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.