Year after year, there is a frustration that slips under my skin living abroad with no redeeming qualities—the distance between me and the English writing world. I nearly considered the internet as a redeeming quality, but in the case of English writers’ conferences, they are still far out of reach for most of us who live in a non-English country. Case in point, the awards galas for which I am a finalist in historical fiction are held at conferences not just in the United States, but on the other side of the US, about three times closer to Hawaii than to Sweden (where I live). I can understand anyone who chooses to shrug their shoulders at such a predicament. But for those of us who live abroad, it is no shrugging matter. Yes, it was our choice to live where we live and yes, all that could be changed with just one move. Rarely is it that simple, however, at least not when you have a family to consider.
At what point do we put our writing first? The Particular Appeal of Gillian Pugsley is my first book published and let me say, it hasn’t been an easy writing road with manuscripts dangling from cobwebs within the crevices of my laptop. They served a grand purpose by improving my writing to the point where agents and finally a publisher took notice. Polished and gleaming, it was released into the book world nearly one year ago, along with the thousands of other books out there. Never for a moment did I think it would get noticed and pulled from the crowd as a contender in any competition. I believe all writers hope for it, but when it actually happened, when I received notification from my publisher on all four competitions, as Gillian would say, “You could have tipped me over with a guinea pig’s whiskers.”
So my predicament lingers—my debut novel is being recognized in such an unexpected way and I likely cannot be there. Even though the outcome of any of these competitions isn’t what would drive me to go, the fact that my writing is being validated and recognized publicly, that someone has seen its value and appreciated my hard work, means more than I can possibly say.
Most writers need to pick and choose which writers’ functions they can attend, so I am no exception in that regard. In fairness, there is a selection of conferences and writers’ retreats throughout Europe, eg. Iceland Writers Retreat coming up in mid April and the Historical Novel Society Conference in early September.
It’s simply that the frustration under my skin seems to have bubbled up this time, for the sole reason a novel I gave so much of myself to, a story I grew to love as each page was written, is being recognized and I may not be there to support it. On the bright side, the best side actually, is that it was shortlisted and made a finalist at all. So whether I attend or not, I will forever be grateful and honoured.
If you feel like you are the only English writer living in a non-English country, I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject.