Article by Caroline Beecham, author of Maggie’s Kitchen; A Second World War novel about finding courage and friendship in food
This year was a big year for me; not only was my debut novel, Maggie’s Kitchen, published in the UK but I also turned fifty in April. Born in Brighton, but having lived in Australia for the past seventeen years, it was wonderful celebrating my birthday with family and friends back in the UK.
With the launch of Maggie’s Kitchen at Waterstones in August, this was another great excuse to get everyone together but these are rare and very special occasions and the rest of the time, keeping in touch with loved ones can be a bit of a challenge.
Waterstones Islington for Maggie’s Kitchen book launch August 2017
When I first moved to Sydney we were still using landlines to make phone calls home, it was before Skype and I used to come home from work and play ‘drink and dial’—a glass of wine or two—and phone my friends and family back in the UK! Staying in touch is much easier now because new technology has given us easier, cheaper and faster ways to communicate with each other through Apps such as Skype, Facetime, and WhatsApp. But there is still the time difference that makes it difficult and this is probably a familiar story to anyone with relatives in another country. In Australia we are nine, ten or eleven hours ahead, depending on the time of year, so when we’re tired and winding down for the night everyone in the UK is getting ready for their day. It’s not always possible to be chatty and interested when you can’t keep your eyes open!
And now that I’ve got children, I’ve found it’s even harder to find the right time to call with all the work, sports and extra-curricular activities, so it’s good to make a set time at the weekends; Sunday night for our boys to Facetime with their grandparents seems to work well. I’ve also found that sending a text or WhatsApp to find out if a friend or relative is around for a call is a good way of remaining spontaneous.
The internet has helped in other ways too and Facebook has made a huge difference in finding and maintaining relationships, and sites like Moonpig.com enable us to send cards quickly and have a reminder for birthdays so you don’t miss the important ones. Sending flowers for special occasions is also nice to do; nothing says you are thinking about someone quite as well as sending a bouquet.
Easier to stay in touch with technology
It’s easier for us to stay in touch now than it’s ever been and there’s really no excuse but that has its disadvantages too. We all go through busy times and aren’t always available or have time to talk and people can forget this, so a gentle reminder without sounding rude is sometimes needed—just because you are on line it doesn’t mean it’s a good time.
I still don’t feel as if I talk to friends enough but I think that’s probably the same for most people, even if you live in the same country, but setting up friend groups on WhatsApp has worked really well. One of the reasons is because when you have less contact with friends and family overseas you tend to skim across the stuff that makes up the daily fabric up our lives and you just focus on the big moments and dramas, so that regular contact helps bridge those gaps with even just a one liner.
A WhatsApp group allows our group of ‘fabafterfifty’ school friends to stay in touch
I’ve also found that knowing when we’re going to see relatives again is really important to us; it’s always emotional saying goodbye and it seems to really stir up feeling homesick after a trip, but if you know when you’re going to see your family and friends again, then it really helps.
I found that writing Maggie’s Kitchen helped with my homesickness because it anchored my thoughts in England enabling me to write about the place that I missed. My new novel Eleanor’s Secret is also set in England during the Second World War but it also has a contemporary storyline with Eleanor’s granddaughter, Kathryn, helping to solve a wartime mystery. The novel will be published in May next year so I might be back then, but tonight it’s time for some good old fashioned communication; I’m going to call my ninety-six-year-old grandmother—on the telephone.
Top five tips to stay in touch long distance:
- Set a routine Skype or telephone date
- Use WhatsApp to create friend or family groups
- Share photos on Facebook and other apps
- Send a quick text before calling
- Use your phone or a diary to set reminders to phone, email, call and for birthdays and special occasions
Maggie’s Kitchen by Caroline Beecham is out now. (Published by Ebury)