Dear Expats: You CAN make friends for life

Dear Expats: You CAN make friends for life

A month ago, I traveled to Geneva for a book signing and presentation of ‘The Disobedient Wife’, my debut novel published with Cinnamon Press.  Held at Payot Genève Rive Gauche, a fancy four-floor building in the heart of the shopping/ commercial district in Geneva, it is a stone’s throw from the famous geyser in Lac Leman.  It crouched at the foot of Geneva’s old town, trolleybus tracks snaking their way in parallel to the contour of the lake.Geneva Payot Poster  It was great to meet new people, readers and fellow writers, people who worked and lived in Tajikistan, a Tajik, Azeri and an Afghan and their friends, spouses and colleagues.  Mainly though, the reason for my joy found meaning in the presence of genuine, loving friends, each representing different phases of my expatriate existence.

Expatriate life can be viewed through the prism of a novel in draft form, a work of art in progress.  One lives in episodes, or phases, with each posting or country;  a new, challenging, exciting chapter to be lived each day, in each moment in time.  The richness of the lifestyle is colored by the culture; the tastes, sounds and smells of each place.  That does not mean to say that when I move, I leave nothing of myself behind.  I know expatriates who seem to manage this, moving forward to furrow an endless track through time without looking back, without regrets.  I have come across these.  They make great friends as props in a scene, or extra guests at a party.  Lousy in the long-term, they shield their hearts from the pain of separation, choosing self-defense over love and friendship.

I am not one of those.  Even as I try to thrive on the movement (workplace, social circle and the material possessions of home,) my heart breaks with each move.  Most of the time when I leave a country, I feel as though my soul will tear into two, the old friends sadly abandoned even as I feel a familiar, happy excitement for the new experience ahead.  Tears are shed and leaving parties held, but I hold on to hope that some day, somewhere, we will meet again.

An unexpected bonus of publishing a novel has been exactly this.  I reunite with friends and go for sushi with five strangers to each other from five chapters of my life.

The first:  A friend – one of my oldest and dearest – my room-mate at school.  I count boarding school as my first early expatriate experience, living in a strange land far from everything that spelled home.  She stayed by my side for five years and together, we battled the joys and despair of puberty.  She came to visit my university and supported me as a bridesmaid at my wedding.  We ran together to breakfast in long overcoats to hide our pyjamas.  We ate toasted teacakes and drank coke floats in Tanners Cafe.  We sat in long detention on Friday nights, scribbling passages from Pilgrim’s Progress, caught with vodka and orange squash in our second year.  She is still staunchly loyal and kind, my comforting pal, ever since easing the homesickness I suffered in my first weeks away.

A Croatian friend:  We met in Kenya in 1998, a few weeks after I met my life partner, also her friend.  She attended our wedding, patiently translating the entire ceremony for my elderly father-in-law who couldn’t speak English.  Her kitchen, sweetly scented with bunches of roses hanging upside down from the ceiling.  She lives in Geneva, bringing up children whilst holding down a career as a psychologist for the traumatized and mentally unwell.

An Italian friend:  From life in Burundi, she is an incredible cook with a beautiful eye for interior design, a huge empathy for the downtrodden, abused women of this world, with a penchant for salt in the swimming pool to save her tan and… breeding puppies.  She gave me two dogs, Vuk and Crni, my faithful hounds in Burundi and Kenya.  She still has their mother, an old lady now, living with her in Geneva.

A Somali friend:   He happened to be on mission to Geneva from Addis Ababa.  We knew each other in Tajikistan, his children played with mine and his wife often came by for tea and conversation.  She cooked us French Rabbit Stew, my first and last taste of fluffy bunnies (sorry!).  He lived in Dushanbe prior to the collapse of the Soviet Empire, speaks fluent Russian and has a vast knowledge of the world during the Cold War, Glasnost and Perestroika, having lived through it.

An Austrian friend:  My sweet ‘soul Mama’ yoga teacher and chill out pal, whom I knew in Cairo, a bendy athlete with her feet in the air, her children the same age as my own.  She recently relocated to Geneva from Egypt.  She misses the sun and her flowery roof terrace, but skis every weekend, kick-starting her career once more as a Primary School teacher.

These friends came along to the signing.  They brought their friends and colleagues from work and home, cheered me on and lifted my heart with moral support, hugs and smiles.  I have not mentioned the incredible generosity of old friends online, the ones from Dushanbe and Cairo who originally read the book and offered useful, detailed comments, the ones who live on every continent and share my websites, read my reviews, support me by reading my book at their book clubs.  The friends, old and new, here in the beauty of Rome.  They promote my work across their networks without me asking.  I am lucky.

I have reflected on this since my trip to Geneva and every time, I feel a soft glow in my chest, as though my heart is held by many warm, careful hands.  The fear I once harbored, that the fluidity of expatriate life would leave me without solid, lifelong friendships… utterly unfounded.

To read more about the book, please visit here

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Book Conscious Review: The Disobedient Wife by Annika Milisic-Stanley

Review by Bookconscious Deb Baker of The Disobedient Wife

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The digital world is smaller than the physical. Annika Milisic-Stanley contacted me via Twitter in December, to let me know about her new novel The Disobedient Wife. I don’t usually pursue unsolicited author enquiries, but it turned out we had Cinnamon Press in common. I’ve long admired the work of Jan Fortune and her family, who run this very fine small press in Wales and bring interesting books to the world, and my poetry has appeared in Envoi a few times. So when Jan got in touch with a review copy, I trusted this was going to be a good read.

And it was. I’ve never read a book set in Tajikistan and I’ll bet most of you haven’t either. Milisic-Stanley is a terrific writer, and she brings the beautiful and the bleak alive in equal measure, as in the opening line of the novel, “In the early hours…

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Displaced Dispatch – Best Expat Fiction 2015

Displaced Dispatch – Best Expat Fiction 2015

Just saw this – 6 weeks on… drum roll….

My novel, ‘The Disobedient Wife’ (Cinnamon Press) made the list by THE DISPLACED DISPATCH for BEST EXPAT FICTION 2015!

The Displaced Dispatch is a weekly online magazine dedicated to the ‘expat creative’ or international, people who are global residents, moving frequently and working in a creative pursuit, whether it be fine art, literature, film, food, business or theatre.

Please go to their link here to see the whole list.

Naples, Italy: Book Presentation

Naples, Italy: Book Presentation

On Saturday, 12th March, I will be whisking my way to Naples on the Freccia-Rossa high speed train to spend a morning with the lovely people of the International American Women’s Group of Naples, who have invited me to come and present ‘The Disobedient Wife’ to their group, as well as a wider audience.

I’m excited to see the ancient metropolis of Naples, as though I have lived in Rome, Lazio for the last 30 months, this will be the first visit to my neighbouring city in Campania region.  The reasons I haven’t dared go to date seem cowardly, even ill-informed when I think about them now.  Rowdy, countryside-born children unused to the hustle and traffic of the city; stories of motorbike muggings from visitors; the organized corruption and rubbish piled up to rot in the streets.  All this served to turn my compass north whenever I felt a desire to explore new places in Italy.

Now though, I have a wonderful, all expenses paid, opportunity to see something of Ndisobedient_cover-draft-6aples, soak up the sights and smells for another, longer visit later this summer on my way to Sorrento, Capri and Iscia… who knows?  I can’t wait!

If you are in Naples on 12th March 2016, if you are an avid reader, or a fellow writer… and would like to see my presentation, please contact me here and I will put you in touch with the Naples AIWG Coordinator.  The plan for the morning: I’ll show a short film, read several excerpts from the novel and hold a question and answer session. I’ll have some books to sign with me, should anyone want to buy one. The presentation is from 11:30 – 13:00.

To remind you, The Disobedient Wife is a compelling read about two women in Tajikistan: A diplomat’s wife and her maid, a local woman from Tajikistan.  The story examines life in a Central Asian outpost and the changes that have affected women since the collapse of the Soviet apparatus.  Themes: Infidelity, Drug trafficking, Cultural Tradition versus modernity and women’s rights.

It won the Cinnamon Press New Book Award in 2014 and was published the following year, a few months ago, in November 2015.

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Book Review: The Fine Times Recorder

Book Review: The Fine Times Recorder

This week I received a very fine review on ‘The Disobedient Wife’ by the editor of The Fine Times Recorder, an online website on Arts and Culture in the South West UK.

She starts the review as follows:

‘THE “Stans” are mysterious and unknowable, strange lands of ancient cities with slender minarets, vast windswept plains, snow-topped impregnable mountain ranges and people who trace their lineage back to Genghis Khan and his golden horde.

That’s the romantic image – Marco Polo, the Silk Road, dramatic looking people hunting with eagles across the steppes of central Asia.

The reality in the 21st century is, of course, very different. Decades of dominance by the USSR and the inexorable Soviet machine that sought to eradicate cultural differences, turned the “stans” into poor satellites, dumping grounds for all the things that Mother Russia wanted to forget about.’

The Disobedient Wife is a compelling read, and a masterful first novel – as well as the first novel about modern post-Soviet Tajikistan.’

To read further, please go to the link below:

The Disobedient Wife – a window on an unknown land

The Disobedient Wife was published in November 2015 by The Cinnamon Press, UK. It won their First Book Award 2014.

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This Week in Writing: Gatecrashing Book Clubbers, #BookConnectors, Literary Critters Get Even, and a ‘Surprising’ Review by an Irish Aussie

This Week in Writing: Gatecrashing Book Clubbers, #BookConnectors, Literary Critters Get Even, and a ‘Surprising’ Review by an Irish Aussie

A Writer’s Diary of the Week…

So, firstly, I had a very good lunch (avocado salad, fish pie, pudding and far too much bubbly Prosecco) with a lovely book club made up of expatriate women living here, in Rome. They hailed from Iceland, Switzerland, Holland, South Africa, the UK, Egypt and Australia.  They read the book in their December holidays, some while skiing, others on the beaches of the South, one in her car, hiding from the family duties of Christmas.

All enjoyed it, luckily, and I experienced a very hazy, surreal, out-of-body experience of eight women all talking at once about the characters in the book as though they lived and breathed.  An argument over who was the most evil; a discussion as to whether a character killed herself or was murdered – it is true – I left it open, though in fact, that was no deliberate act of subterfuge.  I realized, I knew what happened and that was all that mattered when I was writing it.  I was humbled, blushing when they asked,

“So, Annika, do you have any questions for your readers?”

In my fog of egocentricity and gatecrasher’s nerves, it never occurred to me that they might want to be interviewed as to their opinion.  I rummaged through my prosecco-addled brain, searching for a decent question.  Nothing.

“Well, not really,” I blurted.

Oh, the arrogance of the debut author.  I apologize; put it down to naivete.

***

This week, I managed to join a very useful facebook page called Book Connectors, recommended to me by Pam Reader, a prolific book blogger. Authors ask good questions and can post information about upcoming events, bloggers post reviews, and the community seems to be a friendly and helpful one, especially for British writers.

***

I joined an online literary critique forum.  I was not expecting much to be honest, as it is free and very basic in terms of the web design (an uninspiring grey with white font), and format (‘cheap as chips’).  In the absence of my fantastic Editor-on-Tap (she is fighting a valiant battle with cancer), it turned out to be surprisingly useful.  ‘Credits’ are earned by critiquing other writers, which you can then ‘spend’ by uploading your own offerings.  I uploaded the prologue and half the first chapter of my new novel (draft 2, at least, with much fiddling and rewording).

Then I waited, biting my nails.

The ‘critters’, as they call themselves, did not hold back:

“I don’t like starting critiques on the negative, but there’s no way to avoid this: your opening sentence is tell—tell that is flat, written in passive voice, and unimaginative.”

Oh dear.  I laughed out loud, he was right.  He was getting even too – I recognized his ‘name’ –  I’d ‘critted’ a chapter of his book the day before, asking him to work harder on characterization.  I don’t think that writers should make it their religion not to use passive to be verbs, sometimes you need to… but…  I conceded the point.  I got praise for my pretty use of language.  Within an afternoon, I spring-cleaned the upload, replacing passive she/he had/ was into fresh, immediate dialogue.  Much improved, I look forward to the critter’s responses to the next two uploads.  I expect a serious dressing down, though I tried hard this time .  As the author, it is hard to catch mistakes – hence the need for great editing.

Lastly, I received a review from Writerful Books, an Australian publishing house based in Melbourne.  It can be found here: Writerful Books Review

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I loved that the reviewer was honest enough to open the review with:

“This was a surprisingly good read.”

I don’t know what initially put him off – the pinkish lettering of the title font, perhaps?  The little Tajik woman in the corner of the cover?  I grinned, imagining his sighs as he opened it and settled down to read.  Did he start the book in trepidation, thinking himself sentenced to review a new sub-genre of Central-Asian Chick Lit?

It was a lovely review, take a look! 🙂

All in all, a very good start to Writing in 2016.

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Displaced Dispatch

Displaced Dispatch

This week, my book ‘The Disobedient Wife’ got a mention in the ‘Displaced Dispatch’ a so-called ‘home for international creatives’: A website that incorporates all international news on fine arts, literature, food and theatre, including street parades in The Bahamas and door-to-door singers in South Wales. It is a great site, with articles on the pain of expatriate ‘re-entry’ on return to home…

Check it out!

LINK: DISPLACED DISPATCH