Colin, tell us a bit about yourself and your life as a serial expat.
I am a 75 year old Englishman, who for the past three years has been married to a wonderful Turkish lady, three years younger than me. We live in Istanbul, one of the most vibrant cities in the world.
My working life started when as an apprentice joiner/shopfitter back in 1957, I worked away from home assisting in fitting out a number of banks and shops.I qualified after five years, later working with several shopfitting companies as a shopfitter, then foreman and on to supervisor. During this time I worked all over England, two contracts in Scotland and one in Jersey.
In 1978 I went to work in Iran, and was there during the revolution that led to the overthrow of the Shah. On leaving there and after a short spell in Qatar, I returned to work in England.
In 1983, a back injury resulted in my losing my job, putting my family and me in a serious financial situation. As a result of this, I decided to become an expat. This turned out to be a great decision, with my working in 13 countries for the next 19 years. During this time I enjoyed a life most only dream about, meeting new friends and working with people from a variety of countries. I also engaged in a number of exciting pastimes, including running through the jungle on a hash, and going on a Jash, which involved driving through the jungle in modified jeeps. In Brunei, where I first ran on a hash, I also acted in two amateur dramatic shows. As this was the first time I had done such a thing, I found it a great experience. I also met both of the Sultan of Brunei wives while working in their palaces, and had the privilege of having a short chat with them.
As a result of obtaining a married status contract in Turkey back in 1989, my late wife and I uprooted ourselves from England and moved to live in Turkey. This turned out to be a move we never regretted, with my living here ever since.
Your book, Follow In The Tigerman's Footsteps, tells the story of your various adventures in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. Could you give an overview of the book for our readers?
The title of my book, “Follow in the Tigerman’s Footsteps,” sub titled “The Adventurous Life of an Expat,” comes from my love of tigers that like me love to roam far and wide. It reads more like an adventure story than a memoir and covers a working life most only dream about. I started to write my memoir as a way of showing my two daughters and grand children what kind of life I enjoyed. However, the more I wrote, I decided it would make an interesting read for others. As a Sagittarian I have travel in my blood, but never in my wildest dreams did I think I would end up experiencing travel and working in so many countries.
Readers will see that there is more to life than a boring 9-5 job, with whole world waiting for you to experience life in a country other than your own. When a company I previously worked for contacted me about a contract in Iran, I had no thoughts about working overseas. Although in two minds about accepting, when made redundant by the company I then worked for, it made my mind up. Working in Iran proved both exciting and dangerous. Without doubt, it was a far cry from working in England, especially when along with sixty fellow workers we found ourselves caught up in a revolution. From Iran, my company then sent me to Qatar, where life was peaceful and the beaches fantastic.
On completing this contract, I returned to work in the UK. While doing so, a back injury cost me my job, resulting in my family and I being put into serious financial difficulties. I decided that once cured, as I knew I could earn far more money by working as an expat than in my home country of England, I would work overseas. As a result of this thinking, I applied for and received a contract to work in Saudi Arabia. This one contract put us back on our feet, and enabled us to buy a brand new car for cash, something that would have been impossible while working in England.
I then went on to work in another thirteen counties spread through the Middle, Far East & North Africa. During this time, life was a mixture of adventure; crazy and at times life-threatening incidents; along with numerous humorous ones. Although some readers would think me mad at doing some of the crazy things I did, most would have loved to been in my place.
All these adventures and experiences came about due to my being positive when live was tough. It enabled me to climb back into the driving seat and enjoy an incredible life.
What did you find hardest about changing countries so frequently?
To be honest, not a lot. However I found the temperature in some countries a problem. In Oman, with the temperature in the 40s centigrade, without having A/C in the various projects I worked on, took a bit of getting used to. On going to Turkmenistan from Turkey, at one time, with the chill factor, the temperature was around -6 centigrade. As until then I had been working in the Middle East, this was a big difference.
Another problem I encountered was when I used to fly to and fro to the Philippines. Here, due to the large difference in time scales, it took several days to get accustomed to it. I also found passing through customs in the various countries I worked in could be a hassle, especially as I didn’t know their rules and regulations. It was due to this that I nearly got deported from Indonesia, when found working on a business visa, and not with a work permit.
You spoke in the book about the challenge of having to leave your family when you first went abroad. What advice would you give to other expats who are in the same situation?
First think carefully about your leaving family and loved ones behind, it can put a big strain on relationships. You have to trust each other, and that the ones left behind will not spend all the money you send home, and you will not spend all the money you earn in the country you’re working in. This I know caused problems with several people I knew. At the end of the day, you have to decide if the extra money will make up for the lost time seeing (if married with children) both your wife, and the children growing up. From my own experience, at the end of the day, my late wife and I thought it worth while.
Which was your favourite country to live in? On the flipside, which country did you find the most challenging and why?
Without doubt Turkey, where I have lived now for over 20 years.
Although my wife and I had a fabulous social life in the three years spent in the Philippines, I found the work rather stressful. This was in part due to my being an advisor, with little notice taken of mine and my colleagues’ comments.
If you could go back to the first time you moved abroad and give your younger self some advice about expat life, what would it be?
First, before you go, check out online and read about the place you are going to. Try and talk with other expats who are either there, or been there recently. I say recently, as since I worked in Oman, Qatar and Abu Dhabi, there have been enormous changes there. Also, don’t expect things to be like in our home country. The culture, climate and food could be much different than back home. If you are not prepared to put up with that, don’t go. Too many expats complain they can’t buy the same food they could in their own country. My advice re this is if you can’t get used to it, go home. Others would be glad to take your place.
What does your writing process look like? Is there a special time and place when you like to write?
Strange though it might sound, although I have a desktop computer set-up in my study, I do most of my writing on my laptop in the television room. As for writing, I do it during the day, in between going out with my wife, and in the early evening before we sit and watch TV.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Don’t give up. Be positive in your thinking and take notice of what other authors in your field of work write about. Join some writing clubs and get involved in both posting and answering comments from others’ posts. Also, before trying to get your work published, ensure you get a professional editor to go over it. You will find writing is the easy part, with getting an agent like finding a needle in a haystack. Finding a publisher is another problem. Check out all options, including self-publishing, as it could save you a lot of money. Another thing is to realise that even if you have a publisher, you will be expected to do some marketing yourself.
You can find out more about Colin's adventures in his book, Follow In The Tigerman's Footsteps, which is available on Amazon.