetry in her writing.
“I watched this movie called “Julie & Julia” where this young lady was going to be following Julia Child, [the American chef recognized for bringing French cuisine to the American public through her cookbooks and television programs], and she wanted to reproduce every single recipe in Julia Child’s book and she was going to write a blog about it.”
That was the first time she ever heard the word “blog” and after researching the word decided to start a blog.
At the time, she was doing makeup artistry and decided to blog about makeup under “Cher Beauty Glam.”
“But then what I realized is that as I was writing, I was writing about things that were happening to me, the way how I felt about my children, the way how I felt about position as a woman and there were a lot of things that were coming out. I started getting a lot of responses from people I didn’t know, like Uzbekistan, parts of the world you probably don’t even think exist. Google has these analytics that you can see who is hitting on page.”
She wrote a piece and her adopted daughter, an English student, read it and told her that it was poetry.
Cher-Antoinette thought poetry had to rhyme but her adopted daughter assured that what she wrote was free verse.
“So, she edited it for me where the poetic breaks would have been. I remember when she sent it back, I literally sat there; I think I sat down there crying because I couldn’t believe what I had written. And, about three months after that I literally was writing every day and I started to learn the literary devices. A lot of things that I had been taught when I was in secondary school they were now making sense.”
In 2011, she wrote a story called, “The Pink Slip,” which was semi-autobiographical, surrounding her last husband telling her that he did not want their relationship anymore.
She entered it into the Barbados National Independence Festival of Creative Arts (NIFCA) and she won a silver award.
Cher-Antoinette was invited to perform it at the literary gala and just as she was about to go on stage, they announced her name saying she was also the recipient of the incentive award for the best adult prose piece.
That was her introduction to the literary arts and she won two silver awards that year for two prose pieces.
“That really gave me the encouragement to write and then I spoke to people at National Cultural Foundation and whenever they were having workshops and stuff, I would ask to be on the list and they were gracious enough to put me on to the list. I did a workshop with Austin Tom Clarke and a few other people – notable writers in Barbados.”
The author said she created her own style and she was encouraged to submit her work to other journals.
She has been published in “POUi: Cave Hill Journal of Creative Writing,” a leading journal for new writing from around the Caribbean region and beyond, based at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill campus.
“I’ve been published twice in “The Caribbean Writer,” which to me was a milestone because all of the big writers in Barbados shoot to get into Caribbean Writer and I was pleased that I was actually accepted twice.”
Her writing has also been published in the magazine, Women Speak, and in the anthology, She SEX, published in Trinidad & Tobago.
In 2012, she received bronze for “The Annual Christmas Cuss-Out” and, in 2014, two bronze awards for her poetry.
In “Architects of Destiny,” Cher-Antoinette shares with readers her “endless search for love and the seemingly never-ending roller coaster ride of insecurity, vulnerability and darkness that carries me to a place yet unseen.”
As a self-published author of four books, she has been promoting her writing on Facebook and other social media.
Her first book was “My Soul Cries,” an anthology of poetry, published in 2013; then “Virtualis: A New-Age Love Story,” a “conversation and poetry melded into one” in 2014; followed by an anthology of the poetry from “Virtualis” which is like a companion to the main work.
So, how does forensic science influence her creative writing?
“When you read my poetry, especially, you’ll find that a lot of the descriptive elements of my poetry has science factored into it. The way how I would describe – yes, it can be very emotional and flowery but it is also sometimes very scientific. You’ll hear me talking about the ether and you’ll hear me use terms that the normal literary poet would not use. And, even sometimes when I’m writing in prose and, in fact, with a description.”
She said science is a part of her and it will be very difficult to not include aspects in her writing but she does not want her work to sound like a textbook.
While she enjoys forensic science because at the end of the day she is looking to try to get justice for people involved in the incident, where her writing is concerned, it gives her emotional balance.
“My writing is towards my emotional and my spiritual health,” she says.
“I have to admit a lot of my work, if not all of it, is very emotionally-driven and people say, you know, you have dedications in each of these books for different people. I’m like, yeah, because that’s how my life has been. I’m not afraid to say that and I’ve found that a lot of what I write there are a lot of women that relate to it. So, I have said to persons I’m not writing for literary academic reward. That’s not what I’m writing for. I’m literally being vulnerable, say how I feel, say what I did at the time, it may not have been the right thing to do in your perspective but it’s mine. Everybody’s perception is their own reality so you can’t really judge me.”
She says her writing gives her a freedom; “the freedom of thought that I have developed over the past five years, to me, is awesome.”
“Freedom of expression is imprisonment for some. There are some people who cannot give themselves permission to be free in their thought process and if you can get to that stage where you can be free in your mind, it’s a beautiful place to be,” she says, noting that she feels happier with herself now than she has ever been.
Five years ago she had an epiphany when she was celebrating her 50th birthday and her eldest son said something to her.
“He looked at me and he said, ‘Mom, you have lived longer than you’re going to live later. You have one objective and that is to be happy. However you do it, once you don’t hurt anybody, you just need to be happy.’”
At the time, she was in a relationship with a younger man and thought about whether she could see herself with him when she is 60.
“The path that I wanted to travel along. Can I see that person next to me? It was a resounding no, and being the scientist that I am I’m kinda having this virtual chalkboard in my head and putting up the list of pros and the list of cons. Can I really live with this? No, you can’t, and I’m going through the logistics and the reasoning. I said to myself, I can’t do this anymore. That you would refer to as an epiphany, for me, it was an analytical assessment.
“Yes, there was a lot of hurt that went with it, primarily on his side, but at the end of the day, do I want to live my life or do I want to just have a meaningful existence. There’s a huge difference between the two. I want to live and I want that when anybody is around me that they can feel the enjoyment and fulfillment I have with life without me even saying a word to you. That’s what I want to be able to achieve.”
Cher-Antoinette says she has had four major paradigm shifts over the last ten years and it’s almost like every book was the closure to that paradigm shift.
She has a crime story that she had started about four or five years ago called “Silvered Mirrors” and intends to finish it, as her next project, when she returns to Barbados.
The author says she was methodical enough to write a synopsis for it before she even started the book so she knows where she wants the chapters to go.
She is also planning to expand the story, “The Pink Slip,” and has already written five chapters.
She notes that when a writer self-publishes there is “still a lot of people that look down on you if you’re self-published so I said, if they want to do that, let me do this particular work because I have enough material. I said, let me put in some pieces to get them to understand I still did meet a standard. I met the national standard and I feel good about that – I’ve achieved that. I’m pretty happy with where I am right now.”
Her visual arts work started in November 2012 with the entry of her watercolour, “Bridge at the Hole,” which won a bronze award at the annual NIFCA Fine Arts competition.
Since then, she has been working in acrylic and practicing her drawings with graphic pencil.
Cher-Antoinette is an honours graduate in chemistry from the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill campus.
In 1989, she gained the recognition of being the first forensic scientist in Barbados having achieved her masters in forensic science from King’s College, University of London. She has had a long and rewarding career in the field.
The cover of “Architects of Destiny” is a self-portrait created by the author for the book, which she describes as, “it’s like you’re looking to the universe to give you guidance in wherever or whatever the colour or the energy of your destiny is going to be.”
She says she keeps thinking about the plight of the black woman and the insecurities that she has “based on what the societal script that has been written on whether she thinks she can fit in there or not.”
Currently, she is working on a number of charcoal pieces and wants to have an exhibition in the next two years entitled, “ Just Call Me Sarah.”
It is influenced by the story of Sarah Baartman and will feature images of larger women, of silhouettes, and titles saying: “This is who I am, you cannot do anything about that, this is just who I am – really going back to the old cliché about being comfortable in your own skin.”
Cher-Antoinette launched her book, “Architects of Destiny,” at A Different Booklist in Toronto on March 4.