The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

For the displaced writer Martin Crosbie, a life between two cultures is the stuff of literary fiction

Readers who’ve been paying attention will know that a couple of days ago, in honor of The Displaced Nation’s first birthday, we fleshed out a prospectus for a literary festival for authors who’ve been expats, third culture kids and/or global nomads.

Should this litfest ever happen, this month’s featured author, Martin Crosbie, would make an exciting addition to the line-up.

Last year he published a sensitive, partly autobiographical first novel, My Temporary Life, telling the story of Malcolm, a young half-Scot half-Canadian. As Malcolm informs us towards the start of the book:

I live with a father [in Scotland], who didn’t intend to have a son with no wife, or I spend my summers in Canada, with a mother who forgets that I’m there.

Eventually, circumstances make it impossible for Malcolm to continue this peripatetic life, and he heads to Canada to finish up his schooling. Even then, he feels unsettled:

It really does feel like everything is going to be okay, or at least it might be for a little while. Nothing in my life has ever been forever anyways. Everything is always just temporary, always temporary.

The novel has taken the Amazon charts by storm, garnered rave reviews and turned Crosbie into an overnight publishing sensation.

In fact, I recommend you become part of the storm by reading the book RIGHT NOW — or as soon as you’ve finished this post.

Here’s a link to the book on Amazon: My Temporary Life.

Alternatively, you can sign up for our DISPLACED DISPATCH — and cross your fingers that you’ll be one of this month’s two lucky winners!

And now for some highlights from my exchange with Martin Crosbie…

Is Malcolm Martin?

Hi there, Martin!
Hi, Tony!

Can you tell me a bit about your upbringing — where you were born and how you ended up in Vancouver?
I was born in Aberdeen in Scotland but I was adopted and transplanted to Kilmarnock when I was still an infant. I lived there until I was ten and my family moved us to the west coast of Canada. Other than a few years in Toronto and in Ontario when I was in my twenties, I have always lived here, just outside of Vancouver, British Columbia.

I’ve read your book My Temporary Life, and I loved it. I was particularly impressed by the way your writing flows, which is the mark of a very accomplished writer.
Thanks for saying that, I really appreciate it. This is my first novel and I think one of the reasons that it’s done well is that it went through so many re-writes and revisions. The novel that is out there today is very unlike the first few drafts.

You’ve lived in both Scotland and Canada, the two locations in the book. You also share the main character’s love of running… So I have to ask — how much of this character is autobiographical?
I had a writing teacher who would say “What is truth, in fiction? Write something down!”

Then, he’d sit down and wouldn’t answer any questions until the class had all written something, anything.

Once we shared what we’d written, he’d talk about the fact that when you read something and it “rings true” — in that you get lost in the scene — the reason is that the emotions the writer has conveyed are coming from a true place.

So, I appreciate your question because it means that my story probably worked when you read it.

But did the events in the book really happen — the boy with two parents from two cultures (Malcolm), his best friend whose parents beat him up (Hardly), and his dream woman, who, too, has had an abusive childhood (Heather)?
A lot of the incidents did in fact happen — but to different people at different times. The book is most definitely fictional.

But it is true?
Without wanting to become the next James Frey, yes, on some level it is. I had the daughter of a friend read the novel and really enjoy it, and she asked me if I was Malcolm. I told her that some days I feel like Malcolm and some days I feel like Hardly — lol.

The ups and downs of self-publishing

Quite a few authors in The Displaced Nation’s circle have self-published their works, myself included. Can you tell us what was behind your decision to self-publish My Temporary Life?
I self-published My Temporary Life because I was turned down over one hundred times by agents and publishers. The strange thing, though, was I’d pass my work to readers and they enjoyed it — very few of them didn’t. Oh, there were changes that I made along the way because of readers’ input, but the feedback was almost always decent. And they all wanted to know the same thing: “When’s the next book?”

So I self-published through Amazon, and it’s been an incredible ride. In less than three months 85,000 copies of my book are out there. I say that number and it absolutely astounds me that so many people have taken the time to give My Temporary Life a chance.

Is there a particular group of readers who’ve found particular resonance with your story?
One of the challenges with my novel has been that it doesn’t fit any specific genre, and when that happens you don’t know where to market your work. This has been good and bad. Not knowing whether to call it a coming-of-age story, a romance, or a thriller has been challenging. But not knowing exactly to whom it might appeal has also been a good thing, because I now have women and men readers of all ages.

I guess Malcolm is a reluctant, flawed hero and we can all kind of relate to that.

Self-publishing , as I know from my own experience, can be time consuming, however rewarding it is. Have you found it that way?
Without self-publishing, my story would not have reached anyone. It’s as simple as that. Having said that, the downside is that it’s a lot of work — and I mean, a lot of work. I promote my book anywhere that I can online where I think folks might be interested. Unfortunately, this takes me away from writing my next book, and that’s what I really want to be doing these days.

The positive of self-publishing is that I enjoy interacting with folks who’ve read or are reading My Temporary Life. I’m very accessible. I answer every email. I am on chat loops, Facebook groups, Yahoo groups — anywhere that somebody wants to talk about self-publishing or writing or my work. And, in doing that, I’ve formed some incredible friendships.

You know when you meet someone, whether it’s virtually or in person, and you just know that they’re going to be in your life for a long time? Well, I have met friends like that because of my book.

In the past week, I’ve had instant messages, tweets and emails from all kinds of people. One lady was ribbing me because she had to call in sick after being up all night reading my book. Another woman sent me a barbecued salmon recipe — she’d liked the recipe in my book but thought hers was better. And a gentleman sent me a message who is a huge fan of the book. He said that he’d told his wife that if she didn’t read it, she had to pack her bags, lol.

And, the readers that I am “meeting” are from all over: Taiwan, Luxembourg, lots in Australia, the UK of course, and the US.

It’s an amazing world that we live in that I’m able to experience that, and it’s all because I self-published my book.

Cross-cultural relationships

Malcolm gets involved with Heather, who’s a born-and-bred Canadian from a secluded little town in Northern Ontario. Heather says to Malcolm when they first meet: “You have this Scottish look to you, like you just got off the boat and are still lost; it’s very cute.” What’s your view on cross-cultural relationships? Do you see them as particularly challenging? (Many Displaced Nation readers are in them, which is why I ask…)
It’s funny that you bring that up as I’m trying to address it in my work in progress. I don’t really know if I’m properly qualified to comment… I live in an area of Vancouver where I have friends from pretty much every culture you can imagine. I’m lucky in that respect, and of course because of that, I get to eat lots and lots of different foods. Food is very very important to me, Tony, I do love to eat.

The importance of being Scottish

You’ve lived in Canada a long time. But does Scotland still exert some kind of pull?
Scotland calls me back every few years. Right now it’s been three years since I was there and it’s whispering in my ear again, so I’ll be back there soon.

You see, when you’re a Scot, you’re always a Scot. There are third and fourth generation Scots who live in Canada who still call themselves Scottish.

Well, I was born and bred there and have been back many times, and even though I am a Canadian citizen now, you can’t not be a Scot. It’s more than just being born there. It’s much more than that.

When I arrive at Glasgow airport and present my European passport (yes, I have a Canadian and European one), and the customs agent sees my birthplace and says, “Welcome home, Mr Crosbie,” I always get a tear in my eye.

And, there are many many things that I miss about Scotland.

I miss the passion that they have for football, real football. I miss big sour pickled onions. I miss the way the rain can be lashing in your face and somebody will say to you that it’s a “grand” day. I miss the way that Scottish history is real history, real old history.

The dream of partial repatriation

Would you ever go back to live in Scotland?
I’m fortunate that I can go back from time to time, and in the movie of my life that plays in my head, I do live there part time too. One day I hope to make it happen. I already have the city picked out in Scotland where I’d like to live…

But wouldn’t you have to make some adjustments?
During the months when I’m living in Scotland, I expect I’d miss the mountains that we have here on the Vancouver coast — but I’d sure like to try it for a little while.

If my next book is as successful as My Temporary Life, I might just find a way to fulfill my dream and live part time in both countries.

A Temporary Life — The Sequel

Rumor has it you’ll be doing a sequel following the life of Malcolm’s Scottish friend, Hardly. What can you tell us about this work in progress?
I can tell you that I’ve seldom been as excited about anything as much as I’m excited about my next novel. Yes, it is the story of Hardly. I’m having so much fun writing it.

Just what the final product will look like I don’t really know, so at this point I’ll just say that it’s like the first novel in the sense that it’s an in-depth character study of a man and his motivations, and in terms of how the novel reads, well, I do love plot twists, Tony, and I can absolutely guarantee you that this book will have them.

Sounds fantastic! Thanks so much for your time, Martin.
Thanks for doing this Tony, and of course now I’m going to be dreaming tonight about the wee chip shop in Stewarton, and the farm house that my cousins live in in Inverness, and a multitude of other Scottish things.

* * *

Anyone who’d like to know more about Martin’s life and his work, you can check out his author site and follow his escapades on Twitter: @martinthewriter

And if you have any questions for Martin, please feel free to ask them in the comments!

And don’t forget to sign up for our Dispatch to be eligible for the giveaway of Martin’s book!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s installment in the life of our fictional expat heroine, Libby, which will be another party-themed post — this time, of course, it’s a baby shower! (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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16 responses to “For the displaced writer Martin Crosbie, a life between two cultures is the stuff of literary fiction

  1. Jennifer Avventura April 19, 2012 at 3:52 am

    Fantastic interview and some great insights for a writer. Thank you!

  2. ML Awanohara April 19, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    I like the idea that in the “movie of your life that plays out in your head,” you are dividing your time between living in Vancouver and somewhere in Scotland. I think that’s a dream shared by many of us who’ve called more than one country our homes. But very few ever get to achieve it. Here’s hoping you do! 🙂

    • Martin Crosbie April 19, 2012 at 11:22 pm

      Oh, I hope so, ML. That would definitely be a dream come true, thanks for your comment!

      • ML Awanohara April 23, 2012 at 1:48 pm

        well, if you do achieve your dream, I guess no one could accuse you of being a “snow bird” — someone who escapes a harsh winter by fleeing to warmer climes. Canada and Scotland, that’s not much of a choice, is it? But I guess Vancouver is temperate? In which case, I assume it would be Vancouver in winter and Scotland in summer — with those lovely long, light days…?

        • Martin Crosbie April 23, 2012 at 2:29 pm

          ML, in the movie of my life that plays in my head I haven’t quite figured it out yet, but the mental image always shows the rain. I think because I’ve spent time in both places I’ve come to appreciate, perhaps not quite enjoy, but appreciate the rain, and as I’m sure you know both Scotland and Vancouver get lots of rain.
          Although I grew up in Kilmarnock, just south of Glasgow, I’m attracted to the Inverness area. I have a cousin who lives there and I’ve spent a little bit of time there and I’d love to try it for a while. Now, if I can build my reader base enough so that when my next novel is complete the results are the same as the first one, then who knows…

          • ML Awanohara April 24, 2012 at 12:58 am

            Interesting that you love the rain so much! I always thought that rain is one of the reasons Britain has produced so many great writers: it’s very conducive to staying inside and pursuing solitary activities like writing great works.

  3. expatlogue April 21, 2012 at 12:51 pm

    You said the book was most definitely fictional but contained elements from real events and people. I’m interested in the idea of presenting fact in story form. I’m researching the best way to write about my life (I’ve given up trying to find a way to write that without sounding totally self-absorbed!) and am torn between a direct first person approach or the wiggle room offered by a third person narrative.

    I read that 3rd person is deemed more professional by publishers and only established authors can get away with writing in 1st. But then I think of Toni Morrison’s words, “write the book you want to read” and think I should just do what feels right for me (1st person). Maybe I should just get drunk and write and see what happens…

    • Martin Crosbie April 21, 2012 at 2:00 pm

      I enjoyed writing about Malcolm in 1st person, and my work in progress is Hardly’s story and it’s also 1st person. I love the immediacy of it, but it certainly has it’s limitations too.
      For me, it goes back to listening to the little voice inside your head and following your instinct, and my instinct was to write it the way that I did.
      Thanks for your comment, and let me know when your book is written, I’d love to take a look at it.

      • expatlogue April 21, 2012 at 2:54 pm

        Thanks Martin, I think that’s what I need to focus on – going with my instinct. It’s what’s got me this far…
        Good luck with your next publication.

  4. ML Awanohara April 21, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    Looking at the interview again, I just wanted to push back a little on your rather flippant (?) comment about cross-cultural relationships. From this first book, it seems you take a dim view of them, given that Malcolm’s parents were so ill matched, and Malcolm’s “dream” woman isn’t honest with him until the end. He, like a muggins, falls into the chivalrous role of assisting a damsel in distress, only to find out that her past is rather more complicated than he’d realized.

    Because I saw Malcolm as a sympathetic character, I wanted for his parents’ relationship to make sense at some level. Though you have a passage later in the book where you attempt to flesh out what his mum was doing in Scotland, it never quite rang true to me.

    Likewise, I really didn’t want Martin to stick with Heather at the end — I resented her putting him through so much before opening up about her past. Let’s face it, she had some major baggage! (If I’d been Malcolm, I would have had second thoughts about getting too involved with her.)

    Have other readers responded in this way to these two relationships?

    Incidentally, the warmest pair in the book are the two Canadians, George and Rose, who become Malcolm’s surrogate parents — but they are brother and sister!

    • Martin Crosbie April 21, 2012 at 2:33 pm

      Hi ML,

      thanks for your comments, I appreciate it, and my apologies, I didn’t mean to sound flippant at all.

      You’re right, probably the warmest relationship was between George and Rose, although Terry and his wife were doing okay too. Most of the comments I receive talk about the change in Malcolm from boy to man, so it’s nice to hear your opinions.
      Many things were unresolved in the first book, and Malcolm and Heather’s relationship was just beginning at the end of the book in many ways, and I can tell you, I haven’t finished with those two characters at all. There’s definitely more to explore there.

      thanks again.

  5. cheeriet April 26, 2012 at 8:04 am

    Fingers crossed for you that you achieve the dream – being able to write full-time is the first big stepping stone to a dual life in two cities! All the best author bio’s state ‘Author X splits her time between New York and the French Alps…’
    Ahhh! One day I’ll be splitting my time – but between a lot more places! Don’t think I’ll need a house in each of them, just a nice sturdy rucksack and a frequent flyers gold card…
    Be sure to keep us posted on the progress with ‘Hardly’. Well, unless Amazon snaps you up before then – perhaps Thomas and Mercer might come a-calling? Then EVERYONE will know when the next book is ready :0)

    • Martin Crosbie April 26, 2012 at 12:12 pm

      Thank you, I’ll let you know if the movie of my life that plays in my head becomes reality. And yes, one of the great things about writing is we can write from anywhere we like.
      Thanks for your comments.

  6. Pingback: Summer Adventures and Writing Hardcoreness « A Serendipitous Happenstance

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