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WORLD OF WORDS: The travail of travel abroad with a group of middle schoolers (1/2)

Marianne Bohr in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris—is she reading or indulging in reveries about words?

Marianne Bohr in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris—is she reading or indulging in reveries about French words?

What is it like to tour France with a bunch of American middle schoolers? It involves travel, for sure, but also no small amount of travail, as Marianne Bohr, who besides being a writer is a teacher of middle-school French, discovered this past spring break. This month we present Part One of her lively travel/travail-ogue; Part Two will appear in August. Anyone traveling with kids this summer should appreciate.

It’s departure day, Friday, March 25, and our long-awaited trip to France is about to begin. We arrive at Dulles with our navy and silver Education First (EF) backpacks, excited but subdued. The violence in Belgium just days ago hovers.

The exuberance of the youth I’m accompanying, however, quickly overcomes any pallor and my excitement rises. Delta whisks us from Dulles to JFK to begin the five-hour layover for our flight to Paris. My always-hungry adolescents make multiple trips down the interminable airport hallways in search of their next round of Panda Express, Shake Shack and Jamba Juice, despite my reminders that we’ll have dinner and breakfast on our flight.

While my charges explore, I stay put to watch a blood red sunset to the west. “It’s a beach sunset,” declares an adorable French youngster, face pressed against the terminal window. I’m grateful for his mellifluous chatter that readies my ear for the nine days of French to come.

We board the 767 and my Tylenol PM kicking in, I can’t wait to pass out for seven hours on my travel pillow, under a red felt blanket. My students are of a different mind.

“OMG! Mockingjay!”

“They have The Walking Dead. I can’t believe it!”

“Look at all these movies!”

“Are they FREE, Madame Bohr?”

“I am so binge-watching all night!”

So much for my entreaties to get some sleep.

“You’ll all be walking zombies yourselves tomorrow morning,” I lament. Full bellies notwithstanding, they speculate about what’s for dinner and plan their watching strategies.

An overnight flight between us and the exuberance of the evening’s departure, I awaken semi-refreshed to glum faces, tussled hair and bleary eyes. We snake for well over two hours through the post-Brussels passport control maze at Charles de Gaulle and then finally, after spying and retrieving a temporarily lost suitcase that has inexplicably landed in a pile of unclaimed bags, exit the confines of the terminal for our entry into France.

Amid some moans, groans and yawns, I remind my fellow travelers that the English word travel comes from the French word travail. Work. Yes, travel can sometimes be a lot of work.

How ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?

Wide-eyed wonder abounds as we tour the City of Light.

“I saw the Eiffel Tower first!”

“Look, Notre Dame!”

“OMG, Nutella! Nutella crêpes! Nutella milkshakes!”

“Is she a supermodel? She’s definitely a supermodel.”

“He must be French. He’s wearing a scarf.”

Having endlessly extolled the virtues of a genuine French baguette—crunchy on the outside, chewy in the middle, ever so slightly burned on the bottom—I suppose I’m to blame for two students buying two-foot-long baguettes and downing them as we stroll the boulevards. All part of the culinary adventure that is France.

“I thought the Mona Lisa would be bigger.”

“That statue’s just famous ‘cuz she has no arms.”

“Hot chocolate is only two euros! And they serve it with whipped cream!”

“I definitely want to study in Paris.”

“I just love the Seine. Can we do a boat tour?”

Paris impressions

A rainbow over Chambord

Time to leave the hurly burly of the city and her anxiety-producing, camo-clad, machine gun-wielding guards, for the Loire Valley. So many châteaux, churches and country pleasures await.

“Why don’t Chartres’ spires match?”

“Is the stained glass really 1,000 years old?”

“Did people actually live in these châteaux?”

“It’s freezing inside! But look at the size of the fireplaces.”

At Chambord we’ve escaped a quick spring squall just in time, retreating into a mellow-lighted salon de thé. In the shadow of the romantic castle, I’m enjoying a crêpe with a student: crème de marron (chestnut cream) for me, caramel du beurre salé (salted butter caramel) for him. We savor our final bites, the skies clear—and a perfect arc en ciel (rainbow) materializes from one horizon to the other across the grounds of the chateau.

Nathalie, our French tour director, stops at our table and suggests a title for my next book: A Rainbow Over Chambord.

Pourquoi pas? (Why not?)

“What are those huge trees?”

“Why is their bark peeling so much?”

“Are those trees in the square dead?”

“They look like angry old people shaking their fists.”

“Why do they cut off all their branches?”

I recall the first time I saw the closely pruned—pollarded—French trees in the seventies. They made me sad, looking as if they’d been abused, the barren sentinels barred from reaching their natural height and breadth. But as I learned back then, such drastic cropping yields lush lollipop trees in summer, providing thick, summer greenery and dense, cooling shade.

I explain to my students about the trees and this leads to discussions of French rationality and affinity for order, English versus French gardens, the philosophes, and the French penchant for debate.

All because of an angry black tree in a village square.

“I love this hotel!”

“The one in Paris was way too modern.”

“This one has charm.”

“Our room is so cool. It has a back door!”

On peut sortir? Can we go out, Madame Bohr?”

I steal away on my own after dinner—I leave through my own back door—to lose myself in reverie and take a solo look at the château. Azay-le-Rideau, built on a human scale, one of my favorites. Grand enough to be called a château yet small enough to be accessible. I imagine myself living there, tapestries warming the walls, carpets softening the floors, surrounded by a duck pond. On my own for a few minutes, I’m transported back to the ’70s, conjuring the feelings of the romantic young student I was. Smitten then; I’m smitten now. My beloved France.

Once again, time to board the bus. This time amid uncontrolled giggling. “Qu’est-ce qui se passe?” What’s going on?” I ask.

They can barely speak. “The bus driver. Peeing by the tree. I saw things I didn’t want to!” Cackles. Guffaws. Innocents abroad. Innocence in France.

Loire Valley Tour 1

Vous avez la patate?

“Our shower only has half a door!”

“Are all bathrooms like that in France?”

“The whole floor is soaked!”

“How much butter is in this croissant? Is it okay if I add more?”

Our Loire Valley tour continues. Each morning as we load the bus, our guide asks how we are.

Ça va? Vous avez la patate? Vous avez la pêche? Vous avez la banane? (Do you have the potato; the peach; the banana?)

Each is a clever way to ask: Are you bright-eyed and bushy-tailed today? Oui, j’ai la patate. Every language has its apt idioms.

Students scrutinize the fashion of their French peers. While I see few differences, they are keenly aware of every one and school me on the distinctions.

Their shoes: “They just look like sneakers to me.”

Their jeans: “Everyone wears skinny jeans, even the boys.”

Their jackets: “They’re longer and actually match their outfits.”

Their hair: “The guys have a lot of quiffs.”

(What’s a quiff? It’s like a whoosh or a puff, they tell me. Oh, you mean like a pompadour? I say. My fashion eyes are definitely too old.)

The students negotiate the topiary labyrinth at Chenonceau, more interested in the grounds than the interior of the château. While they visit the donkey farm to the side of the sycamore-lined entryway, I discover an elegant orangery-style restaurant tucked behind the cafe. I’m off in a daydream, imagining a romantic dinner with my husband in the not-too-distant future.

Although this is my fourth visit to the castle (my first was in ’78 with Joe, as students freezing on motorbikes), Chenonceau never fails to charm. I send my stateside travel partner a text:

We must return and stay at one of the village’s ivy-covered inns; Chenonceau now has a gourmet restaurant!

The château boasts two magnificent gardens designed by the two women in King Henry ii’s life: one by the mistress and one by the wife. I choose the one that’s more shaded and compact, that of her majesty, Catherine de Medici. Daffodils, hyacinths and other early spring blossoms have made their way into full color, so different from the austere, pallid portraits of the queen inside the castle.

But the persona I assume is that of Diane de Poitiers—the beautiful, fashionista mistress of the king, twenty years his senior. The original cougar, I think with a chuckle; a fitting observation by a woman who just turned sixty. One day, some day, I’ll morph into Diane at a costume ball, despite the fact that her calculating ruthlessness is about as distant from my personality as I can fathom. But that’s what masquerades are about, no doubt.

The gardens are now under a soft, spring drizzle. I envision royal steeds trotting up the sandy lane to deposit me at Chenonceau’s drawbridge from a gilded coach. But I’m brusquely yanked back to the present as a student calls from behind a colossal planter:

“What time do we have to be back on the bus, Madame Bohr? Are we late?”

My travelers are astounded by the size of the four châteaux we’ve visited.

Wait ’til we see Versailles, I say.

“Versailles? I can’t wait to go to Versailles. Part of Kim Kardashian’s wedding was there!”

Some things my students say make me less proud than others.
Loire Valley Tour 2

* * *

Très drôles, Marianne! I love that you snuck in a Diane de Poitiers moment just before your charges brought you back to the 21st-century by bringing up Kim Kardashian’s nuptials at Versailles. So, did the sight of that rainbow over Chamboud compensate for your travails? And did any of your students show the potential for taking a gap year, or perhaps even choosing the expat life, one day? I can’t wait to read Part Two. —ML Awanohara

Readers, have you ever had this kind of adventure with a group of young people abroad, and if so, were your travels full of travails? Do tell in the comments!

Marianne C. Bohr is a writer, editor and French teacher whose book, Gap Year Girl: A Baby Boomer Adventure Across 21 Countries, was published in September 2015 with She Writes Press. She married her high school sweetheart and travel partner, and with their two grown children, follows her own advice and travels at every opportunity. Marianne lives in Bethesda, Maryland, where after decades in publishing, she has followed her Francophile muse to teach French. She has an author site where she keeps a blog, and is active on Facebook and Twitter.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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Photo credits: Top of page: Marianne Bohr (supplied); world map via Pixabay. First collage: Photos of baguettes, boat on Seine, and Mona Lisa via Pixabay; just how French, by thellr via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0). Second collage: Rainbow, Azay-le-Rideau, and Cambord via Pixabay; Crepes pomme/poire du caramel au beurre sale, by Cyril Doussin via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); and Pollards, by Garry Knight via Flickr (CC BY 2.0). Bottom collage: (clockwise from top left) Chenonceau gardens, by Adam Kent via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); [French boy with quiff], by Reims Media Agency via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); Kim Kardashian, by Eva Rinaldi via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); and Diane De Poitiers (1499-1566), via Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0).

BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST: In honor of Mother’s Day, three books by and about strong international women

booklust-wanderlust-2015

Attention displaced bookworms! For this month’s column, Beth Green has some eclectic picks for displaced reads—all of which feature women who transcend national boundaries.

Hello again, Displaced Nationers!

Mother’s Day is coming up in the United States on May 8 (the UK celebrated its mums in March). As an American who lives abroad, I am marking the occasion by reading the beautiful, intriguing A Mother’s Secret, by Renita D’Silva, which came out in early April.

renita and a mother's secret

Now living in the UK, D’Silva grew up in a coastal village in South India. Reflecting that background, D’Silva’s debut novel, Monsoon Memories, was about an Indian woman who has been exiled from her family for more than a decade and is living in London (it was a Displaced Nation pick for 2014).

Her latest work, A Mother’s Secret, which came out in early April, tells the story of Jaya, the British-born daughter of immigrants. Jaya struggles with the unexpected death of her mother, Durga, followed by the loss of her baby son in a tragic cot death. Looking through her mother’s belongings, Jaya finds diaries that unlock the secrets of her mother’s unhappy past, before she emigrated to England. Part of the story is told by Durga, through diary excerpts, and part by Kali, a mad old lady who, like Durga, was doing her best to survive and succeed in traditional Indian culture.

I haven’t finished A Mother’s Secret yet—and hadn’t even planned on reviewing it—but I’m still willing to recommend it on the strength of D’Silva’s mesmerizing descriptions of India, along with the finely woven mystery connecting Jaya to her mother and to Kali. In D’Silva’s hands, the the India of several decades ago becomes a place of lush, gothic beauty. Take, for instance, her description of a ruined mansion feared by the villagers and rumored to be haunted:

“Oh there’s a curse all right,” the rickshaw driver huffs. “No boy child survives in that family. Everyone associated with that mansion is cursed with unhappiness, insanity, death. You must be out of your mind to go there, and I have warned you plenty. But it’s none of my business, as long as you pay me three times the fare like you promised.” The rickshaw driver’s hair drips with sweat as his ramshackle vehicle brings them closer and closer to the ruin, which looms over the earth-tinged emerald fields, painting the mud below the dark black of clotted blood.

While on the theme of women’s lives, allow me to segue into another book I finished recently, My Life on the Road, by American feminist activist Gloria Steinem. (It was on the Displaced Nation’s Best of 2015 list, and also a pick by fellow Displaced Nation columnist HE Rybol for a 2016 read.)

Gloria Steinem portrait and book

As one doesn’t automatically associate with Steinem with travel, I was surprised to learn how much time she has actually spent “on the road.” Her childhood, I was fascinated to discover, consisted of a series of road trips across the United States with her nomadic parents, who made a living selling antiques. She credits these childhood travels with shaping her later talents as a journalist and organizer. And although she no longer leads a peripatetic life—she bought property and established a home base—she estimates she spends more nights out of her house than in it.

Steinem writes:

Taking to the road—by which I mean letting the road take you—changed who I thought I was. The road is messy in the way that real life is messy. It leads us out of denial and into reality, out of theory and into practice, out of caution and into action, out of statistics and into stories— in short, out of our heads and into our hearts. It’s right up there with life-threatening emergencies and truly mutual sex as a way of being fully alive in the present.

Notably, one of Steinem’s formative experiences came after her graduation from Smith College, when she won a fellowship to study in India for two years. Living in India broadened her horizons and made her aware of the extent of human suffering in the world. India was also where she learned about the “talking circle”—an intimate form of storytelling “in which anyone may speak in turn, everyone must listen, and consensus is more important than time.”

The book isn’t a chronological history of this 82-year-old iconic figure’s travels in America and abroad, but rather a (sometimes disjointed) collection of thoughts about why she enjoys constant movement, and a series of vignettes about the people—and personalities—she’s met along the way.

One of the biggest personalities is her father—a larger-than-life figure from whom Steinem has inherited a love of the nomadic life:

I can’t imagine my father living any other life. When I see him in my mind’s eye, he is always the traveler, eating in a diner instead of a dining room, taking his clothes out of a suitcase instead of a closet, looking for motel VACANCY signs instead of a home, making puns instead of plans, choosing spontaneity over certainty.

When I first picked up the book, I was a little apprehensive that it would be all about Steinem’s political views. (Given that this is an election year in the United States, I’m getting my quota of political reading from the daily news!)

Naturally, Steinem does write about politics—after 40 years devoted to leading a revolution for women’s equality, how could she not? For example, Steinem was at Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and she drops the usual names you’d expect from that era.

But the majority of her stories are what the title suggests—tales about ordinary people she has encountered on the road, such as taxi drivers or people she met at roadside diners or in airports while on her way to conferences or political events. An example:

Our older driver is like a rough trade character from a Tennessee Williams play— complete with an undershirt revealing tattoos, and an old Marine Corps photo stuck in the frame of his hack license. Clearly, this is his taxi and his world.

The friendships she forges with people across the country, particularly with Native American activists, enliven the book and underscore Steinem’s interest in getting to know local communities—though I sometimes got the bittersweet feeling that, given her restlessness, she will never be more than observer of these grassroots circles. In one such passage, Steinem details a trip she once took to a Native American site in Ohio with the author Alice Walker and Walker’s assistant, Deborah Matthews:

That night we join Deborah’s mother, her eighty-six-year-old grandmother, and teachers and neighbors at a community potluck supper in the school gym. It’s a welcome for us. With the slow-paced humor and warmth I’ve come to cherish, they talk about the history of small-town Ohio, and are delighted that we are interested. Deborah’s grandmother has lived her entire life near Adena mounds that may be even older than the one we just saw. They reminisce about everything from romantic outings in the Great Circle Earthworks to the connection they feel to people they just call “the ancients.”

In short, I’d recommend My Life on the Road not only to anyone interested in Steinem herself and the 1960s American feminist movement, but also to anyone with a passion for travel. (That said, if you’re fed up with hearing about American politics already this year, you might wait until after November to start reading!)

Before I sign off for this month, a book I’d like to mention to any readers thirsting for some armchair adventure is Displaced Nationer and current expat Jennifer S. Alderson’s Down and Out in Kathmandu, which came out at the end of last year and was in my to-be-read pile for 2016.

Jennifer Alderson and book cover

The first in a planned series of international thrillers, the book introduces us to protagonist Zelda Richardson, a burnt-out Seattle-based computer programmer who is heading to Nepal for a volunteer teaching gig.

Teaching English in Nepal is nothing like Zelda expects—relationships with her host families are fraught, facilities are limited and the students are less than impressed with Zelda herself. While struggling to deal with the strange culture and her unruly classroom, she crosses paths with Ian, an Australian backpacker who is on a teaching sabbatical and simply searching for the best weed he can find.

And then, of course, as often happens when you link up with backpackers, Zelda finds herself entangled with an international gang of smugglers who believe she and Ian have stolen their diamonds. They also cross paths with Tommy, a shady Canadian in Thailand…

Alderson’s next Zelda book, The Lover’s Portrait, is set in Amsterdam and is due out at the end of next month.

* * *

Until next time, happy reading!

As always, please let me or ML know if you have any suggestions for books you’d like to see reviewed here! And I urge you to sign up for the DISPLACED DISPATCH, which has at least one Recommended Read every week.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

Beth Green is an American writer living in Prague, Czech Republic. She grew up on a sailboat and, though now a landlubber, continues to lead a peripatetic life, having lived in Asia as well as Europe. Her personal Web site is Beth Green Writes. She has also launched the site Everyday Travel Stories. To keep in touch with her in between columns, try following her on Facebook and Twitter. She’s a social media nut!

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LOCATION, LOCUTION: Writer Tracey Warr is a troubadour of medieval life, telling stories she collects from roaming far and wide

Location Locution
Columnist Lorraine Mace, aka Frances di Plino, is back with her latest, and last(!), interview guest.

My guest this month is Tracey Warr, a writer of fiction and nonfiction who was born in London and lived there for a substantial portion of her life—but these days can be found in Pembrokeshire, in the south west of Wales; on the Aveyron in southern France; or in transit.

Actually, Tracey is more than just a guest; from next month onwards, she will be assuming the reins of the Location, Locution column. I’ve enjoyed my time interviewing a variety of talented expat authors, and I thank you all for your comments and for being part of my writing life.

I know you will be in good hands with Tracey, who already has lots of interesting interviews lined up for you. But first, like Jill Marsh and I before her, Tracey will introduce herself and her writing by answering the Location, Locution interview questions.

Tracey has enjoyed two illustrious careers. Her day job for many years was as an academic specialist in contemporary art history and theory. She studied English Literature at Oxford University and holds a PhD in Art History. She held the post of senior lecturer for 15 years, teaching art history and theory in not only the UK but also Germany and the Netherlands. She has been involved in art curation projects all over the world, including in Australia, the USA, Spain, Lithuania, Norway and Finland. She has a long list of published books and articles and contributes art book reviews to Times Higher Education. Her most recent publication in the contemporary art field is the edited volume Remote Performances in Nature and Architecture, which came out last year with Routledge.

But if Tracey’s head is in the world of contemporary art, her heart belongs to historical fiction. After earning an MA in Creative Writing at University of Wales Trinity St Davids in Carmarthen, she entered her second career: writing fiction and biographies inspired by the landscapes and medieval histories of southern France and south west Wales.

If Tracey’s head is in the world of contemporary art, her heart belongs to historical fiction. Photo credits: (top row) The mind via Pixabay; cover art for Warr’s recent book; (middle row) Tracey Warr author photo; Map bastides in 1271, by FRAMYJO, Wikimedia Commons (public domain); (bottom row) Hearts via Pixabay; Ramon Berenguer I and his wife, Almodis de la Marche, counting out 2,000 ounces of gold coins, via Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Thus far Tracey has published two novels set in early medieval France, Spain and Wales: Almodis the Peaceweaver (2011) and The Viking Hostage (2014). Her new novel, Conquest: Daughter of the Last King, due out later this year, focuses on the 12th-century Welsh princess Nest ferch Rhys and the Welsh resistance to the Normans. In addition, Tracey is working on a biography entitled Three Female Lords, charting the lives and interactions of three medieval sisters who ruled in 11th-century southern France and Catalonia.

Tracey has already garnered numerous awards in her new career as a novelist and biographer. I won’t go on to list them because I am eager to get to our interview, but I urge you to read about her accolades on the page created by her publisher, Impress Books.

And now let’s meet Tracey Warr and hear her views on location, locution.

* * *

Welcome, Tracey, to Location, Locution, a column that will soon be yours! You have a strong sense of place in your historical novels, but tell us, which comes first, story or location?

Thank you, Lorraine, for hosting me and I look forward to assuming the column reins next month. In answer to your question: location! I was staying in a friend’s house in a remote village in the Tarn Valley in southern France for four months during a very cold winter. I visited the nearby medieval castle and village of Brousse-le-Château with my nephew, who was around 10 at the time and asked me to write a story about the castle. He loved it when I made up stories, and actually had me under a “contract” to write him at least one story a year—a hard task-master! During my research I came across an extraordinary real woman, Almodis de La Marche—and realised she would make a fascinating adult novel. The incidents of her life astonished me and I had to become a self-taught historian to discover more and more about her and then imagine what had happened during the gaps in the historical evidence. The landscape in this part of France is littered with spectacular castles and medieval bastide towns clustered around hilltops and connected by rivers, which served as highways in medieval times, so it became a process of location initiating and then feeding the development of the story.

Almodis inspiration

During her research on the castle, Tracey Warr came across an extraordinary real woman, Almodis de La Marche. Photo credits: Brousse-le-Château and Almodis cover art (supplied).

I’m particularly fascinated by watery landscapes—rivers, estuaries, coasts and islands. My second novel and the third one I’m working on now also began with landscapes—the Welsh islands off the coast of Pembrokeshire and the great triple river estuary at Carmarthen Bay.

What techniques do you use for evoking place in your stories? After all, the action takes place long ago.

If possible go there, take photographs, experience it, make notes on how it smells, sounds, feels, looks. The small details you gain from walking the ground are invaluable. The novel I’m writing at the moment centres around a number of medieval castles in Wales. I spent a few days staying in the village of Llansteffan near one of the castles, walking the cliffs and looking down on the spectacular river estuary and the dangerous tides and sandbanks of Carmarthen Bay. Watching birds hovering in the wind, seeing the weather lowering and rain coming in fast—I’ve used all those details in the novel. Although I’m writing historical fiction and many things have changed in a place, there are also many things that don’t change.

Which particular features create a sense of location? Landscape, culture, food?

I use all of those, with landscape probably dominating, but I also use objects in museums, the literature of the times and places and medieval cookery books to help me evoke places. My characters need to eat, sleep, work, travel, use the garderobe and observe the rhythms of medieval life. A map of 11th-century Toulouse, a model of Viking Dublin, a Viking serpent brooch, medieval objects such as the Dunstable Swan Jewel, a medieval book of hours, the poetry of the female troubadours—all have been vital in helping me to create my fictional locations.

The Viking Hostage influences

Medieval objects such as the Dunstable Swan Jewel have been vital in helping Tracey create her fiction. Photo credits: (clockwise from top left) The Viking Hostage cover art, Dunstable Swan Jewel (British Museum), print from a Viking brooch (all supplied); Labors of the Months: May, from a Flemish Book of Hours (Bruges) via Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Books such as medieval historian Ian Mortimer’s The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England, which treats that distant time like the Rough Guide series, are full of helpful details on everyday life. I do a lot of historical, literary, material culture and visual research, picking out details that I can use and adapt to my story to create a credible world for my readers to step into. I started writing medieval fiction as a kind of holiday in time away from my academic work with contemporary art, so I try to recreate that experience for the reader. I hope that when they have their noses in my books, sitting on the Tube in London, on a train going to Birmingham, in their modern bedrooms and living rooms or on a crowded beach, they find themselves travelling with my characters to 11th-century Barcelona, 10th-century Tallinn (in Estonia), 12th-century Pembroke—or they are on a Viking ship or a medieval passenger boat plying up and down the Thames.

Can you give a brief example from your writing that illustrates place?

In The Viking Hostage I used my knowledge of traditional markets in France and modern-day Tallinn to help me create the opening scene in the 10th-century Tallinn slave market:

A list of items for sale was called out in the marketplace. I was described as one female Northchild, but my name is Sigrid Thorolfsdottir. I am for sale along with my brothers, Thorgils and Olafr, who stand either side, holding my hands.

‘Ease up Sigrid,’ Thorgils whispers to me, ‘you’re crunching the bones of my hand. It will be alright.’

I try to relax my grip on his knuckles and look out at the few buyers staring up at the platform where we stand barefoot. Most of the crowd have gone since we are the last and least interesting item. Around the edges of the market square tall, thin houses are painted in gay colours. Awnings above the stalls flap in the slight breeze, their colours leached out by sun. Apples, nuts and cheeses are carefully arranged in small mounds and circles. Chickens are panicking in wooden cages. If I squint my eyes I can just see the sun sparkling on the sea in the distance, beyond the square and the buildings, and the buyers.

‘Three fine children of the Northmen, already growing muscled and hard-working,’ Klerkon, the slaver, shouts to the sparse audience, pushing up the grimy sleeve of Thorgils’ shift and pinching the flesh of his bicep, leaving white fingerprints against the brown skin. I glance up at the angry muscle shifting in my brother’s cheek.

Medieval markets

“A list of items for sale was called out in the marketplace. I was described as one female Northchild…” Photo credits: Talinn, Estonia (Old Town) via Pixabay; Villefranche-de-Rouergue market (supplied).

Later on in the novel my heroines are held hostage by Vikings on a Welsh island. I blended together the real Welsh islands of Caldey and Skomer, which were actually occupied by Vikings, to create my fictional island.

We climb the hill in the direction Thorgils indicated. As we move up the path we alarm plump brown curlews with long curving beaks like darning needles that are nesting in the brilliant green bracken. Large dragon-flies fly towards us swerving at the last minute. From the top of the hill we can discern the rough diamond shape of the island, cliffs spearing out erratically into the blue sea on all sides and ravines full of white flowers. Our eyes crease against the brightness of the light reflecting from the surrounding water. There is an overwhelming sense of space. The grey cliffs are dotted with short bright green grass and yellow lichen. To the left comes the regular boom of the sea in a rocky blow-hole. The white foam of waves studded with black boulders look like a thin necklace slung around the coast. Thick green and yellow seaweed rolls back and forth on the strand. The irregular patchwork of fields established by the monks where the thralls now labour, blanket the rocks and undulations of the island. Planes of colour are visible in the sea—greens, dark blues, grey-blues, grey-greens and blacks. Strings of other islands in the distance look as if they have been dropped out of the sky from a giant’s hand.

The island is teeming with life. Raucous screeching seabirds wheel around us, sit on nests on the narrow ledges of the guano-streaked cliffs like a great shrieking city, skid across the surface of the ocean carrying flapping fish in their beaks, plunge-dive at dark clouds of mackerel. Aina and I lay on our bellies on the edge of the cliff, watching the birds. There are fat black and white birds with striped beaks and long talons like the fingers of a lute player.

Blend of two islands

“Planes of colour are visible in the sea—greens, dark blues, grey-blues, grey-greens and blacks.” Photo credits: (top) Sea cave right through Skomer; view of the sea through Llansteffan Castle (both supplied).

How well do you need to know a place before using it as a setting?

It helps to know a place well from living there or visiting and making detailed research. But I also sometimes completely imagine a place without going there, or I transpose my knowledge and experiences of one place to somewhere else. In my first novel I had to write about a journey across the Pyrenees. At the time I’d never been there so I used maps together with experiences of the Scottish Highlands to conjure it. Now I have spent quite a lot of time in writing residencies in the Pyrenees and would probably write it differently—but I hope the ‘Scottish’ version still worked in the novel for the readers. I find that if I really imagine a place or a building in my own head, such as the Norman motte-and-bailey castle at Cardiff that I’m writing about at the moment, this can drive the plot. Certain scenes and events happen because of the layout of a place, because I’m imagining moving through that place with my characters.

Which writers do you admire for the way they use location?

Donna Leon—in her Commissario Brunetti series, she makes me feel that I am in Venice, wandering the streets, riding boats in the canals with Brunetti, dropping into a corner bar for a glass of wine or a quick coffee, accompanying him on his way home for a delicious lunch with his smart, Henry-James-loving wife. Being in Venice with Brunetti is at least 60 percent of the charm of reading those books, and the murder mystery is the rest. British historical crime writer Antonia Hodgson—her 18th-century London in her recent novel, The Devil in Marshalsea, is absolutely believable and alarming. And Wilkie Collins—in The Moonstone, he creates a vivid landscape and mansion that his story unfolds within, and he infuses place with emotions and suspense.

Fave books for place Tracey Warr

Tracey’s picks for novelists who have mastered the art of writing about place

Thanks so much, Tracey!

* * *

Readers, any questions for Tracey? Please leave them in the comments below.

And if you’d like to discover more about Tracey before she begins her column next month, why not visit her author site. You can also follow her on twitter.

And with that, I bid you a fond adieu!

* * *

Thanks, Lorraine! You’ve introduced us to so many fabulous writers, an experience that has touched all of us who have been inspired by the landscapes we’ve visited, or in many cases, have made into our homes. We hope you’ll drop by the Displaced Nation every so often and see what we’re up to. Don’t be a stranger!! —ML Awanohara

Lorraine Mace writes for children with the Vlad the Inhaler books. As Frances di Plino, she writes crime in the D.I. Paolo Storey series. She is a columnist for both of the UK’s top writing magazines, has founded international writing competitions and runs a writing critique service, mentoring authors on three continents.

STAY TUNED for the next fab post!

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Photo credits: Top of page: The World Book (1920), by Eric Fischer via Flickr; “Writing? Yeah.” by Caleb Roenigk via Flickr (both CC BY 2.0).

BECAUSE WE (ALMOST) MISSED IT: Best of expat nonfiction 2015

Best of Expat Nonfiction 2015

As some readers may recall, I posted, at the end of January, a “best of” list of fiction works by, for, and about expats and other international creatives that came out in 2015.

I know, I know, it should have come out in early December.

And now it’s nearly the end of February, and I still haven’t posted my list of nonfiction books that appeared last year: all of those lovely memoirs, photo guides, guides to expat life, and so on.

But then Leap Day arrived, and I thought to myself: we only get an extra day every four years; why not take the leap and tackle my nonfiction list (so much longer than the fiction one!) once and for all?

Today I present the fruits of my Leap Day labors. May I suggest that you follow my example by springing for one or more of these for your Kindle? Spring is, after all, just around the corner… 🙂

(Hm, if it’s not too late for a New Year’s resolution, I resolve to publish my “best of 2016” list in December. Harumph, do I hear you say? Yes, you are right: famous last words!)

PLEASE NOTE: The books, which include indie as well as traditionally published nonfiction works, are arranged in reverse chronological order.

* * *

The Other Paris_coverThe Other Paris (October 2015)
Author: Luc Sante
Expat credentials: Born in 1954 in Belgium, Sante emigrated to the United States with his family in the early 1960s. On his first visit to Paris, with his mother when he was not quite nine years old, he found the city exciting. Returning as a college student, he couldn’t get enough of the City of Light and spent time hanging out with the literary expat community. Sante currently lives in Ulster County, New York, and teaches at Bard College.
Synopsis: The book surveys the Paris underworld in the 19th and 20th centuries. It echoes Sante’s 1991 debut, Low Life, which provided a similar glance toward the history of New York City, where Sante lived for many years. Both books celebrate the outcast, the criminal, and the bohemian.
How we heard about: From a review by Molly Haskell in the New York Times’s Sunday Book Review.


My Life on the Road_coverMy Life on the Road (Springtime Books, October 2015)
Author: Gloria Steinem
Expat credentials: Born in Ohio and based for many years in New York, the 81-year-old Steinem had an itinerant childhood and has traveled widely throughout the world, first as a journalist and then as a feminist leader. We count her as an international creative!
Synopsis: In her first book in 20 years, Steinem recounts the highlights of her travels across the country and the world to champion women’s rights, listening to stories that changed her perspective. She picked up the idea of a “talking circle,” for instance, during her extensive travels in India.
How we heard about: Steinem’s interview with Charlie Rose.


Polish-Your-Poise-NYT-coverPolish Your Poise with Madame Chic: Lessons in Everyday Elegance (Simon & Schuster, October 2015)
Author: Jennifer Scott
Expat credentials: Jennifer was a foreign exchange student in Paris who lucked out when her hostess turned out to be the epitome of chic and also took the time to teach Scott, a keen learner, about how to develop a personal style and lead a stylish life. Now back in her native California, Scott has applied these lessons to her everyday life and has published a “Madame Chic” book series.
Synopsis: Recalling the tips she received from her Parisian mentor, Scott addresses topics such as proper attire at social events, good grooming, communication skills, hospitality, being a good guest, and interactions with neighbors and strangers. (This is the third book in the series.)
How we heard about: We interviewed Scott about her debut work just before Simon & Schuster came knocking.


Behind the Indian Veil_coverBehind the Indian Veil (Liah Design Private Limited, September 2015)
Author: Sephi Bergerson
Expat credentials: An award-winning Israeli photographer, Bergerson has lived in India for more than 13 years, of which seven were spent working on this project.
Synopsis: Bergerson traveled the length and breadth of India experiencing, witnessing and documenting a greater variety of Indian weddings than any person on the planet. The book presents images and written stories from nuptials that took place in a vast assortment of Indian communities.
How we heard about: Bergerson’s first book, Street Food of India, was listed by the New York Times as one of the top ten cookbooks of 2010.


Beautiful Affliction_coverBeautiful Affliction (She Writes Press, September 2015)
Author: Lene Fogelberg
Expat credentials: A native to Sweden, Fogelberg has lived elsewhere in Europe as well as in the United States, Indonesia, and now Malaysia.
Synopsis: Imagine finding out, just after you’ve made a big move to the United States with your family, that you’re in the last stages of a congenital fatal heart disease. Fogelberg, who is also a poet in Sweden, tells the story of her affliction with unflinching honesty, deep emotion, and exquisite detail.
How we heard about: Fogelberg was one of several expat writers to be “wonderlanded” on the Displaced Nation.


WaitingfortheTulipstoBloom_coverWaiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul (September, 2015)
Author: Lisa Morrow
Expat credentials: Born in Sydney, Australia, Morrow dropped out of university to go overseas. She hitchhiked through the UK, traveled in Europe and arrived in Turkey just as the Iraq War was starting. She ended up staying three months in the Anatolian village of Göreme, in Cappadocia, an experience that changed her life. She trundled between Australia and Turkey while finishing her university degree and then moved to Göztepe, on the Asian side of Istanbul, for a time. She has produced two collections of stories about her experiences in Turkey in addition to this full-length travelogue, which covers her decision to move to Istanbul permanently more than five years ago, this time with her husband in tow.
Synopsis: This is the story of Morrow’s unexpectedly bumpy transition into becoming an expat in Istanbul with her husband. Morrow takes a deep look into the challenges of intercultural living: what is it like to live as an expat and adjust to a new culture? For a start, there is the need to master the language. And then there is the Turkish bureaucracy, which can’t be avoided because of the need for work permits, health insurance, and real estate. So, did the tulips eventually bloom?
How we heard about: Morrow’s works are on several “best books on Turkey” list, and we hope to feature her memoir on our site this year.


The Dead Ladies Project_coverThe Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Expats and Ex-Countries (University of Chicago Press, September 2015)
Author: Jessa Crispin
Expat credentials: When Jessa Crispin was thirty, she burned her settled Chicago life to the ground and took off for Berlin with a pair of suitcases and no plan beyond leaving. Half a decade later, she’s still on the road. As it says on her author site: “She currently lives nowhere in particular.”
Synopsis: This is a memoir about Crispin’s personal journey, but the itinerary includes a number of locations that attracted artists who were in need of breaking free from their origins and starting afresh (e.g, Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, who started over from nothing in Switzerland), which gives Crispin pause for reflection.
How we heard about: From Crispin’s essay in the Boston Review: “How not to be Elizabeth Gilbert.”


WayofWanderlust_coverThe Way of Wanderlust: The Best Travel Writing of Don George (Travelers’ Tales, September 2015)
Author: Don George, with foreword by Pico Iyer
Expat credentials: Though he lives in California, George has visited 90 countries and is one of America’s most acclaimed travel writers. He is the author of the best-selling Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Writing. He qualifies as an “international creative”!
Synopsis: George takes us on a “mind travel” through Pakistan, Paris and Peru (among many other places) while also sharing something of his own life journey. A must-read for wannabe travel writers.
How we heard about: We follow Don George and National Geographic Traveler, where he is a columnist and editor at large, on Twitter.


Gap Year Girl_coverGap Year Girl: A Baby Boomer Adventure Across 21 Countries (She Writes Press, September 2015)
Author: Marianne C. Bohr
Expat credentials: Bohr is based in Bethesda, Maryland, but for her extensive travels we have given her a permanent pass into the land of international creatives.
Synopsis: In the 1960s and ’70s, thousands of baby boomers strapped packs to their backs and flocked to Europe, wandering the continent on missions of self-discovery. Many of these boomers still dream of “going back”―of once again cutting themselves free and revisiting the places they encountered in their youth, recapturing what was, and creating fresh memories along the way. This is the story of how Marianne Bohr and her husband, Joe, did just that.
How we heard about: Bohr is a Displaced Dispatcher and since last year has been contributing a “World of Words” column to the Displaced Nation.


Between River and Sea_coverBetween River and Sea: Encounters in Israel and Palestine (Eland Books, August 2015)
Author: Dervla Murphy
Expat credentials: Born in Ireland as an only child, Murphy developed a determination to travel and see the world from an early age. In the event, she became a superb adventurer and prolific writer. Her first book, Full Tilt, describes her bicycle ride from Ireland to India, through Iran and Afghanistan. Though she still lives in Ireland (the town where she grew up), she belongs to our tribe of “international creatives.”
Synopsis: In her late seventies, Murphy took buses and tramped through the cities, villages, olive groves and pathless hills of the West Bank over five months in 2009 and 2010. She also spent three months in Israel in the winter of 2008-9, and met a wide cross-section of its residents. This book reports on the open conversations Murphy had with people she encountered on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
How we heard about: From an essay in the Boston Review by Jessa Crispin: “How not to be Elizabeth Gilbert.”


How Not to Travel the World_coverHow Not to Travel the World: Adventures of a Disaster-Prone Backpacker (August 2015)
Author: Lauren Juliff
Expat credentials: Born in London, England, Lauren has spent the past several years visiting over 50 countries across five continents and is still searching for a place to call home. She blogs at Never Ending Footsteps.
Synopsis: Juliff tells the story of how someone who never thought she would venture out of her miniscule comfort zone has become a full-time traveler and writer, as well as a “walking disaster.” She says her example shows that transformation through travel is possible, even when terrible things happen to you.
How we heard about: Social media


Deconstructing Brazil_coverDeconstructing Brazil: Beyond Carnival, Soccer and Girls in Small Bikinis (Springtime Books, August 2015)
Author: Simone Torres Costa
Expat credentials: Born in Brazil, Costa has had successive international relocations throughout her adult life, both alone and with her family, with stays in the USA, Sweden, Poland, and Italy. After 15 years abroad, she moved back to Brazil and rediscovered an interest in Brazilian culture.
Synopsis: Costa attempts to “deconstruct” Brazil for foreign visitors. As she told editor Jane Dean in an interview, she wants expats to get beyond carnival, soccer, and girls in small bikinis to see what makes Brazil tick, which involves delving into the nation’s history.
How we heard about: From Jo Parfitt, the founder of Springtime Books.


From Venice to Istanbul_coverFrom Venice to Istanbul (BBC Digital, July 2015)
Author: Rick Stein
Expat credentials: Stein, who is an Englishman of German descent and was educated at Oxford, is a part-time expat in Sydney, Australia—his wife is Australian and he has a restaurant in New South Wales.
Synopsis: The book presents the recipes Chef Stein collected in his travels in the Eastern Mediterranean.
How we heard about: The book accompanies Stein’s BBC Two cookery series in the UK.


The Good Shufu_coverThe Good Shufu: Finding Love, Self & Home on the Far Side of the World (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, June 2015)
Author: Tracy Slater
Expat credentials: A writer and an academic in her native Boston, Slater was sent to Japan to teach in an executive MBA program, where she met and fell in love with one of her students, a Japanese salaryman in Osaka. They married and she moved to Japan, where she lives in Greater Tokyo with her husband and daughter.
Synopsis: Slater narrates a moving story of letting go of her identity as an independent American woman to become part of a couple and an entirely different culture, where her chief identity is that of foreigner (gaijin) and housewife (shufu).
How we heard about: The Displaced Nation is a big supporter of Tracy Slater and her work, and we hope vice versa!


year of Fire Dragons_coverYear of Fire Dragons: An American Woman’s Story of Coming in Age in Hong Kong (Blacksmith Books, June 2015)
Author: Shannon Young
Expat credentials: Originally from Arizona, Shannon lives in Hong Kong with her Eurasian husband.
Synopsis: In 2010, Young followed her Eurasian boyfriend to Hong Kong, eager to forge a new love story in his hometown. But when work sends him to London a month later, she embarked on a wide-eyed newcomer’s journey through Hong Kong – alone. This is the story of her adventures teaching English in a local school and exploring Asia with other young expats. Oh, and reader—she married him.
How we heard about: Young writes the popular Diary of an Expat Writer column for the Displaced Nation.


Inside the Crocodile_coverInside the Crocodile: The Papua New Guinea Journals (Matador, June 2015)
Author: Trish Nicholson
Expat credentials: Born in the Isle of Man, Nicholson was destined from an early age to become a world traveler, culminating in five years of living in the wilds of West Sepik province of Papua New Guinea. She has since retreated to a quiet New Zealand hillside.
Synopsis: Nicholson has written a memoir of her adventures of working in development aid and serving as Honorary Consul in the Land of Surprises, as PNG is known. While based in the province of West Sepik, she had to contend with crocodiles, sorcery, near-fatal malaria—the list goes on.
How we heard about: Lorraine Mace interviewed Trish Nicholson about her memoir and other “scribblings” for Location, Locution.


TurkeyStreet_coverTurkey Street: Jack and Liam move to Bodrum (Springtime Books, May 2015)
Author: Jack Scott
Expat credentials: Scott is a former expat in Turkey. He has since repatriated to Norwich, England.
Synopsis: In the sequel to his popular memoir, Perking the Pansies, which was based on his expat blog of this name, Scott continues to narrate, in his dryly entertaining style, the Anatolian adventures he and his partner, Liam, embarked on after moving from London to Bodrum. Note: This particular expat tale has a surprising finale.
How we heard about: Jack Scott is a former Displaced Nation columnist.


The Year of Living Danishly_coverThe Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country (Icon, May 2015)
Author: Helen Russell
Expat credentials: A British journalist and former editor for MarieClaire.co.uk, Russell traded London for Jutland, Denmark, when her husband got a job at Lego. She now works as a Scandinavia correspondent for the Guardian as well as writing a column on Denmark for the Telegraph.
Synopsis: When she was unexpectedly given an opportunity to live in rural Denmark, Russell decided to give herself a year to uncover the Danish formula for happiness. She presents her findings in this book: where the Danes get it right, where they get it wrong—and how we might just benefit from living a little more Danishly ourselves.
How we heard about: Helen Russell’s column in Telegraph Expat.


My Paris Dream_coverMy Paris Dream: An Education in Style, Slang, and Seduction in the Great City on the Seine (Spiegel & Grau, May 2015)
Author: Kate Betts
Expat credentials: Before she became a fashion editor at Vogue and the youngest-ever editor of Harper’s Bazaar, Betts was an expat in Paris. She moved there shortly after graduating from Princeton for a journalist internship, learning French, and ended up staying on. Although she now lives in New York, she says: “Paris has always stayed with me, close to me, and I’ve continually felt nourished by it.”
Synopsis: Betts reminisces about how she came of age as a fashion journalist while living in Paris in the 1980s, the highlight of which was working for Women’s Wear Daily under the legendary John Fairchild.
How we heard about: How we heard about: New York Times book review by Alexandra Jacobs (reviewed the same time as Brooks’s book).


Greekscapes_coverGreekscapes: Illustrated Journeys with an Artist, 2nd ed. (May 2015)
Author: Pamela Jane Rogers
Expat credentials: Born in North Carolina, Rogers left America after the break-up of her 12-year marriage and ended up settling on Poros, where for more than 26 years she has made her living as an artist.
Synopsis: This is Rogers’s memoir, edited by Bryony Sutherland. The second edition includes a selection of Rogers’s paintings, as requested by her readers.
How we heard about: Social media


Always Pack a Party Dress_coverAlways Pack a Party Dress: And Other Lessons Learned From a (Half) Life in Fashion (Blue Rider Press, May 2015)
Author: Amanda Brooks
Expat credentials: The ultimate American glamour girl, Brooks married the British artist Christopher Brooks and now lives with him and their two children on his family’s farm in Oxfordshire, UK.
Synopsis: After spending two decades in the fashion world that culminated in her appointment as creative director at Barney’s, Brooks abandons that plum post to become a Yankee in Queen Elizabeth’s court, moving to a farm in the English countryside where she spends her days on fields and in barns, among animals and children. This memoir is her swan song to the world of fashion.
How we heard about: New York Times book review by Alexandra Jacobs (reviewed the same time as Betts’s book).


The Expat Partners Survival Guide_coverThe Expat Partner’s Survival Guide: A light-hearted but authoritative manual for anyone accompanying their partner on an overseas assignment (April 2015)
Author: Clara Wiggins
Expat credentials: Born in Cuba to British diplomat parents, Wiggins started traveling as a baby and hasn’t stopped since. She has visited nearly 70 countries and lived in 12—the twelfth being South Africa, where she recently moved with her husband and two daughters.
Synopsis: Drawing on the expert advice of more than 70 expat partners who have been there, done that and survived to tell their tales, Wiggins has produced an authoritative how-to guide for expat partners, aka trailing spouses. She is of course an expert herself, having spent her childhood as a trailing daughter accompanying her diplomat parents on various postings including the Philippines and Venezuela. She later saw life from the other side, when posted to Jamaica. More recently, she has been moving around with her young family because of her husband’s postings to Islamabad, St Lucia, and South Africa.
How we heard about: Social media.


AdventuresofaRailwayNomad_coverAdventures of a Railway Nomad: How Our Journeys Guide Us Home (Café Society Press, April 2015)Author: Karen McCann
Expat credentials: A fourth-generation Californian, McCann lived in Cleveland, Ohio, with her husband for two decades before the couple moved to Seville, Spain, “for a year” and decided to make it their home.
Synopsis: McCann, who works as a freelance journalist and writer, provides an account of the attempt she and her husband made to recapture the spontaneity of travel in their youth by walking out of their Seville home with no more than a small bag and three-month Eurail pass in hand to see where life would take them.
How we heard about: One of her blog posts.


A Million Sticky Kisses_coverA Million Sticky Kisses: The Story of a Gringa Teacher in Chile (April 2015)
Author: Sally Rose
Expat credentials: Born and raised in the piney woods of East Texas, Sally Rose lived in the Cajun Country of Louisiana, the plains of Oklahoma, the “enchanted” land of New Mexico, and the Big Apple, New York City, before moving overseas to Santiago de Chile. She is now reviewing the prospects for her next overseas “home.”
Synopsis: In 2009, Sally Rose’s life-long dream of teaching English abroad becomes a reality when she goes to Chile as a volunteer teacher. Some days, her dream is more like a nightmare as she struggles with both the language and the culture. From avaricious school owners to chaotic classrooms, she is confronted with the complexities of being a “stranger in a strange land” while striving to make a difference for her students.
How we heard about: Rose was one of the writers to be “wonderlanded” on our site last year, and she is currently contributing a “perpetually perplexed peripatetic” expat column to the Displaced Nation.


HomersWheretheHeartIs_coverHomer’s Where The Heart Is: Two journalists, one crazy dog and a love affair with Greece (Pelagos Press, April 2015)
Author: Marjorie McGinn
Expat credentials: Born in Scotland, McGinn moved to Australia as a child. As an adult she has worked as a journalist in both Sydney and the UK. With a life-long passion for Greece, she set off in 2010 for an adventure in the Mani region of the southern Peloponnese. She and her partner, also a journalist, and their dog ended up staying four years. They are now back in Britain, living in East Sussex.
Synopsis: This is the second book in McGinn’s planned Peloponnese trilogy telling the story of what it was like to live in a remote village in southern Greece just as the country was sliding into economic crisis. The first was Things Can Only Get Feta, and the third is due out this summer.
How we heard about: From an article McGinn wrote for Telegraph Expat.


Daughters of the Samurai_coverDaughters of the Samurai: A Journey from East to West and Back (W. W. Norton, April 2015)
Author: Janice P. Nimura
Expat credentials: An American, Nimura married a Japanese man who was raised as a Third Culture Kid in Seattle; he refused to accompany his parents back to Japan when he was in his teens. After their marriage, the couple moved to Tokyo for a while. Nimura claims to have become more Japanized than her husband did, even learning the language. They couple now lives in New York City.
Synopsis: In 1871, five young girls were sent by the Japanese government to the United States. Their mission: learn Western ways and return to help nurture a new generation of enlightened men to lead Japan. Nimura reconstructs their Alice in Wonderland adventure.
How we heard about: Reviewed by Christopher Benfey for the New York Times‘s Sunday Book Review.


India Hicks Island Style_coverIndia Hicks: Island Style (Rizzoli, March 2015)
Author: India Hicks
Expat credentials: Born in England to famed decorator David Hicks and Lady Pamela Dicks (her grandfather was Lord Mountbatten, her godfather is Prince Charles, and she was a bridesmaid at his wedding to Lady Diana), Hicks has lived for many years on Harbour Island, in the Bahamas, with her partner, David Flint Wood, and their five children.
Synopsis: Hicks offers an illustrated guide to achieving her bohemian decorating style, which combines carefree Caribbean culture with British colonial form and formality. She takes us right insider her family’s enclave in the Bahamas.
How we heard about: A slideshow on Architectural Digest.


PassageoftheStork_coverPassage of the Stork, Delivering the Soul: One woman’s journey to self-realization and acceptance (Springtime Books, March 2015)
Author: Madeleine Lenagh
Expat credentials: Lenagh grew up as a Third Culture Kid and is a long-time expat (inpat?) in the Netherlands.
Synopsis: Using poetic vignettes and commentary by archetypes from Nordic mythology and fairy tales, Lenagh tells the story of her life-long struggle to put down roots and find a sense of permanency. She lived in Europe until age five because of her stepfather’s job as a military attaché; grew up in Connecticut; and then circled back to Europe, which she toured around, financed by her parents, at age 21. Her travels ended when she arrived in the Netherlands broke and took a job as an au pair. Did she know she would still be in Holland four decades later?
How we heard about: From her publisher Jo Parfitt; plus we have featured her photography in an “A Picture Says…” post.


Laughing All the Way to the Mosque_coverLaughing All the Way to the Mosque: The Misadventures of a Muslim Woman (Virago, March 2015)
Author: Zarqa Nawaz
Expat credentials: Born in Liverpool, England, to Pakistani parents, Nawaz was raised in Toronto. A successful Canadian journalist and broadcaster, she now lives in Regina, Saskatchewan.
Synopsis: Nawaz tells us what it’s like to be a practicing Muslim in Canada—from funeral rites to Rice Krispie squares—with a great sense of humor.
How we heard about: From one of the Virago editors, who said it was one of her favorite books of the year. She said it made her hoot with laughter while also teaching her about what it’s really like to be a Muslim in Western society.


Neurotic Beauty_coverNeurotic Beauty: An Outsider Looks at Japan (Water Street Press, March 2015)
Author: Morris Berman
Expat credentials: Berman emigrated from the US to Mexico in 2006, where he currently lives.
Synopsis: In Berman’s view, craftsmanship is Japan’s cultural soul, but in the 20th century, the country lost its way in trying to catch up to the West. This century, however, Japan has a chance to recapture its soul and become the first post-capitalist society, one where living is more important than owning.
How we heard about: Review by Peter Van Buren in HuffPostBooks.


Wonderlanded_coverWonderlanded: Life as an expat in China
(February 2015; note: also published in German)
Author: Kristina Kinder
Expat credentials: After working and studying in Spain, Kinder, who trained as an architect in her native Germany, decided to take the leap in 2010 and move to China. Initially she went to Shanghai—but then found herself in the running for a freelance architecture job in Kunming, a small city in Yunnan Province. She has since adopted Kunming as her home.
Synopsis: Kinder uses Alice in Wonderland allusions—for instance, she describes the three-and-a-half-hour-long flight to Kunming as a “crazy tea party,” where “everyone is chattering and shouting across the seats while holding the obligatory tea bottle”—along with her own whimsical illustrations, to tell the story of how living in China has enabled her to pursue her dream of becoming an artist.
How we heard about: Through our Alice in Wonderland connections, Alice being one of the themes on the Displaced Nation from its start nearly five years ago.


Going Gypsy_coverGoing Gypsy: One Couple’s Adventure from Empty Nest to No Nest at All (Skyhorse Publishing, February 2015)
Author: David and Veronica James
Expat credentials: Since becoming empty nesters, this American couple has led a life of “perpetual motion,” the highlights of which they report on their popular blog Gypsynester.com. We consider them to be honorary expats. They are certainly international as well as being highly creative!
Synopsis: In telling the story of their lives, David and Veronica James show that it’s possible to do things backwards: marry, have kids, and then go gypsy.
How we heard about: We follow them on Twitter.


Pearl River Drama_coverPearl River Drama: Dating in China: A Memoir (January 2015)
Author: Ray Hecht
Expat credentials: Born in Israel and raised in the Midwest, freelance journalist Hecht moved from California to China in 2008. He now lives in Shenzhen, China.
Synopsis: The story of a Western male’s sexploits in the Far East is as old as the hills, but Hecht somehow makes this a story about every expat. The book is based on stories he already told in his blog.
How we heard about: Through Jocelyn Eikenburg’s interview with Hecht on her blog about cross-cultural relationships in China, Speaking of China.


Leaving Before the Rains Come_coverLeaving Before the Rains Come (Penguin Books, January 2015)
Author: Alexandra Fuller
Expat credentials: Born in England and grew up in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Zambia, Fuller currently spends much of her time in a yurt near Jackson, Wyoming.
Synopsis: This is Fuller’s third expat memoir. Her first two covered the first 20 years of her life, which she spent on a farm in revolution-torn southern Africa, the child of British expats. In this book, the focus is on the men in her life: her fatalistic father and her American (now ex-) husband, with whom she relocates from the wilds of Africa to the tamer wilds of Wyoming. They have three children, but then the marriage unravels.
How we heard about: Fuller is an outstanding memoirist and a master of writing about the displaced condition.

* * *

Tell me, what have I missed? Kindly leave your recommendations for memoirs and other nonfiction works for, by, and about expats that came out in 2015 in the comments!

ML Awanohara, one of the Displaced Nation’s founders and its current editor, has a section in the weekly Displaced Dispatch where she mentions the latest expat books. Why not subscribe for the new(ish) year?

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

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Photo credits: All photos via Pixabay.

REVERSE CULTURE SHOCK TOOLBOX: Expats, what kinds of tools do you need if you decide to repatriate?

Reverse Culture Shock RosesTransitions enthusiast H.E. Rybol is already having a constructive 2016: she is about to publish a second book, on reverse culture shock.

Reverse Culture Shock_coverHello, Displaced Nationers! This month, I have a very special preview for you! On March 30th, my book Reverse Culture Shock will be released! Unlike Culture Shock: A Practical Guide, this is not a how-to book. It’s a collection of adapted blog posts including some previously unpublished material.

Dealing with reverse culture shock is a continuously evolving process that requires constant adjustments, reflection and introspection. This collection is meant to bring you food for thought and give you a little nudge to ease a difficult transition.

Here’s an adapted excerpt, just for you… Even if you’re currently an expat, I hope you enjoy! Someday you, too, may face this phenomenon, if you decide to repatriate.

* * *

When I moved back from California to Europe, I spent the summer pruning trees, rosebushes and anything else I could find. It provided comfort in a way nothing else did. I got to be outdoors, didn’t have to interact, nobody asked me any questions or commented on how ‘American’ I sounded. I could just be. Quietly, peacefully.

What I needed the most was a set of gardening tools.

Yep, reverse culture shock was a doozy.

Here’s the thing about reverse culture shock: everything feels familiar and completely different at the same time. And no matter how hard you try to reconcile everything, it makes you feel like a puzzle put together wrong. Everything sort of fits but doesn’t.

Of course, intellectually, you reason with yourself. Your brain explains that both you and the place have changed, so what you’re feeling is natural. Meanwhile your insides are screaming bloody murder. That’s what it was like for me, anyway.

There is an aspect of mourning involved. You have to let go of the notion of home as a physical or geographical place (if that’s what it was to begin with) and of the idea that operating within a comfort zone is how things should be. You need to redefine what home and comfort mean to you.

And here’s the biggie: letting go of who you were before you left to incorporate the person you became while you were gone and see how both now fit into a new identity within that familiar environment that feels alien. It’s mind-boggling and the whole thing is a process.

The puzzle of home

Europe had changed…and I’d changed as well.

When I got back from the US, Europe had changed: there was a new currency (hello, Euro!), there were new streets, Starbucks and Subways had sprouted up all over the place, the use of language had changed, to name a few. For example, “Zähflüssiger Verkehr” had become “stop and go” and my French-speaking friends and colleagues said things like “c’est fun!”

Of course, I had changed as well. Not only in my eyes but also in the eyes of other people who kept reminding me that I wasn’t quite European anymore with a steady refrain of “You’re SO American!”

  • Accent: I had an American accent and naturally, people who knew me before I lived in America kept saying “you sound so American.” I understand the reaction, of course, but the effect was one of alienation all the same. What I heard was “you don’t sound European”. Which was fine too, except that I was in Europe trying to figure out how to fit back in after four years of being away.
  • Language: I couldn’t express myself the way I wanted to in my native languages, which can feel alarming. People kept correcting me, pointing out that I was speaking weirdly, which had a distancing effect on me and on them as well. I wasn’t the way they remembered and these new aspects of me were disconcerting for them.
  • Laugh: I was told I had an American laugh, whatever that means.
  • Attitude/ways of thinking/seeing things: I had developed a new approach and attitude towards problem solving, thinking and managing everyday life. That attitude was also pointed out to me as being American. But it wasn’t something I could shake, so living with that perspective in Europe can be alienating on multiple levels.

I spent four years becoming aware of my “Europeanness” to come back to a Europe that felt alien to me and where people kept and still keep pointing out my “Americanness”.

I’ve come to accept that I’m just in between. Someone once said to me that it’s like sitting on a fence: you can see both sides but that fence just isn’t very comfortable.

Over time though, we get comfortable being uncomfortable. That’s the good news!
Just in between

* * *

Readers who are or have been repats, hopefully this has you “fixed” until next month, when I’ll be back with one of my culture shock interviews. In future I plan to interview some repatriates as well.

Until then, here’s to discomfort! Cheers! Prost! Santé!

H.E. Rybol is a TCK and the author of Culture Shock: A Practical Guide and Culture Shock Toolbox and the soon-to-be-released Reverse Culture Shock. She loves animals, piano, yoga and being outdoors. You can find her on Twitter, Linkedin, Goodreads, and her author site.  

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Photo credits: All photos are from Pixabay.

WORLD OF WORDS: Oh, those faux pas! Those you commit, and others that are committed upon you, during your travels abroad

Marianne Bohr in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris—is she reading or indulging in reveries about words?

Marianne Bohr in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris—is she reading or indulging in reveries about French words?

Columnist Marianne Bohr’s first book, Gap Year Girl, about an adult gap year she took with her husband, came out last September with She Writes Press. Here she recounts some amusing faux pas from their travels, and owns up to one of her own (from her first time in France).

In the world of words, language is a subtle art. So what happens when non-native speakers miss out on linguistic subtleties? To what extent does it rock the native speaker’s world?

Over the course of 12 months backpacking across Europe on an adult gap year with my husband in 2012, we were frequently amused by the quirky use of English we encountered. Indeed, while we would never want to discourage non-native speakers from giving English a try, hearing translations of our mother tongue that weren’t quite right was, more often than not, a source of entertainment.

And sometimes the results of such attempts were downright, flat-out, laugh-out-loud funny.

I’ll elaborate on those examples—that’s after I own up to one of my own French faux pas.

Pas de tout or pas tout? There’s a difference?!!

The delicate nature of language was highlighted for me when teaching a middle school French class a couple of weeks ago. I asked one of my best students if she understood the lesson we’d just completed on the formation of the passé composé. She looked at me guardedly and replied with a crooked smile, “Pas de tout.”

I was deflated. Crushed. One of my stars had freely admitted she’d understood nothing at all of my lecture. How could that be? Was my explication really that obtuse?

Vous comprenhez Pas de tout

Photo credits: Studying French at home and in Paris, by Modern Languages @ Finger Lakes Community College, by The LEAF Project via Flickr (CC0 1.0).

But then, like a flash, I remembered something from my own life that occurred almost 40 years ago, during my initial entry to France. I was a youthful 21-year-old backpacker, not the gap-year backpacker I would write about later, and was having my first authentic conversation with a native speaker. Instead of a husband, I was traveling with several companions, not one of whom spoke a word of the language of love.

We were checking into a seedy, Parisian budget hotel on the right bank. The front desk clerk spoke at a speed beyond my college ken, and from what I understood, yes, he had a room, but just one for the four of us (one boy and three girls).

My hesitation to reply, searching for the right words, and the panicked look in my eyes, stretched beyond the limits of his harried patience, and he demanded: “Vous comprenez, alors, mademoiselle?” Do you understand, miss?

Pas de tout,” I replied, so pleased that I’d managed to tell him that I understood most of what he’d said.

Oh, la,” he replied, straightening his posture and rolling his eyes in that distinctively Gallic way. “You understood nothing,” he said, in heavily accented English.

“No, no,” I countered, not even aware of how quickly I’d collapsed, reverting to the comfort of English. “I meant, I didn’t understand everything.”

I didn’t want him to think I was a complete imbecile. But the damage was done. I’d told him I hadn’t understood a word, when what I’d wanted to convey was that I’d understood, but perhaps not every word. The simple insertion of the little word “de” had completely changed what I’d said. “Pas tout.” Not everything. “Pas de tout.” Nothing at all. My merry band of four American youth did settle into a single room that night, but my faux pas would haunt me for the balance of our stay in Paris.

Fast-forward to my present-day classroom. “Did you understand today’s lesson?” I ask. “Pas de tout,” is the response, and now I smile. “Not everything,” is what she means, and not, “Nothing at all.”

She’s making the same mistake I did forty years ago. How can I possibly fault her?

A Catalan breakfast a la Cee-lo Green

Two months into our year-long gap-year journey, my husband and I have arrived in Barcelona after having spent seven weeks in my beloved France.

The familiar doorbell chime greeting of “bonjour, messieurs-dames” each time we walk into a shop or hotel has been replaced with a simple, straightforward “hola.” And we’re reminded at every turn by the abundant bright red-and-yellow striped flags and the street signs and billboards (the words of which I can decipher only a few), that we’re not yet fully in Spain; we’re in Catalonia, as we were in Andorra on our way here.

Now and then, I’ll spot a familiar word, like bella for beautiful, carrer for street or gambeta for shrimp.

Ordering food off a Catalan menu can be a real adventure!

On our very first morning in Spain, we experience one of those unexpected, laugh-out-loud moments that surprise you when you travel. In the well-lit hotel breakfast room, painted pale green and decorated with plentiful plastic oranges and daisies, we are the only two Americans filling our plates from the buffet. Imagine our surprise when the English-language rock music playing in the background launches into Cee-Lo Green’s original “Forget You.”

We practically drop our huevos in our laps. Are they really playing the uncensored version? “I’m like, 
f*** you! And f*** her too!”

No one else in the cantina even flinches. Ah, the beauty and innocence of enjoying another country’s music while you have no idea what the lyrics mean.

Breakfast in Barcelona

Photo credits (clockwise from top): Cee-Lo, by Pat Guiney via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Hello sign, by Oh-Barcelona.com via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Manifestació Som Una Nació, Nosaltres Decidim! 50, by Merche Pérez via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); and Breakfast (Barcelona, Spain), by PunkToad via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

The Golden Virgin & Kid

Marseille was founded in 600 BC. As the oldest town in France, it’s now the second largest city in the country (although the residents of Lyon often like to challenge this claim). My husband and I have an early seafood dinner along the lines of yachts and fishing boats and are pleasantly surprised that the wharf area isn’t half as gritty as we imagined.

Despite the sea breezes, the day is extremely hot, lethargy prevails and we find ourselves purchasing the most touristy tickets of our year. We take the miniature baby blue train on wheels that wanders the city and up to the top of a limestone peak with a panoramic view over the city.

As we approach the summit, the electronically generated (and apparently translated) French commentary announces we’re arriving at the Notre Dame de la Garde church, famous for its 30-foot high gilded Madonna and Child atop the steeple.

So far, so good except that the English translation that follows suggests that we “fold our necks and look up to see the golden Virgin and her kid.”

We must be the only English speakers aboard because we’re the only ones laughing.

* * *

Thank you, Marianne, for sharing these très drôles d’histoires (gosh, did I get that right?), one of which was at your own expense.

Readers, any faux pas of note to report from your travels, yours or others’? We’d love to hear about them in the comments!

Marianne C. Bohr is a writer, editor and French teacher whose book, Gap Year Girl: A Baby Boomer Adventure Across 21 Countries, was published last September (She Writes Press). She married her high school sweetheart and travel partner, and with their two grown children, follows her own advice and travels at every opportunity. Marianne lives in Bethesda, Maryland, where after decades in publishing, she has followed her Francophile muse to teach French. She has an author site where she keeps a blog, and is active on Facebook and Twitter.

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BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST: 11 Expat- and Travel-themed Books to Expand Our Horizons in 2016

booklust-wanderlust-2015

Attention displaced bookworms! Our book review columnist, Beth Green, an American expat in Prague (she is also an Adult Third Culture Kid), is back with her personal picks for expat- and travel-themed books to watch for in 2016.

Hello again, Displaced Nationers!

It’s been quite a long time since I last wrote to you here. Since my last column we’ve started 2016, celebrated the beginning of the Year of the Monkey, written and revised our new year’s resolutions, and (hopefully) read some really great books!

As part of my own (ever-evolving) New Year’s resolutions I signed up for the Goodreads Reading Challenge. It’s currently showing that I’m 22 books behind schedule for my overly optimistic goal of 300 books this year—but, hey, it wouldn’t be a challenge if it was easy, right?

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 7.33.56 PM
Now, usually in this column I talk about books I’ve already read, but this month I’d like to highlight some that I haven’t. There are, of course, lots of intriguing books coming out this year—more than I can cover adequately in one column! But, of the expat- or international-themed books coming out in 2016 that caught my eye, I’ve chosen 11 to feature in this post, one for each month left in 2016. Take a look!

* * *

Beginning with…a Thriller and a Mystery

CambodiaNoir_cover_300x200Cambodia Noir, by Nick Seeley (March 15, 2016)
The debut novel from an American journalist who has been working out of the Middle East and Southeast Asia, Cambodia Noir is a thriller that I’ve had on my to-be-read list ever since I first heard about it. The plot: A young American woman who is working as an intern at a local paper in Phnom Penh, June Saito, disappears. Her sister hires a retired photojournalist with first-hand knowledge of the corrupt, dissolute ways of the Cambodian capital, to look for her. Author Nick Seeley got his start as a foreign correspondent in Phnom Penh. He’s been hailed as a “fresh voice” exploring the depths of the Far East’s underworld.


InspectorSinghInvestigates_cover_300x200Inspector Singh Investigates: A Frightfully English Execution, by Shamini Flint (April 7, 2016)
Always the fan of international crime fiction, I’m excited that one of my favorite series—a series of charming crime novels featuring the portly, lovable Sikh policeman Inspector Singh—is getting a new addition this year. Author Shamini Flint is sending Singh to Britain Diary of a Tennis Prodigy_cover_300x200in the seventh book in her series. Each book provides not only a puzzle for the reader to solve but also a close-up look at the locations where the books are set. This is the Inspector’s first time out of Asia, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he discovers in the UK.

And, a special note for readers with kids: on January 1 Flint, who is a Singapore-based Malaysian, published a middle-grade book, Diary of a Tennis Prodigy, with illustrator Sally Heinrich (Sally formerly lived in Singapore and Malaysia but is now based in Adelaide, Australia).

And Now Let’s Add Three Travel Memoirs…

No Baggage_cover_300x200No Baggage: A Minimalist Tale of Love and Wandering, by Clara Bensen (January 5, 2016)
I love memoirs that read like novels, as I’m hoping this one will! Recovering from a quarter-life meltdown, 25-year-old Bensen signs up for an online dating account, and to her surprise, ends up meeting Jeff, a university professor who proposes they take a three-week experimental trip spanning eight countries, with no plans or baggage. Her story resonates with the adventurer in me—I can’t wait to take a look.


Little Dribbling_cover_300x200The Road to Little Dribbling, by Bill Bryson (January 19, 2016)
It may already be old news to anyone who’s been in a bookstore recently—or read our Displaced Dispatch!—but the world’s favorite traveler, humor writer and expat, Bill Bryson, has a new travelogue out. It’s another of his road-trip books. (I much prefer these to his other writings such as A Short History of Nearly Everything and At Home—they started out great, but I ended up leaving them unfinished…) Bryson made a journey through Britain 20 years ago, which was forever immortalized in his bestselling classic, Notes from a Small Island. In Little Dribbling, he follows the “Bryson line” from bottom to top of his adopted home country. I’m looking forward to being in his company again.


In Other Words_cover_300x200In Other Words, by Jhumpa Lahiri (and translations by Ann Goldstein) (February 9, 2016)
As a London-born Indian-American, world-class novelist Jhumpa Lahiri excels at writing in English—yet has long harbored a passion for the Italian language. Not wanting to miss out, she moved her family to Rome to immerse herself and quickly reached a point where she was writing only in Italian. She kept a journal in Italian that has evolved into this dual-language memoir. As an expat who’s now tried to learn three foreign languages while abroad, I’m curious to see how Lahiri’s experiences match up to my own. (The critics would apparently like to see her go back to English!)

…Along with Two Works of Literary Fiction and a Harlequin Romance

WhatBelongstoYou_cover_300x200What Belongs to You, by Garth Greenwell (January 19, 2016)
An American professor working in Sofia, Bulgaria, hooks up with a male prostitute in a public toilet and slowly becomes more involved than he anticipated. Reviewers cite Greenwell’s lyrical prose as reason alone for picking up his debut novel, but I’m interested in seeing how this young writer—who himself once worked as an expat English teacher in Bulgaria—depicts the city and the relationships between locals and foreigners. (This book, too, was mentioned in a recent Displaced Dispatch.)


TheHighMountainsofPortugal_cover_300x200The High Mountains of Portugal, by Yann Martel (February 2, 2016)
Going over this years’ publishers lists, I’m now looking forward to reading a book by an author whose last book I despised. My friends were all gushing over Yann Martel’s 2002 novel Life of Pi; but, while it has an admittedly awesome premise, the story left me cold. But I’m excited to check out the chronically traveling Canadian author’s next book, which is set in Portugal and intertwines the century-spanning stories of a young man reading an old journal, a mystery-loving pathologist, and a Canadian diplomat. I’m planning a trip to Lisbon later this year, and hope to read this book before I go.


UndertheSpanishStairs_cover_300x200Under the Spanish Stars, by Alli Sinclair (February 1, 2016)
I’m pleased to report that former expat Alli Sinclair—my friend and former co-blogger from Novel Adventurers—has published her second romantic mystery novel this month. (Congratulations, Alli!) The action takes place in her native Australia and also in Spain. The plot: an Australian woman travels to her grandmother’s homeland of Andalucía to unravel a family mystery. She ends up meeting a passionate flamenco guitarist and learns her grandmother’s past is not what she imagined.

Finally, to Top Things Off, How About a Couple of YA Books?

I don’t read a lot of young adult books, but descriptions of two novels I saw reviewed recently stuck with me. Funnily enough, both books’ titles start with “Up”—maybe it’s the implied optimism that caught me? We could use a bit of cheer in our displaced world…

Up from the Sea_cover_300x200Up from the Sea, by Leza Lowitz (January 12, 2016)
This is a novel in verse. It tells the story of a Japanese teenager, Kai, whose coastal village is obliterated by the March 2011 tsunami, after which he is offered a trip to New York to meet children who had been affected by the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The trip also provides an opportunity for him to go in search of his estranged American father. Author Leza Lowitz is an American expat writer and translator living in Tokyo, where she also runs a popular yoga studio. Her favorite themes to explore in her writing include the idea of place, displacement and what “home” means to expatriate women.


UPtothisPointe_cover_300x200Up to this Pointe, by Jennifer Longo (January 19, 2016)
I’m always fascinated by stories of Antarctica so have my eye on this book about a teenage girl who aspires to be a professional ballerina but, when her grand plan goes awry, sets out on an expedition to McMurdo Station (the U.S. Antarctic research center) in the footsteps of her relative and explorer Robert Falcon Scott. Notably, Seattle-based author Jennifer Longo wanted to be a ballerina until she finally had to admit that her talent for writing exceeded her talent for dance. Like me, she harbors an obsessive love of Antarctica. I admire the way she has woven these two themes together!

* * *

So, Displaced Nationers, what do you think? What are you looking forward to reading this year? Any much-anticipated displaced reads that should be added to my list?

As always, please let me or ML know if you have any suggestions for books you’d like to see reviewed here! And I urge you to sign up for the DISPLACED DISPATCH, which has at least one Recommended Read every week.

STAY TUNED for more fab posts!

Beth Green is an American writer living in Prague, Czech Republic. She grew up on a sailboat and, though now a landlubber, continues to lead a peripatetic life, having lived in Asia as well as Europe. Her personal Web site is Beth Green Writes. She has also launched the site Everyday Travel Stories. To keep in touch with her in between columns, try following her on Facebook and Twitter. She’s a social media nut!

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How to give Cupid’s Day an expat theme, whether you’re coupled up or not

Valentines Day 2016

Some expats may be glad they are living far away from home on Valentine’s Day: what a mushy holiday! Whereas others may be pining over love they’ve left behind…or haven’t yet found, but keep searching for, on their travels.

Now, I suspect that those in the first two categories equal or outnumber those who are enjoying new loves and ways of celebrating love! But no matter what category you are in, I hope I’ve got you covered with this list of ways to spend an expat-themed Cupid’s Day.

What to eat

Valentine’s Day is the perfect excuse to discover the aphrodisiac foods your new country offers. That’s how Displaced Nation founder Kate Allison saw it when she created this list of seven foods to seduce your valentine (or not), wherever your home and heart may be. The choices range from the predictable (oysters and chocolate) to the exotic: ever tried Coco de Mer?

Not in the mood? Join a party going out for a Chinese New Year’s feast. While there, reflect that this is the kind of meal that would be wasted on two people. Telegraph Travel has helpfully provided a list of where to celebrate in Chinatowns around the world.
oysters to chinese food

Where to go

Hey, you’re an overseas traveler, so what’s to stop you from booking a flight to one of the world’s most romantic destinations? A family of three who have traveled nonstop for a decade have narrowed the list of places with a certain je ne sais quoi to six.

Tahiti tops that family’s list, but if you’re someone who prefers urban beauty and sophistication, you might want to check out the world’s 50 most beautiful cities, as curated by two Condé Nast Traveler editors.

Or perhaps you’re envisioning a romantic drive to a picturesque small town, where you and your beloved can stroll hand in hand down the street and enjoy each other’s company at a leisurely pace? Smarter Travel offers a list of 10 such towns in North America, and Condé Nast Traveler has just published a list of the 10 most romantic small towns in Italy (the ultimate setting for romance, surely?).

Not in the mood? Try traveling solo. Fourteen editors at AFAR magazine recently collected their personal stories to argue that everyone, without exception, should travel abroad on their own, on the grounds that:

There is nothing quite as daunting or exhilarating as setting foot all alone in a place you’ve never been before.

lovey dovey to solo travel

What to read

This being a site for displaced creatives, I mustn’t neglect the romance that can be found in books, both fiction and non-, about overseas adventures. Expat author Tracy Slater has made it easy for me: she recently compiled a list of six romantic books with an expat theme in a post for WSJ Expat. She says her choices reflect love’s many moods: from sweet to sultry to bitter and beyond.

For “sweet” (and let’s keep it to sweet, since we’re celebrating Cupid’s Day), she suggests reading Where the Peacocks Sing: A Palace, a Prince, and the Search for Home, a memoir by Alison Singh Gee. It’s a modern-day fairy tale about how a Hong Kong-based journalist with a flair for fashion and a taste for high-born British men finds her prince, a humble foreign correspondent from India. She moves with him to the family “estate,” a crumbling palace in the Indian countryside, and all kinds of cross-cultural adventures ensue.

Not in the mood? Console yourself with the newly translated (from the French) How to Talk About Places You’ve Never Been, by Pierre Bayard, who is a French literature professor and psychoanalyst. Among other things, Bayard argues that the travel you do in your own mind is superior to any other and that all travel, really, is a search for self.
pro and no romance books

* * *

By the way, if none of the above appeals and you’re still feeling empty hearted, I suggest you study the results of the InterNations survey showing the top 10 places for expat romance.

According to the latest findings, you may want to move to the Philippines, Thailand, or Ecuador if the idea is to hook up with a local resident. Only promise me one thing: you’ll read my Cross-cultural marriage? 4 good reasons not to rush into it… post before you let the relationship get serious!

ML Awanohara, one of the Displaced Nation’s founders and its current editor, often composes pieces of this kind for the weekly Displaced Dispatch. Why not subscribe as a Valentine’s gift to yourself and/or encourage your beloved to do so as well?

STAY TUNED for more fab posts.

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Photo credits: All photos are from Pixabay.

LOCATION, LOCUTION: Pining for her native Emerald Isle, Sheila Bugler writes crime novels with Irish connections

Location Locution
Columnist Lorraine Mace, aka Frances di Plino, is back with her latest interview guest.

Part of being an Irish emigrant, whether in the UK or farther afield, is a nostalgia for the homeland and its green fields and rich, dark soil—as my guest this month, crime writer Sheila Bugler, will attest.

Sheila grew up in a small town in the west of Ireland. After studying psychology at University College Galway, she left her native land for a life abroad, working in Italy, Spain, Germany, Holland and Argentina. Today she lives with her husband and two children in Eastbourne, a seaside resort town on the south coast of England. Despite being settled in the UK, she pines for Ireland and describes herself as a “reluctant emigrant.”

Sheila Bugler Ireland England

What’s more, these intense feelings for the Emerald Isle are what fuels her creative efforts. Sheila is the author of an acclaimed mystery series published by Brandon Books, an imprint of Ireland’s O’Brien Press, consisting so far of three books of a planned six: Hunting Shadows (2013), The Waiting Game (2014), and All Things Nice (forthcoming, April 2016). The series features Detective Inspector Ellen Kelly, a character whose “Irish roots shine through,” as one Amazon reviewer puts it, and is set amongst the displaced Irish community in southeast London.

As Sheila remarked in an interview with Triskele Books:

I adore Ireland and miss it (despite being very happy in the UK). For me, writing really is a way of connecting with my country. I write Irish characters (not exclusively, of course) and it was always very important to me that Ellen’s roots were Irish. At the moment, I can’t imagine writing a novel that doesn’t have some connection to Ireland.

Her characters, too, are inspired by place: by the bleak wilderness of the North Kent coast. Perhaps they find it reminiscent of the bleak and beautiful Aran Islands off the coast of Galway?

But let’s not get too carried away. It’s time to give Sheila the floor and hear what she has to say about location, locution.

* * *

Welcome, Sheila, to Location, Locution. You have a strong sense of place in your writing, but tell us, which tends to come first, story or location?

Thank you for inviting me, Lorraine. In answer to your question: Story. But often there is a single image, in a particular place, which is the inspiration for that story.

What techniques do you use for evoking place in your crime stories?

I am quite an instinctive writer and try not to overthink the process as it happens. Of course, like all writers I have had to learn the basic techniques, but I don’t think you can force yourself to write in a particular way. Although location plays an important part in my novels, this isn’t a deliberate choice—it’s something that happens naturally as I write.

I like the way location can enhance a particular atmosphere you are trying to create. In my first two novels, Hunting Shadows and The Waiting Game, parts of each book are based in the beautiful, bleak Hoo Peninsula of north Kent.

In Hunting Shadows, this is the perfect location for one of the central characters, Brian. He is an isolated loner and the isolated landscape is a great way of showing how Brian lives his life. In contrast, there is a character in The Waiting Game who uses the Hoo’s wide open spaces and big skies as a backdrop to her work as an artist.

If I am struggling to create a sense of place, I will do some or all of the following:

  • Close my eyes and try to get a picture in my head.
  • Play some music that has a connection with the landscape I’m trying to evoke (for example, bluegrass when I’m writing about the Hoo, traditional Irish music when writing about the west of Ireland).
  • I wait until I can see the place, hear it, smell it, feel it.
  • And then I write it.

Sheila Bugler locations

Which particular features have you used to create a sense of what clearly is to you a special location? Landscape, culture, food?

Obviously it’s all of those things. However, you don’t need to use every one of them to evoke a sense of place.

The author JJ Marsh, for example, puts a lot of importance on food when she is writing about the different locations in her novels (I should add she doesn’t just write about food!).

The Irish noir writer Ken Bruen perfectly evokes the city of Galway[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galway] with almost no reference to the external landscape. Instead, he brings the city to perfect life through his characters’ voices and the internal spaces, particularly the pubs. Likewise, Ian Rankin manages to perfectly evoke his home city of Edinburgh without ever needing to give us “in your face” descriptions.

As in real life, your characters move through a rich world of noises, smells, colours, places and other people. If you don’t forget that when you are writing, then neither will your readers.

I’m pleased you mentioned JJ Marsh. She was the original creator of this column! But returning to your own works: can you give a brief example from your writing that illustrates place?

I’m going to share two different examples.

First, a short scene from my novel, Hunting Shadows. In this scene, I tried to give an impression of the location through the reactions of the two characters:

Ellen stepped out of the car and looked around. The place reminded her of the black-and-white photos in her parents’ house of old Irish towns. It gave her that same feeling that she was observing somewhere from a time long past. Apart from a scattering of houses—a mixture of semi-derelict Victorian cottages and cheap, flat-roofed eyesores—there was nothing else.

From where she stood, the landscape sloped down to the Thames marshes, bleak and desolate under the heavy sky.

“Listen,” Dai whispered.

Ellen frowned. “What? I can’t hear anything.”

“Duelling banjos,” he said. “I knew it. “Deliverance” country. We’re not safe in a place like this.”

ThamesMarshes_quote
And here is a very different piece from a stand-alone novel I am working on called Walk Away. I don’t normally write this descriptively but my own love for this part of Ireland obviously influenced me:

The town was on the southern edge of Galway Bay, the hills of the Burren sloping up behind it, the vast sweep of the Atlantic Ocean stretching out in front of it. Next stop America. It was beautiful. He knew that. Probably always had.

Sydney was home these days. A modern, open-plan apartment with muted colours, floor to ceiling windows and views across Sydney Harbour. All very tasteful and perfect for a shit-hot, sharp-dressing, arse-kicking, wheeling-and-dealing corporate lawyer.

But this, he had forgotten. The way the limestone landscape seemed to move as the light reflected off it. Changing colour all the time from purple to pale pink to grey and back to purple again, in harmony and contrast with the sea.

The_Burren_in_the_evening_sun_515x_quote

How well do you need to know a place before using it as a setting?

If you are using a real location as a setting, you need to know enough about it so it seems real to your reader. In today’s world, there is no excuse not to do this. We all have access to the internet and Google maps. If you haven’t visited a place, do some basic research and make sure you include this in your novel. Using a real pub, for example, instead of making one up can really add to the sense of authenticity.

I once read a crime novel set in Lewisham (where I was living at the time). In one scene, a character is walking down Lewisham High Street and bemoaning the lack of a Marks and Spencer’s. We have M&S in Lewisham! This—and other aspects of the novel—made it clear to me the writer had never been to Lewisham and didn’t know anything about the place he was writing about.

Of course, we can also write about fictional locations. If you do that, your own sense of the place needs to be well-formed before you write about it. The important thing is this: whatever location you choose, it must feel authentic for the story you are writing.

Which writers do you admire for the way they use location?

JJ Marsh writes beautifully in her European crime series featuring Beatrice Stubbs. Similarly, Gilly Hamer writes wonderful descriptions of the stunning Anglesea coastline where her novels are set.

For many reasons, I hold Ken Bruen up as a master when it comes to using location in his novels. He perfectly evokes Galway city, capturing not only its beauty but also the voices and characters of the people who live in that very special place. He is my absolute writing hero.

Bulger fave authors

Thanks so much, Sheila!

* * *

Readers, any questions for Sheila Bugler? Please leave them in the comments below.

And if you’d like to discover more about Sheila, why not visit her author site. You can also follow her on twitter.

Until next month!

Lorraine Mace writes for children with the Vlad the Inhaler books. As Frances di Plino, she writes crime in the D.I. Paolo Storey series. She is a columnist for both of the UK’s top writing magazines, has founded international writing competitions and runs a writing critique service, mentoring authors on three continents.

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Photo credits: Top of page: The World Book (1920), by Eric Fischer via Flickr; “Writing? Yeah.” by Caleb Roenigk via Flickr (both CC BY 2.0). First collage: Sheila Bugler (supplied); County Galway, Eastbourne Pier & shamrock via Pixabay. Second collage: Book cover art; The Tir Na Nog Irish Pub, Wandsworth – London, by Jim Linwood (CC BY 2.0); All Hallows Marshes, Hoo, Kent, by Amanda Slater via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0). First quote: Hang on, is that grass over there?, by Andrew Bowden (CC BY-SA 2.0). Second quote: Burren landscape in the evening sun, by YvonneM via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0). Favorite books collage: Cover art; Blitz Movie Poster via Wikimedia Commons.

TCK TALENT: Sezín Koehler, multimedia artist, tatoo collector, editor and prodigious writer

Columnist Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang starts off 2016 with a guest who has been to the Displaced Nation before, albeit in different guises: as Alice, as film critic, as featured novelist, as repatriate…though never as a TCK Talent.

Happy 2016, readers! I hope your January has been splendid thus far. Today’s interviewee is writer, editor, tattoo collector, and Huffington Post contributor Sezín Koehler, who also calls herself Zuzu (a nickname she picked up when living in Prague). Sezín may already be familiar to some Displaced Nation readers as an early contributor, including a two-part series listing films that depict the horrors of being abroad, or otherwise displaced; a much-commented upon post called “The Accidental Repatriate”; and an Alice-in-Wonderland-themed post on her life in Prague (that was after she had received one of the Displaced Nation’s very first “Alice” awards).

But what some of you may not know is that Sezín is a Third Culture Kid. She was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka, to a Sri Lankan dad and Lithuanian-American mom. Her mom’s job with UNICEF moved the family from Sri Lanka to Zambia, Thailand, Pakistan, and India.

Sezín went to college in California—and then returned to her family, who were living in Switzerland and then in France (the move again being due to her mom’s job).

Next Sezín moved alone to Spain, where she met her husband, who is American. After living as expats in Turkey, Czech Republic, and Germany, the couple now call Lighthouse Point, Florida, home.

* * *

Welcome, Sezín. What a truly peripatetic life you’ve had! What made you decide to “repatriate” to the USA and come to Lighthouse Point? 
This area is where my husband grew up and has family, although his family moved further north just this year. Economics and a series of unfortunate events are what brought me back to the US—my husband and I returned with literally 15 euros between us.

Sounds like a tough reentry. While living as a nomad can also be tough, were you happiest in a certain place?
That’s a surprisingly difficult question! There was a lot of conflict in my family when I was growing up because of the tension between my American mum and conservative Sri Lankan dad—and all the cultural, social, etc., issues that come with having a multicultural and multiracial family before that became something of the norm. Plus, moving all the time was not a lifestyle that worked for me, and it created uncomfortable cycles of depression that were then compounded by having post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after witnessing the murder of one of my best friends in our final year of university. The repatriation to Florida was one of the more miserable moves—especially since I had never planned to move back to the United States until they sort out more effective gun-control laws.

That sounds terribly painful. How have you coped since your return to the US?
My first two years back made me completely despondent, and then one day I just decided to make the best of the situation. It was time to choose happiness; otherwise I wasn’t going to survive. So now every day I wake up and I find something—big or small—to be happy about and I focus on that for the day. In that sense, and in a strange reversal, I suppose Florida is where I find myself happiest because this is where I learned that happiness isn’t something that happens to me passively because life is perfect. Happiness is a daily choice. And I actively make the choice to be happy however difficult my surroundings.

“That feeling of being an outsider never quite leaves you…”

Do you identify most with a particular culture or cultures, including the very broad “TCK culture”? 
You know, I think I identify with aspects of pretty much every culture under the sun—even ones where I didn’t actually live or visit. Being highly sensitive, coupled with having a TCK upbringing, has made it so I can identify with just about anyone who isn’t a bigot or misogynist, even if our backgrounds are nothing alike. I do find myself particularly drawn to other TCKs because, even if we didn’t live in the same places, there is something about the “universal” TCK personality that resonates with me, and it’s far easier to start on the same page rather than having to work hard to build bridges of understanding between myself and people who haven’t traveled or grown up abroad. I also find that many TCKs understand that just because growing up abroad sounds exciting, it might not have actually felt that way when we were getting yanked from place to place, leaving friends and family behind in those pre-social-media Dark Ages.

Did your TCK upbringing inform your career path as a writer?
To be honest, with all the moving around plus PTSD, it’s been hard to develop a career track other than writing. Being a writer means you take your passion with you wherever you go, and no matter where you are, there is always something new to write about. Writing has been my longest-standing support system and therapy through the variety of traumas that ended up shaping my life, and any day now I hope I’ll start being able to make a living doing it. 🙂

Did growing up as a TCK also influence your career as an editor?
As an editor I focus on academic writing by non-native English speakers, and having lived in so many places has definitely helped me understand all the different (incorrect) ways people use English and help them to get published in English-language publications where English fluency is a requirement.

“As a Third Culture Kid, I always related with monsters more than ‘norms.'”

Tell us about your tattoo collection. Any TCK connections there?
Other than my husband, tattoos are one of the great loves of my life. Tattoos for me have been a way to not just express myself creatively, but have also been a way to re-claim my own body after so many traumas. I have a hybrid identity that I often express in fantastical ways. Sometimes when people ask me where I’m from and I don’t feel like having an intimate conversation about my life I’ll say I’m a mermaid and I’m visiting from the ocean. I have a huge jellyfish on my right thigh and I say, “Meet my pet jelly.” Now that my hair is in a pixie cut, I might introduce myself as a fairy and since I actually have tattooed wings on my shoulders as well as often literally leaving a trail of glitter in my wake, I find it easier than getting into my TCK identity—especially when the person I’m talking to might have never left this corner of Florida.

Keep Calm & Be a Mermaid

So in a way, the tattoos serve as both explanation and protection.
For my entire life I’ve operated under an assumption of otherness—when I’m in the US people ask me where I’m from, and when I’m in Sri Lanka people ask me where I’m from. Being mixed race can be really complicated—and I get a lot of aggression from strangers who try to figure out “what” I am. In a way tattoos are a shield between me and curious eyes, as is much of my performance-of-the-fantastical-self art and being.

Have any of these careers/interests helped you to process your nomadic upbringing?
Writing, definitely! Writing has been my most effective and longest-standing therapeutic tool. Not just my non-fiction, but also my short stories and my novels have most certainly helped me situate my cultural self in lots of different ways that have been helpful and healing. As a writer I’m also an avid reader, and reading is another huge help in figuring out where my strange background and I fit in the grander scheme of culture and society.

“I revel in my boundaryless self…”

As an ATCK, do you have “itchy feet,” or would you prefer to have a home base and only travel for pleasure?
I have always hated moving and I might be the only TCK to say I have never had itchy feet. Ever since I was a little girl all I wanted was to stay in one place and even now at 36 I feel that way. But because of how I grew up moving around, I’ve also come to a point where everywhere seems pretty much the same—I always see the same kinds of people in disparate places, it’s weird—and yet nowhere ever feels like home. So now my concept of home has shifted and simply means being somewhere with people I love.

Moving is one thing, but how do you feel about traveling in general, including for pleasure?
After a lifetime spent on airplanes and traveling, I absolutely hate traveling now. I have crippling aerophobia, and if I’m forced to travel somewhere by plane, everything about the experience is miserable and I end up getting really ill before, during, and after. I find going to new places more stressful than enjoyable. My dream is one day to have a house with a beautiful view and some rescue dogs and never go anywhere ever again. Except through books, of course.

Speaking of books, you published your first novel, American Monsters, four years ago, and I understand the sequel has just come out!
Yes indeed! My second novel, Crime Rave, came out in October 2015, and I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder of one of my creations in my life. Going back to your question about how being a TCK has shaped my writing, this book is a perfect example. The story itself defies genres—it has crime noir, supernatural, horror, and feminist themes just to name a few—and most of my characters are either mixed race or people of color who are not only TCKs themselves or ethno-cultural hybrids, but they’ve all gone through traumas that resulted in superpowers. If there was a label of Third Culture Fiction, my book would totally fit the bill.

The number of novels you have in progress, on top of what you’ve had published, is wildly impressive! Please tell us about them.
Thank you so much, Lisa. I’m currently working on my third, fourth, fifth, and potentially sixth novels—the third is a zombie tale set in Prague, the fourth will find recurring Crime Rave characters on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, Lighthouse Terror will be a grindhouse horror novel set in a gated community in southeast Florida, and finally I’m toying with the idea of an entire novel about Marilyn Monroe.

Yes, I know you are a big Marilyn fan. I believe she makes an appearance in Crime Rave?
Yes, in Crime Rave she not only lives but has a daughter.
Crime Rave Marilyn
What else are you working on?
As a HuffPost freelancer I’m working on a number of pieces featuring interviews with some badass individuals—authors, activists, artists, scientists, and more. I’m also in the process of starting my own publishing label that will focus on works by women and other marginalized writers who create genre-bending works in which women play all the major roles.

You’re so prodigious!
The one benefit of being an accidental shut-in who works from home here in Lighthouse Point is that I have nothing but time to work on all the creative projects I want, which is another dream come true.

Where can we find your work and follow your progress?
At sezin.org, my HuffPost column, my American Monsters site, and sezinkoehler.com. I’ve also recently revamped my Etsy store, Zuzu Art, with its gallery of sparkly-strange multimedia Alice in Wonderland and Frida Kahlo-inspired pieces. I have a Tumblr cabinet of curiosities called Hybrid/Monster that I continue to update with oddities of the visual nature, and I am rather fond of my Instagram account, where I post pics of my own art, my performance art, and snapshots of life in the tropics. Whew! I didn’t realize how much I produce online until this very moment.

* * *

Thank you so much, Sezín! I’m inspired to know that your artistic path has led to your healing, and that you’ve found daily happiness since the painful reentry to the United States. Congratulations on your many creative, career, and personal accomplishments! Readers, please leave questions or comments for Sezín below.

Editor’s note: All photos are from Koehler’s Hybrid Monsters site (apart from her book cover and the photo of one of her Etsy works) or from Pixabay. The quotes are from her “About the Curatrix” page.

Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang is a prime example of what she writes about in this column: an Adult Third Culture working in a creative field. A Guatemalan-American of Chinese-Spanish-Irish-French-German-English descent, she is an actor, writer, and producer who created the solo show Alien Citizen: an earth odyssey, which has been touring internationally. And now she is working on another show, which we hope to hear more about soon! To keep up with Lisa’s progress in between her columns, be sure to visit her blog, Suitcasefactory. You can also follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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