Inspiration: Toni Ann pictured with Johnny Barnes. *Photo supplied
Inspiration: Toni Ann pictured with Johnny Barnes. *Photo supplied

A writer/actor with ties to Bermuda has written her first book and one of the main characters is Bermudian. 

Toni Ann Johnson’s novel Remedy for a Broken Angel comes out this summer and to prepare for it, she returned to Bermuda to research.

Johnson’s grandmother was Bermudian and she has many relatives still living here. 

She says the idea for the book came from a dream she had in 1992 that she couldn’t shake.   

“It was about a young woman who comes home and finds her husband in bed with her mother.

“The imbroglio becomes the catalyst for a mental breakdown and it’s during her recovery that the events leading up to the betrayal are revealed.

“As my focus shifted from acting to writing, I developed a screenplay based on this, but it never worked to my satisfaction.”

Learning process

She continued: “I stuffed it away in the closet, dismissing it as part of my learning process. But the characters refused to be quiet. They pestered me. I’d work on something else and the mother and daughter would tussle around, fighting in my consciousness, refusing to give me peace until I let them work it out.

“So I went back to the story and tried it again as a novel, thinking that opening it up would help make it work. My background was in dramatic writing, not prose. I didn’t know how to write a novel, but I kept trying, draft after draft. 

“Finally it dawned on me to get some help, so I ended up earning an MFA in creative writing which helped me figure out what I was doing.”

Speaking on one of her lead characters, Johnson said: “The main Bermudian character, Serena, is the mother in the story. 

“When the novel opens in 2004, she’s 48 and she’s a jazz singer living in the States.

“Her career has cooled off after some major success in her 30s and early 40s. She was born in Bermuda to a bi-racial family — so she was told — and her parents gave her up to be raised by an aunt, ‘Annie’, a woman of colour, who’s another character in the book.

“Serena is told that her siblings could pass for white, which she could not and her parents wanted those children to go to a white school.

“This was back in the early 60s when schools were segregated in Bermuda.”

She continued: “Serena never recovered from being given away and by the time she becomes a parent herself, her unresolved feelings have resulted in psychological issues that prevent her from bonding with her daughter.

“The book takes us back to this time period — the early 90s. Serena is abusive to the girl and eventually leaves her as well as the child’s father, in order to pursue her musical career.

“In abandoning her daughter, Serena repeats what happened to her (being given away) without being conscious that that’s what she’s doing.”

Asked about her research for the book, Johnson said since it’s fiction, many elements are imagined but some are inspired by her own experiences.

A big component of her research was jazz music.  

“My research regarding the jazz comes from a longtime interest in the music, as well as my own experience.

“I studied as a jazz vocalist with Robert Marks, Hal Schafer, and Emory Taylor in New York City and I performed in clubs while in my late teens and early 20s.

“Emory Taylor ran the Harlem Jazz Opera and hired me to perform at Lincoln Center.  

“I’ve had a number of musician friends, boyfriends, and friends who are children of jazz musicians. All of these relationships have contributed to aspects of the novel.”

Asked what she would say to encourage Bermudians to buy the book, Johnson said: “I would say that it’s an interesting story about a mother and daughter and their passionate, competitive romantic relationships. 

“So if you’re curious about a peek into the sex lives of some beautiful, complicated women with a penchant for jazz musicians you’ll find it fun. 

“It’s an emotional read, but there are funny scenes, too, that give it some levity. Despite their difficulties, the characters have a sense of humour.”

She also said there is a, “spiritual component” to the story. 

“It’s about forgiveness and finding peace. How do you forgive the seemingly unforgivable — when someone wounds you so deeply there’s a scar on your soul? 

“This book is about that. It offers suggestions for healing.”

Johnson said Johnny Barnes pops up in the book as well. 

“I don’t see many American authors writing about Bermudian characters. 

“Yet, I suspect that many Bermudians read American authors, so I do hope that people will appreciate the connection the novel makes to Bermuda.

 “If the accent, as I’ve written it, stays in the manuscript, Bermudians should buy it so they can let me know where I’ve messed up.”

Johnson will be in Bermuda to sign copies of her book on Saturday, July 26 at Brown and Co.