Neither Here Nor There
When the kind people at Our Book Reviews allowed me to write a guest blog during the week of At Yellow Lake’s publication, I thought a good idea might be to talk about being an American writer working primarily in the UK.
This doesn’t put me in a unique position, of course. Some of Britain’s most accomplished and celebrated writers for children, Meg Rosoff and Patrick Ness, to name but two, are American. And go to a SCBWI British Isles conference, and you may wonder if children’s writers are the latest secret weapon sent over by the United States to implement its cultural takeover of the UK. (We are—but keep that under your hat!)
If asked about my nationality, describe myself as a US citizen who’s a long-time UK resident. I’m not yet a UK citizen, primarily because I haven’t bothered to fill in the vast amounts of paperwork, or cough up the exorbitant fees, that are necessary to become a citizen proper. I’m also not over-keen on the “oath of allegiance” that’s required. In fact, even as a child, reciting the US “Pledge of Allegiance” made me feel a bit queasy and dishonest. Binding loyalty to Queen or flag—I’ll pass on both!
However, even though I’ve lived in the UK half my life, and have strong links with family and friends in the US, I don’t feel particularly qualified to talk about the distinctions between the two countries in terms of writing for children. My sense of identity is a little bit wonky; my cultural connections to both the US and the UK seem diluted and blurred. I worry that my characters all speak in a sort of mid-Atlantic accent, neither British nor American. I wonder if I could ever really capture life in a British school, even though I actually teach in one. At the same time, the world of the American school—the sports stuff, the cars, the lockdowns, the prom—is totally bewildering to me. The last American teen I had a real connection to was myself—and that was a long time ago!
So—does this long-term cultural disorientation make writing easier, or more difficult? On the one hand, I don’t feel totally at home in either place, and I wonder if my lack of deep connectedness makes my writing ring false. On the other hand, what’s wrong with being disconnected, especially if you’re writing for teenagers?
Isn’t the world of the child or teenager one that’s riddled with disconnections? Their bodies and outlooks are changing at an astonishing speed. They are often confused by the conventions and expectations of schools and society. The world of adults might as well be a foreign country to them.
It’s possible, then, that being unsure or unsettled is a positive thing for writer. Feeling slightly awkward and out of place might help bring us closer to the uncertain worlds and often unstable lives we are trying to convey.
Neither here nor there—maybe it’s not a bad place to call home.
Jane McLoughlin's book "At Yellow Lake" has just been published but Maryom has already read, enjoyed and reviewed it and we wish Jane every success with her debut novel.