Thursday, 8 April 2010

Nice To Fit In?




When I emigrated to Australia with my partner and two young children, I had in mind that we would give it two years before taking stock. Back then, the idea of two years away from home didn’t seem like a big deal simply because it felt bonkers, unreal. I went along with it as if I were a character in a novel about a family emigrating.
That character was the mother of two half-Aussies, who joked about making them take elocution lessons rather than develop an accent; she was a born-and-bred Londoner who could never understand why people moaned about the place so much; she liked rain and was slightly too curmudgeonly for her age. She was a Brit; she was an author; a British author.
It was such a new experience, being an alien; both thrilling and terrifying. On my blog I talked about being mocked for wearing Ugg boots outside, for not knowing what a rashie is, or for being an anti-social Victoria Meldrew compared to my Ramsey Street neighbours. All good fun. What I neglected to share were the darker times; the times I’ve stood in the park, tears streaming down behind my sunglasses as I observed other mums so at ease with each other and feared I would never find a real friend; or the weeks around Christmas when I was so depressed to be away from home I could barely get out of bed and function properly (the famous Brit stiff-upper-lip has come in handy on many occasions).
I have felt enormous tension between my desire to stay me and my need to fit in - I wanted to feel included, but only on my terms. Over time, my children have taught me better than anyone that you can be flexible without losing your identity. I can say capsicum for pepper now without thinking about it, or deliver a “no worries” casually; I can bbq, talk about Australian politics or house prices, or advise you on ant extermination (wow, don’t I sound fascinating?). The Australian literary scene is far more familiar to me now: I’ve moved beyond Kate Grenville and Peter Carey into less well-travelled authors, and it’s been my favourite aspect of this educational period.
We’re weeks away from that two year anniversary, and it feels as bonkers as ever - except that I accept this is my life; it isn’t fiction. But now there’s a new challenge: my novel, Girl, Aloud, published in the UK last November, is coming to Australia in early April. Just when I’ve found my own groove in Melbourne, now my book needs to do the same.
There have been doubts from others (Australians don’t know Simon Cowell, that whole aspect will be lost on them) and from within (I’m no Simmone Howell / Jaclyn Moriarty / Melina Marchetta - they’ll hate me!). The excitement about holding a launch and finally seeing my book on a shelf instead of on a friend’s camera phone has at times been overshadowed by the thought of Girl, Aloud being sent back to the UK with its tail (tale?) between its legs.
What makes a book travel well? Did those authors who have enjoyed worldwide success think about a worldwide audience as they were writing, or did they just get lucky? Which countries share the same humour? What makes Australian literature Australian? I could generalise, I could philosophise, I could bury my head in the sand on St Kilda beach and wait for my book to come and go. In truth, there is nothing I can do about it. My book is what it is. It will, as I have done, try to elbow a little space for itself over here. Perhaps there will be, as there have been for me, times when my book fits in, and other times when it sticks out. As I have found, that can be a good thing.

Emily Gale is the author Girl Aloud, published by Chickenhouse.

24 comments:

Gina said...

Wow, this struck a deep chord with me, having left South Africa in 1999 with my British husband and 4 children to settle in the UK.
Your book will travel well, like you did, and come out on the other side shining!
Good luck :-)

Bernadette said...

Australians don't know who Simon Cowell is? Really? When's the next flight?

Seriously, I doubt very much the book would be being published in Australia if it wouldn't travel. So enjoy your debut in your new home and every success with it. No worries!

CarolineG said...

I think the book launch will make you feel more 'whole' there, if anything. It's such a big part of who you are and now it's coming to Oz..hurrah! Thanks for a great post Emily, and here's to huge success for the book in the Southern hemisphere.

Geraldine Ryan said...

I didn't think there was anyone left alive who'd never heard of SC!!! I'm sure your book willdo brilliantly, Emily!!

Michele said...

I hear you, sister. I emigrated 4 years ago from America to Ireland and I feel all the same things that you spoke about in this post. Hang in there.

simmone said...

emily - australia will love you! you must meet my very british husband - we've been here ten years this year (well, not me, I was born here) and we still waver about taking the leap back over the sea ... on a good day you have two countries on a bad day ... well, my point is fear not!

Luisa Plaja said...

Wonderful post! Congratulations on the Aussie launch of Girl, Aloud!

Emily said...

Thank you for these comments, and thanks to Team Strictly for giving me a post.

Gina - was there a moment when things clicked for you or is home still SA?

Bernadette - after a quick poll on Twitter I've established that the Aussies do know Our Simon, though perhaps not as intimately. Sorry, am I putting you off your breakfast? :)

Caroline, thanks for inviting me here and for the good wishes.

Gem, I think he'd like to think that, too!

Michele, thanks, it's really good to hear from people who have experienced this.

Simmone, does your husband still say "felt tip"?

sophiabennett said...

Girl Aloud will be fine. Like your children, it will fit in happily and find its place. Do post up a picture from your phone, this time. But the two-year anniversary, hey? What happens now? Sounds like we need a sequel ...

Emily said...

I crossed with you, Luisa! Thank you :)

Emily said...

More crossing! Hi Sophia, I haven't had the courage to take a photo of my own book in the shops yet...um, I also don't have a camera phone...I need some kind of discreet James Bond device.

Keren David said...

I identify with so much of what hyou say. We spent eight years in Amsterdam, and I also had the struggle with identity and homesickness - and coming back to London was strange too, like being a foreigner in my own city. I'm in awe of your creativity and resourcefulness in being able to be so creative!
I think you'll love having your book on sale in Australia - it's like a symbol of your new life.
I've just read Delphine de Vigen's No and Me, and I loved reading a book set in Paris - I didn't get all the allusions, but I learned a lot too. My book and yours are taking UK culture to Australia - hopefully lots of open-minded readers will enjoy learning about a different part of the world!

Debs Riccio said...

Y'know what Emily, while I was reading this, I thought 'there's a book in here' - An English Rose in Australia - even going by some of the comments, you're def. not alone in feeling the alienation and with your brilliant writing, experience and humour it would strike a lot of chords! So does this mean you're coming 'home' now the 2 years is up?

Emily said...

Keren, yes I've wondered what "coming home" would really be like...I've wondered that a lot! As for When I Was Joe, I've seen it on some very prominent shelves here :)

Debs, hehe, yes the thought has crossed my mind! Only I think I need a bit more material...which is just as well because the Mr ain't budging yet.

Gina said...

There was definitely a period when things slowly gelled (rather than clicked). You'll gradually realise that you haven't abandoned one country for another -rather, you, and your family, actually have both. Look upon it as the best of both worlds if you like. No, SA is definitely no longer home - again, a gradual process of acceptance, and a happy one, too (even though I surprise myself by believing that!).

Emily said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Gina. In a way I'm as scared of settling as I am of not settling. Time will tell. What I need is to write an international bestseller so they'll jet me around a bit more!

Ann said...

I can identify with you completely. I emigrated from Ireland to the US with four young children. What a minefield that was and still is at times. Now I am foreign wherever I go. Irish in America and the American when I go home. A real Alien!

Roderic Vincent said...

Lovely to see you here, Emily. And I hope you really enjoy the launch in Oz.

Fionnuala Kearney said...

Hi Emily,
Great to see you on here! I've missed your blog! Fx

Emily said...

Ann, I know what you mean there - my parents visited me last month and there were a few "You're so Australian now!" comments, whereas my partner often laughs at how Very English I can be (mainly when I'm being grumpy about something...).

Thanks, Rod and Fi...the launch is hotting up with news of a lovely prize - update to follow soon on my website www.emilygale.co.uk

fidelity said...

Once you leave your home you can never really come back. I used to after I went from dublin to london - as different for me as going to the nether ends of the earth - and was always asked 'when are you going back?'

I'd have felt in a more sociable setting had I gone to live in the middle of the Gobi desert. I missed the cool atmosphere of hanging around a train station for hours - when I missed an u/g train and a chap in a uniform told me ' there'll be another along in a few minutes'. A 'few minutes'; I nearly choked.

The last Aussies I met were in a hostel in Wicklow in Ireland and it was so nice to meet people who were so open and had such free healthy attitudes, talking to me as though they'd known me all my life. Very rare.

I loved the review of your book on Amazon by the kid who said you don't talk down...lovely recommendation!

Emily Gale said...

Fidelity, thanks very much for your thoughts on 'home'. I can imagine that emigrating to London is a very different experience to the one I've had, because I concur that Australians are a very friendly bunch...having said that, there's no amount of friendliness that can make up for one's lifelong friends, and London will always feel like home to me I think.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Lovely post, Emily. I moved to Cornwall after decades in London(OK, not exactly Australia, but takes almost as long to get there!) six-odd years ago, and I still don't consider it 'home'. I do hope your book finds a fit in Oz and wish you very great success.
Susiex

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