There’s a spring in our step today, the sun is shining (for us, at least), and we can’t stop smiling. Why? It’s because Summertime Publishing has successfully achieved its first ever online book launch, and boy was it an occasion! With over 30 viewers from the USA, the UK, Switzerland, India, Spain and more, we had a truly international team of literary cheerleaders, afficionados and travel veterans gathered to celebrate the release of Rhoda Bangerter’s new book, Holding the Fort Abroad (Summertime Publishing: 2021).
Part memoir, part self-help guide, part global investigation, Holding the Fort is written for the ‘at home’ expat parent and offers practical advice on how to deal with the unique problems they face. Being away from extended family and friends, living cross-culturally, abandoning personal careers, and often having to solo-parent when the partner is away are just a few of the problems these partners face. The stress, loss of identity, and emotional burdens this can cause are identified and solutions offered to help prepare for, and cope with, these extraordinary challenges. Blending emotionally charged sketches of Rhoda’s own experiences with research of larger trends, heaps of professional psychological advice and nifty parenting tips, Holding the Fort Abroad should shine a light on an issue seldom discussed in expat literature.
Of course, in preparing this launch, there was a big, global-pandemic sized elephant in the chatroom. So how did we do it?
The secret lay in the planning. A traditional book launch will take place in a shared venue space where everyone can soak in the atmosphere of excitement and passion for the new book. Conversation bubbles in the background, stray laughter echoes from different huddles, fresh drinks and some strange salmon-y delicacies you’ve never seen before are handed around on plates as everyone prepares for the book reading and goes away later that evening eagerly clutching their signed copies.
The pandemic, obviously, restricts some of this, but the move online also opens up the possibility of transforming your book launch into a truly international event, drawing in friends, family, and curious customers from all over the world. At the end of the day, is there anything more appropriate for the expat community?
Nevertheless, an atmosphere is needed, and so it was an atmosphere we got. Summertime’s designer, Cath Brew, concocted the most fantastic icebreaker to get everyone in the mood. Drawing on the domestic themes of Rhoda’s book, each guest at the launch was invited to say one sentence about expat life whilst Cath eagerly scribbled something off-camera. We dreamed in different languages, heaped praise upon our cats, and celebrated the days when we just had clean underwear for our children. At the end, Cath held up a freshly illustrated rendition of the patchwork life stitched together out of our separate stories. See it for yourself!
With everyone relaxed, grinning, and just a bit tipsy, Vivian Chiona (who penned the foreword) offered us an introduction to Rhoda’s book and why it matters. “Holding the Fort,” she told us, “empowers the partner and recognises their experience. What this book does is crucial because it allows the voice of expat partners to be heard. And it’s about time, because they are the heroes behind the scenes.” This was followed by some select readings by Rhoda herself, before photos were taken of our online gathering and we transitioned into a question-and-answer session with the audience.
There were many great questions and responses. We discussed the taboo against being able to discuss emotional difficulties and social burdens amidst the privileges of an international lifestyle, the need to strategize your schedule and make time for your own needs, and the challenges Rhoda faced in investigating this under-researched topic.
Of course, this is normally the point where an author would thud a box of books onto a creaking table and begin signing and selling them to the gathered audience. Scientists haven’t quite figured out how to scribble inscriptions across a Zoom call, but Rhoda came up with a brilliant alternative. Anyone who bought a copy of the book online during the event had their order noted, with a signed bookmark being included with their delivery whilst the person who asked the best question would win a free life coaching session with the author herself.
As the evening wound down into the afterparty, people were free to stay and chat or wander back to holding their own forts. It was a wonderful evening with so many participants from around the world all coming together to make it happen. There can be little doubt that Vivian’s description of Holding the Fort’s key message has a wider pertinence to this success: “Although your partner may be absent, love is not gone, and is never gone.”
The pandemic may be doing its best to keep us apart, but Rhoda’s words have brought us together.
Holding the Fort Abroad (246 pp.) is available in paperback and eBook formats from Summertime Publishing. Purchase links can be found on the ExpatBookshop website.
Jo Parfitt's Monthly Inspirer