Why New Zealand Made Me Write

I’ve nearly finished my novel. (For real this time.) And I’m terrified. This world and these characters have been consuming my life for nearly two decades. (I’m only twenty-four.) They’ve been my reason for living – my only reason until I met Tim. But the novel might never have happened if my family hadn’t moved to New Zealand.

When I was a little kid, living in England, I never dreamed of being a writer. My parents were teachers, so I wanted to be a teacher. I went to dance lessons, so I wanted to be a ballerina. I went to violin lessons, so I wanted to be Vanessa-Mae. Then, when I was six, my nana gave a notebook. It was a very ordinary-looking notebook, but it had a hardcover. That made all the difference.

Books with hardcovers, my six-year-old brain thought, are for Very Special Stories. So I sat down and I wrote a Very Special Story with a Carefully Drawn Front Cover and Everything. The story was called Sarah and Anne. (It was supposed to be Sarah and Annie, but on my Carefully Drawn Front Cover I’d accidentally missed out the ‘i’ and no, Mum, I couldn’t just squeeze one in – that would ruin it!)

book-730479_640It wasn’t a novel.

It was simply a piece of meandering prose about the daily lives of a girl and her favourite doll, who could talk. (I’d recently seen Toy Story.) It was finished when I reached the last page of the notebook. Nevertheless it was a masterpiece.

I presented it to my mum and, without really thinking about it, went to the local and stationer’s and bought a second notebook.

Soon I was staying up long into the night, hastily flicking my bedside light off whenever I heard my parents’ footsteps on the stairs, filling notebook after notebook with the adventures of Sarah and Anne. I still didn’t dream of being a writer. I just had a story in my head that wouldn’t stop and needed exorcising.

fairy-tales-671406_640As the years went by, my stories – well, one continuous story, really – took on the influences of what I was reading. It had the children-from-our-world-entering-a-magical-world of Narnia, the fantastic castle of Harry Potter, the enchanted forest of The Magic Faraway Tree… It was also part-diary: the mundane things that happened to me/Sarah at school side-by-side with the fantasy.

But something was about to happen to me that wasn’t so mundane.

When I was nine years old, my parents told me that we were moving to New Zealand. My world was shattered. Everything was gone: my best friend, my grandma, my dance lessons, my violin lessons… because the small town we moved to in New Zealand didn’t have any dance schools or violin teachers. I was lonely. I was just so, so lonely. And bored.

book-2869_640Boredom was the thing, really. I was sitting around one day, no friends to hang out with; no dances or violin tunes to be practising, and I thought to myself: what can I do? Well I’d obviously found writing enjoyable enough. Why not do that? But PROPERLY this time. I’d write a novel. A proper novel. How hard could it be? It was just something to pass the time; it’d be finished by Christmas.

But a novel about what? Try as I might, I couldn’t think of anything. Then I felt a little tug on the back of the T-shirt of my mind. “I’m still here,” Anne said.

“Yes, but you’re a doll,” I told her. “I’m too old for stories about talking toys now. They’re stupid.”

“But I’m not a toy,” she said. “None of us are. We’re shape-shifting magical folk. And we’re here to protect you.”

“From what?” I asked… and the novel was born.

Creepy Porcelain Doll

My own picture, (the rest in this article are off pixabay.com) featuring the inspiration for Anne, my porcelain Alice in Wonderland doll

Despite the fantasy elements, it was still largely autobiographical. Sarah was an English girl whose family had moved to a small town in New Zealand. Although her father’s reasons for shifting the family had been rather different to mine. Sarah’s route to school and the school itself were the same as mine. Then there were her friends…

I must admit, loneliness drove me to use the names and basic looks of some of the friends I’d had in England. By writing about them, I felt like I was still interacting with them. Of course, they soon developed into their own characters, separate from the people they were based on, but I wouldn’t blame the people they were based on if they felt a little freaked out.

Years later, I reconnected with some of them on social media. It was a weird experience for me. I didn’t tell them, but I almost expected them to be like my characters. They weren’t. It was worse meeting one of them in person – I didn’t see England again until I was seventeen, so the differences were quite staggering.

The characters have all grownup with me, you see. When I finished the first version of that first novel, I was older, wiser and had better taste in writing, so I had to write it again, better. Then, when I finished the second version, I was older, wiser and had better taste in writing… so… you get the idea. Each time I finished it, I was completely embarrassed by the juvenile crap that the younger me had written.

mortality-401222_640But in-between all the re-writes of the first novel, I wrote sequels to it. The characters aged as I did. It got out of control. The world grew and grew. It got darker. Writing was no longer my hobby, it was my life. I didn’t choose where the stories went, they ran ahead of me, dragging me in the dirt behind them, scraped and buffeted by self-criticism, but unable to stop.

This is the final version of my first novel. I’m nearly finished. Maybe, someday soon, I can regain some sanity. And by ‘sanity’ I mean ‘mental health’, because writers should be a little insane. It’s got to the point now where I couldn’t do anything else with my life if I tried. Writing is the only thing I’m good at.

I often wonder what my life would have been like if we’d stayed in England. Would writing have become my life’s passion if I’d still had my other hobbies? Would I have been bullied in the same way, forced to spend high school lunchtimes hiding in the library, where it was natural to read and write? Life might have been easier if my self-esteem wasn’t so wrapped up in writing.

Kuirau Park

One of my pictures from Kuirau Park in Rotorua

I also think about how much New Zealand, the country itself, has influenced the world of my novel. Have the attitudes of my characters changed? The landscape of the world? I know that there’s somewhere in my second novel that was very consciously inspired by the magical glowworm caves of Waitomo. And another place inspired by the volcanic terrains of Rotorua, Taupo and White Island.

I haven’t used any of the magical creatures from Maori folklore so far, although at some point there is an old woman with removable fingers of fire, obviously inspired by Mahuika from the Maui legends. I remember that story from a Year Eight art class, and I wish I’d been told more about Maori folklore years ago.

One of my favourite fantasy writers, Juliet Marillier, is from New Zealand, but she mainly writes novels inspired by Celtic folklore. I suppose I take my influences from lots of different places, though there’s a certain amount of, as Terry Pratchett put it, re-arranging the furniture in Tolkien’s attic. But then all fantasy is.

(To set my nana’s mind at rest, my book also has a firm basis in the real world. Not that what happens in the fantasy world isn’t real – you just ask Neil Gaiman. I mean that one of its most significant settings is a small town in New Zealand. (My nana thinks fantasy is a waste of time because none of the things happening are real. It took long enough to convince her that ‘writer’ is a respectable career prospect, but ‘fantasy writer’ may need more work!))

books-21849_640

Last Night of the Poms: The Story of Our Move to New Zealand

The streets of Edinburgh were strange. Alien. I felt disconnected from the world as we walked, hardly aware of my mum holding my hand. Something was wrong. They hadn’t said anything, my mum and dad, but my stomach was attacking itself in warning. That, and I was hungry.

Dad was on edge. Every time we crossed a road he glared left and right as though it was the city’s fault that he wasn’t where he needed to be. A conference, they’d said. ‘Daddy has to go to a conference.’ Apparently, he didn’t know how to get there. He’d started using car-words. (Words that only Daddy was allowed to say and only in the car.)

My little sister was oblivious to this developing turmoil. She kept running ahead and shouting, “PACHY!” – much to my mum’s embarrassment. (She didn’t realise she was being racist. Her imaginary friend was a pachycephalosaurus.) She didn’t even know what a conference was. I only had a vague idea. It was something frightening.

My family in Retford, the year before we moved to New Zealand

My family in Retford, the year before we moved to New Zealand

Eventually, sick of my whinging, Dad told Mum to take ‘the girls’ to get some food – he’d find the conference on his own. I was relieved we no longer had to hurry after him, but still confused. Why did Dad have to go to a conference? What was the conference for? Weren’t we supposed to be on holiday?

It had been quite a nice holiday so far. We’d driven from our home in Retford, up through Yorkshire, and visited Lindisfarne before arriving in Edinburgh. I’d never been to Scotland before, so I was all excited. Then the conference. The conference that I had yet to receive a straight answer about. ‘It’s something for teachers’ was all I’d managed to glean. (Dad was a teacher.)

It wasn’t until that evening that I’d learn our whole holiday was a sham. That we wouldn’t have come at all if it hadn’t been for the conference. The sense of betrayal the nine-year-old me felt at that realisation, however, was nothing compared to what was to come.

The nine-year-old me

The nine-year-old me

We were in an Italian restaurant. All the tables had red and white checked tablecloths and candles in bottles that were obscured by many layers of hardened dribbles. My dad was angry with the food. He thought it was ‘pap’, but my mum thought it was fine. My sister was ‘feeding’ Pachy. Then my parents looked at each other and looked at me, and they told me the truth.

The conference was for British teachers who wanted to teach in New Zealand.

“New Zealand?” I said. “You mean that little, triangle bit at the bottom of Australia?”

“No, Abby, that’s Tasmania,” Dad said.

“But you were very close. Well done,” Mum added.

“But…” I was engulfed in a rising tide of dread. “But you can’t teach in New Zealand. We live in Retford.”

“Abby –”

“Unless you get a really fast plane every morning –”

“Abby. We are going to live in New Zealand.”

Bam. My eyes and lips were trembling. The implications of moving were stuck in my throat, all pushing to get out and blocking the way in the process. “H-how far away is it?”

“About twelve thousand miles,” Dad said.

“Tw-tw-” It was no good. Tears were starting now. My world was falling apart and my heart was breaking. The restaurant was spinning. I remember the red and white checks blurring together. “But what about my friends? What about Elizabeth?” My voice got shriller and shriller. People at other tables were staring. “What about dancing? And Grandma?”

“Sit down, Abby,” Mum said. (I hadn’t realised I was standing.)

“No!” I cried. The idea of having everything I knew and loved torn away from me… my best friend… my dancing lessons… and to be replaced with New Zealand. New Zealand was a wasteland!

“Abby –”

“I’m not moving to New Zealand!” I shrieked. “You can’t make me!” And with that I ran into the toilets.

I kept running until I was in a corner by a hand dryer and then I screamed. Conscious of the noise, I slammed my fist into the hand dryer to turn it on. Accompanied by the roar of hot air, I sobbed and sobbed.

Mum came in and put a hand on my shoulder. I flinched. “We are going to New Zealand,” she said.

I couldn’t take it. I ran away again, this time out onto the dark Edinburgh street. At least I had the sense not to stray far from the illuminated restaurant window, tempted as I was to get myself lost. When I went back inside, it wasn’t because I’d forgiven my parents; it was because I was cold.

Mum and Dad didn’t want Grandma to know that Dad was applying for jobs in New Zealand. They didn’t want to worry her. They’d only tell her if – when – he actually got a job. It was a pretty big secret for a nine-year-old to keep.

Grandma lived just round the corner from us. Ours was a neighbourhood of Victorian terraces, quite depressing compared to what we’ve become used to in New Zealand, but I’ll always remember it fondly. Grandma was short and plump, and she always wore cardigans and stockings and called me ‘duck’. She died last year, but at least she’d been able to visit us in New Zealand twice. She’d never even been out of Britain before that, (well, except to Jersey,) and she hated anything foreign.

Last Day 002

The alley behind my gran’s terrace

Across the street from my gran, there lived a girl who always wanted me to come out and play with her. I did, even though I would have often preferred to have stayed at home on my own, reading or writing. One day, I was sitting in the alley behind my gran’s terrace when she found me. Her cheerfulness intruded upon my artistic misery.

“’Iya, Abby,” she said. “Wanna go play on the railway bridge?” When I didn’t respond, she tugged my arm. “Oh, come on! The nettles aren’t bad. You just have to step on them.”

“We’re moving to New Zealand.” That stopped her dead.

Her face slackened. “You’re… you’re moving? Like… away?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“But you can’t! I mean… Where’s New Zealand?”

“You’ve never heard of New Zealand?” I asked, taking a nine-year-old’s delight in her ignorance. “Duh – it’s in Australia.”

“Australia?!” she cried. “But that’s full of kangaroos and aberrations and… and it’s the other side of the world!”

“Yeah. Me dad said it were twelve million miles away. Or summat like that,” I said.

“Wow,” she said, sinking back against the wall. “I’m really going to miss you.”

“No, you’re not,” I said.

“Yes, I am!” she whined.

“No, you’re not,” I said, “because I’m not going.”

“What do you mean you’re not going?” she asked. “How can you not go when you parents –”

“I’ll run away from home before I go!” My voice echoed around the alleyway.

“Wow,” she said. “Where’re you going to go?”

“Grandma’s,” I said.

“But int y’ grandma’s just round the corner?” she said.

“Exactly.” I grinned smugly. “It’s the last place they’d ever think of looking for me.”

A photo of our house, taken from the railway bridge

A photo of our house, taken from the railway bridge

I’m not sure how long I seriously entertained this notion. I seem to remember wanting to run away then realising that it would soon be tea time, and, of course, there was no sense in running away before having tea. Anyway, my friend and I did end up going to the railway bridge. (It was right next to my house.) As we sat there, legs dangling over the tracks, she asked, “Are there trains in New Zealand?”

I didn’t know. I didn’t think so. There probably wasn’t electricity either.

After a while, my friend sighed. “I hate it here,” she said.

“Why?” I asked.

“Everything’s just so… grey. I bet New Zealand isn’t grey.”

“No,” I said. “It’s green.”

“How do you know?” she asked.

“Mum and Dad keep saying so.” I shrugged.

When we got bored of playing on the railway bridge, we went to sit against ‘our’ wall. It was the wall of an alley that ran in front of a row of bungalows out the back of my house. In one of the bungalows, there lived an old lady called Betty. (She was a bit gaga so we called her Batty.) She often saw us and brought us sweets, which we ate even though they were years out of date.

Now, this next part of the story is a bit of a guess. You see, at some point, Betty told my grandma that my mum and dad were planning on jetting off to New Zealand without telling her. This, understandably, made my grandma very upset, and there was a lot of explaining to do. What I think happened is that Betty overhead my friend and I talking and jumped to conclusions.

So it was that my parents’ plan about not telling Gran that we were moving to New Zealand until my dad actually had a job was ruined. As it happened, we were at my gran’s house when Dad got the call on his clunky ’90s cell phone. My mum screamed and hugged him like an excited teenager and my gran burst into tears.

I was scared stiff. It was happening. It was confirmed.

We were moving to a place called Waiuku. Waiuku, my dad explained, was a Maori name. It meant ‘muddy waters’.

“But that’s stupid!” I said. “Who’d name a town ‘muddy waters’?” (Later, I realised with a surge of satisfaction that the name of the town I wanted so desperately to stay in, Retford, means ‘muddy waters’ too! It comes from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Red Ford’ – when cattle were driven across the ford, they churned up the mud at the bottom, turning the water red. How cool is that? It was like fate.)

My last Christmas in England

My last Christmas in England

The next few months went by in a blur. Dad’s job was to start at the beginning of the coming year, 2001, because school years in New Zealand start in February, not September. This presented a problem for my sister and I, because we were still halfway through our school year. (I was in Year Five; Lucie was in Year Two.) In the end, Dad went to New Zealand six months ahead of us, leaving Mum to sell our house.

Saying goodbye to Dad at Manchester Airport was horrible. It was the first time my family had been separated. It didn’t hit me that I should be sad until we were hugging him at the gate, and everyone else was crying. I suddenly realised that six months was a long time. I howled with the rest of them.

School was weird for me after that. Knowing I was leaving soon made everything seem a bit meaningless. I remember my class did an Aboriginal art project, and I got all excited and asked Dad to send me some pictures of Maori art, figuring they’d be similar. (How wrong I was.)

Then the time came for all our stuff to be shipped off. The men from Britannia Movers International arrived. I liked their logo – the classical goddess Britannia with her Union Jack shield – but it took great restraint for me not scream at them, “Put that back!” My life was literally disappearing around me.

Abigail croppedI felt like I was fading away. Like Marty McFly at the end of Back to the Future. My last day of school, I sat on a side bench in Mr Lilley’s classroom and watched the rest of the class as though from under water. The headmistress, (ironically named Mrs Britain,) approached to offer me luck and words of comfort. Unfortunately, I can’t remember what those words were, only that they seemed significant and grownup at the time.

Then the school day was over. I panicked. It had come too fast. Never again would I have a lesson at this school, or see any of these people. I had a few photographs with various groups. (A good delaying tactic.) Then everyone started drifting away. Only my best friend, Elizabeth, was left. I knew I’d miss her far more than she’d miss me. I just wanted to cling to her and never let go.

I hugged her and hugged her, but all too soon my mum pulled me away. It was time to go. We lived in opposite directions from the school. We started walking down Bracken Lane in those respective directions. Then I looked back. She didn’t. I watched her back get smaller and smaller. She was wearing a light blue jacket. I know because the image was burned onto my mind, and I recalled it so often during my lonely times in New Zealand that now I’ll remember it until I die. When I realised that she wasn’t going to look back, I started to cry.

Not just cry. I had a full-on tantrum whilst walking home from school. My mum wanted me to be quiet – it was shameful – but I didn’t care. I had so much grief inside me that I just had to get out. I think that was the last tantrum of my childhood.

The horrible goodbyes weren’t over. Next we had to say goodbye to Grandma, and we didn’t know if she’d be able to visit us, as she was terrified of flying. Then Uncle Damon drove us to Nana’s house in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, and we had to say goodbye to Uncle Damon. My nana, who now lives with us in New Zealand, had prepared something very special for us.

Chester

Chester

It was our last night in England – the last night of the poms, as my dad later joked – and Nana had hired a limousine to take us on a tour round Chester, and then to our favourite restaurant. It was wonderful. I felt like I was famous in my blue, fringed, ’20s-style dress, drinking from a champagne flute on velvet cushions.

The windows were tinted, so no one could see who was in the limo, and people on the street started taking photographs of us. My nana wound her window down a bit so she could do a regal wave. What a way to spend our last night, in true Britannia style!

Then, of course, it was our turn to fly out of Manchester Airport. I don’t envy my mum’s task of getting herself, two little girls, and all three sets of our luggage across the world in one piece, but she did it. We even had a night enjoying the sights in Singapore on the way. Then we were in New Zealand…

My first impression? I was kind of zonked out from the flight, so I didn’t notice much. New Zealand seemed pretty much the same as Britain, rather boringly. At least it wasn’t the backward wasteland I’d feared. The light was different, though. New Zealand was bathed in warm light. I can still see it, what I saw from the back of Dad’s car as he drove us from Auckland Airport to our new home. It was a strange light, the light of an alien world, but it was comforting nonetheless.

That was twelve years ago. Nearly thirteen.

561 Porirura-River 173

Sunny New Zealand

I’m twenty-two now. I remember what happened then in such great detail, not only because I replayed the events over and over – clung to them rather sadly – but because I wrote the story of what happened at the time. The conversations above are exerts of that story, not made up. It’s funny looking back at what a melodramatic brat I was! (And how I thought New Zealand was pretty much Australia. Sorry!)

Of course, I’m glad now that we moved to New Zealand. I wouldn’t have it any other way. New Zealand is a far better country to grow up in than England. At the time, though, I thought I’d never forgive my parents. The move undoubtedly had a massive psychological impact – you can read about that in The Existential Crisis of the Immigrant Child – and, although I still don’t consider myself a true Kiwi, I love New Zealand and want to grow old here.

For the next part of the story, in which I recount my first day at my new school in New Zealand and my brief return to England years later, see Kiwis, Kiwis and Kiwis: The People of New Zealand.

Mount Maunganui 026

 

Rainbow’s End: A Somewhat Amusing Park

When I first arrived in New Zealand, at the age of ten, I noticed that all the other kids in my new class would talk about a certain magical place of fun, a veritable beacon of childhood dreams. If your parents took you there in the holidays, it was a rare and coveted treat, and if your school took you there on a trip, well how lucky were you?

“What is this wondrous destination?” I would ask, and they would answer, in voices breathy with awe, “Rainbow’s End.”

rainbow's end 008It’s an amusement park. They say it’s New Zealand’s best theme park, which isn’t a difficult feat because it’s New Zealand’s only theme park. I couldn’t wait to go.

It’s in Manukau, and as, at the time, we lived in a small town just south of Auckland, it was easy for us to get to. I suppose if you’re in New Zealand for a holiday and you have kids with you, Rainbow’s End would be a great place to while away a few hours, as it’s close to Auckland International Airport and many New Zealand campervan rental depots. It could be a nice treat for the kids on your last day.

It’s definitely improved since my first visit. I can only say that I was disappointed that first time. I mean I’d grown up in England, the land of Alton Towers and Blackpool Pleasure Beach and Legoland. I’d also, at the age of seven, been to all the big theme parks in Florida, so, to me, New Zealand’s Rainbow’s End was laughably tame.

rainbow's end 019Rainbow’s End is a very small theme park, full of happy colours that would be sickeningly bright if it weren’t for the dirt, moss and rust. Its main attraction is the Fearfall, which is actually rather good. You get taken eighteen stories up the side of a tower, your feet dangling in the open air. If you’re scared of height’s, you’ll hate it, but if not you’ll find yourself with a rather pleasant view before being dropped.

When I went that first time, the only other “big” ride was a short and not-very-corkscrewy corkscrew rollercoaster. At least now they’ve got the Power Surge, which I used to love, but these days, at the ripe old age of twenty-two, makes me too sick, and the Invader, which is thrilling without being terrifying or stomach-turned-upside-down nauseating.

There are some quite good “small” rides, rides that you can take little kids on and still enjoy yourself, which seem to be the solid theme park staples: the Pirate Ship, the Log Flume and the Gold Rush. The Log Flume and the Gold Rush were actually my favourite rides the last time I went, which was a few months ago with my boyfriend’s nieces, both of whom were around six years old.

rainbow's end 012

The Log Flume has an “enchanted forest” theme, with dancing elves and the like, and an almost scary drop at the end. The Gold Rush, fairly obviously, is one of those “old, abandoned mine” rides. It’s good fun, just watch out when you get to the end – the final brake is very sudden and you can hurt yourself, which I did.

rainbow's end 009Always a favourite are the Bumper Boats. I refuse to go on them unless it’s a sunny day, though, because you get a very wet bottom. Last time, I just stood on the bridge that goes over the ride and shouted encouragement to my boyfriend’s niece to ram him with her boat.

For younger children, there’s a section of the park called Kidz Kingdom. It’s really sweet and has in it the sorts of rides that are far too tiny for adults. The good thing is it doesn’t cost as much to enter Rainbow’s End if you’re only going to be staying in that bit, but I’m quite disappointed they got rid of the dragon ride that went around the castle walls.

rainbow's end 005

So here’s my advice for your New Zealand holiday: if you have children with you, Rainbow’s End would be a good day out, but if you don’t then you’re better off pursuing New Zealand’s many other non-theme park thrill seeking opportunities.

The Existential Crisis of the Immigrant Child

A couple of years ago, when I was in my third year of uni, I was crippled by anxiety and depression.

I was terrified of everything, even descending the stairs to leave my flat. I actually sat crying at the top of them, shaking and gasping and clinging to the banister, certain I would slip and break my neck if I stood up. Totally alone.

I started sweating whenever someone talked to me, avoiding eye contact, convinced I wasn’t worthy.

mirrorlightblackMy heart was perpetually agitated. I couldn’t sleep and when I did I had such nightmares that I woke up with my heart racing, feeling like I hadn’t had any rest at all.

Things that I used to enjoy – acting chief among them – now made me miserable. It wasn’t fair. Throughout high school acting had been my escape from the misery, not just experiencing someone else’s emotions, but the adrenaline of performing. Now there was no refuge left.

All I could do was wrap myself up in my duvet in front of my laptop and watch endless episodes of some TV series or other in an effort to distract my brain from berating me, if only for a while.

Eventually, sick and tired of being relentlessly miserable, I gathered what little courage I had left and went to the university health centre. The doctor immediately prescribed anti-depressants and sleeping pills and referred me to a counsellor.

It was hard opening up to the counsellor – I don’t like “bothering” other people with my troubles – but she pieced together my problems, deducing that they probably arose from the awful bullying I’d received between the ages of ten and fifteen, and the fact that I didn’t feel I belonged anywhere.

She went on to say that it was very common for the children of immigrant families to experience what I experienced. Immigrant children are often bullied when they first arrive in their new country, bullied for being different – perhaps their accent or way of dressing – and for reasons that have nothing to do with inherent xenophobia and everything to do with ten-to-fifteen-year-olds being nasty, peer-motivated adolescents who like to put each other down.

I sometimes wonder if I was bullied because some New Zealanders still see English people as rich, imperialistic, “you ignorant colonials belong to us” royalists, but, despite the fact that when I first arrived my classmates assumed I had a butler and drank tea with the Queen, I never really got that impression. As for the feeling that I don’t belong… well it goes deeper than your typical young person angst. Deeper than not having many friends.

The fact is I have lived in New Zealand for over half my life and I still don’t feel like a New Zealander. Maybe this is because, not having many friends, I spent more time than the average teenager with my parents, watching DVDs of British comedy series. I have not lost my English accent, and of all the qualities that the New Zealand media proudly boasts are Kiwi – such as the do-it-yourself attitude, the love of rugby, the hatred of Australians, and general toughness – I have none.

I am English. I glory in our history, our countryside, our multitude of hilarious accents and our sense of humour! But that’s just it – do I have the right to say ‘our’ anymore? I’m not up with the current trends in England. I’ve set foot there once in the last twelve years. English people think my accent sounds slightly Australian.

When I was talking to some English people I was friends with at primary school, I mentioned going to the dairy to get some milk. From that, they thought that in order to get milk New Zealanders walked down the road to a dairy farm and got it directly from a cow. I had to explain that in New Zealand a dairy is a corner shop, or convenience store. I had said dairy automatically.

I’m not really English anymore, but I’m not a New Zealander either, and that sense of not belonging anywhere is really depressing. In fact it can shake you to the core.

Not to sound overly dramatic, but when my parents decided to emigrate, they destroyed my life.

All my friends, my hobbies, my other relatives, my culture – the only place in my life I would ever fit in because I was born to fit in there – it was all ripped away from me.

I don’t know if I can describe the total loneliness I felt without sounding whiny, but, according to that counsellor, it was the sort of loneliness that can fester and manifest itself years later as clinical depression.

To be fair, my parents must have felt lonely too. We all clung desperately to our Englishness, be it with BBC DVDs or watching the football in the middle of the night. I remember when the English comedian Bill Bailey came to Auckland with his Tinselworm stand-up show: he asked the audience whether they’d heard of ASDA, (a massive supermarket chain that doesn’t exist in New Zealand,) and every expat Brit in the audience, including us, cheered, to which he responded, “You’ve been away too long.” We should not have been cheering for ASDA. Even if it does sell such a variety of food that we can only dream of in New Zealand…

So desperate were we for a little piece of home that when we were travelling around the South Island in a campervan, for example, and we came across a sign for a place called Sheffield, we pulled over excitedly, clamouring for a photo.

173 Back in Sheffield

(In England, the town we lived in was quite close to Sheffield, but, unlike Sheffield, it does not have anywhere else in the world named after it. Either nobody ever left before us, or they were so glad to leave it behind that they never wanted to be reminded of it. Either way, extremely sad.)

So there you have it: my personal existential crisis, and the crisis of all immigrant kids. I wonder how many children of immigrant families actually develop depression as a result, but at the end of the day I’m still glad we moved to New Zealand.

You might be happy to know that in the last few weeks I’ve managed to wean myself off the anti-depressants and only occasionally start sweating when someone talks to me. Or you might not care. But I’ve learned that you shouldn’t be ashamed of taking anti-depressants – they work, and it’s better than being miserable all the time.

UPDATE: It’s been two years since I wrote this. Recently, I’ve written a more detailed account of what it’s actually like living with depression and anxiety. You can find it on the The Writers’ Labyrinth.