ALFIE GOES TO THAILAND: An Interview with Writer James King

My guest today is English writer and expat, James King, who lived for many years in South Africa then emigrated to Thailand in 2011. His writing runs the gamut from nonfiction to poetry and more recently, novels. I “met” James online as a fellow blogger on jamoroki.com and Displaced Nation. He is also a  photographer and thus the source for the beautiful landscape photos accompanying this post.

You grew up in England and now live in Thailand. Tell us a bit about that.
I’m a West Country lad, born and bred in Bristol where I grew up in the suburbs and later moved to the surrounding countryside, then ended up back in the City, until I emigrated in 1995 to South Africa.

What life is like for an ex-pat in Thailand?
You notice the difference immediately, because the Asian culture requires Westerners to re-evaluate their views and leave the West behind. If you don’t, you’ll have a hard time. I have to admit it wasn’t easy, and it took me nearly five years to acclimatize to the Thai ways, and accept I couldn’t and shouldn’t even try to change the things that irked me. Once I did I was OK, although I still have my moments.

Your new trilogy series is described as a “drama and psychological romance with damaged characters in a tropical sauna.”  (I love that.) Tell us about “ Alfie Goes to Thailand.”

due for release Oct-Nov 2019

In the first novel, Post-It Notes, Alfie pieces his life together after an acrimonious divorce. He finds a place where no-one knows him, and works out why he is so depressed, after being set free by his third wife.  Alfie’s adventures hot up, as a conniving Mother and her wicked daughters, plot his downfall. The dangers are exacerbated by crooked builders, and rogue property traders, exposing him to a hair-raising ride through Thailand.

What was your inspiration for these stories?                                                       When I published my Thailand Diaries in 2011, I did it as an experiment, knowing nothing about self-publishing at the time. The books were raw, and so was I from a bad experience, and I left a lot of sensitive stuff out. As a result, they ended up as a sort of rambling, tongue-in-cheek travel guide that Lonely Planet wouldn’t have given the time of day to. I knew all along that I would have to do something. Either re-write them, ditch them or, I wasn’t sure what. Then one day, in a dream or drunken stupor, it dawned on me. If I took the best material from the diaries and the material in my dump file, that was too sensitive to include, I had all I needed for three psychological, dramatic ,romantic novels, full of seriously damaged characters, and extraordinary happenings. So, I had the story, I had the characters and I had the inspiration. But could I do it justice and sell it. Time will tell.                                                                                                  Your reply only piques our curiosity about “ the sensitive stuff.” Maybe we can glean some of this from your writing! (BTW I enjoyed the Dairies!)

What books, writers and other artists have influenced you?                 Music, film, art and literature, have had a great influence on my life. Who could fail to be moved by Shakespeare, Dickens, Hesse, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, among others. They have all had a profound effect on me one way or another.

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Workers in a rice field photo by J King

Describe your writing environment

Most of the time I sit at a glass-topped teak desk peering at an ultra-wide 34 inch monitor, in our open-plan modern Thai bungalow. I built the home in 2016 in the rice fields of the Chiang Mai valley in North Thailand. We have no fences, walls or gates, and are surrounded by rice, fruit and vegetable farms, mountains, forest and jungle. It’s the biggest garden I have ever known, tended by hundreds of farmers and mother nature, and it’s all free. It’s either inspiring or distracting depending on my mood.

New rice

New rice field at sunset by J King

When and how did you discover your passion for fiction writing?        That’s kind of loaded question because until I publish my two series, this year and next, I won’t be sure if becoming a fiction writer was a good decision or not. I wanted to write for years before I started. It’s been a gradual and transitional process, starting way back with poetry. Then, when I first went to Thailand, I diarized my trips. After that I started blogging, which was when it started in earnest. To be honest it was a bit of a mish-mash for some time. Blog posts about anything that interested me, more poems, short stories, a photo-interview series for The Displaced Nation and South Africa Diaries, a series of articles for Expat Focus, and finally novels. I got there in the end and I’m sure the unstructured process has added benefit with each step.    

 

Tell us about your main character. Which is your favorite secondary character and why?

Alfie Mynn, the main character, cuts a sad figure as he wades through the trilogy. He is a moderately successful businessman from Cape Town, but an enigma when it comes to women. He is a genuine person who continually builds obstacles in his own path and then expends enormous energy overcoming them. It’s as though he can’t live without having problems to solve. And because he can’t resist a challenge he has plenty of them.                                     My favourite secondary character is the mother of Alfie’s partner, Nin. Known as Mother throughout the story, she is a matriarch who rules her family with an iron fist, no love and no normal motherly traits.

 

Please share a few favorite lines or a paragraph:  Taken from the first novel – POST-IT NOTES.

“I found myself in a dismal place, a rough dirty market area, farther from nature than I had ever been, and I was lost. There wasn’t a paint shortage in Thailand, but where I was, it looked like nothing had been painted in a hundred years. Paint was big business, but there was very little left on the buildings I was looking at. So, where was I? There didn’t seem to be many tables with more than three legs in the food place I just passed. The few bricks and the hole in the wall which made up for the missing legs was ingenious. So well disguised nobody who was eating noticed or, if they did, they didn’t care. Why should they? Even if the surroundings were squalid, the food filled them up, and it only cost a few baht.

I picked my way between the dilapidated tables and pots of boiling food, that smelled like pork but could well have been a cocker spaniel. I must have looked out of place. Rats, as big as cats, and probably scared of farangs like me, scurried into any hole they could find… There were few windows, and the ones that still had glass in hadn’t been cleaned in a few lifetimes. So, there was either a business opportunity gone missing, unless people had concluded there was no market for window-cleaners. Copying the Thai smile, using some inventive sign language, and a ten-baht coin, I got general directions back to Silom Road, from a ragged old man who was sitting, hunched up, on a plastic crate. I think it was the coin that swung it. I’d just seen the dystopian side of Bangkok, another side of life, and a side I was pleased I didn’t live on.”

 

Let’s talk a bit about the Writing Process. When you first begin writing a new book, is your main focus on the characters or the plot?                    I’d say they go hand in glove. But in the main it’s what happens to the characters who already exist in my imagination or are drawn from life but aren’t developed as the story unfolds. Sometimes I have a story idea and then have to find the characters. Sometimes it’s the other way round.

What would you call your genre – why did you choose it?                           I didn’t set out to write in a specific genre, and never expected to write in the romance genre. But I was surprised to find I was writing a story about the overpowering need for most people to partner with another human being. Even the vilest horror stories usually contain an element of romance or love. And I can’t leave romance out of the Alfie goes to Thailand genre. It has elements of mystery, suspense, drama, psychological romance, and humour. I can’t pigeon-hole it, so I’ll get Amazon to put in as many categories as I can.

I agree.  I think most appealing books have a least a hint of romance. Do you write a book sequentially, from beginning to end? Or do you sometimes write scenes out of order?

So far I have done the latter. I’d prefer not to, but I’ve found when I’m in the middle of writing a novel all sorts of things come to me. I have to get them on paper or PC as quick as possible, then I’m often dragged out of the sequence for days.

I’ve found that too. Tell us about your process for naming your characters. How much importance do you put on names?                                    So far it has been rather disjointed and random, not scientific at all. I go a lot on gut feeling and have found that I often change a name many times till it feels right. So the answer to the last part is that names are very important.

Do you edit as your write? Or do you write an entire rough draft before doing any edits?

They say, even though it may be rubbish you should get it all out before doing any editing. They may be right, and I have tried, but I just can’t do it. Every chapter I write has to feel right in essence before I move on, even though I will rewrite chunks of it later.

The Only Witness cover -JPGTo get a taste of his writing, James is offering a FREE short story – THE ONLY WITNESS – which introduces the main character, style and humour of the trilogy.  I reviewed it, but I like what this reviewer had to say: ” the true mystery isn’t the crime committed, but the difficulty the protagonist has in grasping how the Thai people respond to the crime. A wonderful portrayal of one culture struggling to understand the other and a great read!”    I read and enjoyed it in an evening…. let us know what you think!

James is happy to respond to questions here about this post or his books. You can also connect with him here:  Website: https://www.jameskingbooks.com/about; Twitter: https://twitter.com/JimKing28265666;      Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/jamoroki/;   Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/jimking9406417/

From Rainy UK to Chile

I discovered ExPat Magazine interviews expats just like I do – so … “Meet Nina, serial expat who been living out of a suitcase since she was 18. With a background in luxury travel, she was thrilled at the opportunity to move to one of the most beautiful countries in the world, Chile.” She says the weather in the capitol, Santiago, is fabulous!

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photo from worldtravelguide.net

 

Chile occupies a long, narrow strip of land between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean so the climate ranges from dry desert, Mediterranean, to snow capped peaks and glaciers. The arid Atacama Desert in northern Chile is famous for beautiful green rocks full of copper. The population and agricultural resources are concentrated in the central area with its mild Mediterranean climate. Southern Chile is scenic with forests, volcanoes and lakes and the coast is a labyrinth of fjords, peninsulas, and islands.

Nina was interviewed on her experiences and answers practical questions on expat life in Santiago and beyond:

“My name’s Nina, and I’m from the UK. I moved to Chile with my family in January 2018.”

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photo: Expat.com

 

“Prior to this, my husband was working in Nigeria, and the original plan was to meet up there. However I was pregnant, and with two kids already we weren’t sure our situation in Nigeria was going to work for us, so we switched to Chile. Right now I’m blogging and enjoying getting to know this fabulous country. My background is public relations for luxury brands and I’m working as a freelance writer and blogger.”

See the interview and check out the expat blog (full of practical tips about living abroad): https://www.expat.com/en/expat-mag/2318-a-british-expat-in-chili.html

 

 

The Classroom of Diversity: Expat File #19

My expat guest this week is Tanya Crossman an Australian who lives in Beijing, China. Tanya has written an interesting book about the impact, positive and negative, on children growing up overseas. Here she tells us a bit about her experiences as an expat.

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8 year-old Tanya holding a baby wombat in Australia.

I spent most of my childhood as a local in Australia, and most of my adulthood as an expatriate in China (with time in the US and Cambodia along the way). I recently spent three years in Australia, riding the insane wave that is repatriation after 11 years away. Then I married an American TCK* and moved back to Beijing.                                                                   (TCK = Third Culture Kid, a term applied to children raised outside their passport countries. First Culture refers to countries in which a child has legal standing (passport country); Second Culture refers to any culture the child meaningfully interacts with through residence or heritage; the Third Culture refers to their shared childhood experiences of growing up in between countries and cultures.)

Now I’m experiencing life as a strange mixture of foreign and familiar, while rediscovering what I love about this city.   Somewhere in the middle, I began mentoring teenage and young adult TCKs. Ten years later I wrote a book explaining the impact of an international childhood, and how TCKs feel about their lives. My main focus now is equipping carers of TCKs (parents and teachers, in particular) to better support the young people they work with.

That is the short explanation of my expatriate experience. The long story is, well, much longer. Today I’m meditating on my first year in China, and how that set me up for all that was to come. Living overseas during my twenties had a huge impact on my life’s direction – sending me places I could never have imagined.

At the Great Wall of China

This happened in large part because of the incredible diversity of people I met and befriended. I had a reasonably multi-cultural group of friends growing up in Australia, and I spent two years attending high school in the US. Yet I had never spent time with such varied groups of people – people from different countries, cultures, languages, current socio-economic positions and backgrounds, and separate assumptions about the world.

Living in Beijing I met people from literally all over the world. Even my Chinese friends came from all over the country. My friends included exchange students, post-grads, teachers, business people, musicians, diplomats, doctors, asylum seekers, pastors, and more. They came from a vast range of social and educational backgrounds and incomes. Some were barely scraping by, others had money to burn.

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A diverse group of friends, from six continents: Australia, Cameroon, Costa Rica, Guyana, Indonesia, Italy, Kenya, Nigeria, Portugal, Romania, Sierra Leone, Singapore, UK, and USA.

 

Sometimes I was the odd one out – the only one of a different nationality, the only one who didn’t speak the main language around the table, the only one without disposable income, the only one with any income, the one with either the most liberal or the most conservative views. Other times I was in the majority – whether of ethnicity, language, values, or income. The extraordinary diversity among the people I met and shared life with affected me in many ways. The ethnic nuances and contrasts challenged my ideas about the world – what is right, desirable, and permissible.

Diversity of Beauty
Diversity changed my understanding of beauty – and my self-perception. It became very clear to me that beauty standards are utterly arbitrary – there is no one way to be beautiful. It seems like a simple thing, but I had never seen it so clearly demonstrated in practice.

In Beijing I had girlfriends from literally six continents with all different skin colours, hair colours, body shapes, and attitudes. They also grew up absorbing beauty standards very dissimilar to my own. It was literally impossible for us all to be ‘right’ about what was truly beautiful. Hearing those unconsciously accepted ‘truths’ from their lips made me more conscious of the ‘truths’ I had learned to speak over myself. Not only that, but I looked at these women who I knew were truly beautiful and realized that there was no common pool of features they all had – beauty had to be something less concrete than that. Beauty had to be something far less exclusive than any of us inherently believed when we looked in the mirror.

Diversity of Values
Diversity challenged my values. It led me to consciously examine beliefs I’d taken for granted. I suspect this happens to many people in their twenties anyway – when you move outside your family, your local circles, you are bound to run into people with at least slightly different values. In Beijing, the divergence was amazing.

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At the ancient Temple of Heaven in Beijing

 Around almost every table were people with vastly different views and values on just about everything. I saw people discuss (and argue) their differences of opinion in disparate ways. Most importantly, I saw my own values critiqued. I began to see how my actions might appear from the outside. I began to recognize blind spots in Australian culture, and flaws in my personal approach to life.

There were also friends who lived out virtues I theoretically appreciated, but hadn’t seen so well practiced before. People who were relentlessly joyful, kind, or gracious. People who skillfully balanced both ambition and generosity, both achievement and humility. Watching and listening and considering differences in the way people chose to act and interact with each other was a valuable education.

Diversity of Lifestyles

I came to Beijing with a one year study program, fully intending that a year later I would return to Australia and find a graduate position in some sort of multinational company. My view of what was possible was quite narrow. Diversity changed my ideas about what I could do with my life – and how I could live it.

Surrounded by people who had chosen very different paths, I realized other directions were possible. They might not have seemed possible in Australia – perhaps they really would not have been possible to me there – but living somewhere else, other options seemed open to me.

I didn’t work out immediately what I wanted to do, but I found in myself a longing to see what else was out there. That feeling was enough to prompt me to extend my stay in Beijing and see what would happen.

     The rest, as they say, is history.

Tanya’s book is called “Misunderstood: The Impact of Growing Up Overseas in the 21st Century.”   It explores the impact international life has on the children  – while they live overseas, when they return, and as they mature into adults. This “Third Culture” is described through the personal stories of hundreds of individuals.  It is sold both as paperback and ebook by most online booksellers. (Misunderstood can be found on Amazon; see her website for other venues.) Tanya can often be found online, usually on facebookinstagram, or  twitter and occasionally at her website.

Many thanks to Tanya for sharing her adventures and insights. Don’t be shy – share your own in the comments below!

 

Spanish Refugees from Franco’s War (excerpts from Christian Zozaya’s draft memoir, Culture Shock)

This is the last segment I have of Christian Zozaya’s memoir stretching from the Spanish civil War through WWII and his childhood (and adulthood) in South America.  Here is a brief recap for those of you joining us late: Born in Madrid, six-year-old Christian was evacuated to Barcelona with his family because of Franco’s War. As German troops marched into Austria, Mussolini increased bombing of the Spanish coast and Barcelona became as dangerous as Madrid, thus it was decided to send little Christian to boarding school in England. He was thrust alone into another culture and had to quickly learn English to communicate. The situation in Spain became so dire that his entire family had to escape over the Pyrenees and into France with only the clothes on their backs and whatever they could carry. His parents became separated and more hardships ensued, but strangers helped them and friends loaned them money so they could reunite with Christian now age 8. This is where we left off in his story.

I had not spoken Spanish since the previous September except for the brief visit by my parents in October and I had forgotten how to speak the language. Fortunately I could still understand Spanish, but my answers at first were limited to Si and No.

 Eventually all my family managed to cross the puddle…my grandparents and my uncle and aunt boarded a ship and went to Mexico. Dad chose to go to Colombia (where) two of his former students, Colombians, procured a contract for him with the Ministerio de Trabajo, Higiene y Previsión Social.

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(wikipedia.org)

We boarded the ship on May 11th and departed for Colombia. Molly gave me a book  “Great Sea Stories of All Nations”  that I still have it in my library. The M/S Margaret Johnson was a mixed cargo and passenger ship with capacity for sixty passengers and “all modern conveniences” such as electric fans and running water in the cabins. All the passengers were Spanish Republican refugees.

We made land on May 28th at a town called Puerto Colombia… the main port for Colombia since 1893. We stayed in Puerto Colombia a few days until the next riverboat was due to depart (from) Barranquilla on the shore of the Magdalena River. A railway ran between Puerto Colombia and Barranquilla  and we

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(www.tramz)

went to Barranquilla the day before the boat was to leave. We boarded the S.S. Pichincha, a stern wheeler with four decks. The main deck was reserved for the cargo; the second deck held the third class cabins, the second class cabins were on the third deck and the first class cabins were on the fourth (upper) deck. The pilot house stood in front of the first class cabins and there was a small cannon mounted on its roof.

The cargo on this trip was about twenty head of cattle so when Father bought the tickets he asked for the first class deck. The man who was selling the tickets asked him if he wanted a cabin. It seems that if you bought the ticket for just the deck that’s where you slept. Father bought the tickets for the cabin as well.

Example of a sternwheeler (notice rear of riverboat). Photo wikipedia.

Example of a sternwheeler (notice rear of riverboat). Photo wikipedia.

The trip up the Magdalena River to Puerto Salgar took eight days. The new experience started when we went down to the dining room for lunch. Hanging large on the back wall of the room was a sign.

SE RUEGA A NUESTRA DISTINGUIDA CLIENTELA

NO DISPARAR ARMAS DE FUEGO

EN EL COMEDOR

 In other words if you are going to shoot somebody please don’t spoil our dinner, do it outside on deck.

The diet was unusual for our European tastes. The first course of the meal was not a bowl of soup but a glass of pawpaw juice and then followed a soup like we had never had before. It was known as “mazamorra” and it had ingredients such as yucca and corn that had never formed part of our diets. After a more or less normal main course we had guava preserve for dessert.

During the afternoon the ship’s “orchestra” assembled on the deck in order to entertain us. This ensemble consisted of people who couldn’t afford the fare to so they agreed to pay by playing in the “orchestra” for as long as they were aboard. The group consisted of five people and they only had two songs in common; one was the “Guabina Chiquinquireña” – I forget what the other one was. They all wanted to go to Bogotá which meant that we listened alternately to the two songs for every afternoon of the eight days that the trip took.

We had to retire to our cabin when the sun set because the people who had paid to be on the first class deck, but had not paid for a cabin pulled out canvas cots, opened them, took off their clothes, put on their pajamas and went to sleep.

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Rio Magdalena ending in Barranquilla

On the eighth day we arrived in Puerto Salgar and it was time to leave the ship and board a train. When somebody asked what the fare was the station master lined us all up pointed to each Spanish refugees with his forefinger as he counted us and pondered for a while. He hemmed and hawed and came up with a figure; the group tried to pay it proportionately to the size of each contingent. The train chugged up the slopes of the Cordillera Oriental until we reached Bogotá.

The President of Colombia was Eduardo Santos (1938 – 1942). He had been instrumental in allowing Spanish Republican refugees into the country against the opposition of several members of his Cabinet. Colombia received us with mixed feelings. The political world was divided into, the Liberals and the Conservatives. The Liberals liked us because to a greater or lesser degree we were from the political left, but disliked us because we came from Spain, the colonizing power. The conservatives disliked us because to a greater or lesser degree we were from the political left but liked us because we came from Spain. There was also the fear that the Spaniards would take jobs away from the Colombians.

My parents did not want me to forget the English that I had learned during my stay in England so they enrolled me in the Anglo-American School (attended by expats from all over Europe). Being taught in two languages was good for me. Leaving a class in say geography that was taught in English and ten minutes later receiving a class in Spanish forced me to switch not only languages but my whole train of thought …

On September 1st (1939) World War II began. It had been well rehearsed by Germany and Italy in my home country. (Meanwhile) Dad was working on the malaria campaign which meant that he had to travel through the lowlands of the country: Los Llanos, through which the best means of transportation was often by boat. Not a steamboat such as the Pichincha, but a dugout canoe fitted with an outboard motor.

DrZozaya on his way to work circa 1940.

Dr. .Carlos Zozaya on his way to work circa 1940. (Zozaya Collection)

 

To get where the boat was he had to fly by commercial airliner and very often all three of us went to see him off at the airport.

 

Mother and I see Dad off at Techo airport.

Mother and I see Dad off at Techo airport. (Zozaya collection)

Sometimes Dad had to go to very remote places where there were no commercial flights close to where he wanted to go. One of these was Leticia, a town situated where the borders of Colombia, Brazil and Peru meet. The area of course is called Las Tres Fronteras. The southern tip of Colombia is the only place where it reaches the Amazon River and Leticia is one of two major ports on the Amazon, the other being Manaos in Brazil.

The Colombian army had a base there and the place was reachable only by float plane. The planes approached the town by following the river, flying just over the tops of the trees. When they reached the clearing they dived down and straightened out just in time for the floats to touch the water. The city has an international airport now and there are three Colombian airlines as well as several international ones that reach the city but at the time that was all the transport available.

During one of Dad’s trips a soldier had an attack of appendicitis. There was no hospital but an army doctor decided to operate. The operating room was a mud brick shack with a dirt floor, open windows, and the operating table was a door resting on two wooden boxes with a mattress on top.

The spaces outside the windows were full of curious people looking in while the doctor operated and his assistant stood by with a tray full of instruments covered by a cloth with which he would occasionally shoo away the flies. The soldier did survive.

One of his trips to Leticia Dad was told that he could not return on the plane because one of the pontoons was leaking. Sure enough when the plane took off he saw that water was coming out of one. What annoyed him was that he was the only person who was asked to leave the plane. When he asked when the next plane was due he was told that he would have to wait for a week. Dad didn’t complain but he sent President Santos a telegram. The next day a tandem cockpit biplane arrived in Leticia. The weather was dreadful (but) Dad climbed in the plane and flew back to Bogotá.

www.skyfighters.be

This is what the biplane may have looked like. (www.skyfighters.be)

On another trip he met an itinerant salesman… another Spaniard who was selling hand-powered sewing machines to the women in the bush. How he carried the machines I do not know but he walked through the forest plying his trade. He told Dad that once he walked into a huge clearing and found a city in the middle of the jungle. The place had public transport and an opera house. The man had stumbled into Manaos.

This is the tale of Christian Zozaya’s disrupted early childhood as an expat. The Zozaya family later moved to Venezuela where Christian will eventually meet his wife and both become professors. But before that he will return to Europe and travel the continent. Thank you to Christian for letting us share these excerpts of your unusual life.

This memoir is so interesting we can only hope he decides to publish it so we may read it in its entirety.  (I am re-posting this  blog which was popular a few years ago – with minor edits.)  It seems to echo the experiences of refugees today.

 

 

 

March is Readers Month

Greetings Dear Readers –

March is National Reading Month, a time to venerate reading, writing and literacy. One way to participate is to read aloud to children for 15 minutes every day through-out March; this can be the start of an appreciation for literature and an enjoyable habit in the years to come.

reading-pscan

I want to take the opportunity to say thanks to all of you who read my novel and especially to those who took the time to write a review. Your notes and comments from different corners of the world bring me joy.

Pictured in the slide show below are readers from as far away as England and Japan. I’d love to have you be part of my fun Pinterest collection (when you get there, click on “Readers” to see more); if you would like to be included, contact me below (your information is confidential and not stored) and I will “pin” your photo with a book.

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I get a thrill almost every month to see (very) small electronic deposits from Amazon, via Smashwords, or my publisher – however tiny! OK, I’m not making a living as an author, but A Place in the World was published a several years ago and yet someone somewhere is still reading it – I can’t tell you how gratifying that is!

Book launch_0287pscrp

Truth to tell, I found the publishing and talk circuit grueling (and hence didn’t do near enough of that or other marketing). Thus although I am working on two projects, I’m doing it because “I must”  write, not because I have to publish. Readers (yes You – you have remote power over me) – may make me change my mind .

By way of saying thanks I offer a short story as a pdf to anyone interested this month (well, in case there is a stampede of interest, to the first four people who request it).

It is entitled “Life in A Flash”  and told through the eyes of the younger daughter Sandra Jacinto, chronicles a multicultural, dysfunctional family. The cold experiences in young Sandra’s life are balanced by the warm relationships she embraces later in Latin America.

The story is set primarily in Costa Rica, but also Paris and London.  In spite of an unusual lifestyle, there are universal themes of sibling rivalry and adult-child conflicts; it may especially appeal to Expats, TCKs*  or those who embrace other cultures.  It did win “Honors” in the literary journal “Glimmertrain.” (Contact me here at https://cindamackinnon.wordpress.com/about/)

Keep reading – so many books so little time!

Kind regards, Cinda MacKinnon

 

*TCKs= third culture kids.  The term was coined for children who grow up in places other than their parents’ homeland; the first culture refers to the country from which the parents originated, the second culture refers to the cultures in which the family resides, and the third culture refers to the amalgamation of these cultures. There are many TCKs these days!

 

 

 

A 7 yr. old Refugee to England 1938-1939 – EXPAT Files (continued excerpts from Christian Zozaya’s draft memoir, Culture Shock)

When we left off Christian Zozaya was 6 to 7 years old and his family had evacuated to Barcelona because of the Spanish Civil War. Nonetheless he narrowly missed being hit in a bombing raid that killed another school-mate.   As German troops marched into Austria, Mussolini’s Italians increased their bombing of the Spanish coast and Christian’s school was badly damaged.

1938…and that was the end of the school year for us. (Mother’s friend) Molly Stephenson wrote, “Put the boy on an airplane and I will pick him up at the airport in London.

Molly lived in a small rented flat in Paddington fit for a single woman and it had a sofa in the living room in front of the fireplace. If you pushed a hidden button in the back of the couch the back folded down and you had a bed for your guest(s.) Molly taught me what toothpaste was. I don’t remember how I brushed my teeth in Spain but toothpaste was a luxury not available during the Civil War. She pulled out a tube of Gibbs toothpaste and taught me to put a little bit of it on my toothbrush and then brush my teeth with the brush moving in circles.

Molly’s brother took us out in his car for a ride around the town… it was a two-door, four-seat (convertible) with doors cut out at the top so that they sloped down backwards sharply. It was either a Morgan 4/4 Roadster or a Lagonda Tourer. Although I had ridden in cars several times including that famous overnight trip to Valencia I had never seen turn indicators. They consisted of two arms hinged to the top of their respective housings that rested vertically on the hood (bonnet in English parlance) on either side of the windshield. When the driver flicked a lever on the steering wheel toward either side the corresponding arm would flick up.

Chris with Molly Stephensen in England

The Manor House School was in Little Bookham, a town near Leatherhead (where Molly’s parents lived). Molly spoke to the headmistresses and Miss Green and Miss Wheeler invited us to discuss our situation over tea. The tea was accompanied by canapés which are itty bitty little sandwiches. I complained to Mother, “¡Mamá, es que estos sandwiches son muy pequeños!”   I was still hungry from the Civil War.

As a result of our visit Miss Green and Miss Wheeler agreed to cut the school fees in half. Molly was a generous and caring woman. She knew that my parents couldn’t pay the remaining half of the fee so she paid it herself.

I was to be a boarder and I shared a room with a boy named David. When I realized that I was going to be left at the school and that Mum was going away I started crying. It broke Mother’s heart because for all she knew she (might) never see me again, but she was doing it for my own good. She and Molly saved me from some very miserable times that Mum and Dad had to go through. That night I was allowed to play with my toy speed boat in the bathtub.

I had precious little knowledge of the English language and my home room teacher known as “Jane” did her utter best to see to it that I learned it. (A. Z. Granville-Johnson aka Jane was a former girl.) Nobody at the school spoke Spanish…but thanks to her efforts and Molly’s coaching, I managed to acquire a good knowledge of the English language.

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At breakfast I was introduced to such peregrine fare as herrings, and beans laced with sugar. I was also introduced during my meals to Marmite, a yeast extract with a very tangy taste. I believe it took the place of peanut butter in England.

Every Saturday the school lined up and we walked to Little Bookham. There was a store in the town where we could buy sweets and comic books. Molly gave me a weekly allowance of two pence; a comic book cost one penny and the other penny went for candy… this is where I first read of witch doctors and a plane which folded its wings and plunged into the sea to become a submarine. Nothing can beat science fiction

 

(His parents were able to visit 7 yr old Christian only once that year when his father attended an International Congress on Tropical Diseases in Amsterdam)… He and Mother were granted diplomatic passports. Many people in Spain thought that they would take advantage of the situation to leave the country but they’d always had a deeply ingrained sense of duty. They returned to wait for the final disaster.

On December 8th the school gave me a torch (i.e. flashlight) for my birthday; it had a red and a green filter that you could slide into place to change the color of the light. At supper time I found a cardboard castle from Molly.

At Christmas recess I spent a delightful vacation with Molly and Terry, the boy next door as my constant companions. Terry had all the accouterments to play cricket and he did his best to introduce me into the secrets of the game but I am afraid that I did not learn very much. My Christmas present was a pirate costume complete with eye-patch and wooden cutlass.

The Manor House School Magazine” was published in April, 1939. Everybody wrote an essay or a poem. I wrote about my situation as a war refugee… The situation was dire and it was obvious that the family would be forced to leave Spain.

In September my mother brought me to the Manor House School because there was a war in Spain.  I am still in the school because Franco has taken Barcelona and I have no chance to go back home.  My father is in Paris and my mother in Villa Pourcon.  My uncle, aunt, grandfather and grandmother are in Paris too.                                                                 Christian Zozaya (age 8) Form II.

… Like hundreds of thousands of others my family crossed the border into France; all they had with them were the clothes on their backs except for Father, who carried a packet of medical books in one hand and a violin in the other. Feeling extremely tired he pondered which one to drop. He figured that if the worst came to the worst he could always earn a few ‘sous’ by playing the violin. He dropped the books. For the moment I’ll spare you the details of their stay in an “internment” camp until they were taken in by some hospitable French people. At first only women and children were allowed to cross the border. ( CCM’s note:The couple was separated and endured more hardships before reuniting with Christian.)

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Eventually all my family managed to cross the puddle…my grandparents and my uncle and aunt boarded a ship and went to Mexico. As they boarded the ship Lady Astor, who was the head of the British Committee for Aid to the Spanish Republican Refugees, helped my grandmother to cross the gangplank and board the ship.

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I am re-posting this “EXPAT File #7” For those of you who may not have seen it originally – it was very popular. Let me know if you are interested in me posting the next segment of Christian’s disrupted early childhood as an expat.arriving in Colombia circa 1940.

from Franco’s SPAIN to COLOMBIA

via from Franco’s SPAIN to COLOMBIA via England: EXPAT Files #6

I posted this about Christian Zozaya memoir in 2014, shortly after I started blogging.  At the time I had fewer followers; some have left but many others have joined the journey. I think it is such a fascinating story that I have decided to revisit it for those of you who may not have seen it. 

I met Christian Zozaya a few years ago online through my school, Colegio Nueva Granada’s (CNG), website. He read a chapter of my book and asked to read the whole thing even though it was not yet edited – much less published. To my surprise and delight he wrote back with helpful cultural comments and edited some grammatical mistakes he had found in the Spanish.

He is writing a memoir of his fascinating life. I have two posts from Prof. Zozaya, the introduction from the draft of his memoir, Culture Shock and the text he wrote to commemorate the 75th anniversary of CNG (he was one of the first students). At the recent reunion in Bogota I was very pleased to run into several of his classmates and hear stories about the old days (my parent’s generation and the earliest days of CNG).            Cinda

Culture Shock

Born in Madrid the son of intellectuals (my father was an M.D. and my mother a Licenciada en Filosofía y Letras – roughly equivalent to a Master in Arts) my life was expected to be that of a well educated Spaniard……It was going to be a nice, orderly, settled life but fate would not have it so.

The onsets of the Spanish Civil War, and afterwards of World War II were to change not only my life but that of millions of people. This book is about what it did to me and to a lot of kids who found their lives changed forever…

Click above for more and to see his photos from the early 40’s.