I’ve been thinking about the differences between my writing group in the UK and my writing group here in Spain. There are several, but one of the most noticeable is the difference in the participants.
What do I mean? Well, the members of this writing group are bound by more than just a love of writing. We have also all moved to another country, are living our lives in a country other than that of our birth. We bring with us a shared experience that unites – and divides – us.
If you take the wider writing group, this isn’t quite true, but even those who are native to Spain must have their reasons for wishing to connect with a group of English speakers and to write in English. I have a degree in Spanish, have been living in Spain for two and a half years now (where did the time go?) and spend my weekends with a Spanish speaker. We communicate predominantly in Spanish (with a little Norwegian, English and Catalan thrown in, just because). The point is that my Spanish is not terrible, and yet I would not dare to write a story in Spanish.
I am full of admiration for those who do write in a language that is not their mother tongue. (I was going to say that is not their own, but who really owns a language? Those who have been brought up speaking it or those who choose to make it their own?) I’d like to think one day I might join them. And sure, I must have written stories in Spanish when I was at school, but I’m not sure they contained any of the nuance we now aim for.
Anyway, to get back to my original point, my writing group in the UK was full of people of different ages and from different backgrounds and here that is the same. But here, we are also connected – and divided – by our shared experience of moving from another country.
Divided how? Well, it’s easy to assume that all native English speakers speak the same language, and to an extent we do. But there are things that divide us – and I’m not just talking about words like sidewalk or diaper, which still sound odd to my very British ear. No, I’m talking about cultural differences. I’m talking about how different it is to grow up in a thriving cosmopolitan city like New York or a quaint Irish village. I’m talking about the differences in family relationships, in attitudes to life, in attitudes to other people.
I’m not saying this is a bad thing. I’m saying it is eye-opening. I’m saying it can become evident in surprising ways. Of course, some of these differences exist within a country such as the UK. But I think it’s fair to say that they are more concentrated in a group of writers from around the world.
I’ve also noticed that despite living here for well over two years, I continue to set my stories in the UK. It’s not intentional at all. I guess it’s just what I know. And from what I see, I’m not the only one who regularly goes back to my roots in terms of setting.
In my latest story, a pair of characters move to Spain. It is the second time I’ve written a story about somebody moving here. Maybe it’s the first step towards writing a story that is actually set in the city. If I ever do, I can only imagine it would be the story of someone who had settled here from abroad, just like me – probably someone who had settled here from Britain. What can I say? It’s what I know.
Maybe one day, that’ll change. But for now, despite fighting against it, despite my longing to become more Spanish, despite having no intention of moving back to the UK, despite the UK drifting further and further away from me politically and culturally, somewhere deep inside I still feel stubbornly, desperately, hopelessly British.