Jamaica Mi Love. 1 Love Jamaica!

How I used my trip to Montego Bay to fine-tune my upcoming crime thriller, JAM RUN.

The pandemic left most of us exhausted. For those of us who took the COVID-19 restrictions seriously, we sacrificed certain privileges to protect our health and our loved ones. Despite that, there were some benefits and inconveniences. The inconvenience was that I had to postpone my trip to Montego Bay—the setting for my upcoming crime thriller, Jam Run. The benefit is that I used an innovative method to polish my manuscript. Through my connections, I got to know three Jamaicans online. Without their help, the quality of the story would not be as high as it is today. With the pandemic restrictions lifted, I finally had the opportunity to meet them in person.

I mentioned Norris Douglas—the CEO of RealTours Jamaica—in a previous blog post. Since I’ve been here in Montego Bay, he’s shown me the locations where my story takes place. Some may wonder why this is important since I have already completed the manuscript. The answer is that writing fiction based on descriptions that come from people or based on what one reads is helpful. However, visiting these locations adds a different perspective.

How did visiting Montego Bay impact how I wrote Jam Run?

For instance, chapter one takes place on Pegga Road in Irwin, outside Montego Bay. For those who read chapter one of Jam Run, you’d already know this is where my protagonists, Eddie and Corey, witness a murder. Considering the premise of Jam Run is inspired by an actual murder that occurred on Pegga Road in Irwin, Norris and his wife Samantha provided me with the precise location where it took place. Those details were shared in chapter one.

I learned from visiting the location that Pegga Road is a ghetto, and it’s rough. The spot where the dance party was held in 2013 has since become a car graveyard, and a few new houses were built in the surrounding areas. However, a field less than two hundred meters away across the street from Irwin Primary School would be an ideal spot for a dance party today. I modified the story to reflect this.

Snapshot while driving on Pegga Road in Irwin.

I felt unsettled when Norris drove me through the area. Norris even told me that he would not have recommended I travel through this area alone. The locals would immediately identify me as a foreigner, and the wrong people could’ve targeted me. And this was still in the daytime. Most of the area would’ve been pitch black at night.

My personal experience allowed me to incorporate my apprehensions into Eddie Barrow—who’s also visiting Jamaica for the first time. I’ve since added a few paragraphs where Eddie expresses the same anxieties I had. This adds to the credibility of Eddie’s character and the story. Some readers may even find some humour in it.

As an author who based a story in a foreign country, it’s vital to present both sides. It would be disingenuous for an author to focus on the more dangerous areas. Visiting the lesser-known regions, such as Black River, Parottee, Tangle River, Coral Gardens, Greenwood, Falmouth, and Negril, gave me peace of mind that most of the areas featured in Jam Run were some of the nicer and safer areas of the country.

Does Jamaica have crocodiles?

Black River
J. Charles Swaby’s Black River Safari

I learned that although Jamaica has crocodiles, they’re not native to the country. They were brought over when the James Bond movie, Live and Let Die, was filmed. There are two crocodile safaris I’m aware of. I took a boat tour on the J. Charles Swaby’s Black River Safari in Black River. It also includes a nursery. In Falmouth, there’s the Jamaica Swamp Safari Village, where the crocodile jump stunt scene was filmed. As much as I would have loved to visit, my time was limited to researching the areas and locating a specific building in Jam Run.

As I mentioned several times, I did not want to duplicate a biased depiction of the country that’s often portrayed in the media.

I even did a walking tour of the downtown area of Montego Bay, where many vital scenes occur. I was unaware that many of the scenes in Jam Run are within walking distance of each other.

I also experienced people constantly trying to hustle me. For instance, the shuttle bus driver tried to sell me weed the second I boarded the bus at the airport.

The next day I ventured outside the resort, and female street vendors told me my dreadlocks needed to be redone. Another day, a brotha tried to sell me weed. When that didn’t work, he tried to guilt me into buying a drink from a vendor I assumed was his sister or girlfriend. When that didn’t work, he tried to guilt me into buying him a drink. When that didn’t work, he offered to get me women. I almost accidentally said out loud that, for a pimp, he certainly knew how to multitask.

Some important advice is to avoid accepting a random person walking you to a location. Sure, I’ve given directions to people many times back home in Montreal. When I visited the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Germany, and Barbados, the locals were more than happy to give me directions. Sometimes, they’d offer to drive ahead or walk with you to be sure you get to where you need to go.

That was not my experience in Montego Bay. A necklace vendor tried to sell me one of his products. When that didn’t work, he offered to walk me to the addresses I wanted to see in Montego Bay. He was helpful, and I would’ve gladly given him some money for his services. My only error was not establishing his fee before I agreed to let him walk with me. That would’ve saved some trouble of him attempting to empty my wallet.

Ms. Nordia Sweeney

The same thing occurred on other days, but I was prepared. I would tell them: “Mi good” (I’m good), and I would be left alone. By not doing so, you risk being hounded for cash. And some of the hustlers can be very aggressive when you don’t pay them what they want.

Seeing and experiencing a sample of life in these areas allowed me to add more relevant content to the story.

What was also exciting was that I travelled to Spanish Town, where I met two other collaborators in person for the first time. One was Judi-Ann Edwards, the assistant director of public prosecutions. The other was her mother, Nordia Sweeney—a school teacher specializing in intellectually-disabled children. Together, they showed me around the capital city of Kingston.

jamaica, montego bay
The Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions, Judi-Ann Edwards

As with Norris, Judi-Ann and Nordia assisted me via ZOOM.

Like Montego Bay, most of the safer and wealthier areas of the city are located in the hills. This is in stark contrast to the ghetto areas below. Despite the city’s location on the waterfront, it’s still scorching compared to Montego Bay. This is partially due to spaces where concrete and asphalt occupy more surface area than trees and grass. Furthermore, this area of Jamaica is relatively flatter than the hilly areas surrounding Montego Bay.

My overall impression of Jamaica is that it offers so many experiences that it’s impossible that any visitor would not want to come back for more. The beaches in Jamaica are numerous, but the mountain villages offer breathtaking views and a more relaxed vibe that you won’t find in the country’s more bustling tourist areas.

I’m reminded that Jam Run was initially scheduled to be published in November 2022. This was due to my editor running into unexpected delays. After only visiting Jamaica for the first time this month and experiencing life in Montego Bay and the surrounding areas, I had more time to write more exciting scenes. In a way, the delays were a good thing.

Russell Brooks is the author of four suspense thrillers. Jam Run, his fifth thriller, will be out on March 31, 2023.

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