Category Archives: British Expat in Canada

Friday Fiction – Decisions

Something very much out of the blue for me today, thanks to Erin Leary’s curious photo.  I normally keep my personal life out of my writing, but we’re deep in the throes of a difficult decision and this story (story? It’s more of a rant!) burst forth from that. I’ve tweaked it into fiction, so if you know me, don’t read too deeply into it as though it’s pure fact, but still, I can’t deny the grain of truth inside the pearl of fiction.

Your feedback is always welcome.



The thing about life is, it thrives. Everywhere. In the deepest depths of the ocean, without light or air, 4,000 species of foraminifera make their home. Put damp shit in a dark cupboard, and bingo! Mushrooms in spring. Ice floes, deserts, oceans … name a place; something calls it home.

So I sit here, with spreadsheets and binders, pros and cons, glossy brochures and coffee-stained print-outs, all weighing in on the dilemma of where to live, and I think “pretend you’re a foraminifera. Wherever you go, you can thrive”, but really, I have a suspicion I’m more like a mushroom.




Filed under British Expat in Canada, Friday Fiction, Writing

Converging to Diversity

The English language gets a bad rap. It’s hard to learn, the “rules” are inconsistent and frequently broken, it’s got so many irregular verbs that the regular verbs are living in a small enclave and battening down the hatches to avoid the onslaught, and that’s before we even get started on the idiom.

But there are rules. And the English language would be grateful if people didn’t wantonly break them! 😉

For example, when I was at school, we learnt a nice simple rule about Different and Similar. They are opposites, and so are the words you can pair with them: from and to. A is different from B and similar to C. Easy.

And yet, even the BBC has been saying “different to” for decades and now the North Americans have introduced “different than”. Than? Than?! It’s not even in the same spectrum as from and to!

Difference is diverging, hence you use from – things are separate FROM each other. Similarity is converging, hence the use of to – things are coming TOwards each other.

If I could enforce one grammar rule, it … actually, it wouldn’t be this one at all, but this one is easy, so it’s a decent place to start my rants about grammar rules. Just wait till I get onto the subject of “due to”!


Filed under British Expat in Canada, Writing

The Real Piccolo

Last Friday I wrote an extract from the story I want to write next – currently known as Piccolo’s Tale. The Friday Fictioneers are always kind and supportive, but this time I was really overwhelmed by how everyone rallied around the little lost cat, and by how many fellow cat lovers I have connected with through this group.

I’m not a crazy cat lady, but I am a cat lover through and through – I’ve wanted one since I was a little girl (actually, I thought I was one when I was a little girl) and finally fulfilled that dream two years ago when Pepsi and Max arrived in my life. It’s fair to say that I’m completely besotted with these two and very happy to have brought them into my family. However, it was a close call at the time, and the reason, is the real Piccolo. I’m glad I’ve begun to write a fictional story fit for him to live in now – but here is the true story of Piccolo.

When we arrived in Canada, it was always my husband’s and my intention to get a cat. In fact, it was the closest thing I made to a condition on moving out here or, indeed, marrying him in the first place! We lived at first in a small apartment in the centre of Toronto, and the move took a lot of getting used to for me. I’d gone from being a successful, highly paid lawyer, surrounded by friends and colleagues I knew and loved, to being a housewife in a strange country, with nothing to structure or focus my days. I was going stir crazy in that apartment, and we were both savvy enough to recognise it.

We were looking for houses to move to, and I was researching job options as well as starting to find people who would become my new friends, but we decided that it might make me feel better to start looking for our new kitten too. So we began to go around the city, visiting the homes of people who, for whatever reason, had kittens available.

They say you should let the cat choose you. Although we saw many adorable kittens, none of them chose us until one morning we went to see a family who had one tiny grey and white boy looking for a home. He snuggled up to me OK, but when he got on my husband’s lap he was clearly in his element – eventually falling into a purring sleep.

That afternoon, we visited another cat family. These were three siblings who had been rescued, along with their mother, from a drain by the lady who was now taking care of them. One was long-haired, something we’d agreed we didn’t want. But the other two weren’t – they were a boy and a girl, mirror twins in black and white tuxedo. The boy was playful and friendly; the girl was terrified of everyone and spent the whole time hiding, together with their mother.

We came away thinking that the decision – while hard – was made. The grey cat had clearly bonded instantly with us, and since we weren’t looking for two, the twins really weren’t right for us. After a long drawn-out discussion, we called the grey kitten’s family and agreed to take him. We’d call him Piccolo.

Now, I should mention that I am a big fan of decisions. Uncertainty is not something I deal well with, and I generally feel much better when a decision has been made. However, in the interests of full disclosure, I should also say that when faced with an impossible decision, I will toss a coin then see how the decision feels before I act on it. In this case though, we had already acted – we had called the grey kitten and once I’ve acted on a decision, I don’t go back on it. It’s just not in my nature.

But I spent that whole night in tears. I couldn’t sleep, I felt terrible, and in the morning there was really only one thing to do. I called Piccolo’s family and tearfully apologised that I couldn’t take him. I called the lady looking after the twins and we agreed to take both. The boy was already named Max by his foster carer, we named the girl Pepsi.

Piccolo was a beautiful, tiny kitten, and I know that he will have found a wonderful family to love him, but sometimes I still think of him and wonder how he’s doing. I don’t regret our final decision, but I am delighted if I can now finally share some time with Piccolo and give him both love and adventures on the page.


Filed under British Expat in Canada, Friday Fiction, Writing

Excuses, excuses and a little life update!

I wanted to apologise for the fact that my attentions have been distracted recently. I’ve tried to keep up with blogging and, just as importantly, reading other people’s blogs, but I know it’s slipped down the priority list and sometimes off the bottom.

On Friday, I had a lovely day reading everyone’s response to the Friday Fictioneers prompt from Madison Woods. Madison’s prompts are fantastically varied and full of inspriation, even the yucky ones like Friday’s. And the responses to them make fascinating reading, from the funny to the scary to the downright sad. Similarly, the written prompts from BeKindRewrite, which lead to Inspiration Monday are great ways to kick-start the brain and I always enjoy reading the responses to those too.

Reading other people’s responses is just as important to me as writing my own. I love how these prompts force me to write compact and complete stories, to think about the words I’m using far more than a longer piece does, and to find one or two new plot ideas every week. Some of them I’m desperate to turn into longer stories, some of the characters I feel could become much brighter in a bigger space. When I have time to write something longer, I’ll definitely come back to some of these shorts.

But time is the issue – now and in the long-term. The reason I’ve been slacking in the last few weeks is that first I was in England visiting family and then, two days after I returned, we got given notice on our house. So we’ve been lost in the throes of finding and (hopefully) purchasing a new house. Well, getting on for 100 years old, but new to us. Very exciting, but a little scary and incredibly time-consuming just right now!

And then there’s the small issue of the forth-coming miniP, which obviously takes up a fair bit of time and energy in preparing too.

Fingers crossed by the end of October, we’ll have a whole new life (and no doubt a lot of new distractions from writing), but if I neglect you all a bit over the next few weeks, please forgive me! And thanks for bearing with Elmowrites.


Filed under British Expat in Canada

Divided by a common language

They say that English is one of the most difficult languages in the word to learn, just ask the Americans! My linguistic skills have never been much good and I am in awe of anyone who can pick up new languages with ease, because for me it’s an uphill struggle and one I’ve never truly mastered. If the theory is true, thank heavens I was born English!

One of the hardest things about English is not the language itself, but the idiom. We’ve got so many metaphors inherent in our speech, so many curious ways of saying simple things and so many rules-with-exceptions to trip up an EFL learner. And although that first line is an old joke, it’s one based in reality. Just ask me when I’m trying to translate my writing into North American English*. Same language, but the details, and the idiom are very very different.

It’s quite easy to go through my stories changing s’s to z’s (recognise, standardise…) and deleting u’s (colour, flavour…). I can also use the find/replace function on things like “I’ve got” to make it “I have” and to turn “different from” into “different than” (although even my US spellchecker doesn’t like that). These are the sorts of things that I’ve learned (never learnt) to ignore in the writing I critique over here, along with the fact that practise/practice is always spelt with a c. (An Aside: Facebook followers will be aware that the Canadians don’t always afford me the same courtesy, much to my annoyance.)

On top of spelling differences, I’m developing a lexicon of synonyms. It includes the obvious ones like trunk for boot, fries for chips and chips for crisps, but also the less well-known, like game for match (one wonders how they handle tennis, maybe I should ask) and cart for trolley.

But it’s a slow process learning all the idiom, and much of it is still beyond me. There’s a “feel” to the language which is hard to pinpoint but makes my writing often seem staid or old-fashioned to a North American reader. If I want to submit to a North American publication with a North American character / narrative, I still have to run the piece past a North American friend or editor with a request to winkle out all the Britishisms (winkle out almost certainly would be the first to go!). And the same is true in reverse – how many times has the British press or public torn apart an American film trying to depict British life and characters?

This is before we even consider writing further afield. I’ve recently been working on a piece featuring Tibetan monks. I have based their English on that of the ones I spent a few weeks with, but if one of them read the story, he would probably pick up something he would never say, or do.

In my more challenging moods, I think I should just throw in the towel; the rest of the time I wonder if we really are better to “write what we know” when it comes to language.

* Footnote: I’ve lumped together North American English here, but the truth, of course, is that it isn’t one beast. Canadians mix US and UK English at will in a way I have given up trying to follow, and that’s without getting into the question of regional differences. Mind you, on that front, I’ve lumped together British English too, and the regional, generational and class differences there are equally powerful. Maybe throwing in the towel would be the best option after all…




Filed under British Expat in Canada, Writing

It’s Friday, but not Fiction

As I’m away and unable to play with the Friday Fictioneers this week, I thought I’d practise posting about my adventures in Canada. Thanks to all those who encouraged me to do so in response to my post (, I’d love to hear what you think about this first attempt!

One of the big questions people ask when you move away from England is “How do you cope with driving on the wrong side of the road?” And the answer, actually, is that it’s no big deal. At first, I was conscious of which side I drove on, but the street furniture, road-markings and the rest of the traffic are all pretty big clues and I got used to it pretty quickly.

Nevertheless, driving in Toronto has taken a lot of getting used to.

One cause of this is pedestrians. English school children learn the “Green Cross Code” from an early age, we know to stop, look and listen and, although there’s no law against jay-walking, we know that cars are big things that can’t stop on a dime. Even in summer, and certainly not in a Canadian winter with black ice and freezing rain. In most parts of Britain(1), as a driver you can take it for granted that pedestrians will at least give a passing thought to these things when close to a road.

Not so in Toronto.

From school-age, Canadian children learn that all traffic is immobilised by the sight of a stopped school bus. Pedestrian crossings are “push and point” – similar to zebra crossings in the UK, with the addition of a button which instantly lights up the crossing – as soon as a pedestrian steps out onto the road, cars must give way. Pedestrians have right of way in pretty much all circumstances. The result is that Canadian pedestrians are fearless. If the pavement they are walking along is interrupted by a minor road, they consider it an irrelevance – the vast majority keep walking without even pausing or looking up. If they are running up the road and need to cross at a crossing, they will hit the button and sprint straight into the road.

I spend time being a pedestrian and a driver. As a driver, I respect that pedestrians are smaller and weaker and need protections, but as a pedestrian I recognise that cars are bigger and more dangerous, and have less manoeuverability than me. Canadian pedestrians could do with learning this latter lesson.


1. Blackboy Hill in Bristol is not typically British. I used to direct people to my flat by saying “Next, you drive down a steep hill where everyone seems to be out to kill themselves.” My guests always arrived saying “I knew I was going the right way when I got to that hill. People here are Crazy!”


Filed under British Expat in Canada