Wonder Boi Writes

Descended from Voyagers

We are descended from voyagers
Who found their way across the world
They call me
I’ve delivered us to where we are
I have journeyed farther
I am everything I’ve learned and more
Still it calls me
And the call isn’t out there at all, it’s inside me
It’s like the tide; always falling and rising
I will carry you here in my heart you’ll remind me
That come what may
I know the way
 ~ Moana

The above song is on my writing soundtrack for Full English, but more than that, it was my answer to the question Emma Volant asks herself repeatedly through much of my newest release, Full English.

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“What have you done?”  It’s Emma’s common refrain largely because it was mine for the eight months we spent living in the UK and Spain last year.  There were moments when the panic nearly chokes Emma.  Those scenes often coincided with the worst moments of doubt in my own adventures, and while I couldn’t always answer that particular question, I could often hold the panic at bay by whispering back, “I am descended from voyagers.”

My grandpa is kind of big into genealogy.  He has family trees that when spread out will span whole rooms…big ones.  I was raised on stories of our American ancestors.  The first woman to be married at Jamestown, she was one of us. My grandpa took my brother and I there to see her mentioned in the video at the visitor’s center. We were at Valley Forge with Washington and were granted the land now known as Free Union, Virginia for service to him. The family homestead still stands there, and my grandpa took me to visit in middle school. The real-life Johnny Appleseed was also a relative on my grandfather’s mother’s side. That side of the family also fought at Gettysburg and served time as POWs in Andersonville. My grandfather spent summers walking all the grandkids through cemeteries across central Illinois to point out our people.

Then when I was in high school, my grandparents took a trip to Europe and told me that if I earned enough money to pay my way, I could tag along. I did, and it kicked off a love affair with international travel. I stood in the doorway of the church where my grandmother’s grandparents were married near Essen, Germany.  I stared up at The Arc d’ Triumph as Grandma and Grandpa recounted stories my great-grandpa had told  about the liberation of Paris during WWII, you know, ’cause he was there.

Honestly, as a kid I just thought everyone’s family did that sort of thing.  I was much older before I realized it was unusual for people’s families to go off chasing ancestors across the world, and by then it was too late for me to be persuaded that wasn’t normal.

I am everything I’ve learned and more
Still it calls me

So when my main character starts Full English by arriving in a small English village she’s never seen simply because her grandmother used to live there, I was aware of the disorientation she’d feel, but her motivation never felt illogical to me. There’s a scene early in book where she walks the streets of the little seaside town remembering the stories her grandmother told her, and she has a sort of inherited sense of familiarity. It was only after finishing the book that it really set in for me that not all my readers will intuitively relate to that experience, because it was only after I returned to America after similar experiences that I came to understand how much of a disconnect exists between people who have felt those ancestral echoes and people who haven’t.

As a writer, it is frustrating not to have the words you need to explain something amazing.  Until recently I had experienced this only a few times (e.g. explaining what it’s like to feel the first flutters of a baby kicking inside me), but that was nothing compared to the disbelief we encountered when I told people, first in America and then in England, that we’d packed up our family and moved across the ocean because I felt a call I couldn’t explain.

And the call isn’t out there at all, it’s inside me
It’s like the tide; always falling and rising


I wasn’t in quite the same place as my main character, Emma, in that I did know one person in Alnmouth in the village we chose, and we had at least been there for a whole 36 hours several years earlier.  I mean sure, we had never seen the house we’d be living in, and we wouldn’t have a car, but we didn’t know how to drive on the left side anyway. And, yes, Kelly would be traveling often, which meant there would be stretches were we didn’t know anyone, but we’d meet folks eventually. And yes our visas wouldn’t allow Jackson to attend school, so we’d have to figure out how to homeschool, but my wife and I are both highly educated. We’d learn.  And okay, so the village was too small to have a pediatrician, or a doctor even, or a real grocery store, or, you know even an ATM, but what’s that compared to striking out in a wooden ship in search of a northeast passage to China?

Yeah, that probably seems like a really random comparison to most of you, right?  Well one thing I didn’t mention in the earlier list of my lineages, is that in the age of internet genealogy, my grandfather had been able to trace not only our American ancestors, but gain access to resources across the pond. And since no one in my family does anything halfway,  he’d gone right back up to Eleanor of Aquitaine.

To be clear, well more than half of Brits can trace their family back to royalty, so this in no way indicates a superior bloodline.  What it does offer, however, is a really clear picture of who some of the people that shaped my family’s path through the world were, and it turns out by the 1500’s, my people were seafaring explorers.

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The framed photo above sits in my living room.  (I blacked out the identity-stealing portions for this blog). It shows a direct line from me all the way up to Stephen Borough.

We are descended from voyagers
Who found their way across the world
They call me

Stephen was one of the captains on several expeditions in search of a northeast passage to China.  While they found no such route, what they did find was Russia.  This was mind-blowing to many Europeans who knew of Russia only as a small country that barely touched the Black Sea. At this point, England had no real trade relations in that area and no genuine knowledge that Russia was a massive set of territories and duchies and provincial-style holdings that at its largest stretched from modern-day Scandinavia through to the far northeastern edge of Asia. Obviously I’m condensing a lot of this, but Stephen sailed all the way through the North Sea, around the northern-most coasts of Norway/Sweden/Finland, then many many more miles between the coast and the Arctic circle before having to winter in the White Sea.

While there, he interacted with some locals, and it went something vaguely like this:

Stephen: Who are you?
Locals: We are Moscovite Russians
Stephen: You mean that piddly little country on the Black Sea?
Locals: No, we mean this place:

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Stephen: Holy hell! I gotta tell Bloody Mary about this.
Locals: Cool, in the meantime, want to meet Ivan the Terrible?
Stephen: Sounds legit, let’s go!

Anyway, obviously I super condensed that part, too, but Stephen took lots of trip to Russia, negotiated the first trading charter with Russia, set up the first Russian trading company in England, etc.  Later he reformed the way British navigators were trained and the tools they used, like you do, when you’re a well-traveled dude. If you want to learn more about him, you can check out this book that my grandpa gave me a few years ago.

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To be honest, though, it’s value for me lay not in the dates and details of journeys long past, but in the constant reminder that people up my family tree took off with a lot fewer resources and a lot less knowledge to much more remote locations and not only survived, they changed the world. If Stephen Borough could strike out in the unknown and sail the frigid waters of the North Sea in search of new lands, new ideas, new connections, and renewed sense of global identities, then there was no reason I couldn’t do a little bit of the same.

So, I did.

I’ve delivered us to where we are
I have journeyed farther

I packed up my family and moved them across an ocean to a country my ancestors hadn’t inhabited in 400 years, to a village I’d barely visited, and into a house I’d never seen.  And when I walked out my back door, I stared out at the vast, vivid expanse of the great North Sea.

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I’ll blog plenty more about my time abroad and how it connected to various details in Full English.  I’m even planning to blog some more about my search for Stephen Borough, but for now, as you begin to read Full English, as you see Emma arrive in her grandmother’s village for some reason she can’t fully understand, and read about seeing Brogan hoisting sail because of a pull she can’t quite explain, I hope you’ll think of me getting lost in this view and listening to the echoes of my ancestors calling to me in memories made before I was born.

I will carry you here in my heart you’ll remind me
That come what may
I know the way

February 2, 2019 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

   

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