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Tag Archives: Switzerland

EXPAT ART AS THERAPY: A new series based on Alain de Botton’s strange and wonderful notions

expat_art_as_therapy introGreetings, Displaced Nationers. While countries in Asia are celebrating harvest and moon festivals, we are marking the occasion with the start of a new series: EXPAT ART AS THERAPY. The series owes its provenance to the fertile and somewhat loony imagination of the young Swiss-English philosopher Alain de Botton. Today and over the next few months, we’ll cover some of the same ground as de Botton in his “Art as Therapy” lecture, in which he demonstrates how art can shed light on life’s big themes.

Except our topic will be the work of international creatives, a subset of artists more generally. Can the art people produce as a result of living among cultures in other parts of the world—and feeling, at times, displaced—shed light on life’s big questions?

Haven’t yet heard of de Botton? Here is (more than) you need to know:

  • Having grown up in both Switzerland and the UK, he’s an Adult Third Culture Kid who comes across as European, English, both and neither.
  • He’s a prolific pop philosopher, with a shelf-full of books and two very popular TED talks to his name.
  • He also has his critics, who call him a “high-brow self-help guru.”
  • Regardless, he hasn’t looked back since his 1997 essay titled How Proust Can Change Your Life became an unlikely blockbuster in the “self-help” category.
  • As explained in a recent Displaced Dispatch—what, not a subscriber yet? get on with it!—de Botton has set up a cultural enterprise in Bloomsbury, London, called The School of Life, which aims to “teach ideas to live by” and “inspire people to change their lives through culture.”

Returning to the aforementioned “art as therapy” lecture, De Botton lists six ways that art can respond to human needs, and in this series I’ll be attempting to apply this scheme to the works of international creatives. Does the art produced by expats, rexpats, TCKS, ATCKs repats, and other international creatives have something to contribute to the good of humanity at large and if so, in what ways?

It all sounds rather grand, doesn’t it—or would grandiose be more accurate? In any event, not to worry, you won’t remember any of this by the time the column starts up properly next month.

That said, perhaps it would help if I left you with a couple of examples of the kinds of questions we’ll be examining, enough to whet your appetite for more.

Here goes:

1) How does it benefit the world that Alan Parker has written a best-selling indie book about what it’s like to be a Brit man trying to raise alpacas in Spain? I’ll warrant that many of us, myself included, have no wish to live in Spain or raise alpacas—yet I did feel moved by the account of his adventures as reported on this blog, and presume that others have as well. What are we all getting out of it?

2) Likewise, are there pleasures for all to be reaped from long-term expat Kathleen Saville’s description of the acacia trees on the island in Zamalek, Gezira Island, where she lives in Cairo? (NOTE: Saville, who blogs at Water Meditations, is a contender for a September Alice Award, which you’d know if you read our most recent Dispatch.) Take me for example. The thought of living in Egypt scares me, and I’ve been avoiding most trees ever since Hurricane Sandy, but after reading Saville’s description of Egyptian acacias—

I see folds and twists in the trunks like nothing I have ever seen in another tree. Each tree looks like a long thin body or leg covered with support hose. It’s odd because the appearance is almost human like.

—I was blown away. Why, and would others with no special interest in Egypt feel the same?

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At this point I hope I’ve said enough for you to make a mental note about checking out next month’s column!

In closing, please join me in a resounding chorus of “Shine on, shine on harvest moon/Up in the sky…” (Click here if you don’t know what I’m talking about or can’t remember the words.) Yes, I know it’s not high art; it’s a Tin Pan Alley stuff. But it’s seasonal and makes me smile—and our mentor, Alain de Botton, would give me a pat on the back for that!

STAY TUNED for Beth Green’s book review column.

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 Alice nominations, book giveaways, and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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LOCATION, LOCUTION: JJ Marsh looks back on a year with TDN

jill 3One year ago, Displaced Nation asked me to conduct a series of regular interviews with writers on their use of location. Place is vitally important to my writing and that of my colleagues at  Triskele Books . It’s our USP. After a year of interviews with authors from Brazil, America, South Africa, Ireland, France, India, Hungary/China, I’m looking back.

First, I’ve selected ten of favourite answers, on how these writers approach weaving literary magic carpets to transport readers to Bombay or Berlin, Syria or Odessa.
Secondly, I’ve added five of the most books that held me spellbound; works which make place a character in its own right.

Happy Anniversary!

Which came first, story or location?

 Jeet Thayil, author of Narcopolis:
“I knew Narcopolis would be set in Bombay. I started with that city and that period in mind. It was about telling a story that hadn’t been told before, in a way that Indian fiction doesn’t really tell stories. Unsentimental, brutal and beautiful. When I realised that was what the book would be like, it revealed itself to me.”

Charlotte Otter, author of Balthasar’s Gift:
“The two are intertwined. When the first images began to flash in my head more than eight years ago, the setting was immediately clear: my home town in South Africa, Pietermaritzburg. BV is a post-apartheid novel and PMB is struggling to become an effective post-apartheid city. It was the natural setting for the story that was starting to unspool before me.”

 

How do you go about evoking the atmosphere of a place?

Chris Pavone, author of The Expats and The Accident:
“I love walking around cities, looking around at the architecture and the shops and the restaurants, at the people and their pet. My characters do the same, using all their senses to inhabit the world around them. Of course walking around, in and of itself, isn’t the type of action that does much to drive a plot forward, so characters should also be doing something else while walking around. Something such as spying.”

JD Smith, author of Tristan and Iseult, and The Rise of Zenobia:
“With great difficulty. In writing Tristan and Iseult I evoked the wet and wind the British know only too well. I’ve always lived on the coast, though in the north, not Cornwall (Kernow), but those salt winds and perpetually grey skies are the same. The Rise of Zenobia is based in 3rd century Syria, and I’m finding that much harder. I didn’t grow up with the atmosphere ingrained in me. I haven’t spent years of my childhood visiting the remains, the palaces and the fortifications. I rely on films a lot. Being a designer I’m an incredibly visual person, and seeing it played out, filmed in the locations I’m trying to conjure on the written page, helps immensely.”

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

Amanda Hodgkinson, author of Spilt Milk:
“All those but also I find the light is important. I adore Edward Hopper’s paintings for his use of light and I find writing can experiment in a similar way with light, creating mystery or clarity and deepening character.”

Janet Skeslien Charles, author of Moonlight in Odessa:
“For me, it is how characters react to situations. Odessa is the humor capital of the former Soviet Union, which means that my characters use humor as a shield to ward off painful situations. Odessans are capable of laughing at things that would make me bawl. Their mental toughness is impressive. So for me, the sense of city is the sense of self.”

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

Steven Conte, author of The Zookeeper’s War:
“With skill, only moderately well, though it’s probably wise to minimise the difference between your characters’ supposed knowledge of a setting and your own. This aside, the best fiction implies more than it states (Hemingway’s iceberg principle), and a few vivid details can be enough to evoke an entire town or city or region. I’d recommend not writing about famous landmarks, since locations such as the Brooklyn Bridge, the Eiffel Tower and the Brandenburg Gate will remain clichés of place however brilliantly they might be described.”

AD Miller, author of Snowdrops:
“You need to know it, and then you need to unknow it. A novel isn’t a travelogue or an encyclopaedia; you enlist only those aspects or details of a place that serve the narrative.”

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

James Ferron Anderson, author of The River and the Sea:
“Charles Dickens in Chapter Three of Great Expectations uses the weather to bring alive his location when Pip runs in the morning to meet Magwitch. ‘The mist was heavier yet when I got out upon the marshes, so that instead of my running at everything, everything seemed to run at me.’ Wonderful stuff that took me to that location so effectively I still picture it. Anton Chekhov is marvellous for both countryside and city. Yalta is so alive, so liveable-in, in Lady With a Lapdog. W.G. Sebald, not a favourite writer of mine, is nevertheless someone whose ability to put me in his location I much admire.”

Share an extract from your work which illustrates place.

Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist and Eleven Minutes, on Geneva’s Water Fountain:

“Our body is almost completely made of water through which electric charges pass to convey information. One such piece of information is called Love, and this can interfere in the entire organism. Love changes all the time. I think that the symbol of Geneva is the most beautiful monument to Love yet conceived by any artist.”

Books I’d recommend for use of location:

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In next month’s Location, Locution, our guest will be Jessica Bell, an Australian expat living in Greece, who writes fiction, advice for authors, and makes music too.

JJ Marsh grew up in Wales, Africa and the Middle East, where her curiosity for culture took root and triggered an urge to write. After living in Hong Kong, Nigeria, Dubai, Portugal and France, JJ finally settled in Switzerland, where she is currently halfway through her European crime series, set in compelling locations all over the continent and featuring detective inspector Beatrice Stubbs.

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Author photo: J J Marsh

STAY TUNED for our next post!

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LOCATION, LOCUTION: Charlotte Otter – South African expat and crime writer living in Germany

charlotte otter

Author photo: Charlotte Otter

In this month’s “Location, Locution”, expat crime writer JJ Marsh interviews Charlotte Otter, a South African crime writer who lives in Germany.

Charlotte has worked as a writer since leaving university. Balthasar’s Gift is her first novel. It was published in Germany in 2013 as as Balthasars Vermaechtnis, by Argument Verlag mit Ariadne, a Hamburg publisher that focuses on crime fiction by women. It is also available as an e-book, published by Culturbooks. The English version will be published in June 2014 by South Africa’s Modjaji Books.

Charlotte blogs at Charlotte’s Web and takes coffee breaks on Twitter (@charlwrites). She is presently working on her second novel – an eco-conspiracy called Karkloof Blue.

When she is not thinking up ways to kill people, Charlotte is a corporate hack, mother of three, reader, traveller, feminist and optimist. She is happily married to the love of her life.

Check out her author site.

* * *

Which comes first, story or location?
The two are intertwined. When the first images for Balthasars Vermaechtnis began to flash in my head more than eight years ago, the setting was immediately clear: my home town in South Africa, Pietermaritzburg, often informally abbreviated as PMB. BV is a post-apartheid novel and PMB is struggling to become an effective post-apartheid city. It was the natural setting for the story that was starting to unspool before me.

How do you go about evoking the atmosphere of a place?
I wrote a blog post a few years ago called I am from, and someone said to me they would love to read a novel with those elements in. I realised that my childhood memories of monkeys in the garden, chameleons on a bush and eating granadillas off the vine were not everyone’s memories and that some of them could be put to good use in landscaping a novel.

Which particular features create a sense of location? You’ve mentioned animals and fruits. Is it landscape, culture, food, all of the above?
All of the above. However, as I’m sure all writers say, they have to serve the story. The elements of location have to be sprinkled through the story with a light hand, serving to shine a light on the narrative and not distracting from it. Huge chunks of location, just like huge chunks of ill-disguised research, serve to pull the reader out of the story and that’s the last thing a writer wants. I try to be sparing and frugal with my detail, but at the same time apt. Location details are highlighters or amplifiers of the core narrative, never the story itself.

How well do you need to know the place before using it as a setting?
In my case, I knew it very well. I would never be brave enough to set a novel in a place I didn’t know, because I would be nervous about making mistakes and looking like an idiot. For me authenticity is everything.

Could you give a brief example from your work which you feel brings the location to life?

The city centre hummed with Saturday shoppers carrying glistening bags full of summer bargains from the fashion palaces on Church Street, gangs of teenagers flirting with each other, pavement hairdressers giving people their weekend dos. Radios blared, taxis hooted and added to the chaos by swerving across lanes, risking the lives of their passengers and all pedestrians. She dodged one self-styled ‘Road Warrior’ and swore. The driver leant out of his window and winked at her. ‘Calm down.’ Was this a message from the universe? Or had all the town’s taxi drivers ganged up to irritate her with their insistence on her remaining serene and tranquil?”

Which writers do you admire for the way they use location?
I think Barbara Kingsolver is a master of location. She is the best nature writer I know and she mostly sets her novels in rural surroundings. She does an incredible job of evoking a sense of place through her deep, abiding love of nature.

I Am From
I am from Africa. I am from blue skies, tropical breezes, and sunshine on my back. I am from tall trees that throw great shadows. I am from monkeys in the garden and a chameleon on a bush. I am from mountains that rarely see snow, beaches with huge waves, sharks behind the shoreline. I am from banana plants, sugar-cane and mealies. I am from huge moths and flying ants. I am from humidity, from thunderstorms that build up as black towers in the sky, and rain so hard it hurts my skin.

I am from eating outside. I am from the intense smell of a slightly under-ripe naartjie that I pick from its tree, dig open with dirty fingernails, and devour despite the sourness. I am from plucking granadillas off the vine and greedily sucking the juice. I am from braai meat, salad and crunchy white rolls. I am from mussels gathered from the sea.

I am from lucky beans. I am from a hoary old magnolia tree that bursts forth luscious, vanilla-scented blooms that decorate the Christmas table. I am from a red-brick house that looks out over trees and a hot town. I am from black and white tiles that cool hot summer feet. I am from the smell of dogs being washed. I am from the sound of Zulu hymns as I fall asleep.

I am from Marmite sandwiches. I am from a schoolbag digging into my shoulder as I walk home. I am from the smell of an over-chlorinated swimming-pool in my wet hair. I am from giggling. I am from eating all the cookie mixture. I am from marathon card games. I am from the thwack of tennis balls. I am from kissing boys.

I am from little brothers playing cricket on the lawn. I am from long car journeys. I am from beach holidays. I am from sand in my hair, from fairy gardens and dreaming I can fly. I am from blonde people. I am from children go to bed early. I am from fragrant grandmothers and laughing aunts. I am from a funny dad. I am from a little brother who shared my nightmares. I am from a mother who said, “You can do anything.”

Where are you from?

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Next month’s Location, Locution:  Incredibly, it is now a year since Jill wrote her first “Location, Locution” column! In next month’s post, Jill will pick some of her favorite responses from her interviewees.

JJ Marsh grew up in Wales, Africa and the Middle East, where her curiosity for culture took root and triggered an urge to write. After living in Hong Kong, Nigeria, Dubai, Portugal and France, JJ finally settled in Switzerland, where she is currently halfway through her European crime series, set in compelling locations all over the continent and featuring detective inspector Beatrice Stubbs.

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Author photo: J J Marsh

STAY TUNED for our next post!

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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LOCATION, LOCUTION: James Ferron Anderson, weaver, glassblower, soldier – and award-winning novelist

Author photo – James Ferron Anderson

In this month’s “Location, Locution”, expat crime writer JJ Marsh interviews James Ferron Anderson, author of  The River and The Sea.

James was born in Northern Ireland, and worked there as a weaver, glassblower and soldier. He eventually had children, moved to Norwich, UK, studied at UEA, and began to write in different forms, including poetry, short stories, plays and, more recently, novels. One of his first short stories, The Bog Menagerie, won the Bryan MacMahon Short Story Award. He won an Escalator Award winner for I Still Miss Someone, and a Writers’ Centre Free Reads Award winner. The River and The Sea won the Rethink Press New Novels Award in 2012, and was published in November 2012.

The River and The Sea is set in British Columbia. James is currently working on Terminal City, set in Vancouver. While he’s visited British Columbia and Vancouver many times (his once estranged brother lives there, but that’s another story) he has never lived there.

Visit his website at jamesferronanderson.com.

Which came first, story or location?
Location, and more so as I continue to write. I’ll stick with Terminal City, the novel I am currently working on, but it applies equally to The River and The Sea. I was already studying the history of British Columbia, and focusing on Vancouver, when I read that Errol Flynn had died there. It was the human touch that caught my attention: once flamboyant athletic actor reduced, much against his will, to selling his last possession of any worth, his yacht. Shattered, riddled with diseases, looking like seventy instead of the fifty he actually was, he dies. But if my head had not already been filled with images of Vancouver from its lumber town days in the early 1900s to its evolution into the city of glass it is today I may not have found myself, I would say unintentionally, making up stories based around a Flynn-type character.

Politics and mores are as an integral part of a location as are its streets or hills. It was what I knew of the political aspects of this West Coast city in the 30s and 40s that determined that Terminal City would be a crime story. I wanted that mixture of danger and timidity that noir provides: the lure of the forbidden and the pulling back from it. I’d say location determined the form, feel and nature of the book. The rest was my regular desire to tell stories of how people need each other, hate each other, love each other and dispense with each other.

Simply put, it begins with location, finding an interesting event and/or person in that location when I’m not knowingly looking, and getting hooked.

What’s your technique for evoking the atmosphere of a place?
I think finding myself writing a story set in Vancouver (and it felt like finding more than choosing) was a just a wonderful gift. For a start, almost no one in the book was born in the city. They have a past at variance with their present, having come there from across the world for their own purposes. They are testing it, examining it, seeing what they can get from it. Will they be satisfied with what they’ve found? With the people they become over the twenty years of living there from 1939 to 1959? It makes the city, like the Thompson River in The River and The Sea, a protagonist in the book.

Which particular features create a sense of location? Landscape, culture, food?
Vancouver is a mild-weather city with plenty of rain. For noir it knocks LA into a cocked hat. It’s a city on a great bay so there are beaches, ships pass in and out visibly and constantly, there are well-forested and, for large parts of the year, snowy mountains rearing up just across Burrard Inlet. The wild and magnificent outdoors is no more than half an hour away, even in 1959.

Vancouver is a port, and more culturally mixed than an interior city. It’s in the far west of the continent: the final destination, like it or not, for the drifter or seeker after a better life. A large Asian presence leant, certainly in the period of which I am writing, a feeling of tension to nightlife, whether justified or not. My desire to use all that shaped the story.

Buildings matter. I have old all-wood housing from when Vancouver first laid down its streets side by side with the rise of its first multi-storey offices: a city in flux, home to people from elsewhere, also in flux, looking for roots and stability, looking for meaning too in the aftermath of a war.

How well do you need to know the place before using it as a setting?
I couldn’t imagine locating a story in a place I didn’t know well. I was relishing knowing Vancouver more and more anyway. To set a novel there was an excuse to know it better again, from visiting, diving into the City Archives on-line, to examining Google Earth Street View for hours. Plenty, then. I want to make what I write correct as well as relevant to the story. That doesn’t mean that very much of what I know has to go on the page. I read a comment that Colm Toibin in writing his novel on Henry James, The Master, wore his learning lightly. I want to know everything that’s relevant, and more, and use it lightly. The tip of the iceberg theory.

There are tricks also. Why would a local person wonder or remark on anything like the view or the tram tracks in the streets? I feel description has to grow out of incident and dialogue in the narrative. The first person narrator of Terminal City has, in the 1939 scenes, only lived in Vancouver for a year and is still coming to terms with it. He can wonder and notice and remark a little more freely and yet, hopefully, realistically. In 1959 he can reflect on changes, good and bad.

Could you give a brief example from your work which you feel brings the location to life?

The River and The SeaFrom The River and The Sea:

‘Snow was falling and visibility down to a few feet. We stopped in the afternoon and managed to light a fire and had tea and sugar. In a break in the snow Harry saw a raven. That meant there were caribou, and on the move.’

‘It did, did it?’

‘For a certainty, Harry said. We crossed a frozen lake, for easier walking, and came back onto the river. The wind was unrelenting. Even on the lake it took us four hours to make a couple of miles.’ Edward drank his tea. This was the most talking any of us had done for a long time. ‘We found a little clump of spruce. We ate some of the hide matting for the first time, but neither of us slept from the cold and the need to keep the fire going.’

It’s a narrative told to inform someone else and, almost incidentally, informs the reader. The intention was to convey their location as a site of cold, hunger and desperation, but it had to be an integral part of the story, not a piece of description standing to one side.

Which writers do you admire for the way they use location?
Charles Dickens in Chapter Three of Great Expectations uses the weather to bring alive his location when Pip runs in the morning to meet Magwitch.The mist was heavier yet when I got out upon the marshes, so that instead of my running at everything, everything seemed to run at me.’ Wonderful stuff that took me to that location so effectively I still picture it. Anton Chekhov is marvellous for both countryside and city. Yalta is so alive, so liveable-in, in Lady With a Lapdog. W.G. Sebald, not a favourite writer of mine, is nevertheless someone whose ability to put me in his location I much admire.

 

Next month’s Location, Locution:  Jill interviews Charlotte Otter, South African author – now living in Germany, whose homeland provides fertile fictional soil.

 * * *

JJ Marsh grew up in Wales, Africa and the Middle East, where her curiosity for culture took root and triggered an urge to write. After living in Hong Kong, Nigeria, Dubai, Portugal and France, JJ finally settled in Switzerland, where she is currently halfway through her European crime series, set in compelling locations all over the continent and featuring detective inspector Beatrice Stubbs.

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Author photo: J J Marsh

STAY TUNED for our next post!

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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LOCATION, LOCUTION: Andrea Cheng, award-winning children’s author

Author photo: Andrea Cheng

Author photo: Andrea Cheng

In this month’s “Location, Locution”, expat crime writer JJ Marsh interviews Andrea Cheng, award-winning author of  books for children and young adults.  

Cheng’s first novel, Marika, was selected by the city of Cincinnati for “On the Same page,” a citywide reading program.  Honeysuckle House, Anna the Bookbinder, and Shanghai Messenger received Parent’s Choice Awards.  Grandfather Counts was featured on Reading Rainbow. Where the Steps Were, the first book that Cheng has both written and illustrated, received starred reviews in both Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus. The Year of the Book, a Junior Library Guild selection, was reviewed in the NY Times and was followed by The Year of the Baby (2013 May). Cheng’s most recent title is Etched in Clay.

Some of Cheng’s books draw on her background as the child of Hungarian immigrants as well as the background of her husband, the son of immigrants from China. Others draw on the lives of her children growing up in inner city Cincinnati where she and her husband now live.  Andrea studied Chinese at Cornell University where she received a Masters degree in linguistics.  She and her family have traveled to both Budapest and Shanghai to get to know their extended families.

Which came first, story or location?
I think character comes first in my writing, followed by location, atmosphere, etc.  Plot or ‘story” come later.  I usually start with a character at a particularly salient moment in a specific place, and go from there.

Year of the Book

Cover art: The Year of the Book, by Andrea Cheng

What’s your technique for evoking the atmosphere of a place?
I have to have spent a fair amount of time in a place before I can evoke the atmosphere.  I have to know how it smells and tastes and looks and feels.

Which particular features create a sense of location? Landscape, culture, food?
Everything!  I think I focus a lot on language, the way people talk. I think it would be very hard for me to write a story that takes place in a location in which I cannot speak the native language of the people who live there.

Can you give a brief example of your work which illustrates place?
This is from my chapter book called THE YEAR OF THE FORTUNE COOKIE, coming out with Houghton Mifflin in May 2014.  It is for grades 3-6.  The main character, Ana Wang, is in Beijing:

It starts to rain.  The sky is almost dark, and the air smells like gasoline and charcoal.  We turn down an ally and wind our way behind some buildings.  “This is my home,” Fan says finally, opening a door with her key.

Inside the light is dim.  Her brother is watching television and her mother is cooking on a hot plate.  “This is my friend from America,” Fan says.  

How well do you need to know the place before using it as a setting?
I have to have spent time in the place and I have to understand the language of the people there.  The more time the better.

Which writers do you admire for the way they use location?
I just read Jhumpa Lahiri’s new novel, Lowland.  Although I think the book has some problems, I love her sense of place.

Next month’s Location, Locution:  Jill interviews James Ferron Anderson – weaver, glassblower, soldier, and now writer.

 * * *

JJ Marsh grew up in Wales, Africa and the Middle East, where her curiosity for culture took root and triggered an urge to write. After living in Hong Kong, Nigeria, Dubai, Portugal and France, JJ finally settled in Switzerland, where she is currently halfway through her European crime series, set in compelling locations all over the continent and featuring detective inspector Beatrice Stubbs.

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Author photo: J J Marsh

STAY TUNED for our next post!

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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For this Swiss ethnographer with a fondness for remote parts of China, a picture says…

Gaetan in China Collage

Canon zoom lens; photo credit: Morguefiles. Gaetan Green doing fieldwork in Xishuangbanna, a region of Southwest China squeezed between Laos and Burma; photo credit: Gaetan Green.

Welcome to our monthly series “A picture says…”, created to celebrate expats and other global residents for whom photography is a creative outlet. The series host is English expat, blogger, writer, world traveler and photography enthusiast James King, who thinks of a camera as a mirror with memory. If you like what you see here, be sure to check out his blog, Jamoroki.

My guest this month is 33-year-old Swiss national Gaetan Green, who has spent the last 12 years between China, Europe and North America. After graduating university, Gaetan studied and conducted ethnographic research in remote parts of China. He went back to do field work in the country’s ethnic borderland when pursuing a master’s degree in geography at a university in Vancouver.

For the past three years Gaetan has lived in one of China’s mega-cities, but he always grabs the opportunity to travel in the countryside, where he can indulge in his current passion for the  ancient and ethnic villages of south and southwest China, with a “minor focus on Guangzhou and the Pearl River Delta.”

Gaetan keeps a fascinating blog, Travel Cathay. He posts about his off-the-beaten-path travels to parts of China most of us wouldn’t know existed.

* * *

Hi Gaetan. I have been following your blog for a while now and am very pleased to have the opportunity to interview you for the Displaced Nation. Let’s start with some background on you, shall we? Where were you born, and when did you spread your wings to start traveling?
I grew up in a ski resort in the middle of the Swiss Alps and I started travelling as soon as my parents would allow it. My first trips were to Southern and Eastern Europe with classmates—that started when we were around 16 years old. But my travels became a lot more serious when I left Switzerland for my first trip around the world, at age 20. This trip changed my life for good.

So your wanderlust dates from an early age. Why do you think that was?
There were essentially two things that inspired me to travel. The first was a map of the world that I discovered at home when I was an inquisitive eight-year-old. The map made me realize the world was much bigger than the valley surrounded by big snow-capped mountains where we lived. I was itching to discover the reality behind all the exotic place names. The second source of inspiration was my home country. With its pure air, snow-capped mountains, green valleys and quaint mountain villages, Switzerland is beautiful—but way too small. The boy I was then saw a world so big, I knew I had to leave.

Which countries did you travel to?
Besides southern and eastern Europe, I visited Australia, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Malaysia, Philippines, and Singapore. And of course, eventually, China.

And now China has become a second home for you.
Although I have traveled to other countries, China is the one I know best because that is where I have spent most of my time so far, and I have only five provinces left to discover. My love story with China started at age 20: I spent three months of my round-the-world trip traveling within its vast terrain. When I returned home, I started to learn Mandarin (some of my friends thought I was seriously deranged!!). Then one thing lead to another: I studied for two years in Chongqing (a city of 15 million people in central China), worked as an ethnographer in remote parts of Yunnan province, taught English in Kunming, and conducted academic research between Vancouver and Xishuangbanna. Although China is a country, it gives the impression of being a continent because it is very diverse. Contrary to what many people think, China does not have a monolithic culture. I speak Mandarin, so that makes travel easier. I can venture into the countryside knowing I’ll be understood.

“Let’s all go up to the mountain to be close to the flowers and songs.” – Dong folk ballad

I’m sure that speaking the language gives you a huge advantage. Tell us more about the life you now lead in China.
I am currently working as a sourcing agent and living in one of China’s megacities. Recently I have developed mixed feelings about the megacity life. Megacities can be convenient places to live, providing easy access to food, entertainment, communication and transportation; but I find them overcrowded. Dangerous levels of pollution and food hygiene are growing concerns and also the reasons why some of my expat friends have already left.

Old woman in a Tibetan Catholic community; photo credit: Gaetan Green.

An elderly woman pushing barley alcohol in north Yunan; photo credit: Gaetan Green.

Some friends of mine have recently moved to China to work in Shanghai but they refuse to live in the city for the same reasons you mention. But let’s get away from the megacity and take a look at your first three photos, which take us far away from that scene. Can you tell us what makes each of these photos so special?
This first photo reminds me of the time when I was doing ethnographic research about Tibetan Catholic communities in remote regions of north Yunnan province. On that particular occasion, I had the opportunity to witness a ceremony during which villagers prayed that it would rain on the graves of French missionaries who’d been assassinated at the beginning of the 20th century during anti-Christian violence in the region. There was a steep hike to reach the graves. At end of the ceremony, this woman started giving everyone barley alcohol in a paper cup. I remember going back to the village half-drunk after she challenged me to a second glass of firewater.

Wind and Rain Bridge, Tondao. Photo credit: Gaetan Green

Blown away by the Puxiu Wind and Rain Bridge in Tondao; photo credit: Gaetan Green

The second photo was taken after I’d missed the last afternoon bus and got stuck in the small town of Tongdao (southwest Hunan province), which I’d never heard of. I eventually ended up hiring a taxi driver for the afternoon to show me around. We went to a few ethnic villages and by 4:00 p.m., we had arrived by this amazing covered bridge, which is an example of a “wind and rain” (fengyu) bridge common to the Dong ethnic minority region. Missing my bus was the best thing that happened to me that day.

Taoist Temple, Macau; photo credit: Gaetan Green.

The Jade Emperor’s generals on their joss paper thrones; photo credit: Gaetan Green.

The third photo records the time I got lost in Macau somewhere between the Ruínas de São Paulo and the Camões Garden, I went to a Taoist temple. In one hall, I noticed that some statues had uneven stacks of joss paper (spirit money) under them. I asked the temple caretaker: “Why?” He explained that there were, in that particular hall, the statues of the 60 heavenly generals who help the Jade Emperor to supervise human life on earth. There is one heavenly general for each birth year, and the more joss paper there is under the statues that matches your birth year, the luckier you will get. I decided to boost my luck and bought stacks of joss paper to boost my heavenly general higher. The temple caretaker gave me three sticks of incense to burn; he said a long prayer in Cantonese and gave me a red talisman. I definitely enjoyed doing business with the gods, though I didn’t feel any luckier afterwards.

“Who can rob me of the songs I learned?” – Dong folk ballad

I love all three photos, and, yes, you are right, missing the bus and staying in Tondau must have been divine providence. Now, I’m keen to know where your favourite places to take photographs are, and why these places inspire you and how that shows in your next three photos?
Now that I live in a big Chinese city, the places that inspire me the most are the ethnic and ancient villages. In the cities, many historical buildings and old streets have been knocked down to give way to shopping malls and skyscrapers. Ethnic and ancient villages are real windows on the past and the cultural diversity of China. I chose the next three photos to make this point.

Cizhong Catholic Church; photo credit: Gaetan Green.

A Roman Catholic Church in an unexpected spot: by the Lancang (Mekong) River at Cizhong; photo credit: Gaetan Green.

The first is of the Catholic church at Cizhong, a remote village of north Yunnan province that is home to a community of Tibetan Catholics who were converted by French missionaries more than 100 years ago. The church seems out of place in this land of Buddhism. The mountains surrounding the village make it a picturesque spot.

Yunnanyi Gaetan Green

If these walls could talk: Yunnanyi village on the Tea Horse Road; photo credit: Gaetan Green.

The second photo is of Yunnanyi village, in Yunnan province, which was an important stop on the Tea Horse Road that linked Southeast Asia to the Tibetan plateau. Horse caravans carrying tea, spices and other goods stopped in Yunnanyi. In 1936, the communist armies of Mao Zedong stopped in Yunnanyi to rest during the Long March. Then, during WWII, the rice fields behind the village were transformed into a U.S. airfield. Planes that had flown from India over the Himalayas (to avoid the Japanese-controlled Burmese airspace) landed in Yunnanyi with supplies for the Chinese armies. The history of this unknown village is inspiring. The mud-brick courtyard houses have seen a lot. I wish these walls could talk.

Stepping back in time in Qianyang; photo credit: Gaetan Green.

Stepping back in time in Qianyang; photo credit: Gaetan Green.

The final photo is of Qianyang, in Shaanxi, an ancient regional political centre that has been forgotten in China’s rush to develop. The streets are lined with dozens of temples, an ancestral hall, and courtyard mansions that belonged to local officials. Most of the city’s walls and four out of fives gates are still standing. There were no tourists when I visited. It felt like stepping back in time and taking a walk in China’s past.

What I find amazing in these pictures is the beautiful architecture and the pristine condition of such old buildings and the cleanliness of the streets. Tell me something, I notice that many of your photos are of buildings or streets. Do you feel reserved about taking photos of people, particularly when they are conscious that you are doing so?
I do feel reserved about taking pictures of other people so I rarely do. The exception is when I have the opportunity to witness a ceremony or special event.

I know this is a similar question but do you ask permission before taking people’s photographs and how do you get around any problem of language?
Since I now travel mostly in China, I ask in Chinese. If I am in a region where people do not speak Mandarin, a hand gesture is usually enough.

Would you say that photography and the ability to be able to capture something unique which will never be seen again is a powerful force for you?
It is indeed. I would add that photography also has the ability to monitor change. In a country like China where everything is growing and changing so fast, photography can be a tool to record how the landscape is transforming.

That’s a very pertinent point, particularly when applied to China. Was there a particular moment when you realized that?
I thought about it a lot while on a business trip to Ningbo, a city of nine million people that is just a couple of hours by train from Shanghai. I had been able to take an afternoon off and wander in the city. I discovered an entire neighbourhood of stone houses built during the late Qing Dynasty (late 19th century), all of which were empty. They were going to be knocked down to build a shopping mall and high-density residential buildings. In China I am constantly thinking that what I see today may be different or not even exist tomorrow.

If someone wants to learn from me, I’ll teach him songs as melodious as cicadas.” – Dong folk ballad

I know exactly what you mean. It almost feels like you are running out of time. I have many old pre-digital photos (35 years old and more). I didn’t realise until now how precious they are. Moving on to the technical stuff (I’m not too good at tech but getting better). Some of our readers will want to know what kind of camera and lenses you use.
I use a very simple point-and-shoot Sony camera.

I must say it works really well and the shooter has a good eye! Finally, do you have any advice for wannabe photographers who are traveling or living abroad?
I think I am in the same position as you. I need advice.

Gaetan, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to tell the story of your exciting journey and for sharing so much interesting information. You may not consider yourself to be a good photographer, but your “point and shoot” pictures embellish your narrative beautifully. Keep following your way and I am sure you will inspire other young people to travel the globe as you are doing. I, for one, will be checking your progress.

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Readers, what do you make of Gaetan’s experiences? Do you have any questions about his photos or his travels? Please leave them in the comments!

And if you want to know more about Gaetan, don’t forget to visit his excellent blog, Travel Cathay. You can also follow him on Twitter: @TravelCathay.

(If you are a photographer and would like to be interviewed by James for this series, please send your information to ml@thedisplacednation.com.)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s fab post!

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LOCATION, LOCUTION: Amanda Hodgkinson, author of “22 Britannia Road” and “Spilt Milk”

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Author photo – Amanda Hodgkinson

In this month’s “Location, Locution”, expat crime writer JJ Marsh interviews Amanda Hodgkinson, author of 22 Britannia Road and Spilt Milk.

Born in Somerset but raised in a village on the Blackwater estuary in Essex, Amanda has childhood memories of  shingle beaches and mudflats, grey-green heather, salt marshes, messing about in boats, gangs of rowdy kids playing all day along the sea-walls, and the ever-present cries of seagulls.

As an adult, she moved inland to Suffolk. She took an MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia and after the MA, she and her husband, with two young daughters, upped sticks and bought a property in south west France. She intended to write a novel but spent the first few years of their new life mixing concrete to fix their house. She also had to learn French, settle her daughters into school and deal with the ups and downs of living in a country miles away from friends and family. Finally though, the family made a home in France. And she finished the novel…

22 Britannia Road became an international bestseller. Spilt Milk came out in February 2014 (Penguin Books) and a novella Tin Town (Grand Central Penguin US) will be published this summer. Meanwhile Amanda has begun work on a third novel. You can find out more about Amanda at her website, www.amandahodgkinson.com

Which came first, story or location?

With Spilt Milk, I was inspired by a location. I was visiting friends in rural Suffolk. It was late October, that lovely, damp time of year when the smell of leafmould is everywhere in the country. We went walking and ended up on the banks of a small river. I knew there and then that I wanted it to be the location for my next novel. I was amazed by the stillness of the place. The river had a timelessness to it. I suppose the slow moving waters suited the themes I was interested in writing about – the passing of time in families, the stories we keep and the ones we allow to slip away from us. By the time we’d walked back home, I had the beginnings of the novel in my head.

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

When I am writing about a time and a place I find evoking colour, smell and the sounds of that place help create mood. I know it’s considered old-fashioned to use landscape to create mood and emotional intensity but I not only love writing which evokes emotion in that way, I also believe there is a strong connection between our identities and the geographic landscapes we inhabit.

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

All those but also I find the light is important. I adore Edward Hopper’s paintings for his use of light and I find writing can experiment in a similar way with light, creating mystery or clarity and deepening character.

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

In the following passage set in 1970, Nellie, who is a very old lady, watches her family as they picnic together by the river that she has known since she was a small child.

SpiltMilkNellie sat in the shade of summer-green willows, watching the procession of men, women and children making their way down to the riverbank, one after the other, their hands drifting through the day’s fragile bloom of field poppies, all the new-born crimson petals falling at their touch.

Slowly, the murmur of voices, the greetings and talk turned to seasons remembered, harvests and ploughing, days long gone. They discussed winters whose legendary harshness were in retrospect to be marvelled at and even doubted a little, particularly this deep in the year when the barley fields were pale gold and in the distance beyond the farm, the village with its church spire shimmered into the vagueness of a heat haze.

Black and white farm dogs lay low, eyeing Tupperware boxes of sandwiches and sausage rolls. The transistor radio announced cricket scores. A tartan rug was spread out by the bulrushes, and a baby in its frilly white knickers and matching bonnet wriggled and laughed while the women cooed over her. Sunburnt men sprawled in the grass with bottled beers, straw hats tipped low across their brows. Oh, heavens, Nellie thought, eyeing the new baby. And how did I get to be so old?

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

A place can inspire a novel but I don’t think it is necessary (at least not for me as a writer) to know a place intimately before I begin a story. It is a starting point and as both my books have been set in the past, my research has also been looking at photographs, old films and reference books.

It feels liberating to be able to know a landscape physically and than allow it to become a place of the imagination. I recently wrote a historical novella for an anthology and spent a day exploring an old World War Two airfield which I then used as the basis for the story. While I stuck very closely to the layout of the airfield in the story, I still had to imagine how it must have been back in the 1940s. As in my novels, the landscape was a starting point for my fiction.

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

Lots! Thomas Hardy, DH Lawrence, Toni Morrison, Annie Proulx, Paul Harding, Marilynne Robinson, John Steinbeck, Robert Macfarlene, Tracy Chevalier, Jane Smiley, to name a few.

Author bio and photograph from Amanda’s website

Next month’s Location, Locution:  Jill interviews Andrea Cheung, whose Hungarian/Chinese heritage informs her multicultural prize-winning children’s stories.

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_(75_of_75)JJ Marsh grew up in Wales, Africa and the Middle East, where her curiosity for culture took root and triggered an urge to write. After living in Hong Kong, Nigeria, Dubai, Portugal and France, JJ finally settled in Switzerland, where she is currently halfway through her European crime series, set in compelling locations all over the continent and featuring detective inspector Beatrice Stubbs.

STAY TUNED for our next post!

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LOCATION, LOCUTION: Chris Pavone, author of “The Expats”, on why story and location are inseparable

Cover art "The Accident; Author photo Chris Pavone; Author photo JJ Marsh

Cover art “The Accident; Author photo Chris Pavone; Author photo JJ Marsh

In this month’s “Location, Locution”, expat crime writer JJ Marsh interviews author Chris Pavone, whose  first novel, The Expats, was published in 2012, and was a New York Times and international bestseller, with nearly twenty foreign editions and a major film deal.

The Expats was nominated for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize and a Macavity, and awards from the Strand Magazine Critics Circle, the Mystery Booksellers Association, and the International Thriller Writers. It received the 2013 Edgar Award and the 2013 Anthony Award for Best First Novel.

Pavone’s new book, The Accident, will be published in March 2014.


Which comes first, story or location?
For some books I think the story and location are inextricably intertwined: the story is about the location. My thriller The Expats is one of those, defined by taking place in a country that’s not the protagonist’s home. The plot is driven by this situation, by her sense of disassociation and isolation, by the necessity of her reinvention.

How do you go about evoking the atmosphere of a place?
I love walking around cities, looking around at the architecture and the shops and the restaurants, at the people and their pets. My characters do the same, using all their senses to inhabit the world around them. Of course walking around, in and of itself, isn’t the type of action that does much to drive a plot forward, so characters should also be doing something else while walking around. Something such as spying…

Which particular features create a sense of location? Landscape, culture, food?
On the written page, I think the clearest evocation is via the physical landscape, especially when it echoes the culture. New York is the big brashness of skyscrapers and noise; London is the polite order of elegant uniformity; Rome is cheerful dilapidated chaos.

How well do you need to know the place before using it as a setting?
As much as my characters. If they’re only in a city for a day, they don’t know that much about the place, and I don’t need to either. Both The Expats and my next book, The Accident, use a variety of locations, and the amount of time the characters spend in placesLuxembourg, Paris, the Alps, Amsterdam, London, Zurich, Los Angeles, etc.is roughly proportionate to the amount of time I’ve spent there.

Could you give a brief example from your work which you feel brings the location to life?
This is the final sentence of The Expats . . .

Kate watches them merge into the flow of the dense crowd, all the streetlights and lamplights ignited in the Carrefour de l’Odeon, a little red Fiat beeping at a bright green Vespa that’s weaving in the traffic, the policeman oblivious while he continues to flirt with the pretty girl, cigarette smoke wafting from the tables filled with wineglasses and tumblers and carafes and bottles, plates of ham and slabs of foie-gras terrine and napkin-lined baskets of crusty sliced baguette, women wearing scarves knotted at the neck and men in plaid sport jackets, peals of laughter and playful smirks, hand-shaking and cheek-kissing, saying hello and waving good-bye, in the thick lively humanity of early night in the City of Light, where a pair of expats is quickly but quietly disappearing.

Which writers do you admire for the way they use location?
Hemingway was not only a master of evoking location, but also of using physical atmosphere as emotional metaphor. Empty barges on the Seine can represent a lot more than just boats.

Next month on Location, Locution:  award-winning author Amanda Hodgkinson.

 * * *

JJ Marsh grew up in Wales, Africa and the Middle East, where her curiosity for culture took root and triggered an urge to write. After living in Hong Kong, Nigeria, Dubai, Portugal and France, JJ finally settled in Switzerland, where she is currently halfway through her European crime series, set in compelling locations all over the continent and featuring detective inspector Beatrice Stubbs.

STAY TUNED for our next post!

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2013 Holiday Special: Notable books for, by and about expats

Looking for last-minute gifts—or have your holiday celebrations brought you to the point where you might need an escape for yourself?

In the tradition of looking back at the past year’s highlights, I present, on behalf of the Displaced Nation team, a list of books for, by, and about expats that were featured in some way on this site in 2013.

Click on the category that interests you:

  1. FICTION
  2. MEMOIRS
  3. HANDBOOKS & GUIDEBOOKS
  4. COOKBOOK (singular because we have only one!)
  • Books in each category are arranged from most to least recent.
  • Unless otherwise noted, books are self-published.

Go on, download a few! It’s the time of the year to be generous to one’s fellow human beings. That said, on the Displaced Nation it’s always the season to support the creative output of those who’ve embraced the life of global residency and travel.

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Fiction

Shemlan Ebook_coverShemlan: A Deadly Tragedy (November 2013)
Author: Alexander McNabb
Genre: International thriller
Synopsis: The third in McNabb’s Levant Cycle, Shemlan tells the story of a retired British foreign service officer who, dying from cancer, returns to Beirut in hopes of meeting the Lebanese love of his youth one last time. But then his past catches up with him, threatening to do him in before the disease does—until British spy Gerald Lynch gallops to the rescue…
Expat credentials: Born in London, McNabb has lived in the Middle East for more than a quarter century. He often receives praise for getting the historical and cultural details right in his books.
How we heard about: We encountered McNabb a year ago when we were doing a series of food posts! We love his books and are giving away Shemlan this month, as well as doing an offer for Displaced Dispatch subscribers on all three books in the cycle. Check it out!

ImperfectPairings_cover_pmImperfect Pairings (May 2013)
Author: Jackie Townsend
Genre: Women’s fiction
Synopsis: American career woman Jamie had not intended to fall in love—and to a foreigner no less, a man who tells her his name is Jack, short for John, but it’s really short for Giovanni. Insanely handsome and intense but unreadable, Giovanni has left a complicated family life back home in Italy. Is this more than Jamie signed up for?
Displaced credentials: In real life, Townsend is married to an Italian and has spent 16 years backing and forthing to her husband’s family in Italy.
How we heard about: ML Awanohara, who rightly or wrongly considers herself something of an expert on cross-cultural marriage, read the book on her Kindle and was so impressed with its depiction of cross-cultural relationship woes that she asked Townsend to be our featured author of November. Read the interview.

SuiteDubai-cover_dropshadowSuite Dubai (April 2013)
Author: Callista Fox
Genre: “New adult” lit
Synopsis: As Callista tells it, the book grew out of a story that entered her head that wouldn’t go away: “There was this girl, young, vulnerable, naive, walking along a concourse in an airport, among men in white robes and checkered scarves and woman in black gauzy material. Where was she going? What would happen to her there?”
Expat credentials: Fox moved to Saudi Arabia when she was eight and lived there off and on until turning 19. She went to boarding schools in Cyprus and Austria. Now back in the United States, she thinks of herself as an adult Third Culture Kid, or TCK.
How we heard about: Noticing our fondness for serial fiction (see Kate Allison’s book below), Fox sent us a note saying she’d written a serial novel reflecting her experience of growing up in the Middle East. We responded by asking if we could publish her series in even smaller parts. Part 1 and Part 2 have already gone up, and there are six more parts to come in 2014. Warning: Highly addictive!

Libby'sLifeTakingFlight_coverLibby’s Life: Taking Flight (April 2013)
Author: Kate Allison
Genre: Women’s fiction
Synopsis: 30-something Libby Patrick is just regaining some post-baby control over her life when a change in husband’s job means they must move from their English home to Woodhaven, a town in rural Massachusetts. The book is Libby’s journal covering the first year of her life as trailing spouse.
Expat credentials: Born and raised in Britain, Kate has lived in the United States with her family for almost two decades.
How we heard about: We were the first to know! Kate is a founding member of the Displaced Nation and has been publishing regular episodes of Libby’s Life (on which the book is based) since the blog began. She has accrued countless fans, the most faithful of whom is Janice. (Libby to Janice: xoxo for your support in 2013!)

APlaceintheWorld_coverA Place in the World (March 2013)
Author: Cinda Crabbe MacKinnon
Genre: Romance
Synopsis: Third Culture Kid Alicia meets a young Colombian man at college in the United States. She follows him to Bogotá and the pair end up marrying and settling on his family’s remote coffee finca (farm) in the Andes. Educated as a biologist, Alicia revels in the surrounding cloud-forest. But then her idyllic life starts to unravel…
Expat credentials: Crabbe MacKinnon grew up in several countries as a military brat and diplomatic kid and, though she has since repatriated to the United States, still thinks of Latin America as home.
How we heard about: Crabbe MacKinnon commented on one of Elizabeth Liang’s “TCK Talent” posts and ended up becoming October’s featured author. Read the interview. We love her and her work, and are sure you will, too!

CoffeeandVodka_coverCoffee and Vodka (March 2013)
Author: Helena Halme
Genre: Women’s fiction
Synopsis: A Finnish family emigrate to Sweden in the 1970s and find themselves in turmoil, caused partly by the displacement, but also by the cracks in family dynamics. At its heart, the book reveals what it is like for a young girl to be uprooted and transplanted to a country where she doesn’t speak the language and is despised for her nationality.
Expat credentials: Halme grew up in Tampere, central Finland, and moved to Britain at the age of 22 via Stockholm and Helsinki, after marrying “The Englishman” (how she always refers to him on her blog, Helena’s London Life). She spent her first ten years in Britain working as journalist and translator for the BBC. She and The Englishman now live in North London.
How we heard about: Halme is a big favorite of ours! She was one of our earliest Random Nomads as well as serving as an expat style icon back in the days when we covered fashion. More recently, Kate Allison reviewed Halme’s first book: The Englishman: Can Love Go the Distance?, and we did a giveaway of Coffee and Vodka. And that’s not all: Halme’s latest book, The Red King of Helsinki, received an “Alice” Award in July. (As noted then, the Alices could hardly ignore a book of that title!)

MonkeyLoveAndMurder_dropshadowMonkey Love and Murder (February 2013)
Author: Edith McClinton
Genre: Adventure mystery
Synopsis: A jungle environment in Suriname (spider monkeys and all) is the setting for a closed-door mystery surrounding the death of the renowned director of the International Wildlife Conservation followed by the machete murder of one of the researchers. None of this bodes well for poor Emma Parks, who has joined the research project on a whim. (So much for that budding primatologist career!)
Expat credentials: MacClintock volunteered for the Peace Corps in Suriname for two years, and joined a monkey research project afterwards.
How we heard about: One of our Random Nomads, Patricia Winton, referred us to the now-defunct blog Novel Adventurers, where Edith was one of the writers. We invited her to guest blog for us about the muses behind her monkey mystery.

ArchangelofMercy_dropshadowArchangel of Mercy (Berkley – Penguin Group, December 2012)
Author: Christina Ashcroft
Genre: Paranormal romance
Synopsis: The first storyline in Ashcroft’s new series focusing on a group of angels and archangels and the lives of the people they come in contact with every day.
Expat credentials: Ashcroft is an expat Brit who now lives in Western Australia with her high school sweetheart and their three children.
How we heard about it: We encountered Christina online and asked her to be one of our Random Nomads for a Valentine’s Day special. In that interview, she said she attributes her success as a writer at least in part to her expat status: “I’ve often wondered whether my career would have followed the same route if we’d stayed in the UK. While I’ve always loved writing it wasn’t until we moved to Australia that I decided to to write with the aim of publication.”

SpiritofLostAngels_dropshadowSpirit of Lost Angels (May 2012)
Author: Liza Perrat
Genre: Historical novel
Synopsis: Set against a backdrop of rural France during the French Revolution, the story centers on Victoire Charpentier, a young peasant woman whose mother was executed for witchcraft and who herself suffers abuse at the hands of a nobleman. Can she muster the bravery and skill to join the revolutionary force gripping France, and overthrow the corrupt aristocracy?
Expat credentials: Liza grew up in Wollongong, Australia, where she worked as a general nurse and midwife for fifteen years. When she met her French husband on a Bangkok bus, she moved to France, where she has been living with her husband and three children for twenty years.
How we heard about: The redoubtable JJ Marsh (see below) interviewed Perrat on writing a location to life, for her monthly column, “Location, Locution.”

BehindClosedDoors_dropshadowBehind Closed Doors (June 2012)
Author: JJ Marsh
Genre: Crime mixed with literary fiction
Synopsis: A smart, technologically sophisticated mystery set in Zürich and surrounding countries, featuring a bipolar detective named Beatrice Stubbs, and quite a few surprises… NOTE: JJ Marsh was listed in the Guardian “readers’ recommended self-published authors” this year, for Behind Closed Doors.
Expat credentials: JJ Marsh grew up in Wales, Africa and the Middle East, where her curiosity for culture took root and triggered an urge to write. After living in Hong Kong, Nigeria, Dubai, Portugal and France, she has finally settled in Switzerland.
How we heard about: We owe displaced author Helena Halme (see above) a king’s ransom for telling us about JJ, who since April has been contributing a monthly “Location, Locution” column. Don’t miss her posts under any circumstances! Highly stimulating and cerebral.

snowdrops_dropshadowSnowdrops (Anchor/Random House, February 2011)
Author: AD Miller
Genre: Literary fiction
Synopsis: Lawyer Nick Platt trades his dull British life for pushing paper in Moscow at the turn of the 21st century. He is soon seduced by a culture he fancies himself above. Snowdrops was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2011.
Expat credentials: British born and educated at Cambridge and Princeton, Andrew Miller joined The Economist and was appointed, in 2004, to become their Moscow correspondent. He covered, among other things, the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine.
How we heard about: JJ Marsh interviewed AD this past July about bringing foreign locations to life in fiction.

odessa_brit_cover_smallMoonlight in Odessa (Bloomsbury, August 2010)
Author: Janet Skeslien Charles
Genre: Women’s fiction
Synopsis: With an engineering degree and perfect English, Daria longs for a life beyond Odessa, Ukraine. And then she moonlights for a dating agency that facilitates hasty, long-distance matches between lustful American men and impoverished Ukrainian women. Her big chance?
Expat credentials: Skeslien Charles went to Odessa, Ukraine, as a Soros Fellow, living through blackouts, heatless winters, corruption and so on. She stayed for two years before returning to the U.S. Then she found a job in France and met her husband. She now lives in Paris but leads a multicultural life. As she puts it: “The novel is set in Odessa, Ukraine. My agent is English. My editor’s assistant is Japanese-Danish, my copy editor is from New Zealand. I’m American. The book was written in France and typeset in Scotland. My first fan letter came from a Swede.”
How we heard about: JJ Marsh picked Skeslien Charles’s brain on “location, locution”, in her November column.

Memoirs

AddictedtoLove_cover_dropshadowAddicted to Love (April 2013)
Author: Lana Penrose
Synopsis: Penrose is the kind of Australian who throws herself wholeheartedly into adventure, which is why her years spend living in Europe have merited not one but three memoirs! This one is the third. In the first memoir (published by Penguin/Viking), To Hellas and Back, she marries the love of her life, an Australian Greek, and accompanies him back to Greece, only to find him becoming increasingly Greek and herself increasingly isolated. In the second, Kickstart My Heart, she moves to London, single and desperate to find love again. And in this third memoir, she returns to Greece, where she encounters a seemingly perfect man named Adonis. (Hey, she never gives up!)
Expat credentials: From Sydney originally (she is back there now), Penrose lived in Athens for five years before moving to London.
How we heard about it: We happened across Penrose online and asked her to guest-post for us a year ago on what it was like to spend Christmas in Greece. At that time, we also did a giveaway of her first memoir. We invited her back this past April to write about Addicted to Love.

MagicCarpetSeduction_cover_pmMagic Carpet Seduction: Travel Tales Off the Beaten Path (May 2013)
Author: Lisa Egle
Synopsis: Travel with the author to China, Latin America, Turkey and the Middle East, and watch while she takes risks off the beaten path, and dances with strangers in strange lands…
Expat credentials: Egle characterizes herself as a lover of offbeat travel. She’s been to 36 countries on five continents and has been an expat twice: in Ecuador for a year and half, and in Spain for a year.
How we heard about: We got to know Egle first through her blog, Chicky Bus, and when we heard she’d put out a book, asked her to be one of our featured authors. Read the interview.

Pilgrimage-Cover_pmRunning the Shikoku Pilgrimage: 900 Miles to Enlightenment (Volcano Press, January 2013)
Author: Amy Chavez
Synopsis: After losing her job at a Japanese university, Chavez undertakes a solo journey running Japan’s 900-mile Buddhist pilgrimage, a distance equal to running from San Diego, California to Oregon. A Buddhist priest who is also a friend gives her “cosmic tools” to take with her.
Expat credentials: American expat Amy Chavez has been a columnist for Japan’s oldest English-language newspaper, The Japan Times, since 1997. She lives with her husband and cat on Shiraishi Island in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea.
How we heard about: We interviewed Chavez about her pilgrimage, and what it took to write the book, in April.

Don'tNeedtheWholeDog_dropshadowDon’t Need the Whole Dog! (December 2012)
Author: Tony James Slater
Synopsis: In the summer of 2004, Slater went to Ecuador, thinking that the experience would turn him into a man. He went back to his native England fueled by a burning desire to do something that mattered—and, ideally, to get the heck out of England in the process. He dreamed of going to Thailand and becoming a professional diver. This is the story of what happened next.
Expat credentials: A Brit, Slater now lives in Perth, Australia, with his Australian wife.
How we heard about: Slater made himself known to us for failing to include his first book, The Bear That Ate My Pants: Adventures of a Real Idiot Abroad, about his time volunteering at an animal shelter in Ecuador, in our 2011 holiday round-up. He probably should have left well enough alone, though, as next thing he knew, we had him writing for the Displaced Nation. His post on the world’s best parties remains one of our most popular!

TruckinginEnglish-dropshadowTrucking in English (December 2012)
Author: Carolyn Steele
Synopsis: This is the tale of what happens when a middle-aged mum from England decides to actually drive 18-wheelers across North America instead of just dreaming about it. Nothing goes well, but that’s why there’s a book.
Expat credentials: Born and bred in London, Carolyn and her son are now Canadian citizens and live permanently in Kitchener, Ontario.
How we heard about: One of our featured authors in 2012, Martin Crosbie, sent Steele our way, and Kate Allison reviewed her book in March. Steele later contributed an amusing post to our “New vs Olde World” series, about the difficulties of mastering the Canadian “R”.

Finding-Rome-on-the-Map-of-Love_dropshadowFinding Rome on the Map of Love (September 2012)
Author: Estelle Jobson
Synopsis: When her Italian diplomat boyfriend gets posted to Rome, Jobson throws up her career in publishing in her native South Africa to accompany him. There, she reinvents herself as Signora Stella, a casalinga (housewife). The book captures a year’s worth of quirky observations about life amongst the Italians.
Expat credentials: Originally from South Africa, Jobson now lives in Geneva, where she works as a writer and editor.
How we heard about: Jobson was our featured author in February. Her book and sense of humor are terrific!

Travels with George Book CoverTravels with George: A Memoir Through the Italy of My Childhood (April 2012)
Author: Olga Vannucci
Synopsis: In five separate trips to Italy with her young son, George, in tow, Vannucci strolls and hikes through the landscapes of her Italian childhood. She looks at Italy both as local native and awed visitor.
Expat credentials: Born in Italy, Vannucci lived in Brazil and came to the United States to attend Brown University. She lives in rural New Jersey with her son.
How we heard about: Vannucci was our featured author in September. Read the interview. We loved this quote from her son: “Where are we going? How much longer? I have something in my shoe. I want to go back. Why are we doing this? Do you know where we are? Do you know where we’re going? Mammaaaaaaa!”

AreWeThereYet_cover_dropshadowAre We There Yet? Travels with My Frontline Family (May 2009)
Author: Rosie Whitehouse
Synopsis: A vivid, funny, and very human account of the author’s travels with her family through war-torn Europe.
Expat credentials: Whitehouse spent five years as a housewife in the war-torn Balkans married to a correspondent of The Economist, caring for their growing family.
How we heard about: We happened across Whitehouse’s work online and asked her to be a featured author last summer. Read the interview. She’s absolutely fascinating, as one might expect of the kind of woman who trails her spouse into a war zone.

HoneyfromtheLion_coverHoney from the Lion: An African Journey (Dutton Adult, 1988)
Author: Wendy Laura Belcher
Synopsis: Brought up in Africa, Belcher returned to Ghana in the early 1980s to work with a “national linguistic group” that is spreading literary into rural areas by translating the Bible into native languages. A coming-of-age story that was called “lyrical” by the New York Times when first issued.
Expat credentials: An adult Third Culture Kid, Belcher grew up in East and West Africa, where she became fascinated with the richness of Ghanaian and Ethiopian intellectual traditions. She is now an assistant professor of African literature at Princeton.
How we heard about: Elizabeth Liang interviewed Belcher for her TCK Talent series.

Handbooks & Guidebooks

cathy_feign_coverKeep Your Life, Family and Career Intact While Living Abroad, 3rd Ed. (Stvdio Media, September 2013)
Author: Cathy Tsang-Feign
Synopsis: A survival manual for those who are living abroad, with real-life examples and easy-to-understand explanations about the unique issues faced by expats: from preparing to move, to daily life overseas, to returning home.
Expat credentials: Tsang-Feign is an American psychologist who lives in Hong Kong, specializing in expat psychology and adjustment issues. She has also lived in London.
How we heard about: When Kate Allison learned about the book, she decided it merited one of our “Alice” awards for the understanding displayed of the “through the looking glass” complex.

realitycheck_bookcoverReality Check: Life in Brazil through the eyes of a foreigner (September 2013)
Author: Mark Hillary
Synopsis: Targeted at those who plan on living, working or just visiting Brazil, it covers issues such as the difficulties of finding new friends, using a new language, and finding a job. Also provided is some background on the fast-changing society in Brazil that resulted in extensive street protests during 2013.
Expat credentials: Hillary is a British writer who moved to Brazil in 2010, bought a home, started a company, and has experienced both difficulties and joys.
How we heard about it: Andy Martin, another Brit in Brazil and a writer for the Displaced Nation in 2013, is a friend of Hillary’s and was jealous he’d produced a book that is not only a practical guide but also provides much of the cultural backdrop an international resident needs for a country as complex as Brazil. The next best thing, Martin thought, would be to do an interview with Hillary, which he delivered in two parts. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

TERE_cover_dropshadowThe Emotionally Resilient Expat: Engage, Adapt and Thrive Across Cultures (Summertime, July 2013)
Author: Linda A. Janssen
Synopsis: A guide for those facing the challenge of cross-cultural living, with candid personal stories from experienced expats and cross-culturals, and a wealth of practical tools, techniques and best practices for developing the emotional resilience for ensuring a successful transition.
Expat credentials: Janssen lived for several years in the Netherlands while her husband, an adult TCK, worked in the Hague. She recently repatriated to the United States.
How we heard about: We’ve had many satisfying interactions with Janssen since starting the Displaced Nation and were thrilled to hear about her new book—a natural for one of this year’s “Alice” awards, particularly as Janssen has been running a popular blog called Adventures in Expatland.

AmericanExbratinSaoPaulo_cover_pmAn American Exbrat in São Paulo: Advice, Stories, Tips and Tricks for Surviving South America’s Largest City (May 2013)
Author: Maggie Foxhole (Megan Farrell)
Synopsis: Aimed at those who are moving or traveling to São Paulo, it is designed to be a companion on the journey through the ups and down, ins and outs, and the curious roundabouts of life in that city.
Expat credentials: Megan/Maggie moved to Brazil with her Brazilian husband and their daughter. She keeps a blog: Born Again Brazilian.
How we heard about: Farrell/Foxhole was one of our early Random Nomads. She kept in touch and we were very pleased to learn about her book, which ML Awanohara read and admired for its comprehensiveness. Andy Martin, a Brit who also lives in São Paulo with a Brazilian spouse, reviewed the book for our site this past July.

101reasons_dropshadow101 Reasons to Live Abroad and 100 Reasons Not to (March 2013)
Author: Chris Alden
Synopsis: Targeted at the wannabe expat, the aim is to help you discover if living abroad is right for you. It’s an uplifting guide to the positive sides of life as an expatriate and a reality check about the challenges that relocation brings.
Expat credentials: A professional writer, Alden lived for three years in a beautiful village in the Troodos foothills of Cyprus, which resulted in his first travel guidebook: 250 Things to Do in Cyprus on a Sunny Day.
How we heard about: Alden was the recipient of one our “Alice” awards for this book. We were impressed that he offered a final, 101st reason to live abroad for those of us who, having been offered as many as a hundred reasons both for and against, still find ourselves dithering…

career-break-travelers-handbook_dropshadowThe Career Break Traveler’s Handbook (September 2012)
Author: Jeffrey Jung
Synopsis: Intended to inspire people to go for it and take the break they’ve been seeking from their jobs and go travel, with tips and tricks Jung learned from his own and other career breakers’ experiences.
Expat credentials: Having left the corporate ladder, Jung now lives in Colombia, where he founded his own business to help others do the same: CareerBreakSecrets.com.
How we heard about: Jung was one of our Random Nomads. He let us know about his book, and we reviewed it this past February. Not that he needed our help—it also got a shout-out in Forbes!

finding-your-feet-in-chicago-3D-Book CoverFinding Your Feet in Chicago: The Essential Guide for Expat Families (Summertime Publishing, August 2012)
Author: Véronique Martin-Place
Synopsis: A down-to-earth pocket guide to help expats settle into the USA’s third largest city with their families.
Expat credentials: As the wife of a French diplomat (they have two daughters), Martin-Place is accustomed to moving around the world. Chicago was one of her more enjoyable stops, but she also enjoyed Sri Lanka(!). The family is now in Shanghai.
How we heard about: ML Awanohara had interviewed Martin-Place on her blog, Seeing the Elephant. She had fun interviewing her again, this time about the process of composing a guidebook.

Cookbook

FromtheGlobalScottishKitchen_cover_tdnFrom the Global Scottish Kitchen (Self-published, November 2012)
Author: Sharon Lorimer
Genre: Cooking
Synopsis: Recipes based on Scottish cuisine but influenced by the restaurants and other kinds of cuisines Lorimer has experienced as an expat: e.g., Cock a’ Leekie Udon!
Expat credentials: Born in Scotland, Lorimer now lives in New York City and is married to an Asian American.
How we heard about it: We interviewed Lorimer about her decision to start up Doshebu, a business providing training to company employees being sent abroad on the “art” of being an expat.

* * *

Questions: Have you read any of the above works and if so, what did you think of them? And can you suggest other works to add to the list? My colleagues and I look forward to reading your comments below!

STAY TUNED for some upcoming posts, though we’ll be taking a bit of a break over the holidays!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to subscribe to The Displaced Dispatch, a weekly round up of posts from The Displaced Nation, plus some extras such as seasonal recipes and occasional book giveaways. Sign up for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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The Displaced Nation selects its top 5 chillingly atmospheric Halloween locations from literature & film

From greedy children holding up whole neighborhoods to blackmail as they seek a cheap fix for their addiction to stores selling cheap plastic masks and covering their aisles in fake cobwebs, I’ve always found Halloween to be tedious time of the year. Everything ends up looking more crappy than creepy. As the day lacks its own miserly Ebenezer Scrooge-figure I would be more than happy to fill the role.

Of course, that makes me a poor choice indeed to write a Halloween-themed post for The Displaced Nation, but we can all take solace in the knowledge that as I write this I have the lights in my living room turned off and I am ignoring the pleading of the legions of candy junkies knocking on my door asking for one last Hershey hit.

But enough whinging, Windram. Now for my picks for atmospheric locations that can send a chill down your spine:

1) Whitby, United Kingdom

Quite understandably Dracula is associated with Transylvania, but the Yorkshire coastal town of Whitby is also heavily featured in Bram Stoker’s novel as the site of Dracula’s shipwreck.

Stoker visited Whitby in 1890 and was struck by the atmospheric fishing town. It is easy to see why with the ruins of Whitby Abbey high atop the east cliff overlooking the town it is visually spectacular, which makes it a wonder why the Whitby portions of Stoker original novel have so often been ignored by filmmakers adapting Dracula. John Badham’s 1979 adaptation is one of the few movie Draculas to try and depict Whitby, though unfortunately even here the use of the Whitby storyline is disappointing as the Cornish coast in fact stood in for the Yorkshire coast. This adaptation also has Frank Langella as Count Dracula, so make of that what you will. It’s certainly not obvious casting, I’ll give them that.

2) Geneva, Switzerland

Sticking with a Gothic theme, let’s focus our attention on that other horror mainstay: Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley.

Frakenstein was inspired by Shelley’s stay in Geneva, and large parts of the novel are also set there. Of course, modern, clean, ever-so-slightly-dull Geneva is not the inspiration, but rather the Villa Diodati, a country house on the shores of Lake Geneva. It is here that famously the Shelleys, Byron, and Dr Polidori challenged each other to come up with a horror story. From this challenge Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein.

For an appropriate bit of campy Halloween schlock, Ken Russell’s film Gothic (1986), which is about the events of that challenge, is well worth a watch.

Equally, Benjamin Markovits’ novel Imposture, about Dr Polidori and his writing of the short story “The Vampyre” during that same challenge, is recommended.

3) A field of susuki grass, Japan

This entry is something of a cheat. This is an entry about the 1964 Japanese film Onibaba (literally, “Demon Hag”), which has no specific setting beyond Medieval Japan; but it’s one of the few horror films I’ve found genuinely affecting.

This is a very brief and unsatisfying summary of the film, but during a civil war two women, one old and one young—living in poverty in an area thick with reeds—kill soldiers who find themselves lost near their home, taking their possessions to sell. The older woman is worried that the younger woman, who is having an affair with a neighbor recently returned from the war, will soon be leaving her so she will have to fend to herself. When the older woman kills a samurai wearing a demon mask, she pulls the mask off the corpse (his face is disfigured) and wears it pretending to be a demon so as to scare the younger woman. Once she puts on the mask, however, she is unable to take it off.

Wow, that summary really doesn’t do the film justice. The film’s director, Kaneto Shindo, was especially keen for the film to be shot in a field of susuki grass, which they found near a river bank in Chiba Prefecture. That setting really makes Onibaba visually arresting. Claustrophobic, but also surreal and languid, these grasses heighten the tension, which is why I feel justified in adding a susuki grass field in Japan to this list.

4) Maine, USA

Obviously this is in reference to the frighteningly prodigious novelist Stephen King, a Maine native and someone who in his work has made use of the fictional Derry, Maine.

With its atmospheric coastline, rocky and dramatic, it’s easy to see how it has inspired King in a similar way to how east cliff in Whitby inspired Stoker a century before.

5) Georgetown, Washington, DC, USA

Or, more specifically, the stone steps that are on M Street in Georgetown, which were made famous in the classic horror film The Exorcist (1973). May the power of Christ compel you to visit! Word of warning: The steps are pretty steep, so if you’re heart starts beating fast, it’s probably the cardio-vascular workout you’re getting rather than any ghoulish happening.

* * *

Readers, literature and film are of course packed with thrills and chills. Have I missed anywhere you think belongs in the Top Five? Let me know in the comments…

STAY TUNED for next tomorrow’s Halloween posts, and prepare to be scared!

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