Joan Hall Scott was surprisingly mellow during our interview last week, given that she’d just spent two days travelling in the same clothes.
Fog in Paris, it transpired, had parted the American wife of former governor Alan Scott from her luggage, but not her sense of composure prior to her book launch in Cayman.
This knack of adapting to situations is a trait she shares with her husband, and is evident in her book, The Governor’s Lady.
Back in Grand Cayman for the first time in 15 years since leaving, the former lecturer is here to promote her first venture as a literary author.
The idea, she says, was given to her by a publisher friend from her Cayman days, Brian Uzzell.
‘It was his second time visiting us in Provence. We’d just finished a meal using my recipe for Circassian Chicken when he suggested that I write a cookery book based on my recipes.
‘My initial response was that there were already so many cookbooks on the market.’
However, having mulled over the suggestion, she eventually warmed to the project.
‘I supposed what interested me most was the memoir side,’ she says.
‘What I did to broaden its scope was to include my experiences with food, principally in Cayman.
‘I’d been collecting recipes for decades, and I was used to writing during my time as a university academic,’ she recalls. ‘For me the challenge came in how to find a different voice for writing my memoirs, but once I found that voice it wasn’t difficult.’
As to what to include and what to leave out, she sought her partner’s advice.
‘I left out some things that were amusing because I didn’t want to hurt people’s feelings,’ she says. ‘When I was in a quandary about such matters I turned to my husband for advice… he was extremely helpful with that.’
Long used to subbing each other’s work, it was only logical that he should have had a hand in shaping the book.
‘Alan was my editor and researcher,’ she says. ‘In fact, he spent hours putting it all into the computer… I’m encouraging him to write but he’s very reluctant.’
The 200-page tome, part memoir, part cookery book, is an engaging and often humorous account of her life before and while the governor’s wife in Cayman (1987-1992).
The book’s opening section, interspersed with frank and lively vignettes about her public role and private life in Government House, makes for an engrossing read.
Not only does the author share insights of her official role as wife to the Queen’s official representative and what she terms ‘big hat events’, we’re also introduced to Joan Hall Scott private citizen and activist – her so-called ‘big boots’ work.
‘I wasn’t interested in a whitewash. My intention was to give a picture of how I came to know Cayman a little better than when I arrived, and to convey how much I enjoyed my time here.’
Those looking for soul baring and revelations will perhaps be disappointed. But what the book lacks in that department, it makes up for in giving a unique window into a previously untapped part of the Cayman experience.
The reader is left with an impression of a vibrant and at times imperious individual, as comfortable entertaining royalty as crabbing in North Side.
Nothing less than her husband’s equal, her enquiring mind and conservative upbringing shaped her into an independent woman of action. All this meant the superlative hostess did more than plan garden parties as the helpmate of her husband.
Adept hostess she may have been but she also had a keen sense of civic duty. In the book, she gives a cohesive, if understandably subjective, portrayal of herself as someone who, rather than simply towing the line, was an influential catalyst for change driven by the challenges faced by Cayman during a period of unprecedented change. Her interest in tackling issues head on resulted in her pioneering work with Cayman Against Substance Abuse founders Nanny Ebanks and Bev Banks and the National Trust.
The social scientist, former university lecturer and field anthropologist is rightly proud of her work in such areas, a legacy which survives to this day.
Her big hats (grand social functions) and combat boots (activist) work aside, the author’s abiding regard for the islanders and the friendships made here are very evident. ‘Cayman is a unique place and I find Caymanians very much their own kind of people,’ she says.
‘The older generation [in particular] are very sensible people, practical, warm and very thoughtful. They think about things and take their time in taking decisions.’
Replete with mouthwatering recipes picked up and shared from Cayman and sundry parts of the globe, the second section of The Governor’s Lady was vetted by cordon bleu chef and friend Holly Beckett. The stories behind some of these recipes are also included.
The author’s view on the cultural value of recipes yielded this forthright response: ‘Recipes are very culturally persistent. Food, like sex, is an area of great conservatism and like belief systems tends to be passed on from generation to generation.
‘I, myself, tend to become a little irritated with people who cling onto recipes. All cooking is derivative…there’s really nothing new under the sun,’ she says.
‘I’m more interested in the persistent side of it, things that carry on and peoples’ feelings and the sharing of food.’
Once started, the book took two years to write part-time and a further six months to arrange the publishing/printing and marketing.
Already sold out in France, their adopted home, the writer asked her husband to accompany her on her brief trip to Cayman.
‘I urged him to come too,’ she says. ‘But he said this is your book, your event. If I go it may distract attention from the book… besides who would look after Monty? (their poodle).’
Such anecdotes aside, this visit is as much about redefining herself as launching the book.
‘When I was here during Alan’s posting there was nowhere I could go where I wasn’t recognised… walking round here now, nobody recognises me and it’s actually rather nice.
‘I can now be just Joan rather than the Governor’s Lady… Writing the book has given me a great deal of pleasure and this visit has given me a sense of closure to a very important time in my life… now I can have a different relationship with people.’
The book includes remarks by former Governor Tom Russell, and Sir Denys Roberts, Chief Justice of Hong Kong. Her extensive acknowledgements include Martyn Bould, Pat Ebanks, Dace Ground, Henry Muttoo, Susan Watler and Fred Burton.
The Governor’s Lady by Joan Hall Scott is available at the Book Nook and Hobbies and Books.