This summer, I’m moving to America. My wonderfully talented husband has secured a theatre position at the awesome St Paul’s, New Hampshire. As an English author, I will of course be dividing up my time between the UK and the US, but still, the thought of picking up my little family (and the extended family of my characters) and moving to a whole new continent, is both thrilling and terrifying.
Long before I met Hugh, I dreamt of living in New England. Ever since I first found out about this wonderful pocket of the world, it has felt like my spiritual home. I love the seasons, the people, the way art and literature is an intrinsic part of everyday life there, the mountains and the lakes and the sea and, of course, the leaves. Autumn (I must get used to calling it The Fall), has always been my favourite season.
In my early twenties I attended writing courses run by the fabulous Patricia Lee Lewis and one of my greatest joys will be to attend her weekend retreats at Patchwork Farm. Hugh and toured New England for our honeymoon and went back when I was pregnant with Tennessee. We’ve visited all the New England states and love them each in their own, beautiful way: the rural nature of Vermont, which reminds me a little of my beloved Switzerland; the covered bridges and beautiful span of Massachusetts; the rugged coast of Maine; the elegant Cape Cod – and the trendy Providence, right at the tip, which felt like being at the end of the world; and, of course, New Hampshire, which I think we’ve always had a soft spot for. Something about the stillness of the lakes and the dense forests.
We have an academic love for New England too and it has always been our dream to educate our little girl, and any other children we might be blessed to have, in a New England boarding school. The freedom of their curriculum, the calibre of their staff, the ethos of curiosity and ambition, all appeal to us as educators. For Hugh, to teach theatre in an academic, creative and active way, unbound by the smallness of the English exam boards, will be like breathing fresh air after being cooped up inside for close to ten years. I know that, in this environment, we will all flourish. There is also something wonderful about living and working in a boarding school, something which is in our blood as teachers. These days, it’s as close as you get to a village community. At St Paul’s every child is a boarder and every member of staff lives on site. The community is ethnically and socio-economically diverse: students come from around the world and they gain places on merit, regardless of their parents’ bank balance. The school is set in 2,000 acres of lakes and woodland and has a beautiful little nursery for Miss Tennessee.
So, it’s a dream come true and I do not doubt for a second that we will be very, very happy there. But of course, change is scary. Everything from the voltage to the side of the road we drive on to baking measurements to the risqué confusion of pants and trousers, will leave us feeling a little at odds with things for a while. And more than this, we will miss the people we love.
As you know from my writing, I have a large and all embracing view of family. To put it simply: if you’re my friend, you’re my family, as close as blood. Last week, we held a birthday party for Tennessee and her two best friends, Chessie and Willow were there, along with their parents. These guys are our family – are Tennessee’s family. And I know they will come to visit, that FaceTime makes things closer and easier, that we will be coming back lots to the UK, especially during those long, hot summers. But it’s still heartbreaking not to be able to pop Tennessee on the back of my bike and scoot her over for a playdate with the little girls she’s known since she was a few weeks old.
I’ll miss people in my community too: as I wrote about in my post on the importance of local for a writer, I invest hugely in the people who surround me. I consider Richard, the incredibly kind, gentle, wise barista in Costa Crowthorne as family: that’s why he’s in my acknowledgements. I love the people whom I sit alongside as I write; who stop and say hello and ask about my word count. There’s a lovely older gentleman who comes in every day with his wife: he has a passion for vintage cars and has promised me that when I need it, he’ll get out his best car and drive me to my writing engagements. I told him that if I become a little more famous – maybe if one my books becomes a bestseller (fingers, toes and whiskers crossed), then we can go for a ride. Or perhaps if a film is made of Milo or Norah, he can take me to the premier. Anyway, this is just one example of the lovely people who surround me and make my days happy and rich. I know that I will make new friends, that I will find a new coffee shop, new pockets in the local community, but I will still feel an ache for these dear friends.
It’s a funny thing about human beings: to grow, we need change as much as we need stability.
If we get lifted out of our soil too often, our roots won’t grow; if we stay in the same old soil too long, we’ll sap it of nutrients and our leaves will begin to droop. It’s one of the beautiful paradoxes of being human. And it’s terribly hard to get the balance right between change and continuity. I believe that, by moving now, we are striking that balance, a balance that will allow us to flourish as people and as artists.
Being brave in life helps me to be brave in my writing too, to enlarge my view of what is possible both on and off the page.
But, it’s still hard, and a little frightening and a little heart-breaking to leave what we have grown to love.
That’s why I need to take on board Frederick Schiller’s advice: that daring, being brave, opens doors and brings new possibilities. I hope his words inspire you too, whether that daring thing be a small change today or moving a whole continent!