Dave Freer has recently relocated to Australia. Originally from South Africa, he writes here about the transplanting of person and culture from a writers perspective.
Take it away, Dave …
It’s a long, long way from there to here… Kind of trite really. But reality often is, and where I am now both as a writer and in physical geography, is a long way from my origins. Once I was an Ichthyologist and lived in South Africa. Now I am a writer and pleased to be a very new Australian settler, living on a remote island in the Bass strait. ( http://flindersfreer.blogspot.com/ )
What do you mean, you thought they put boat-people on Christmas Island? I’ll have you know that somehow the Australian authorities decided I was a desirable migrant. I chose to go and live on Flinders Island. Really. Would I lie to you?
Heh, seriously, it’s a good place to write (well, there are a lot of distractions like a beautiful sea, which I have to catch our tea in) but it’s quiet and friendly, and comfortingly safe, far from the realities and restless ghosts of the lost dream. I came here to find peace in which to write… I’ve written (or co-authored as the principle writer with Eric Flint and Mercedes Lackey) some 12 sf/fantasy novels and a shed-full of shorts so far. They are quietly and subtly flavoured with the dust of Africa and it’s going to be interesting to see how a transplanted seedling writer does in a new and very different soil. Probably like African boxthorn – (you know, irrepressible and good for nothing) although at the moment it’s still unfamiliar soil and a different landscape, inwardly and outwardly.
That inner landscape — the hidden shared background that makes it possible to write something which carries a great deal more than just the words — and the private corners which writers reveal that we readers guiltily enjoy a voyeuristic peek at, is, for an outsider, a lot more tricky to navigate than for born-and-bred Australians. It’s also something that as an incomer I am aware of, that locals may not be: the undertones, the not-quite-spoken attitudes, the subtleties of meaning derived from understanding that background. Hell, even the pronunciation of innocent words can lead a poor foreigner into all sorts of trouble. I’m a rock-climber, and, once-upon-a-time, opened a whole lot of new climbing routes, mostly fingerlocking up vertical cracks. Did you know that South Africans pronounced route = root?
I leave the results of this slight difference to your fevered imagination, because it allowed me to sneak an example of how that shared linguistic landscape shapes things: “once-upon-a-time” told the Western English-speaking reader a great deal more than just the direct meaning of the words. It carries a history – baggage if you like. A simple direct translation into Zulu would not. Likewise that background allows words to carry many more things than just a simple meaning: mood, allusions, implications, sometimes back-history. Some of this is widespread among first language English speakers. I used a lot of this in PYRAMID SCHEME and PYRAMID POWER where I extensively used the common of classical Western mythology we have -even if only via Marvel comics. You all know the baggage of Loki or Thor.
Of course each country has its own. It is something I am working hard at learning here. “It’ll be the Eureka Stockade all over again” means something to most Australians, “It’ll be Blood River all over again” doesn’t. But it’s very important (to me as a writer anyway) to understand that inner landscape. One of my primary goals as a writer is remain accessible and easy to read. Unfortunately, I seem to blunder into writing about some fairly complex subjects. I could either fail at accessibility… or I could let the readers fill in the gaps by using that shared background. So it becomes very important to me know not just what ‘a squatter’ or ‘a bogan’ is but what implications there are in calling a character one. Knowing the baggage carried by a word and using that baggage can subtly make you a much more powerful and effective writer. It’s a difficulty I faced as a South African writing principally for an American market. It doesn’t help that I don’t live there, and that the culture — while sharing more than most of us are prepared to admit — has its own shared inner landscape. The reality for those of us who want sell to the international English-speaking market is that one has to at least get a handle on the crude geography of it. The US is the biggest market – and that market (just like anywhere else) is a complicated mixture of xenophilia and xenophobia.
I suppose you could say you just want their money and stuff their background and culture. We all love Americans, or Chinese or Poms or South Africans who do that, don’t we?
Rowena, here. Interesting points, Dave. I read ‘Brasyl’ which had a strong South American flavour. As readers, have you discovered writers who give their books exotic flavours? Middle East, India, South Africa? I loved the movie, ‘District 9′!