Saturday, February 18, 2017

Reflections of an Immigrant

Yesterday we went to London to deal with the dreaded American passport dilemma. We have seven people in our family. Four members have two passports each. Let's do the math, shall we?

3 + 2(4)= 11 passports to renew, all at different times unfortunately

We are planning a trip to the US in April, and we've been working quite hard trying to get our permanent residency established and our two American-born children's passports back in order to go. That has required A LOT of paperwork--including letters from every school and doctor's surgery they've ever been to, with records of attendance and appointments. Considering they've been to six schools between them over the last six years, that was not the matter of a simple phone call.

So in the midst of all this we realized that the American passport of Second Eldest Daughter, who was born in the UK, had expired. Hence an urgently-booked trip to the American Embassy in London to deal with it.

Cue the 4am wakeup to make a 9:30 appointment in London, and then the endless bureaucracy of getting into the American Embassy, which is on par with Fort Knox, and understandably so. We queued in the line for non-US visas for ten minutes just to get in the building before we realized we were in the wrong line.

Then many more lines, for security, to enter the Citizen Services area, to register in the Citizen Services area, to pay for the passport, to pay for the courier envelope, to hand in the application, and finally, finally, the last line to approve the application. Two hours later we emerged, blinking and dazed, into Grosvenor Square.

But I will say everyone was very efficient and friendly, far more so than the last time we had to go to the Embassy in London (we usually go to the far smaller Consulate in Edinburgh), which was in November 2001, and let me say, it felt like you were entering a maximum-security prison, and you were a prisoner. Understandably.

And despite the many hoops we've had to jump through lately, not to mention the many cheques we've had to write, I'm very grateful that we have the opportunity to live in the UK as US citizens, especially when I consider the state of immigration today.

Two days after the Brexit vote my husband and I were sitting in the visa office in Solihull with about 20 other immigrants applying for permanent residency. We all sat there quietly with our applications on our laps--hundreds of pages of paperwork showing the jobs we've had, the taxes we've paid, the fact that we are not eligible for any government benefits, such as child benefit, while employed in the UK--while a large-screen TV blared experts' opinions on the Brexit vote and the immigration 'problem'.

It was incredibly poignant and sad to sit there with polite, gainfully employed non-UK citizens who have added so much to this country and listen to people on TV describing how we're all a problem. The immigration system isn't perfect in any country, and of course it can be abused. But it is a wonderful, wonderful thing for many people, including me.

The last thing I will mention is that all the people working in the visa office, some of them immigrants themselves, were incredibly polite, friendly, and efficient. It made the laborious process much, much more pleasant!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Frosty Walk

One thing I've enjoyed about living in this area is how much frost we get! A small thing, perhaps, but when we lived on the coast we hardly ever got frost, and I realized after I moved here how much I missed the sight of frost-covered hills on a sunlit morning.

Over New Year's we took a few walks, to Tintern Abbey and also to the Brecon Beacons, and enjoy some beautiful, frosty days. As pretty as snow, but without the hassle!

In the Brecon Beacons
The visitor's centre near Brecon

Walking in the Brecon Beacons

Tintern Abbey

Frost-covered fields by Tintern Abbey

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Too British? Awkwardly British part 2

I recently read a review of one of my books where the reader felt duped in learning I was American, because my book sounded British. Now I admit I found this a little annoying. When writing a British book, I want to sound British. And just because I didn't grow up with it doesn't mean it isn't real. In fact, most Americans, if they met me, would think I sounded British. However... I do recognize that in writing I can't sound entirely British. Kindly readers have pointed out Americanisms to me that I never would have realized (or rather, realised). So it seems I can't win. I can't write an authentic British voice, and I can't write an authentic American voice, either.

What, you say? But you ARE American! Of course you can write in an American voice! Dear reader, I cannot. I have spent twelve years in the UK. I had three out of five children here. I am SURROUNDED by people speaking in English (or Welsh!) accents, using English (or Welsh!) expressions. Two out of five of my children have British accents themselves. An authentic American voice is beyond me.

So what ends up happening is I sound like a bit of both, and I don't know what to do about that. In fact, in writing my latest Willoughby Close books, I worried that I wouldn't sound British enough, because those irritating little American turns of phrase would slip in. And yet somehow I ended up sounding too British!

I suppose I will always have to walk this line between America and England, for my whole life, so I ought to stop whinging--or rather, whining about it. According to the fascinating book Third Culture Kids, if you live in a country that is not of your parents' birth for more than two years, you cannot look upon your 'home' country as truly home any longer--and that is certainly true for me!

But I suspect this type of polarity will be true for many as people move countries. So at least I am in good company, straddling two cultures--and two languages! 

Monday, January 2, 2017

New Year's Resolutions

Every year my family and I try to write down three ways we want to grow in the coming year--in mind, body, and spirit. I usually write some form of exercise, a plan to pray and read the Bible, and then a wild card mind one--last year I wrote I wanted to learn to play piano. Sadly, I rarely keep these resolutions going past January. I admit I didn't touch the piano!

So this year I decided to be more realistic and reasonable. My goal this year is actually to do LESS. That is, to write less. I love writing books, and I tend to get grumpy when I don't write for a few days, but the last few years have been manic writing-wise. I've finished a book and started a new book the next day. I've written through holidays, in the evenings, even in the car (not while driving, though!). Deadlines have hounded me constantly.

I did it because of a good thing--so many opportunities! So many publishers! And best of all, so many stories to tell. But as I kept writing frantically I found I was losing my joy. That heart skip of excitement when you start a story. It all felt like plodding.

And even more alarmingly, I was distracted at home. Always trying to carve a minute here, an hour there to write. And my family suffered as a result. I suffered too, because even going for a coffee with a friend felt like it was taking away from my writing time. And that is definitely not how I want to live my life!

So my goal for 2016 is to write less and live more. I still have deadlines, and for the next four months they're quite tight, so I can't actually enact this resolution for a little while, but it is in my mindset. Don't go crazy trying to meet those deadlines! Ask for extensions. Enjoy the moment. Treasure your children, because with one about to fly the nest, I know they don't stay little or even around forever. And enjoy the stories I choose to tell, because joy was the reason I got into this business.

What about you? What are your new year's resolutions, if any?

Monday, December 5, 2016

Awkwardly British?

Tonight my daughter looked up from her homework and remarked, 'Mom, you sounded awkwardly British just then.' I can't actually remember what I said, but it was definitely not an American expression. And the longer we live in England, it seems the more 'awkwardly British' I become--saying bin instead of trash can, car park instead of parking lot, biscuit instead of cookie. And not just using different words but different constructions--my three-year-old asked me earlier if the biscuit (yes, biscuit!) I was handing her had 'raisins in'. In the US you would say 'raisins in it'. Another one is using 'quite' rather than 'very'. There are myriad different words and expressions, of course, and I could hardly begin to catalogue them all, although as a family we have tried. One child made it a school project!

But in any case my daughter's phrase 'awkwardly British' rattled around in my head for awhile. How can I be awkwardly British while living in Britain? And the more I write the word awkward, the more awkward a word it seems! But anyway...

My children are quite ruthless when it comes to ferreting out British expressions and pouring disdain upon them. If I ever dared to say truly quintessentially British words such as 'bloke', 'loo', or call a friend 'mate', they would roar with laughter, gasp in horror, or probably both. But those three examples mentioned above are actually British words I can't bring myself to say, along with loo, naff, cheers or ta for thanks, or quid, to name a few. It's not that I have a problem with these words, it's merely that I don't think I can pull them off. I feel like either I'd burst out laughing while saying (or attempting to say) the word, or else the person I was talking to burst out laughing. Probably both.

It's inevitable, though, that we will adopt some Britishisms while living here, and I have noticed when I return to America, people mistake me for being British (cue incredulous laughter from every Brit who has ever met me). In fact, on a plane to a writers' conference in Texas, a very Texan woman exclaimed, 'Oh, you're British!' I laughed and said that no, of course I wasn't, I didn't have a British accent! She gave me a sympathetic look and said, her own accent as thick as treacle (see how British that is?!), 'Bless your heart, honey, you do.'

I've mused more than once that since we are settled here permanently, my children will most likely marry British people (assuming they marry) and have children who will sound QUITE British, because I've noticed that children with one American parent and one British parent living in Britain--guess what? They sound completely British. So eventually I will have grandchildren who will shrug their shoulders, roll their eyes, and say something like, 'Oh yeah, my mum's parents are from America and we have some cousins over there but, you know, whatever.' Or something like that. And then, perhaps, we will seem awkwardly American.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Fabulous contest to win 22 books!!

I'm so excited to be part of bestselling author Susan Mallery's Christmas contest. All you have to do to enter is go to the contest page on Susan's website here . It's under the Members tab and you can join for free.

It's a great opportunity to try a whole load of new authors, so please do enter. And in the meantime, stay warm! It's cold and frosty here. I'll be back tomorrow with some photos from my wintry walk :)

Monday, November 7, 2016

What I'm Reading and Writing

A few years ago I read Ann Voskamp's excellent and inspiring book, 1000 Gifts. It really challenged me to be thankful for the small and everyday things in my life, and I recommended it to many people. I was thrilled, therefore, to see that she'd written another book--and one that seemed to speak directly into my life. It's called The Broken Way and its subtitle is 'A Daring Path to the Abundant Life'. The essential theme is that we need to be emptied to be filled, we need to give to receive, we need to lose ourselves in order to be found. It's thought-provoking and poetic--Ann Voskamp's style takes some getting used to, as it is more stream of consciousness than straight narrative. But I'd highly recommend this book!

As for what I'm writing... well, I've already written it, but the second book in my Willoughby Close series is available for preorder. It's called Meet Me At Willoughby Close and it's about a Manchester single mum and an Oxford professor and their unlikely, funny, and heartwarming romance. You can preorder it here.