‘I believe a good story is universal’
As an immigrant growing up in Canada, Derek Mascarenhas, who has his origins in Colvale, didn’t feel represented in any of the stories he was exposed to there. This led to him to write his just-released debut book of short stories ‘Coconut Dreams’. In conversation with NT BUZZ
CHRISTINE MACHADO | NT BUZZ
I knew I always wanted to be a writer, but it wasn’t until I started reading more books that spoke to me that I was inspired to write my own fictional stories. I decided to go back to school to learn the craft of creative writing, and quickly realised how difficult it was. It took many years to put this collection together.
When I first started writing, I felt called to capture my two main characters, Ally and Aiden, as children. They were the driving force behind the book. I wanted to write ‘Coconut Dreams’, because, like many other immigrant families who grew up in Canada, I didn’t feel represented in the stories I was exposed to in schools and libraries.
My characters grow up with a unique perspective that I wanted to share. They are born between cultures, and have a natural curiosity about both their identity, and motherland. They grew up in a predominantly white suburb. But, despite being born in Canada and sharing the same religion as most of their classmates, they are constantly being told they are different and lesser than because they aren›t the status quo. As the Pinto family doesn’t have the financial means to visit Goa, and show Ally and Aiden their roots, the children learn about Goa and their ancestry through stories. In the title story, ‘Coconut Dreams’, Aiden finally travels to Goa as an adult. After a childhood of feeling like he doesn’t fit in with others in his hometown in Canada, he naively expects to identify with life in Goa, but quickly experiences a different reality.
Most of the stories are set in the world my siblings and I grew up in, but are definitely fiction. One of my favourite parts of writing fiction is I don’t know where the story is headed. I have an idea when I set out, but it’s always an exploration.
The first and last stories are set in Goa. The ghost story was inspired by my great aunt who spent her childhood in Goa. She related her experiences at that time, including folklore and superstitions. Ten years ago, when I finally was able to travel to Goa myself as an adult, I was surprised how some of those same superstitions live on, especially in village life. Conversely, on a more recent trip to Goa, I was amazed at how much has also changed in such a short time.
Most of stories are set in Canada, but I believe a good story is universal. For me, the stories could be set anywhere as long the characters evoke feelings in the reader. I have enjoyed stories from varied backgrounds and hope ‘Coconut Dreams’ will speak to Goans, Canadians, and readers beyond.
I would love to. It would be amazing to share these stories with people in Goa, and India as well.
I am working on a novel – this time, set mostly in India. For now, it looks like it is leaning more towards magic realism, but we’ll see how it evolves.