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Listening to Sharon Maas tell her story to Selwyn Collins on his CWS Journeys programme is like the audio version of a Daniel Steel novel. It is thrilling, with all the twists and turns and ultimate joy of overcoming. Hers is the story of a woman who dared to do things many women of her age, in her time, could only dream of. Sharon is the daughter of the late David Westmaas, a politician, and the late Eileen Cox, a feminist and the renowned consumer advocate.
Sharon was born in Guyana in December 1951 but now lives in Europe. She is a writer, author, novelist and social worker. She was born in the period of West Indian activism to break free from the shackles of colonialism. The spirit of revolution was coursing through the air, in the veins of the colonised, and felt like needles under their feet. Growing up she had a front row seat to Guyana’s early politics. As a child she sat on the windowsill in the West Indian Federation office, in Trinidad, where her mother worked, and in the political theming home of the Westmaas extended family unit.
Sharon said her parents divorced when she was three years old which was something unheard of at that time. She lived with her mother but apparently both parents played a role in her upbringing as she recounted stories of spending quality time with both, and each bringing different perspectives to her life and shaping who she is.
At age 10, Sharon migrated to England to attend boarding school. She returned to Guyana at age 14 and attended Bishop’s High School. Her teenage years she said were carefree. There was a time in her youth she “dropped out of society” and went on what she called “wild trips” through South America with two other friends. She equated that period of her life to a “hippie,” hitchhiking through the continent without a concept of holding down a job or having a plan, which she sees as an “utterly amazing” experience. Sharon said she travelled by land and boat and everywhere they went there was some adventure awaiting them.
Her emotional and spiritual journey
As a young girl she dealt with self-esteem issues. She felt no boys wanted to date her because they thought she was ugly. Her response to this rejection was to eat and eat, resulting in her being obesed. Sharon loves Guyana but credits India as changing her completely, having gone through emotional emptiness as a teenager.
Both of her parents were atheists, and she was raised likewise. She said though atheism was intellectually fulfilling, because it had all the answers, it was emotionally deficient for her. Christianity, she found, did not fulfill her intellectually but emotionally. She said intellectually she could not accept the teaching of heaven and hell and the Virgin birth did not ring true for her. She has since found emotional, physical and spiritual satisfaction in Hinduism and practices yoga which she credits for filling the void of her unhappiness, including low esteem, overeating, and getting fat.
The wisdom of a father
Sharon recounted her journey to getting her work published. It was not easy. Her initial manuscript, which was 700 pages, was rejected, though she was invited by an agent who worked with her to reduce it to 400 pages. What kept her pursuing her dream, through the years of setbacks, was the advice of her father. He told her in life if you fail you must “try, try and try again” until you succeed. It has been a lesson she has taken throughout her life.
A successful novelist
Rejection eventually turned to success when her first novel “Of Marriageable Age” was published in 1999. She was 49 years old. This novel was published by HarperCollins, and she credits its success to putting aside her ego, getting down to writing a good story and not being bothered about if her work would be published. According to her it was a magical feeling. Since then, there has been no looking back and she could now boast of having 15 novels published.
Writing is appealing for her because it is the medium through which she communicates. She admits to being shy and writing is her “release” to getting it all out. Sharon’s life has been an adventure, as fascinating as the novels she writes. All her novels, she said, are stories about Guyana, and helping to put this little-known country into the minds of readers. Her two most recent, “The Far Away Girl” is now out and, “Those I Have Lost” is scheduled to be out on July 9.