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LOCATION, LOCUTION: An expat life in Istanbul frees Oliver Tidy to write crime novels set in places he knows well (and Turkey, too!)

Location Locution
Columnist Lorraine Mace, aka Frances di Plino, is back with her second interview guest: fellow crime writer Oliver Tidy.

Hello, readers. My guest this month is Oliver Tidy, who on his author site refers to himself as a “semi-professional fantasist” and an “attention seeking vanity publisher” who is “living in exile.”

He also says he has a “yearning for yarning”—so how much of this is true and how much an exaggeration?

Well, it’s patently true he is a self-published author, currently with nine books available for download through Amazon:

  • four in his Romney and Marsh Files British police procedural series. Newly promoted Detective Sergeant Joy Marsh is shipped out to Dover on the Kent coast to work under Detective Inspector Romney, a cantankerous copper who nevertheless is good at his job…
  • three in his Acer Sansom thriller series. British soldier Acer Sansom resurfaces a year after the world thought he was dead, possessed with a single-minded need for vengeance…
  • two in his Booker & Cash mystery story series. An unlikely detective team, David Booker and Jo Cash, solve mysteries in Romney Marsh, a wetland area in southeast England…

As for the “exile” part, Oliver tells me he left the UK in 2009 looking for change and ended up in Istanbul, where he “got change in spades.”

He is currently working in a Turkish school teaching English as a foreign language to young learners. It’s a job that affords him enough time for writing, something he deeply appreciates:

When I lived in the UK, I tried a couple of times to write, but with the responsibility of property and family and work, and the distractions of television and radio and newspapers and people I never got anywhere with it. One of the many things that I have learned about writing is that you have to sit down and write—often.

Now that he lives in Istanbul, Turkey, Oliver Tidy is able to write stories set in his homeland, the most recent one being He Made Me. Photo credits: (clockwise) Oliver Tidy (supplied) and book cover art; St Thomas Becket, Fairfield, Kent, by Amanda Slater via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Living in Istanbul, Turkey, Oliver Tidy has been able to write books set in the place where he was born and bred, the most recent one being He Made Me, which takes place in Romney Marsh, UK. Photo credits: (clockwise) Oliver Tidy (supplied) and book cover art; St Thomas Becket, Fairfield, Kent, by Amanda Slater via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

As for the vanity publishing, Oliver also confesses he initially tried to get a literary agent because he never wanted to self-publish, believing that self-publishing was tainted with shades of ego-tripping.

“How wrong I was,” he said. “How wonderful and liberating self-publishing truly is. If I had not taken the step to self-publish, my readership would still be limited to my mum and me—and I’m sure that mum skim-reads most of my stuff.”

Judging by the Amazon reviews he receives, his audience extends far beyond his mum—and what his fans seem to love the most about his writing is its “local colour,” “sense of place,” and “wonderful descriptions of settings.”

Let’s find out how he does it, shall we?

* * *

Which comes first, story or location?

Why does this make me think of chickens and eggs? Such a hard opening question. I hope they’re not all going to be like this. I much prefer questions about my favourite things: raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, that sort of thing.

Anyway, here goes. As you mentioned in you kind introduction, I write three different series of books: one is set in Dover, Kent—The Romney and Marsh Files; one is set on Romney Marsh—Booker & Cash Stories; and one where, in three books so far, my central protagonist has shot up several different countries on a variety of continents—the Acer Sansom novels. (Acer is a great advert for Brits abroad. Bit of a one-man stag party.)

With the Romney and Marsh Files, story and location had an equal weighting in development. With the Booker and Cash stories it was certainly location first—I am Romney Marsh born and bred. As for the Acer Sansom novels, the first, Dirty Business, involved him visiting Istanbul, a city that I’d been living in for about a year. Acer went from Istanbul to Bodrum, a seaside resort town in Turkey that I’d spent the summer in. That book was definitely heavily influenced by my geographical experiences. The subsequent two books were predominantly plot led.

What’s your technique for evoking the atmosphere of a place?

Tumble weed moment. In six years of writing I’m yet to experience writer’s block…until now. Give me a minute. I’ll come back to this one at the end. (I came back to it at the end and I still couldn’t answer it. Sorry.)

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

These questions are providing an opportunity to really reflect on my writing—something I’m feeling I don’t do enough of.

I don’t write much about what my characters eat. I write a little more than nothing on the cultures of my settings. Physical geography features more than either of the other two in all of my series. As far as my globe-trotting Acer Sansom novels go, after the first book—where I did have experience of the locations involved—I have to say a massive thank you to the Internet, especially Google maps, Google earth, Google street view. Maybe I should just say thanks Google. I’ve also obtained good insight from some travel blogs. Some of those are a wonderful resource for armchair writers.

Can you give a brief example of your work which illustrates place?

I’ll use a short passage from the first Acer Sansom novel. One of my characters has driven from Istanbul to Bodrum.

Oliver Tidy’s first Acer Sansom thriller, Dirty Business, is set partly in Bodrum, Turkey, where he lived for a year. Photo credit: Cover art; The best place to live! by Tuncay Coşkun via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Before long the vista opened up before her. As she sometimes had in the years that she had driven to Bodrum, she pulled into a loose gravel pocket at the side of the road and got out of the car.

From her lofty vantage point high up in the hills that embraced the area, she was able to look down at the sprawling panorama of the holiday capital of Turkey. Little enclaves of white boxes, taking advantage of the best geography, were packed so tightly together in places that they might have been one huge solid mass of concrete.

The steep hills that backed these separate little communities demonstrated both the developers’ greed and the sun-seekers’ need for yet more building as newer communities sprang up, patching the arid landscape white like some poorly-designed chess board.

At this time of year Bodrum would be heaving not just with the Turks who could afford to escape the suffocating heat and humidity of the bigger cities but also thousands of holidaymakers of all ages and nationalities.

Once, she thought, the place must have looked like paradise from where she stood—before Man’s concrete assault paradoxically began the ruination of the very environment that made him invest in the area. Would it always be only a matter of time and money before the need to develop areas of outstanding natural beauty outstripped Man’s admiration for them? Thank goodness there were still some idyllic pockets of the area where the authorities had elected to cease development. She felt grateful, if a little hypocritical, that her family owned a villa in one of them.

Her gaze took in the superb sweep of the Aegean, glistening in the early morning light, stretching out towards Greek territory; the differing hues of green and blue combined to create the most inviting scene. She tried to make out details of the ships anchored across the bay but was too far away.

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

Having lived on Romney Marsh for over forty years has made the two stories—the third is under construction—in my Booker & Cash series much easier in the penning-the-setting stakes. My memories of the place are vivid and unshakeable and I return there for a few weeks each year in the summer which allows me to top them up.

I know Dover fairly well, having spent a lot of time there a few years ago. When I return to the UK I like to jump on the bus from my home on Romney Marsh to Dover for the day just to refresh my memory and see what’s new.

Cover art of Rope Enough, first in police procedural series set in Dover; Dover Castle, by Andrew and Annemarie (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Cover art for Rope Enough, first in Tidy’s “Romney and Marsh File” police procedural series set in Dover; Dover Castle, by Andrew and Annemarie (CC BY-SA 2.0).

As I mentioned, in the first Acer Sansom book I used Istanbul and Bodrum for my exotic locations—two places that I felt I had enough experience of to write convincingly about them. Most of Acer’s locations in the subsequent two books I have never visited. I’m always waiting to be taken to task by readers who have personal and insightful experiences of the places I’ve depicted. What can you do sometimes? You need to write about somewhere you’ve never been. You log on, do some research and then your best.

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

CJ Sansom for the way he portrays London in Tudor times; Michael Dibdin and Andrea Camilleri for their descriptions of Italy, and the unbeatable Patrick O’Brian for his depictions of any location, be it land or sea, that he touches upon in any of his Aubrey/Maturin novels. What a writer.

A few of Tidy's favorite authors, who know how to handle "location, locution."

A few of Tidy’s favorite authors, who have demonstrated a mastery of “location, locution.”

Thanks so much, Oliver!

* * *

Readers, any questions for the jolly Oliver Tidy? Please leave them in the comments below.

And if you’d like to discover more about Oliver Tidy, why not pay a visit to his author site. You can also follow him on twitter at @olivertidy.

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.

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).

 

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CLEOPATRA FOR A DAY: Fashion & beauty diary of former expat Anastasia Ashman

Continuing our feature, “Cleopatra for a Day,” we turn to Anastasia Ashman, an American whose love of the exotic led her to Southeast Asia (Malaysia) and Istanbul, Turkey to live (she also found a Turkish husband en route!). Having just moved back home to California, Ashman opens her little black book and spills the fashion and beauty secrets she has collected over three decades of pursuing a nomadic life.

BEAUTY STAPLES

Like Cleopatra, I’m into medicinal unguents and aromatic oils. My staples are lavender and tea tree oil for the tropical face rot you can get in hot, humid places — and for all other kinds of skin complaints, stress, headaches, jet lag, you name it — and Argan oil for skin dryness. I take them everywhere. I also spray lavender and sandalwood on my sheets.

When living in Southeast Asia I liked nutmeg oil to ward off mosquitoes. (I know that’s not beauty per se but bug-bitten is not an attractive look, and it’s just so heavenly smelling too, I suppose you can slather it on your legs and arms for no reason at all.)

I didn’t even have to go to Africa to become dependent on shea butter for lips and hands, and I like a big block of cocoa butter from the Egyptian Bazaar in Istanbul for après sun and gym smoothing — less greasy than shea butter, which I usually use at night.

I’m not really into branded products. When you move around it’s hard to keep stocking your favorite products and I find companies are always discontinuing the things I like so I’ve become mostly brand agnostic.

I just moved from Istanbul to San Francisco, and I got rid of almost everything I owned so I’m seeing what basics I can live with. Because to me, basics that do a wonderful, multifaceted job are the definition of luxury. You’ve got to figure out what those basics are for you.

Oh, and when I am in Paris, I buy perfume. Loved this tiny place in Le Marais that created scents from the plants on the island of Sardinia. And wouldn’t you know it, the second time I went they’d gone out of business. Crushing.

My favorite perfume maker in Paris at the moment — very intriguing perspective, lots of peppery notes and almost nicotiney pungencies — is L’Artisan Parfumeur. I’ve got my eye on their Fou d’Absinthe.

In another life, past or present, I know I was involved with perfume…

BEAUTY TREATMENTS

Believe Cleopatra would drink them dissolved in vinegar? In Malaysia I used to get capsules of crushed pearls from a Chinese herbalist down the street from my house — apparently they’re good for a creamy-textured skin.

I’ll take a facial in any country. I like Balinese aromatic oil massages when I can get them, too, and will take a bath filled with flowers if I’ve got a view of the jungle. Haven’t yet had my chance to do a buttermilk bath. I also do mud baths and hot springs where ever they’re offered, in volcanic areas of the world.

Another indispensable: the Turkish hamam. It’s really great for detoxification, relaxation and exfoliation. When living in Istanbul, I’d go at least once a season, and more often in the summer. It’s great to do with a clutch of friends. You draw out the poaching experience by socializing in the steamy room on heated marble benches, and take turns having your kese (scrub down) with a rough goat-hair mitt. You hire a woman who specializes in these scrubs, and then she massages you with a soapy air-filled cotton bag, and rinses you off like a mother cat washes her kitten.

Soap gets in the eyes, yes.

I own all the implements now, including hand-crocheted washcloths made with silverized cotton, knitted mitts, oil and laurel oil soaps, copper hamam bowls (for rinsing), linen pestemal (wraps or towels), and round pumice stones. (For haman supplies, try Dervis.com.)

DENTAL CARE

I’ve had dental work done in Malaysia and Turkey and was very satisfied with the level of care and the quality and modernity of the equipment and techniques. I got used to state-of-the-science under-the-gum-line laser cleanings in Malaysia (where my Taiwanese dentist was also an acupuncturist) and worry now that I am back to regular old ineffective cleanings. I’ve had horrific experiences in New York, by the way, so don’t see the USA as a place with better oral care standards.

In general, I like overkill when it comes to my teeth. I’ll see oral surgeons rather than dentists, and have my cleanings from dentists rather than oral hygienists.

ENHANCEMENTS

Turkey apparently has a lot of plastic surgery, as well as Lasik eye surgery. One thing to consider about cosmetic procedures is the local aesthetic and if it’s right for you. I didn’t appreciate the robot-like style of eyebrow shaping in Istanbul (with a squared-off center edge) — so I’d be extra wary of anything permanent!

HAIR

I’ve dyed my hair many colors — from black cherry in Asia to red to blonde in Turkey — and had it styled into ringlets and piled up like a princess and blown straight like an Afghan hound. That last one doesn’t work with my fine hair, and doing this style before an event on the Bosphorus would make it spring into a cotton candy-like formation before I’d had my first hors d’oeuvre.

I’ve had my hair cut by people who don’t know at all how to handle curly hair. That’s pretty daring.

I looked like a fluff ball for most of my time in Asia, because I tried to solve the heat and humidity problem with short hair and got tired of loading it up with products meant for thick straight Asian hair.

Now that I’ve relocated to San Francisco (which, even though it’s close to my hometown of Berkeley where I haven’t lived in 30 years, I still consider “a foreign country”), I’m having my hair cut by a gardener, who trims it dry, like a hedge. Having my hair cut by an untrained person with whatever scissors he can find is also pretty daring!

FASHION

On the fashion front, I have an addiction to pashmina-like shawls from Koza Han, the silk market in Bursa, the old capital of the Ottoman empire and a Silk Road stop. I can keep wearing them for years.

I also have a small collection of custom-made silk kebayas from Malaysia, the long, fitted jacket over a long sarong skirt on brightly hand-drawn and printed batik, which I pull out when I have to go to a State dinner and the dress code is formal/national dress. (It’s only happened once, at Malacañan Palace, in Manila!)

I have one very tightly fitting kebaya jacket that is laser-cut velvet in a midnight blue which I do not wear enough. Thanks for reminding me. I may have to take out the too-stiff shoulder pads.

LINGERIE

I like state-of-the-art stuff that does more than one thing at once and find most places sell very backward underthings that are more about how they look than how they fit, feel, or perform. Nonsense padded bras, bumpy lace, and stuff that is low on performance and high on things I don’t care about.

I got an exercise racerback bra at a Turkish shop and had to throw it away it was so scratchy and poorly performing. No wicking of sweat, no staying put, no motion control. But it had silver glittery thread — and (unnecessary) padding!

JEWELRY

I like most of the jewelry I’ve acquired abroad and am grateful to receive it as gifts, too. All of my pieces have some kind of story — and some attitude, too.

From Turkey: Evil-eye nazar boncuğu pieces in glass and porcelain; silk-stuffed caftan pendants from the Istanbul designer Shibu; Ottoman-style enameled pieces; and an opalized Hand of Fatima on an impossibly fine gold chain. This last piece is what all the stylish women in Istanbul are wearing at the moment.

From China: White pearls from Beijing, pink from Shanghai and purple from Shenyang.

From Malaysia: I got an tiny tin ingot in the shape of a turtle in Malacca, which I was told once served as currency in the Chinese community. I had it mounted in a gold setting and wear it from a thick satin choker.

From Holland: A recent acquisition from Amsterdam are gold and silver leather Lapland bracelets with hand-twinned pewter and silver thread and reindeer horn closures. They’re exquisite and rugged at the same time.

WEARING RIGHT NOW

Today’s a rainy day of errands so I’m wearing a fluffy, black cowl-necked sweater with exaggerated sleeves, brown heathered slacks, and black ankle boots. They’re all from New York, which is where I’ve done the most shopping in recent years.

My earrings are diamond and platinum pendants from Chicago in the 1940s, a gift from my grandmother.

I’ve also got on my platinum wedding and engagement rings. They’re from Mimi So in New York.

DAILY FASHION FIXES

I liked FashionTV in Turkey, which was owned by Demet Sabanci Cetindogan, the businesswoman who sponsored my Expat Harem book tour across America in 2006.

The segment of Turkish society interested in fashion is very fashion forward. I enjoyed being able to watch the runway shows and catch interviews with the designers.

If I could draw and sew I’d make all my own clothes but I am weak in these areas. In another life, when I get a thicker skin for the fashion world’s unpleasantries, I’ll devote myself to learning these things and have a career in fashion design.

STREET STYLE

In Istanbul, Nişantaşi is somewhere you’d see some real fashion victims limping along in their heels on the cobblestones and Istiklal Caddesi, the pedestrian boulevard in Beyoğlu, would be a place to see a million different looks from grungy college kids to young men on the prowl, with their too-long, pointy-toed shoes.

TOP BEAUTY/STYLE LESSONS FROM TRAVELS

In fact, I’m still assimilating everything — and everywhere — I’ve experienced in terms of fashion and beauty, but here are a few thoughts:

1) Layering: I learned from Turkish women to layer your jewelry and wear a ton of things at the same time. Coco Chanel would have a heart attack! But the idea is not to wear earrings, necklace, bracelet and rings all at once, but lots of necklaces or lots of bracelets or lots of rings at the same time.

2) Jewelry as beach accessory: During the summer Turkish wear lots of ropy beaded things on their wrists during a day at the beach — nothing too valuable (it’s the beach!) but attractive nonetheless. Jewelry stands feeding this seasonal obsession crop up at all the fashionable beach spots. Dangly charms and evil eyes and little golden figures on leather and paper ropes.

3) A little bling never hurts: I’ve also been influenced by the flashiness of Turkish culture, and actually own a BCBG track suit with sequined logos on it. This is the kind of thing my Turkish family and I would all wear on a plane or road trip. Comfortable and sporty, but not entirely unaware of being in public (and not at the gym). Coming from dressed-down Northern California, it was difficult to get used to being surrounded by glitzy branded tennis shoes and people wearing watches as jewelry, but I hope I’ve been able to take some of the better innovations away with me. I know I’m more likely to wear a glittery eye shadow now that I’ve lived in the Near East.

4) The need for sun protection: It was a shock to go from bronzed Los Angeles to can’t-get-any-paler Asia and then to the bronzed Mediterranean. In Asia I arrived with sun damage and then had lots of people helping me to fix it — I even used a parasol there. Then in Turkey everyone thought I was inexplicably pale and I let my sun protection regimen slip a bit. I’m back on the daily sunblock.

5) What colors to wear: I also used to get whiplash from trips back and forth between California and Southeast Asia in terms of color in clothing. In Malaysia the colors were vivid jewel tones — for the Malays and the Tamils especially. The louder the print, the better. Around the same time I was living in that part of the world, I witnessed a scuffle between shoppers at C.P. Shades in my hometown Berkeley, fighting over velvet granny skirts in moss, and mildew and wet cement colors. That kind of disconnect wreaks havoc on your wardrobe, and your sense of what looks good. Right now I’m trying to incorporate bright colors into my neutral urges. I’m still working it out.

Anastasia Ashman is founder of GlobalNiche.net, a work-life initiative for cultural creatives and mobile progressives that she calls “creative self enterprise for the global soul.” (Global Niche recently held a Webinar “Dressing the Inner You,” featuring psychologist and author Jennifer Baumgartner talking about the cultural displacement that shows up in one’s dressing style.) A Californian with 14 years of expatriatism under her belt, Ashman was the director of the online neoculture discussion community expat+HAREM and coeditor of the critically- and popularly-acclaimed expat lit collection that inspired this community, Tales from the Expat Harem: Foreign Women in Modern Turkey. Catch her tweeting on Pacific Standard Time at @AnastasiaAshman.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, a contrarian perspective by Anthony Windram on this month’s fashion and beauty conversation.

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

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Images: (clockwise beginning with top left): Anastasia Ashman holding her own with the ever-glamorous Princess Michael of Kent, in Turkey; with her sister Monika, rocking the traditional Turkish Telkari silver jewelry, Anatolian shawl and requisite deep Bodrum tan; displaying her hamam collection — including traditional silver hamam bowl and hand-loomed linen pestemal towels; and sporting ringleted hair (along with some fashion flair!) at the Istanbul launch of Tales from the Expat Harem.

12 NOMADS OF CHRISTMAS: David Hagerman, American expat in Malaysia (11/12)

Current home: Penang, Malaysia
Past overseas locations: Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City), Thailand (Bangkok), Malaysia once before (Kuala Lumpur), Hong Kong, China (Shanghai, Chengdu), Philippines (Los Baños)
Cyberspace coordinates: David Hagerman Photography (business site), SkyBlueSky (blog) and @DaveHagerman (Twitter handle)
Recent posts: “My Date with the Bachelorette” (December 17, 2011); “Day Dreaming” [includes a work-in-progress: “The Ferry Boats of Istanbul”] (November 29, 2011)

Where are you spending the holidays this year?
Chiang Mai, on assignment.

What will you do when you first arrive?
I’ll be scoping out shots as soon as I drop my bags.

What do you most like doing during the holidays?
Eating. My wife, Robyn Eckhardt, is a great cook and she always makes something a bit special, if not necessarily traditional, around Christmas and New Year. (She writes about food and food culture, and has a food blog, EatingAsia, for which I take the photos.) For example, she might make devil’s curry, or curry debal, which is part of the Eurasian Kristang cuisine of Singapore and Malaysia, and is often served during Christmas.

Will you be on or offline?
This year I will be working during the holidays. I’m shooting a hotel in Penang and a travel story in northern Thailand with edits in between. I’ll need to be online for most of that time to send images and file the story.

Are you sending any cards?
I’ll admit that I’m terrible about mailers, promotional and personal. Getting better about doing that is a New Year’s resolution.

Can you recommend any good films or books other expats or “internationals” might enjoy?
The BBC mini-series Michael Palin: Himalaya. Palin has a wonderful way of having fun with a place without making fun of a place. I like it when an actor or a writer can transport you to a place and have you meet the people while not making themselves the center of attention in the narrative.

If you could travel anywhere for the holidays, where would it be?
Turkey. I’ve been three times in the past 18 months and it’s become a bit of an obsession.

What famous person do you think it would be fun to spend the holidays with?
The Ventures‘ guitarist, Nokie Edwards. His version of “Frosty the Snowman” is a reason to listen to Christmas music, and if I could talk him into playing “Telstar” as the ball drops on New Year’s Eve then I’d be a pretty happy guy.

What’s been your most displaced holiday experience?
Christmas in Southeast Asia always feels wrong to me. Too much heat, too much sun, too much Christmas for the sake of nothing but shopping. Except for the Philippines. Filipinos know how to do Christmas better than any people I know.

How about the least displaced experience — when you’ve felt the true joy of the season?
In rural northern Italy, where I’ve spent three Christmases, the holiday felt just as it should: a time for eating and drinking and being together with family and friends. The consumerist frenzy was minimal, and everyone was in a great mood, showing kindness to each other and to me. Even on Christmas Eve, when everyone was out food shopping, there was no pushing, no rudeness, no impatience. I’d like to be in Italy again for the holidays.

How do you feel when the holidays are over?
Robyn and I don’t make a big deal of Christmas or New Year’s, so January 2nd feels pretty much like any other day.

On the first day of Christmas, my true love said to me:
ELEVEN CAMERAS CLICKING,
TEN SPROUTS A-BRUSSELING,
NINE CELLPHONES DANCING,
EIGHT WHOOPHIS WHOOPING,
SEVEN SKIERS A-PARTYING,
SIX SPOUSES TRAILING,
FIVE GOOOOOOOFY EXPATS.
FOUR ENGLISH CHEESES,
THREE DECENT WHISKIES,
TWO CANDY BOXES,
& AN IRISHMAN IN A PALM TREE!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s featured nomad, the last (12/12) in our 12 Nomads of Christmas series.

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

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