Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Writer Interview: Paul Allen in Spain

When my husband was first given an offer to work in Switzerland, the first thing I did was ask the question, "should I move abroad?" Unfortunately, I asked Google, and Google didn't really have an answer for that. But British writer and journalist Paul Allen does. He's written a book called, "Should I Stay Or Should I Go? The Truth about Moving Abroad and Whether it's Right for You," and I can't help but wish it would have been available four years ago, when I was first deciding whether or not to move to Switzerland. A writer abroad himself, Paul Allen now lives in northern Spain and joins us to talk about his book and about being a writer in Spain.

You're a British freelance journalist and writer living in Spain. How did you end up there?

My wife’s parents used to own an apartment here, and so my wife had been coming to this region on holiday for years. I first visited in 1997, when we spent five months traveling around Spain, which instilled in both of us a passion for the country. Then after living in the States for a year for work we both decided we’d like to try moving abroad permanently – and Spain seemed the obvious destination.

What do you like most about living in Spain? Is it a good place to live as a writer and journalist?

Coming from Britain, the climate was a big lure. The joy of guaranteed summers, knowing we can go to the beach and swim in turquoise waters, cannot be overstated. I like that there are definite seasons in this part of the country too though, with Pyrenean ski resorts just a two-hour drive away.

The warmth of the people, and especially the way they dote on children, is another great feature about Spain. As is the grip they retain on their traditional customs and celebrations. Spaniards have a keen sense of their history, and seem to have at least as much a foot in the past as they do in the present. So while it is a thoroughly modern country in many respects, ancient practices, crafts, festivals and beliefs remain much in evidence.

As for a location as a writer, the wealth of Spain’s culture, the colour of its people and beauty of its landscapes are, of course, a fertile source of material. Inspiration is never far away.

However, from a practical work perspective, location is no longer the issue it once was. Most of the publications I write for as a journalist are based in London or New York, while the people I interview for articles come from around the world. Likewise, readers of my book and Moving Abroad-opedia newsletter are spread across the globe. So with a phone line and internet access, writers now have the ability to work from anywhere, which is liberating.

You've written a book called "Should I Stay or Should I Go, The Truth About Moving Abroad and Whether it's Right for You," about the key areas people need to consider when contemplating a move abroad. Could you give us a hint as to what some of the important things are that we should consider?

By far the most important factor is how you will cope with being separated from family and friends. It’s an issue that comes up in surveys and anecdotal conversations time and again, and should not be underestimated.

Work options and opportunities are crucial too. Work defines how we spend the majority of our waking hours, who we spend them with, the housing and material possessions we can afford, and the opportunities available in our leisure time. Work also provides us with a sense of identity. So the income-generating possibilities you face will have a big influence on your living abroad experiences.

One of the interviewees in my book described how moving to Canada gave her the chance to rise to the position of CEO of a healthcare facility, something she didn’t think would have been possible if she had remained in Britain. At the same time, while many Brits have relocated to Spain, one Spanish respondent said she lives in Britain in large part because of the employment opportunities it offers compared to her homeland.

And ultimately there is the question of regrets. If moving abroad is something you still yearn to do after weighing up the other considerations I detail in the book, then go for it. Better to go and try, than wonder ‘what if.’

Any other projects in the works?

My Moving Abroad-opedia newsletter and blog posts are ongoing projects. I am also working on a corporate version of my Should I Stay or Should I Go book, which is specifically aimed at helping employees decide whether they should take up an international assignment with their companies.

In addition I am writing a screenplay ... so any movie producers out there please feel free to get in touch!

What's the best part about living abroad as a writer?

That you are taken out of your comfort zone on a daily basis. It forces you both to look at the external world around you more, as well as to look inside yourself for strength and motivation.

Living abroad also offers a certain mental freedom. Because people don’t know you from way back, you aren’t burdened by any weight of history or expectation as to who you are and what you do. You can be yourself without preconception or judgement.

What's the most challenging part about living abroad as a writer?

That you are taken out of your comfort zone. Navigating an alien country and culture can be hard work, and everything seems to take longer – time and energy I’d prefer to put into writing.

What would you say to other writers thinking of living abroad?

Do it. If it goes well then your life will be all the richer. And if it doesn’t work out you can always return home, and now you’ll have a head full of experience to draw upon. Writing benefits from a life embraced.

Anything else to add?

I think living abroad can be a wonderful experience. I’ve done it, and am immensely glad I did.

But the idea of living abroad seems to have become a panacea for many people, a hope that it will right all the things they see wrong with their current lives. It’s not the abroad bit that matters though, it’s the living. For all of us, finding a life that fills us with meaning, hope and happiness should be the real goal, wherever that happens to be.

Paul Allen is a freelance journalist and writer who has lived in northern Spain since 2003. He is the author of "Should I Stay Or Should I Go? The Truth About Moving Abroad And Whether It's Right For You," a comprehensive guide for anyone seeking advice on whether or not to move abroad.

For more details about the book, and free information and advice on moving and living overseas, visit his website.

You can also follow Paul’s blog.

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