Coming to Berlin

I couldn't face using a picture of the Brandenburger Tor

I couldn’t face using a picture of the Brandenburger Tor

On the 11th of May, I left London, where I’ve lived since 1998, and came to Berlin, where I know no one and have no job or place to live. I don’t know when I’ll return. This may strike you as mystifying and stupid, or life-affirming and exciting, depending on your temperament and mood. My own temperament and mood are highly unstable, so I veer between the two.

I made the decision very quickly, by my standards. In March, it was a pipedream – one of many things that I could do and would notionally like to do, but which I comfortingly won’t ever do. A bit like my dream of becoming a carpenter and building my own house.

But on the ninth of April I woke up thinking it was the only viable option, and two days later I gave my month’s notice to leave my London flat. This isn’t really the sort of thing I do, so it shocked me. For two nights I couldn’t sleep. My whole body was flooded with alternating waves of fear and excitement. For about a week after that I was stunned: I mostly just sat about, staring into space and being surprised that I’d done something so disastrously bold.

Over-explaining my need to explain

I had a need to explain myself to people. At first I just talked to friends and family. But then it felt like such a big decision that I found myself explaining it to strangers too. There was a man who knocked on my door collecting for charity, and I told him more or less my whole life story, and how it had come to this. If you smiled at me just fractionally too long when selling me a sandwich in Pret, I would begin to explain that I’d had a long illness and what with insane London rents and having saved the money my book earned me, it was now or never…  Anyway, since I find I have a blog, it struck me that I may as well use it to get this need to explain out of my system.

I can see where the need to explain comes from: in November 2014 everything was finally going well. My book had a quietly spectacular year, I’d had perhaps my most profitable year of freelancing ever, I was in a comedy show that did pretty well at the Edinburgh Festival, and I was just about to move into my (long-overdue) first nice, grown-up flat in London. I felt like I’d finally prevailed against impossible odds and was no longer a total failure. But six months later I left it all behind to come to Germany.

The decision doesn’t really fit the script I had written for myself, and lots of people seemed a bit baffled by it. ‘Oh right,’ said one friend when I told him, ‘I’m assuming you’ve got mates out there.’

‘No,’ I said. ‘I don’t know anyone. That’s one of the things that makes it so stupid.’

The explanation’s quite long, so I’m going to put it in a separate post, to make it easier for you to avoid reading it. I might never get round to posting it at all. Perhaps it was just something I needed to write for myself. Or maybe, more plausibly, it was a successful strategy for avoiding writing the book that I’ve left London to finish.

Christopher Shevlin

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 5 comments
jason b - 21 June 2015

Does this mean a new book is indeed coming?
And yes, please post the explanation. Explanations of reasonings behind a big change in ones life are always interesting.

    Christopher Shevlin - 29 June 2015

    Thanks, Jason, I will put up my explanation. Why not? And yes, a new book is coming, slowly. I’ve done half the first draft, but it got a bit derailed by a bike accident and coming to Berlin. I’ve just come back to it today.

Harley Sachs - 3 July 2015

My own experience as an author living in a foreign country (Sweden, Denmark,) is that as a foreigner you have diminished opportunities for publication. Publishers are likely to prefer their own because they want someone who will be part of a long lasting stable of productive (profitable) authors. Fhey will also prefer submissions in the native language. Lookk whaf happened to Solschenizyn who was famous as a soviet writer, but once uprooted from his home turf,woe nothing more. Living in a foreign country also means you will have limited access to bookstores carrying authors in your own language. Once a foreigner always a foreigner. Even living forf 45 years in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula I was never one of “the folks.” If you didn’t go to the local schools, play on the local team, etc. you were a stranger.. Belin will be an exciting place to live, but it is not going to be a long term deal for you. In the end you may discover your pension is limited by years working in a foreign place.
I do not regret my many years abroad, but I am now suffering the consequences as an elderly person on small pensions.

Jason B - 13 October 2015

Egads, it is October and no story of the move to Berlin! (And how’s the first draft of the new book?)

Harley Sachs - 15 October 2015

I take it you are not saddled with a wife and kiddies. You remind me of my old friend Murray Brown, a talented poet who couch surfed in Copenhagen and hitchhiked to Yugoslavia in search of the ideal woman. She wasn’t and he had to hitchhike back, broke. I suggest you find a job and digs or go back to England.


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