So here it finally is, after a quarter of a century writing non-fiction books (27 published), Jo Parfitt has finally achieved the dream of putting her first fictional book on the shelves.
She is a whirlwind of energy and passion. A writer, mentor, consultant, world-wide speaker and publisher with 11 titles currently in the pipeline. Her own Forced to Fly is one of them, an updated second edition.
Jo is a confident succesful woman but her dream, her Holy Grail, has been to write a novel. Sunshine Soup: Nourishing The Global Soul is not the first fictional book she has nurtured. The first never saw the light of day despite finding a willing publisher. She has always seen fiction as the toughest option for a writer. This novel took four years of blood, sweat, tears, facing down fear and self-doubt.
I was lucky enough to attend her book launch here in The Hague a few weeks back. Surrounded by press, colleagues and friends she was not basking in the glow of a dream achieved but fretting about the things she should have changed, rather like a mother anxious over the first solo outing of a young child. She needn’t have worried, this child is well able to stand on its own two feet.
Following her own advice to budding writers Jo applied the golden rule to herself, ‘write about what you know’. After 25 years living outside her home country she understands expat life, the challenges, fears and limitations and writes about them with knowledge and understanding.
Her main character, Maya, leaves England to follow her husband to a new job in Dubai. Maya is excited, has encouraged her spouse to accept the position, looking forward to the challenges and opportunities ahead for the whole family.
The book begins on the last day in their old home, the packers have left and husband and wife share that moment every expat knows. Exhausted from the packing up and final goodbyes, the new, unknown and daunting life ahead, you take five minutes to wonder if you’ve done the right thing. Maya has given up her food business, family, friends, everything she has ever known to start this adventure. Something Jo herself has experienced many times.
Arriving in the blasting heat of Dubai we watch Maya flounder and struggle with culture shock and reel with horror when she sees ‘HOUSEWIFE. NOT ALLOWED TO WORK’ stamped in her passport and realises this is not how she thought things would be.
We watch her move from shell-shocked, innocent abroad to adjusted and settled as she finds her way through an alien culture to fulfillment and strength. How she gets from one to the other is what makes the book so appealing.
If you’re an expat you will recognise every character in Jo’s book, you will have met them. The ultra organised Barb, who is the other voice of the book, involved in anything and everything. From coffee mornings, committees, picking up anyone newly arrived and settling them in, Barb is the mother hen, hiding her personal loss and sadness from everyone.
Maya starts to find her feet through food and cooking, another great aspect to Sunshine Soup as the recipes referred to are included at the end of the book. (Having sampled these recipes as real food at the book launch, including Sunshine Soup, they are wonderful). She also begins to see the darker side of expat life, the enduring sense of loss – of friends, family and personal identity. Along with alcohol abuse and infidelity.
Maya finds a way of adjusting to her life as Jo herself did, through the internet. In her early years Jo published A Career in Your Suitcase (now in its third edition) which became a pioneering book in how to have a moveable career.
Even in her first novel Jo can’t resist giving us more than we expected, three books in one. A story anyone who has lived outside their home country can relate to, a cookery book, and practical advice woven throughout on how to life your overseas life successfully. Extra material too, for reading groups.
After twenty-five years Jo can finally add ‘writer of fiction’ to her repertoire, no mean achievement as any aspiring writer will know.
Available at AMAZON in book and Kindle format