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The next big thing!

I was tagged to respond to this meme by the gorgeous, multi-talented Ingrid Jonach, whose first YA novel, When the World was Flat (and we were in love), has already secured an international book deal!

What is the title of your book?
Beijing Tai Tai: Life, laughter and motherhood in China’s Capital. You can see a rather kooky video of me talking about the book at www.beijingtaitai.com. No, I’m not drunk {just uncomfortable in front of a camera}.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
Life. We were living in Beijing with two small kids and things were consistently amazing, challenging, hilarious and heart-stopping. How could I not catalogue this and whack it in a book?

The idea was also work-related. I was an editor and freelancer for several expat magazines during our stay in the capital, and the articles, columns and blog posts I wrote were perfect fodder for a collection of stories on our four years in China. After adding some of my own, unpublished journal entries and some new material written specifically for the book – Tai Tai (it means ‘wife’) was born.

What genre does your book fall under?
Memoir/Travel/Biography

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Oh golly, any supermodel would do. Or a supermodel/brain surgeon.

My son said he would need to be played by Drew Breez {NFL quarterback for the New Orleans Saints} and my daughter said she would have to be played by Edwina Tops-Alexander {Olympian and Australian Equestrian Team rider}. Between the supermodel, Drew and Edwina, I’m not banking on this film becoming a box office hit.

But seriously, I’m kind of in love with Sophia Vergara, so maybe she could play me in the Latino version of the {non-box-office-smashing} film.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Throw a suburban housewife, a work-obsessed husband, a two- and a four-year-old into urban Beijing three years before the Olympic Games, press START and stand back.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
It was written over around three years, and the final components took me about four weeks to organise. It was heavenly filling in the ‘gaps’ and reliving all the glorious memories. We had NOT expected to fall in love with China but from the moment we arrived, we tripped and fell head-over-heels in love.

No, it wasn’t always easy! and neither was putting this book together. Formatting it into a contextual sequence was tough but very rewarding – and I love how the book sits now – in bite-sized pieces that still tell a story but are delicious and small enough to nibble over coffee or whilst breastfeeding at 4am {not that I’m breastfeeding at 4am any more}.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Almost French by Sarah Turnbull — Sarah is also an Australian who found herself falling headlong into the culture of another place.

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert — my dear friend and author Dee White actually likened Tai Tai to this stunning book – she called it ‘the Eat Pray Love for mothers’. Yes, I had a ‘moment’.

Any travel book by Bill Bryson — forgive me — I figure this may be the only time my work is likened to one of my greatest literary heroes, but, like Bill, I love to focus on the daily minutiae of foreign places, and I like to think we share this trait in our work.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?
The totally unexpected realisation that I had fallen in love with China.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
You will laugh and you might even cry.

Tag
Right – tagging time! I now tag the following lovelies to be part of this meme…

Dee White — friend and author of several books including Letters to Leonardo, word expert on Deescribe, mentor and all-round inspiration.

Kate Forsyth — bestselling author and the brains behind one of my favourite reads this year, Bitter Greens.

Anita Heiss — author, poet, satirist, social commentator, and author of the bestselling Am I Black Enough For You + all-round glamour puss.

And local Canberran authors and friends:

Tracey Hawkins — children’s book author and historical fiction writer, whose Max Meets a Monster and Nancy Bentley are faves in our house.

Stephanie Owen Reeder — children’s book author, editor, reviewer, historical writer, artiste extraordinaire and fellow NLA-author; her most recent book Saving Grace.

Authors – feel free to join in this meme!

My Top 10 Repatriation Tips

What I wish I knew before we came back home…

It’s hard to believe we’ve been home from China three-and-a-half years. Despite wondering if our time there was actually just a dream, I still miss it terribly, and yes, yes, I would go back in a heartbeat. Contrary to popular belief, moving to China was not a culture shock – moving home was. Coming back to Australia and the silence, the lack of challenges, the EASE – it unnerved me. So if you ever find yourself in a position of repatriation, here are my top 10 tips to help you survive that tumultuous journey . . . coming home.

1. Start Saving

It will cost you twice as much as you thought it would to move back, even if you’re shipped back, all expenses paid. Trust me on this one. Stack the cash away now. And then add another third for some fun to help the repatriation feel a little less heavy.

 The last thing you’ll need is to be worrying about how you’re going to be able to justify putting that $14 red bell pepper in your shopping trolley. And do you know how much a Cadbury crème egg costs these days? Ay ai ai. Chocolate robbery.

2. Wait for it… Prep for Weight Loss (yes, you read it right)

You will lose weight in the two months back home. Hallelujah! Suddenly and quickly and deliciously, and without even trying.

 But beware. Don’t get lulled into a binge-eating-false-sense-of-security. It’s only because you’re actually moving your body (vacuum cleaners, washing lines, mops, gardening as opposed to lolling in a salon chair) and because you’re not ingesting 10 litres of oil per week, along with a shaker of salt to really make it stick to your thighs.

Revel in the weight loss then keep it off by passing on the family sized block of Cadbury’s chocolate and all those other goodies you have so missed in Beijing. You should start this chocolate refusal by week 7 or 8.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

3. Get Checked

When you get home, go see a doctor and get the kids to a dentist. It’s not that you are being pedantic, it’s that it’s really a good idea to find a good local doctor, or reconnect with your old one.

Have a mini physical and talk about anything you’ve missed or that’s worried you while you’ve been away. Have skin checked and eyes checked, too. Remember the kids have been drinking non-fluoridated water for x amount of years and you want to check enamel strength and gum condition. You need to be fighting fit to deal with your new life.

4. Don’t Pace Yourself

I don’t recommend ‘letting boxes unpack themselves’. Because they actually don’t. Just get into it, otherwise you’ll be battling mental, emotional, spiritual AND physical displacement. If you can get your house in order, the rest will fall into place sooner.
4. Get physical

I was too busy to exercise when we first got home. Big mistake. It’s boring, yes, but it does help you deal with stress levels and it really is a good move, smart move, imperative move. Even if it’s 10 minutes stretching and a quick walk around the block – do SOMETHING.

5. Dry Hands

If you thought your skin was dry in Beijing, wait until you start cleaning again! My hands are like sandpaper after the endless wiping, dusting and cleaning products. Wear gloves!

6. Forget House and Garden Magazine

When you return home and begin keeping house for yourself (as opposed to the magical pixies that kept it for you in Beijing), you will have to come to terms with more than housework. You’ll have to come to terms with the fact that your house will no longer look like something out of a House and Garden photo shoot.

It will look lived in.

It will look messy.

Unless you spend 8 hours scrubbing each and every day, your bathroom counters will get sticky with toothpaste and the washing will pile up and transform itself into a pile of never-ending ironing. In fact, don’t even bother to put the iron away. But the true point of this section is this: get over it. The house will never look like it did when you had an ayi and you need to just LET GO.

Prep yourself for this. Until the kids (and your husband) moves out, your house will never look like it did in Beijing. Accept and move on. Have a cup of tea and read a magazine amongst the neverending chaos and you’ll come out on top.

7. The Kids Will Settle Sooner Than You

Don’t try to beat your kids to that ‘settled’ feeling so you can be more capable of helping them through their settling ups and downs. It won’t happen. They will go through very apparent behavioural changes and missing their friends, yes, but it doesn’t last too long – maybe 4-6 weeks for kids under 10 years. Older kids may take longer. YOU might take a lifetime.

8. Get Back Into the Things You Loved

If you enter a really suburban experience like I have, you could go quite mad in a matter of weeks unless you have something to focus on. Start planning your return to work now, or at least plan what you will do with your days (other than the endless housekeeping, of course) – even if it’s hobbies, study or other interests.

Also start researching your new town if you’re unfamiliar with it, because there will NOT be the welcoming committees you experienced in Beijing, and it will be quite startling at first. Keeping busy will keep you sane, help you network and allow you discover and immerse yourself in… stuff.

Just do it.

9. Don’t Freak Out About the Schools

This may be a grandiose statement, but most schools are great, if you research them carefully and are in touch well in advance to build up a rapport and learn as much as you can about how they operate.

Bear in mind, however, that unless you are forking out a kajillion kuai to put them into an exclusive private school, things will not be the same for your child – the school will probably have less resources and many more children.

Just be prepared, is all I’m saying. Your child may not need extending, but be prepared to watch them and make sure they don’t ‘slip’ southwards from the wonderful international school education they’ve probably received in Beijing.

10. Accept It Will Take Time

It’s going to take time for us to settle here in Australia. Of course, I want everything NOW but I just have to accept that it’s going to hurt to be away from Beijing, that I will frequently get teary, that the kids will ask eternally about their friends and that things will feel just not quite right. Like you don’t belong – even in your own country.

People live far more independent lives at home, so you’ll probably feel left out, disoriented, numb and desperate to travel. Just accept it and know it will get better. They say six months.

God help me.

I hope this list helps you in your repatriation – it’s been both a joy and a struggle for us, but we’re getting there, yes, even after 3.5 years. I have to say I’m STILL missing the Jing like mad, but I’ve also been intent on making the most of wherever we are – and I guess you can take that as Tip Number 11.

Whatever the case, change is a good thing. If only it came with Din Tai Fung dumplings…

Repatriation – the happiness and the hell of it

Repatriation – the happiness and the hell of it

It was the silence I first noticed when we arrived home to Australia 3.5 years ago. The wide open spaces with clean in between. The heavens above with an endless, shimmering hush. Even the distance between people was quiet, for goodness sake. The only thing that filled it was an unruffled smile.

The intensity of Beijing was gone. The noise, the clamour, the grime, the shove. We’ve been home over three years and I haven’t heard a car horn (other than my own, bleeting at an errant kangaroo). The loudest thing I’ve heard since coming home is a bunch of squawking cockatiels, swooping through the fresh air between the gum trees surrounding our house, but they quickly disappear into the endless blue and all is silent again.

It almost felt like we walked into a place of worship when we came home to Australia, and we’ve have to be, like – quiet. When we first arrived, I must admit, we were in a state of spiritual awe – in awe of what we have here. As if, when we lived in Beijing, we had momentarily forgotten.

Even though we experienced an odd feeling that our lives have been put on mute, I truly believe this quiet helped our family cope with the internal chaos that deftly defied our external surroundings. Our first weeks back home had an oddly calm chaos about them; we didn’t rush around like mad hatters planning a tea party but we were in a pretty dichotomistic state of calm yet hellish flux . . . a gentle but relentless desire to put the ignition key into our new life and turn its sputtering engine over and over, seeking that purr and smooth roll.

I remember moving into our new house – a perfect shell – with nothing more than mattress, a few throw rugs and the contents of our suitcases. I was so internally excited about that house. I should have been dancing around like a bedevilled sprite but instead I was just quietly content and even kind of numb. My husband felt the same way and we think it’s for two reasons (beyond the deep undercurrent of stress that comes with moving a family intercountry, and beyond the oppressively sizzling Australian summer).

The first was because we still had tender, sore, un-severed heart strings tied to China, pulled so tight, you could plink them like a violin.

The second was because our real home was tumbling and rolling over the oceans and would be delivered about 10 days later. Isn’t a home about what you put in it, including people and memories? We had a beautiful new house but the real ‘home’ was yet to arrive. And so we sat, numbly waiting for it to arrive and for our lives to begin. How we needed to re-discover, re-establish, re-connect, re-calibrate, re-patriate. Re-feel like we belonged.

Coming home was like getting off a lolling ferry and the ground is swelling beneath you and all you want to know is how to hook up Foxtel, where the nearest Asian supermarket is, how to programme the new DVD player and the fact that you must find towel hooks and a 70cm length of dowel, poste-haste. On top of that, you’ve got the mental chaos that you’ve just spent half a year’s salary on cleaning products, brooms, dustpans, bread, icy poles and restocking your dried herbs and spices. The financial sting has your face slapped red. Sheesh, little bottles of spices are exy!

But the most chaotic thing was the feeling of hurry. Hurry to get settled so things can go back to ‘normal’. Everyone said “take your time, let it unfold, leave the boxes – they will unpack themselves”. Sure. I would have left the boxes unpacked… in a pink fit during a blue moon.

It’s not that I was in a hurry to get everything put into cupboards. It’s that I was in a hurry to get on with life and try to forget Beijing. I desperately needed that sinking reality that we lived in Australia again, because it didn’t feel real for so long. And when things don’t feel real, how can you settle your feet onto the ground and start striding firmly into the future?

We needed to feel settled, to have the engine of our new family life running effectively, smoothly, happily. And I think I soon found how to do it. To me, as a mother and as a woman, organisation is the key to everything. Yes folks, organisation is the key to happiness! An organised house means an organised family means an organised working schedule means a very happy mum and dad means two contented kids – which all means we can have the spare time to sit in the back yard and listen to the silence. And jump up and run around in the happiness. And realise we have finally moved home.

Rushing for calm. Busyness for quiet. Chaos for balance. It did my head in. I never dreamed repatriation would be such a voracious and difficult beast.

 Stay tuned for my Top 10 Repatriation Tips.

Tania

Beijing Tai Tai virtual book tour – Wrap Up

I have had the best fun on this wonderful virtual tour, in celebration of the release of Beijng Tai Tai. This is a book that means a lot to me – and being able to share it with the world via these very generous and supportive virtual tour hosts has been so special.

Thank you to everyone who hosted me! You can check out the full list below – and read along, too – there’s reviews, interviews, excerpts and articles – even some motherly confessions!

Thank you for joining me on this very special tour.

Tour Schedule:

Monday

Beauty and Lace – “Crowning Glory: Chinese/Western hair – not the same thing!”

Tuesday

Savvy Mumma – “Beijing Tai Tai – Review and Giveaway”

Hip Little One – “The kids’ fashion snob”

Femail – “Obese in Beijing”

Wednesday

A Spoonful of Sugar – “Book review and Giveaway: Beijing Tai Tai”

My Little Bookcase – “5 Confessions of a Mother”

Mums on the Go – “Take One Family and Up-End in China”

Thursday

Toushka Lee – “Beijing Tai Tai: A book review and giveaway!”

Dannii Beauty- “Beijing Tai Tai: Review and giveaway”

Planning With Kids – “To organise or not to organise – how life in China changes the game plan”

Friday

Posie Patchwork – “Beijing Tai Tai: Book Giveaway”

Mummahh – “A toddler’s survival guide to China”

Tiny and Little – “Embracing the differences”

Her Canberra – The Wall: Surreal Moments in Time 

Saturday

Mumma in Heels – Beijing Tai Tai book review and giveaway

The Bub Hub – East Meets Angst: Raising Western Babies in China

Australian Women Online – Beijing Tai Tai book giveaway

Sunday

The Happy Home – Author Interview

Suite 101 – Beijing Tai Tai book review

Reading Upside Down – Beijing Tai Tai book review

For a full wrap up go to …

Tania McCartney Blog – Tour Wrap Up

Some words from Tania

‘When my husband first announced we’d be moving to China from one of the quietest, most charmingly provincial state capitals in Australia, I was ninety-five per cent horrified.’

When pressed to confess the reason behind writing Beijing Tai Tai: Life, laughter and motherhood in China’s capital, this opening line really says it all. That, and an intrinsic and virtually irrepressible urge to write.

It’s always been that way. Even as a primary schooler, writing descriptively was where I found the most joy. Falling into an exercise book, with a softly scratching pencil was my nirvana as an eight-year-old — and even now, taking the things I see, the sounds I hear, the senses I feel, and laying them on a page and colouring them in, is something I simply cannot live without.

There’s something childlike about writing descriptively … about seeing the world through fresh eyes, interpreting it and then sharing it unabashedly, with frank humour and honesty. I guess, in that way, my writing is childlike, and it’s no wonder I ended up writing children’s books.

Although kids’ books and literacy are huge passions for me, I must admit that writing for adults is my very first love. I don’t write in a formulaic or carefully plotted manner, and this is why most of my adult work has been in (non-journalistic) magazines and websites, where this somewhat rebellious streak has been allowed a lot of elbow room.

Writing Beijing Tai Tai was a way for me to enjoy and foster this snippety, observational, almost ‘silly’ writing style, but it also allowed me to get a little more serious. Essentially a snapshot of our family’s four years in Beijing, the book rises up and plummets as dramatically as the Great Wall itself. Like life, the book can be joyous and fun but it can also be dark and somewhat disturbing (especially where the consumption of bull testicles is concerned).

But back to the ‘ninety-five per cent horrified’ intro that actually made me very nervous to write — most especially as a book opener.

If there’s anything that ‘gets my goat’, it’s cluelessness or parochialism. Although I would hardly describe myself as parochial, writing that living in China almost fully horrified me was tough to admit, because it smacked of cluelessness. And yet, I am fully prepared to admit that, where China was concerned, I was pretty clueless.

There were several reasons why, but perhaps the main one was that it just hadn’t attracted me like many other places around the globe. And yes yes, I had preconceptions. I (most dangerously) made up my mind what that place would be like well before I even learned how to say ni hao. I judged. I presumed. I surmised.

I was wrong.

China grabbed me by the socks and pulled them so far up over my head that ‘wedgie’ took on a whole new meaning. Have you ever had a sock wedgie? Oh my, oh my — it’s a game-changer.

Arriving in China instantly arrested my senses. Living there for four years arrested my heart — and indeed, leaving at the end of our posting was heartbreaking. Even now, after three years back home, I could still pour myself into a melted puddle on the floor when I think about my adopted homeland.

Like a lover, China beckons me still — with fat pomelos at the wet market, with pensioners dancing in the street to tinny traditional music, with toddlers whizzing on the footpaths, with fan dancing in the city parks, with the lone call of country tradesmen cycling through the hutong alleyways.

Yes, China still makes me breathless. Memories still make me heart-fluttery. Some memories also make me want to self-strangulate, but therein lies the undulating nature of life as a Westerner in China.

And therein lies Beijing Tai Tai. Writing it — and indeed, sharing it — is a rollercoaster trip of sweet butterflies in the belly. Some may not agree with what I have to say about our very intense time in the capital. Some may cheer it, some may sneer at it, some may even guffaw — but one’s thing for certain … the desire to book a ticket and experience your own falling-in-love moment is virtually guaranteed.

I’m ninety-five per cent sure of it.

Beijing Tai Tai: Life, laughter and motherhood in China’s capital, $24.99, is available now in paperback and as an ebook $9.99.

Tania is an ambassador for the National Year of Reading — learn more about her work at www.taniamccartney.com

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