Monday, 21 October 2013

Leaving Azzurro Behind – the journey of a reluctant Brit

In 2003 I was at a crossroads as a writer. 

I had written two novels and for each I had dutifully found, and subsequently lost, an agent after each, in succession, had tried and failed to find a publisher. Precisely two people, beside my minuscule family and my smallish circle of very good friends, had taken the time to read the hundreds of pages I had spent years writing and rewriting. 

I loved writing and believed I had something to say, a little something to add to the centuries’ old recorded human conversation, something that wouldn't be missed if it weren't there but wouldn't make the world a worst or duller place for being in it either. But the thought of subjecting myself to another two years of solitary confinement, for the entertainment of maybe ten people over the course of a week or two was too dismal too bear. 

That's when a sympathetic agent-to-be suggested I use my foreignness and familiarity with storytelling to pen "one of those travelogues about people who have moved to another country with hilarious results". Why didn't I, in other words, do a reverse 'Year in Provence'-job, chartering the agony and the ecstasy, the freedom and the foolishness of abandoning sunnier shores for the grey and the drizzle of this Sceptered Isle? Reader, I did just that, with hilarious results indeed. 

By the time I had finished the third draft no publisher could be cajoled into taking an interest in ‘Leaving Azzurro Behind’. What was fashionable now, I was told, were tales of third generation immigrants from far flung Commonwealth outposts. So there! I had lost another agent but by that stage I had found my future husband and domestic bliss lessened the disappointment and my appetite for rejection in the publishing killing fields. Besides, I had now one more reader on tap, increasing my net readership by about ten per cent at a stroke.

Years went by. People, even people I knew, started publishing their writing online and I myself dipped my toe in the shallow end of the blogging paddling pool. That got me thinking. Whilst I'm not ready for the full blown Amazon-turbo-self-Kindling thing yet, I have lost faith in traditional publishing being the sole arbiter of what deserves to be out there. Thus my lack of success through traditional routes is less inhibiting these days and can no longer repress my desire to share my writing with other people, including those not related to me, not sharing my bed and not invited to my birthday parties, you know, people out there in the world, people I do not know. People like you. 

So I have decided to publish my memoir on this website, a chapter at a time, storing the various chapters as I go on the handily named 'My Memoir' page. I shall alert you with a short post every time a new chapter is uploaded and you can offer your comments and observations at the bottom of the post in the usual way. That’s it. That’s all there is to it. So, here is the introduction to the book. 

Bear in mind, as you read, that although the writing itself has been much revised subsequently, the events described are still seen from the perspective of my 2003-2005 self, the self at the time of writing. I was a TV reporter, single and occasionally lonely in the big foreign city, often still pining for the azzurro sky of home. Little did I know what was to become of me a decade on. I am the perfect unreliable narrator, talking about ‘my life so far’ from a present which is now in the past. Mind-boggling, wouldn’t you agree? 

On a more mundane level the book concerns itself with the stuff of real life anywhere – student friendships, family lore, first jobs, flat-shares, house hunting, cowboy builders, bastard boyfriends, nights out, gym visits, other people’s weddings. I was too young for funerals but if the print version ever comes out there’ll be a chapter on those, I can assure you. You also get to peek into more unusual places : newspaper offices, TV sets, parliament buildings. I take you with me secret filming in Meditarranean zoos, UFO-hunting in Canada’s snowbound wilderness, to citizenship ceremonies and residential writing courses. 

History’s low hum sometimes becomes thunder, the Wall comes down, bombs explode in Madrid, then in London and I wonder what I’m doing with my life, my precious yet meaningless life, so far away from home. But the great financial crash of 2008 and subsequent recession and depression, the Euro crisis, the Arab Spring are not yet even glints in the typesetter’s eye. (I notice now that 9/11 is curiously there and not there, wallpaper already by the time of writing. I didn’t witness it, not even on TV, as I was travelling through Turkey by coach at the time, and it was clearly so huge and all-encompassing an event to have become a fact of life by the time of writing, not worth re-describing by me). 

Last but not least I try to decode Englishness from Britishness, I offer handy tips on how to dress like an Italian and I muse about how language maketh the man, indeed the people. You will discover why you literally cannot patronise an Italian and why taking a shower, instead of having one can be so, so much more invigorating than you thought possible. Have a read and tell me what you think. I hope you like it – even just a little bit.

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