Story of long-distance love
Maria Thompson Corley remembers Bermuda fondly. Growing up in Western Canada, she would spend her summers readying herself for the heat and the roaches.
“Those flying creatures were always something I would have to steel myself for,” she said.
Dr Thompson Corley has just published her second novel, Letting Go.
The “turning point” takes place on a Bermuda beach, but that childhood phobia is not what she's referring to in her epigraph: “Ultimately, we know deeply that the other side of every fear is freedom.”
The story follows Cecile, a Juilliard-trained pianist, and aspiring chef Langston as they navigate a long-distance relationship.
“Their connection is real and full of potential for a deeper bond, but the obstacles between them turn out to be greater than distance,” Dr Thompson Corley told Lifestyle.
Last on island in 2011 to perform at City Hall, her first novel, Choices, was published by Kensington in 1996.
While her mother urged her to include more of herself in this book, she insists it is only semi-autobiographical.
The Canadian pianist's Bermuda roots “run deep”.
Her mother Eva Thompson was born and raised in Bermuda and her grandmother was Cecily Caisey, a well-known piano teacher.
Austin Richardson, her great-grandfather founded many of the island's AME churches and her grandfather, Ernest Caisey, was a well-known shop owner and member of St John's AME.
The first two chapters take the form of a diary entry after Cecile loses her virginity.
“That chapter isn't a memoir chapter. I made that story up,” Ms Corley admitted, adding: “But the whole conflict of religion and how it can impact your decisions, yes, certainly. There's a very strong religious component to my upbringing.”
The protagonist is not, she said, named after her grandmother. Cecilia is the patron saint of music.
“I'm sure my grandmother wouldn't have done anything in that first chapter,” she laughed.
The church organist added: “I tried to make my characters very human, which means that you have thoughts or actions that don't conform, but your overall arc perhaps is being guided towards God.
“[In Choices] I deliberately made her as different from me as I could. I suppose there will always be some parts of you in the writing, but I deliberately tried to make this woman not like me.
“A few people were taken aback by the first chapter [of Letting Go], but that didn't actually happen.
“That's always the challenge. To start the story with a bang,” she said, adding: “No pun intended.”
While the reader wonders throughout if they're ever going to get together, the author said she was more concerned over whether her protagonist is “ever going to get herself together”.
“That's sort of the prerequisite for getting together with someone else, ideally. Things tend to work out better if you have gotten yourself together to some extent.
“It is primarily a personal journey story.”
There are many parallels. Cecile, too, has a Bermudian mother, is raised in Canada, and moves to New York City to train at Juilliard.
Told in a combination of prose, letters, e-mails, and diary entries, Dr Thompson Corley compares it to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah, another long-distance love story that also examines race, religion, “and the difficult choices we make following our passions”, but assures it is much lighter.
“Her [story] is more overtly political than mine is, but there are some similarities in many regards,” she explains.
So far the response has been “great”. “It really seems to resonate,” she said, having received a handwritten letter from an elderly poet and much praise from male readers who have expressed satisfaction at the complex nature of Langston.
“It's not a difficult read or extremely philosophical, but in the midst of showing interpersonal relationships, I like to have introspection. I try to at least make people think a little bit.”
“What validates you still, even in this day and age, as a woman?” she asked. “Say you're very accomplished at something? Is that enough?
“It's not an anti-love thing at all. It's a question of how does society confer value upon you? Are you quite as valuable if you are single? I think still, after all these years that no, you're not.”
The 50-year-old is quick to remind that she is speaking as a single, divorced mother with many accomplishments.
The Juilliard-trained pianist is a published writer with a doctorate, but adds a humble “whatever”.
“People admire it, but I still get asked have you met somebody?”
Born in Jamaica to a Bermudian-Canadian mother and Jamaican father, she has lived in Lancaster, Pennsylvania for 17 years with her two children.
She works as a college professor, private piano instructor, composer, arranger, contributes regularly to the Broad Street Review and the Huffington Post and works as a voice actor.
A companion CD, to be released on Amazon and Createspace, will feature performances of music by Chopin, Beethoven, Liszt, Scriabin, Bach, and African-American composer Margaret Bonds.
• Letting Go will be available at The Bermuda Bookstore.