Today we introduce a new monthly column by Jack Scott, who was a Random Nomad for the Displaced Nation way back when we started this site. After an expat experience that was literally something to write home about, he and his partner, Liam, have traded in the dream for a less pressured existence back in their home country. We’re thrilled to have recruited Jack as a writing guru for all of you wannabe authors who are hacking away at travelogues-cum-memoirs — perhaps even as I type this?!
— ML Awanohara
Do you think it helps to write a blog with the purpose of publishing a travelogue or memoir in mind?
It’s a good question — and for me, the short answer would be a simple no.
But the long answer would be a qualified yes.
Let me explain.
When Liam and I first flogged off the family silver, jumped the good ship Blighty and waded ashore to Turkey, we planned to put our feet up and watch the pansies grow. Twelve months into the dream, we began to feel, well, a little bored.
It was a benign type of boredom — not the terminal kind that leads to low self-esteem, heavy drinking, chocolate binges and serial infidelity.
But it was boredom nevertheless.
Life before expat-dom
In the wicked world of the waged, I had been a busy bean counter, mismanaging a large public sector service. Liam had been shackled to a cut-and-thrust slash-and-burn private sector company, with a grueling 12-hour day as his reward.
My boss was off with the fairies, his was Lucifer in lace. Work gave me a routine on auto-pilot, while it nearly drove Liam over the edge.
In quite different ways, we were both fully (if unhappily) occupied.
In our brave new world of idleness and long Anatolian summers, lazy days in Eden turned into one perpetual holiday. Our old life withdrew into the fog of a hazy past.
The trouble is, life isn’t supposed to one long holiday.
Like so many before us, we parachuted into paradise thinking entirely of the destination. We gave very little thought to what we might do once we got there.
Not another beautiful day!
It’s an all too common mistake. For every able-bodied emigrey (well, those with brains and bones still in reasonable working order), the trick is to find a meaningful occupation: something to break up the unending monotony and keep them off the sauce.
It really doesn’t matter what it is: turning water into homemade wine, feeding the five thousand street dogs or raising your sex life from the dead — whatever gets the juices flowing.
For me it was starting a blog to tell an unsuspecting world about our encounters with the mad, the bad, the sad and the glad along the highways and byways of the whitewashed ghetto where we lived.
A book really never entered my mind.
Then, quite by chance, my irrelevant ramblings became one of the most successful English-language blogs in Turkey.
You could have knocked me down with a feather boa, I was that surprised.
It was only then that I began to think there just might be a book in me.
Remarkably, there was.
It’s quite amazing how the fear of terminal boredom can re-energize a novice expat. In just 12 months, I created the blog, designed and published a Web site, and wrote my debut book. For most of this meandering expedition, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. A combination of trial and error, intuition, intravenous wine, gentle encouragement from an inspirational publisher and not-so-gentle cajoling from Liam turned an unplanned and uncoordinated series of chess moves into the production of a well-received book that I’m proud to have written.
My probation was illuminating and taught me a great deal — about writing, process, content, plot, characterization, networking, promotion and engagement.
You see, hindsight is a wonderful thing. Looking back, it seems only too obvious that blogging was a great audition for my writing. I had never written before (unless you count a series of unread and unloved business reports rotting away on dusty book-shelves in municipal vaults). Writing my blog was a safe and fun way to experiment and to build up an audience at the same time. Reading through my back catalogue, I can see quite clearly how I evolved as a writer.
WRITING TIP FOR EXPATS NO 1 (aka the long answer to the question at the top of the conversation):
It might be useful to start up a blog if you want to write a travelogue-cum-memoir. It’s not the Law, but blogging can really help.
And what about Liam in all of this? Did he develop suicidal tendencies or did he cope better with the ever-constant Aegean vista and nightly sunset show?
Well, apart from re-discovering a love of composing and tickling the ivories, he acquired a new skill of his own: cracking the editor’s whip, something he did (and still does) with rather too much pleasure than I (or he) would care to admit.
Us writers put up with so much, we really do.
* * *
Readers, any comments for further questions for Jack the Hack? He’ll be back next month with some more writing tips…
Jack Scott’s debut book, Perking the Pansies — Jack and Liam move to Turkey, is a bitter-sweet tragi-comedy that recalls the first year of a British gay couple in a Muslim country. For more information on this and Jack’s other titles, go to his author site.
STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, on NEW England…
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Images: from top, clockwise: Hand with pen / MorgueFile.com; Boats in King’s Lynn, Norfolk / MorgueFile.com; Jack Scott, used with his permission; Turkish boats / MorgueFile.com