A Life of Books with Cherie Jones, author of How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House

In her debut novel, Cherie Jones tells a cautionary tale set mostly in Barbados. A grandmother uses a story about one-armed sister. Her granddaughter Lala listens to what happens to girls who disobey their mothers but the question is, does she absorb the story?

Years later, Lala is married to a petty burglar and their seemingly cozy lives are upended in a spiral of violence, crime, and deceit. What unfolds is, How The One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House, a devastating debut that is a must-read. Be warned though: you’ll want to finish this in one sitting. So block out a lot of time one you start this.

Below, Cherie Jones answers the A Life of Books Questionnaire for Debutiful.

Is there a book or series that, when you think back, helped define your childhood?

I think the Nancy Drew series really defined my childhood. I was the child with her nose in a book with a flashlight at night while her parents drove home. I got lost in Enid Blyton books, they helped me to believe that there were worlds to discover beneath and beyond what I saw as real.

Would you want any children in your life (yours or relatives’) to read those too? Or what’s your philosophy on what children read?

I believe that children should be allowed to read as widely as they desire, within parameters of what’s appropriate content-wise. I remember reading quite a few of my father’s university fiction texts and spiritual books when I was still very young. I’d love for my children to read Enid Blyton, although I rather suspect they might love them a lot less than I do!

Moving to your school years: what book did you read in high school and hated (or skipped reading at all) that you learned you loved later in life?

King Lear! It was a required text for A’ Level English Literature so I watched a video recording of the play and studied cliff notes. It was the one text I couldn’t get through – but later on in life I read it properly and loved it!

What about the opposite way? One you loved in your teens, but realized you didn’t love it so much later on?

I’ve never hated a book I first loved in my teens. I tend to just love them more with time!

Are there any books that you read while writing your debut that helped shape the direction you took your own book?

I read Leanne Shapton’s ‘Important Artifacts and Personal Property From the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion and Jewelry’ at just about the time that ‘How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House’ was becoming a novel, having started as a short story many years before that. I was struck by how fully she was able to tell the story of that relationship through the medium of an auction catalogue and it made me consider that an episodic structure consisting of several snap-shots might be effective in my novel. I wasn’t quite as adventurous with ‘How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House’ but I think Shapton’s novel helped me to settle on a less traditional, non-linear structure – and eventually to accept that my title wasn’t too long after all!

What is a book you’ve read that you thought, Damn, I wish that was mine?

V.S. Naipaul’s ‘Miguel Street’, Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon.

What books helped get you through quarantining and social distancing during 2020?

Perhaps strangely, ‘Stag’s Leap’ by Sharon Olds, Beryl Gilroy’s Ín Praise of Love and Children’, Harold Sonny Ladoo’s ‘No Pain Like This Body’ (both studied for research purposes) and my own novel, as I worked on last-round edits and proof-corrections in 2020!

And, finally, I have to ask… I’m sorry. What’s next? But wait! Only use three words.

Nib the warress!

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