Happy Sunday morning! We have a new guest today, author RJ Samuel. She’s the author of four novels, including her latest release A Place Somewhere.
To celebrate her first ever guest blog at Women and Words, she’s giving away an ebook copy of A Place Somewhere. Want to get in on that awesomeness? Of course you do! Leave a comment in the space below and you’ll be entered into the drawing. I’ll select the winner on Friday, 8/29. The winner will be notified via email, and I’ll add a notice at the top of this post!
by RJ Samuel
I’ve written four novels; the first, Heart Stopper – a medical thriller featuring an Indian protagonist with an American love interest and set in Ireland, the next two, Falling Colours and Casting Shadows, part of the Vision Painter series – magical realism featuring an Indian-Irish protagonist with an Irish love interest and set in Ireland and India, and the latest, A Place Somewhere featuring an Irish protagonist with two other main characters, an Irish woman and an American woman, set in Ireland and in different parts of the US.
I am currently working on the third in the Vision painter series which will feature my Indian-Irish vision painter as well two other main characters, an Irish woman, and an Indian woman brought up in Africa and America. And, for the first time, I’ll be working on another novel at the same time, this one featuring an agoraphobic Irish travel writer who needs to find the missing Indian wife of her ex’s new boyfriend. This will be set in Ireland and France.
My novels mix genres as well as diverse characters, settings, and explore pacemakers, vision painting, and online deception amongst other subjects.There is a common thread in my writing, one that I use in a tagline, ‘an outsider looking out’. Even though my short stories featured many different types of characters, before ‘A Place Somewhere’,my novels featured an Indian or Indian-Irish protagonist and my protagonists struggled with a sense of place, of belonging.
When writing ‘A Place Somewhere’, I wanted to be sure that I could write in the voice of an Irish woman who had grown up in Ireland. And as I worked my way into Alex’s and Breanna’s characters, I realized I was having difficulty letting go of the issues that come from having a very diverse background and from feeling that I didn’t belong anywhere, issues that add a subtle flavor to every sight and sound and thought, even when I didn’t notice. I was surprised to find that I found it difficult to write from the main viewpoint of a character who ‘belonged’ somewhere. To me, that meant someone who had been born in one place, looked the same as almost everyone there, and as a result, grew up without the feeling of being an outsider.
To research these characters, I spoke to an Irish friend who had been born and brought up in a small town in Ireland, to ask her what it ‘felt’ like to belong somewhere. We spent more time trying to figure out what I was trying to ask her. Then it dawned on me that her default was to ‘belong’. In the sense of place, ethnicity, home. I hadn’t thought of it that way, I had just presumed that when someone belonged somewhere, they felt it as an obvious feeling, one of ‘having’ something rather than the experience I had of ‘lacking’ something.After that, I was able to write Alex and Breanna and Cynthia as I wanted, it just never came up as an issue for them, their ‘Irish-ness’ or ‘American-ness’, their skin color, their belonging in their own country. The issues that came up for them were more to do with their sense of belonging in family, life, relationships.
And I realized that while I may not be an expert on anything, because I keep picking up and learning new things, somewhere in me is the expert on not belonging and I know that when I’m good at something, it tends to permeate everything I do.
I describe myself as ‘an outsider looking out’ because of my ability to adapt, to become a part of a group, to be accepted. And I can empathize with many different types of characters, and write convincingly as a member of many groups because of my background, but for the same reason, I never feel like I belong anywhere.
I am Indian because my parents were Indian and the community I grew up in was Indian. I was born in Nigeria and lived there until I was seventeen. I studied and lived for decades as an Irish citizen in Ireland. My family all moved to America decades ago, and British and American culture had a strong influence on me in Nigeria and Ireland. I am now living in America. I call myself ‘almost Irish, almost Indian’ because I can’t fully call myself either Irish or Indian.
I have lived as a brown-skinned person in a majority black-skinned world, as a brown-skinned person in a majority white-skinned world, studied as the only Indian in an all-Nigerian school, been stared at and addressed as a white kid by the Nigerian kids, been stared at and addressed asstrange by the Indian kids when I visited my mother’s village, been considered ‘exotic’ by admirers, refused accommodation as a ‘coloured’ person, had stones thrown at me on the street, enjoyed the feeling of being ‘different’, craved being the ‘same’.
I’ve been a foreigner on four continents for more than four decades. Most of the time I forget I am ‘different’. I live inside my skin, inside my eyes. I see the world around me, I don’t see me, not until someone points me out, reminds me. Sometimes, it’s in a nice way, the cool side of being ‘unusual’. Other times, it doesn’t feel so nice. Those times make me wonder what it must feel like to belong, to feel a part not apart, to look the same. Those times lead to the questioning, to the confusion, to the miscommunication when I talk to someone who ‘belongs’ in those particular ways.
In my connection with my readers through my writing, I find that many of them, even those who have grown up in the default of belonging through place of birth, ethnicity, skin color, do not feel like they belong and feel like outsiders, for many other reasons. And there are many reasons that groups use to exclude those who do not fit in.
I often wondered if we all feel like outsiders looking in, then who is on the inside.
A passage in ‘A Place Somewhere’especially seems to connect with those of us who feel like outsiders. Alex, the main character, is talking with Sasha, the five-year-old niece of Breanna, the woman that Alex is investigating. Alex had previously collected Sasha from her Irish dancing class and while waiting for the class to be over, had noticed Sasha being edged out of the circle of dancers, perhaps because Sasha was the youngest, or the smallest, or was not as well-off, or wore one dark pink and one light pink sock…Alex didn’t know the reasons why, but she saw the effect on the kid, who was a beautiful dancer and continued to dance around the edges, but was quiet and withdrawn in the car ride home. Later, they are at a picnic in the Burrenwith Breanna and her dog, Terror.
Alex lay on her back, her stomach full after Maggie’s feast. She watched the clouds hang in the sky.
Sasha flopped down beside her. She held out a tub of yoghurt. “You want some? It is strawberry. My favourite flavour yoghurt. My favourite fruit is blackberries, not in yoghurt. I love blackberries. Then strawberries, then bananas.”
Alex shook her head. “I’m going to burst if I eat anymore.”
“I am going to burst anyway.” Sasha peeled off the tab and dipped her spoon in.
Alex smiled. “You might as well enjoy it then.”
Breanna snorted. “What did I say about encouraging her? Come on, Terror, eat up.” She packed away the last of the picnic items as Terror licked his bowl.
Sasha scraped the bottom of the tub and licked the spoon. She sprawled out beside Alex on the rock.
Alex pointed at the swallows that swarmed over the cliff. “Do you know what they are called when they fly together like that?”
Sasha shook her head.
“A flight of swallows.”
They watched as the birds flew at speed in one direction, and just as quickly changed direction mid-flight.
Alex said, “I remember sitting out in the back garden many years ago and watching a whole group of them flying above.”
Sasha asked, “How many of them?”
“There were maybe fifty of them, I’m not sure. Maybe a hundred.”
“I think a hundred.”
Alex smiled. “They flew around really fast, all moving together, but I noticed this one little one. It would be flying along happily, just keeping up, maybe a little to the side of the others, and just as it matched the speed of the others, the crowd would change direction. You could see the wee thing almost skidding to a halt and looking over its shoulder and then it would try to catch up with the others, its little wings flapping like mad. But each time it caught up, the group would change direction again.”
“Oh no, the poor thing. Was it alone? Did it end up alone?”
“No, but I think it probably always stayed at the edges.”
“I bet all the other birds were trying to get away because it wasn’t fast enough.”
“I think the little one was the cutest and bravest of the lot. I wanted to be as brave as that little bird, to fly at the edges, not always in the middle of the group.”
There was silence for a moment then Sasha said, “It is so busy in the middle. That’s why I dance outside the circle.”
“Maybe one day I’ll be as brave.”
Alex smiled as she felt a little hand pat her arm.
R J Samuel was born in Nigeria, to Indian parents. She grew up in different parts of Nigeria with a brief stint in boarding school in the Nilgiri Hills in India and occasional summers in Kerala, London, and New York. She moved as a teenager to Ireland to complete her medical studies and vividly remembers the shock of arriving at Galway Train Station on an icy October night. Despite that traumatic first meeting, she fell in love with Galway and remained there for three decades, apart from a 3-year episode in rural France. She has been writing creatively for years, apart from her period in France where she wrote nothing creative, probably because she was running a restaurant-bar despite having a background in Medicine (she is a qualified medical doctor) and IT (she has a Masters in IT) and absolutely no background in restaurants, apart from eating in them.
She now lives in Washington State (she thinks) with her co-dependent dog, Clio .
A Place Somewhere: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00IXQE8ZG
Casting Shadows: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00B6UFULM
Falling Colours: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008CG6BPM
Heart Stopper: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0076MERG8