Today's Off The Beaten Track guest blogger is the very interesting and lovely Allison Rushby, an Australian author of nine published novels. She can generally be found writing furiously on her laptop (read: making procrastinatory purchases on etsy, or tweeting about nothing at @allison_rushby). Her books include women’s fiction titles such as allmenareabastards.com, Hating Valentine’s Day and Wrong Way, Go Back and young adult titles such as Blondetourage and the Living Blonde trilogy. In 2011 she moved to the UK with her husband and two children where she will be writing a travel memoir and blogging at http://www.keepcalmandcarryvegemite.com.
You write the very entertaining blog Keep Calm and Carry Vegemite. What inspired you to write this and how do you keep finding new material for your posts?
When we decided to move to the UK for a while for my husband's work (read: when my husband came home and told me he'd applied for a job in the UK and the interview was tomorrow…), I thought it would be a good idea to write a travel memoir about our experiences. A friend suggested I keep a blog to keep me on track, as it would take some time to gather the material and form it into an actual manuscript. At first, I worried about finding material, but it's been surprisingly easy. When you're thrust into a new situation, all kinds of bits and pieces pop up every day that are worth discussing.
For those who haven’t been lucky enough to try Vegemite, can you explain what it is, why it’s so important, and how it is totally different to Marmite?
I think unless you're brought up on Vegemite, it's never going to be a foodstuff that makes any sense to you. When you take a step back and think about it logically, a black, salty Vitamin B paste isn't all that appealing. But when you're 18 months old and a picky eater, white bread, butter and a tiny smear of something salty is pretty good. I'm sure this is why we all love it – it's ingrained. Marmite might be another yeast-based spread, but that's where the similarities end. The British marketing slogan is 'Love it or hate it'. I hate it. Enough said.
Allison, you’re an accomplished writer in fiction and you’re used to writing intensely on one project over a short period of time. How difficult is it to write a memoir over a longer timeframe?
I have to admit, it's quite difficult! I find that I'm not writing steadily, but taking a lot of notes and then writing a number of chapters at a time. And, of course, there's the blog to keep up with, which is a different beast entirely. I can't really write any other way, however, because I need to live the experience before I write it!
You’ve received a lot of great media coverage about your move from Australia to England. Does this publicity find you or are you actively out there, promoting your blog and work?
I've been doing a little bit of publicity – when I remember! Some of the pieces that have run have been due to media contacts asking what I'm up to and others have been chance – for example, the first time I went to the hairdresser in Cambridgeshire, I ended up seated beside the editor of a local magazine who passed my details on to the local newspaper. As for the blog, I did take the time to list it at a couple expat websites and so on, but other than this, I've just been going on word of mouth and my trusty Twitter and Facebook friends.
Moving to a new country with a young family is always a challenge. What advice do you have for people contemplating something similar and how do you keep your sanity in the process?
Start planning early! Things actually went very smoothly for us (while we watched other people at my husband's work have their visas rejected and so on), but this is only because we checked and double checked everything and started planning well over a year before our actual move. The paperwork involved in an overseas move is simply unbelievable and I think the only way to keep your sanity is by doing a few forms a week. We simply diarised things month by month and, at the start of each month, would begin checking off the tasks that needed completing. It sounds boring, but it's the only realistic way, especially when you're travelling with two kids who need schooling and have different schooling needs.
People from other English-speaking countries find the Australian accent and word usage a tad difficult to understand. When that happens, what do you do? Pull out the crayons and start drawing stick figures to get your message across?
Truthfully? Yes. Just last week I had to actually write down what I was saying for a Scottish guy in a pharmacy, who simply couldn't understand me. I'm not sure why (I could understand him). Other times, I find I just give up. Like the time I needed 'dry ginger ale' to add to my scotch and asked for it in the supermarket and a staff member left me standing in front of the crystallised stuff.
How long do you expect to be in the U.K. and what’s next?
We'll be here until 31 July next year, when my husband's job ends. Hopefully we'll be able to do a little travelling on the way home. If we have any money left, that is! I think we just haemorrhaged most of it during a week in Paris.
You have a book release coming up early next year. Can you tell us more?
28 February will see my first Young Adult US release hit the shelves. It's called Shooting Stars and is about a sixteen-year-old paparazzo. I had an absolute ball writing it – I got to buy piles of trashy celebrity mags and read fantastic paparazzo autobiographies. There's a sneak peek at www.allisonrushby.com (and pre-order buttons! Yes, I'm shameless…).
Quick! Here’s a list of questions we’d like you to answer with the first word or phrase that pops into your head:
What do you miss most about Australia?
Dropping in for coffee with friends (okay, it's really wine, not coffee, but you know what I mean).
What has surprised you most about England?
The density of the population. It sounds silly, because you know the population is greater, but it isn't until you're living this reality that it hits home. When you're not used to having so many people around you, it feels very odd indeed.
Apart from Vegemite, what other Aussie food can’t you do without?
Which English food have you become addicted to? (And why are we asking so many food questions?)
That's easy. Cider.
Have you learnt to make real English tea yet?
I'm still working on it. I may perfect 'builder's tea' yet.
Who would play you in the movie of your life?
Toni Collette. I used to get asked if I was Toni Collette from time to time. But then she went all Hollywood and got hot.
Who would play your hubby?
Mr Darcy, of course! Oh, I mean, Colin Firth. I always forget he has a real name.
Can you give us one word to sum up your experience in England so far?