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Scottish archive inspires writers from Caribbean

New writing exploring the deep links between Scotland and former colonies in the Caribbean has been inspired by three weeks of research at one of the nation's biggest libraries.

Two leading writers from the Caribbean, Lisa Allen Agostini from Trinidad and Diana McCaulay from Jamaica, have been researching Scotland's links to the islands at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow for the last three weeks as part of the Trading Tales initiative.

Both have investigated historical archives at the Mitchell in the search for information to inspire them.

Ms McCaulay, an award-winning writer and environmental activist, has been finding out about her ancestor John McCaulay, who went from Glasgow to Jamaica in the 18th century, as well as merchant families' links with Jamaica.

Ms Allen Agostini, a writer and journalist, has been fascinated by the story of Willliam Gordon.

Gordon, from Portpatrick in Dumfries and Galloway, moved to Trinidad as a clerk aged 17 in the 1860s and became one of the wealthiest and most influential men on the island, owning at one point fifty cocoa plantations.

Both writers have now ended their searches into the Mitchell archives and are heading home, where they will use the material in new writing projects.

As part of the initiative, funded by the British Council in Scotland, the Scottish writer Jane Harris is to spend time researching in the Caribbean for three weeks in September.

Ms McCaulay's research led her to analyse a series of Scottish merchant documents, including audits of the value of plantations in Jamaica, listing everything from the cost of pots and pans to the "value" of slaves and their children.

She has studied letters sent to the Caribbean in that period and been looking for "women's voices" in them, though finding writing by women from the 18th century has been difficult.

She said: "The books have been amazing. You find these little nuggest of information. The fascinating thing is that there is little emotion in the letters. It is all business, even when they are discussing hurricanes."

Ms Allen Agostini travelled to Portpatrick and found the cottage where Gordon grew up. "He was extremely wealthy and he was not liked very much," she said.

"The goal of the research is historical fiction and so I have been looking for things to see what he may have been like. It seems he was quite stern and he would not forgive a debt.

"I think there was a complex there, for a man to build these grand buildings in Trinidad and have his grave in one of the most prominent positions on the island."

The exchange of writers is one of the many cultural initiatives linked to the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.

The Mitchell Library hosts an extensive collection of archive material about Scotland's historic links to the Caribbean and the North Atlantic slave trade.

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