I never meant to be an emigrant – writing about home

Jun 6, 2014 | 2 comments |

A recurring theme in my writing is a search for home and community.

My heroes and heroines grapple with the push and pull between roots and wings, finding their happy ever after in small towns much like the one where I spent childhood summers. Places where neighborliness is a way of life and, even when you’re all grown up, people still remember the kid you once were – especially the parts you wish they’d forget.

Many of the writers who’ve influenced me also write about home, family and community. L.M. Montgomery’s books are as much a celebration of Prince Edward Island as they are stories of late nineteenth and early twentieth century Canadian girlhood. The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder has a quest for home at its core. And when it comes to romance, I’ve spent many happy hours in Debbie Macomber’s Cedar Cove and with Jill Shalvis in Lucky Harbor.

Perhaps my fascination with the search for home in fiction has strengthened because I’ve been away from ‘home’ for many years. Despite my British passport, I’ll never be English. At least not English like the English Rose who is English by birth and outlook.

Yet, thanks to years over the pond, I’m less Canadian too, occupying a peculiar mid-Atlantic space – forever straddling two countries, two cultures and two, sometimes very different ways of seeing the world.

I admire those who write believable characters outside their own cultural context. However, to me, writing British characters is still as foreign as Marmite and mushy peas. Interesting as part of pushing my writing boundaries but the results are laughable.

So instead in my fiction, I look towards home. The places and the people which shaped who I am and the writer I continue to become.

For I never meant to be an emigrant.

“England’s a short assignment. One or  two years tops,” said the Tech Guy in the spring of 2000. “Then we’ll come home.”

Fourteen years later, ‘home’ is a whole lot more complicated. For England is home too, although in a different way than Canada.

As for the English Rose, she loves Marmite and maple syrup, waves her British and Canadian flags with pride and is easy in her dual nationality. Unlike me, she’s never known anything – or anywhere – else.

Has being away from home ever given you a new perspective on what home means?


  1. Heidi

    I had a co-op term for 4 months in Guatemala. What an eye-opener that was! Although I was posted at a private school, I still had a first-hand view of what real life was like outside our little compound. Pollution, unsanitary conditions, emaciated dogs roaming the streets, street urchins of unacceptable youth – 17 years later, the images are still as fresh as yesterday.

    I am so richly blessed to live in a free, developed country. Never will I take my nationality for granted!

  2. Jen Gilroy

    A very powerful experience, Heidi, and one which must have shaped your life and how you look at the world. Thank you for sharing.


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