Our background shapes us. Accepting these differences is the sign of a progressive society; having them is the sign of an interesting culture. Individual differences in how we express ourselves and how we dress are to be welcomed.
(That's not the same as condoning immoral and unethical actions - behaviour which harms other beings will always be despicable.)
Likewise the only reason to visit another place is because that place is different: different speech, different dress, different scenery. One of the things I find sad about corporatisation and globalisation is how it homogenises things, so that exciting independent shops are replaced by chain stores, local cafes forced out by Costa and Starbucks, greengrocers by supermarkets. One town's high street now looks very much like another. Boring.
As a writer it is easy to fall back on the easy option: characters that resemble the author in their values, ways of speaking, ways of thinking, ways of dressing. But that's lazy. We should always listen to other people, observe, try to live in their shoes. And then embody that in our fiction. Next time a protagonist is formed, ask what could be changed to give them depth and reality, how to step outside our comfortable expectations. Why should the active protagonist be a man? Why should the romantic interest be white? Why should the character fit the mould of subjective preconception?
In They Move Below I started this process: characters who were old, young, female, from other places (Somalia, Burma, America). It's part of my writing process now, to try and see if the character can be different from me. But it isn't second nature. I always have to challenge myself to do better.
The other day I mentioned sharing my work. I'm happy with people sharing it for any non-commercial purpose. Feel free to quote, to copy and paste (as long as you reference the source!), to give the e-books to your friends, to use the works in teaching. I plan to embody all this in a Creative commons licence in the near future, so that people who like my work can do far more with it than the restrictive laws normally allow.
Along those lines I was pleased when a teacher and language expert in Scotland wanted to use one of my stories, Sinker, in teaching. Sinker is written in Scots Language. That is one of Scotland's three languages, the other two being Scottish Standard English and Scottish Gaelic.
I was even happier to get this message:
"Read 'Sinker' with my new Higher class. They enjoyed it and pass on their compliments. We stopped before he goes to pee. Only one group wanted McTeagle to kill Auld Ferlie and that because they wanted to know he existed. None like McT. They loved the floating shite (but were a bit reluctant to discuss this with me). They enjoyed the plot, the twist, the strong character and the karma of it. Thank you! Thank you!"I'm so pleased. When I wrote Sinker I went to Scotland; spoke to anglers; read a Scots dictionary; wandered around a loch at night; I always do my best to get into character. (Fans of my Manchester novels will be aware of the lengths I go to for verisimilitude - research trip 1, research trip 2.) So to succeed in some way here is vindication, and makes up for the comments from some readers that Sinker was their least favourite from the collection - they loved the story but found the language too difficult. I understand, but even if it lowers the book's rating I won't apologise or change it. Communication sometimes requires slowing down and listening.
I asked how old the students were and whether it was okay to post about this, since it's the interactions between fiction and readers that fascinate me. I was told:
"We would be honoured. They are 16 or 17. One or two of them said they found the Scots difficult - a standard response of those who do not want to admit to understanding low-status Scots. Fairly put their gas at a peep when I explained your background! They all understood fine then! Haud gaun, ma loon!"So: be proud of where you're from and how you speak.
Embrace your difference.
PS It is the UK's EU Referendum tomorrow. Europe is far from perfect (secret TTIP negotiations, and massive animal farming subsidies are a personal irritation of mine, when other roles far more important to society don't get subsidised), and it's annoying that we're given only the choice of staying or leaving, not any say in reforming or changing things (e.g. "stay under condition X"). On the other hand - and it is a big hand, with chunky fingers and a warm palm - embracing our neighbours and friends is a good thing to do, practically and metaphorically. Working together and accepting differences whilst also seeing similarities under one umbrella, that seems like a good thing to me. When there's a potential for love it is always better to work at a relationship than to walk away.