Wish You Were Here
by Sheridan Jobbins
The lovely team at Affirm Press kindly sent me an advanced copy of Sheridan’s new book a few weeks ago, and I have to admit, I rolled my eyes when I read the tag line. “She went looking for herself… and found love instead.” Really?! So cliché, SO not my style. I started to skim through the press release, not expecting much to catch my attention, but found myself stopping at “…after a late night enjoying smashing all her china a little too much Sheridan Jobbins decides she needs to do something drastic to save her sanity. Her solution is to buy a hot red car and drive across America.” Now, that’s something I’d be interested in reading.
The 25 words or less version: Sheridan’s marriage ends, she leaves the country to “find herself meets a guy on the road and accidentally falls in love. And while the love story portion wasn’t the kind of thing I’d usually read, the “f*#^ it all, I’m leaving” attitude certainly was – I mean, I’m kinda doing the same thing in a few weeks (minus the spur-of-the-moment departure and divorce). Once her mind is made up, it’s clear nothing is going to change it (again, I can relate to this). She tells us towards the start of the book:
“Among the gifts I was given before leaving Sydney was this piece of hippy wisdom: ‘The universe rewards action.’… If it’s true, if the universe really does reward action, then I planned to be the most decorated participant in life’s theatre of conflict. I made it my personal mission to test the theory and say ‘Yes’ to everything.”
True to her work, she says “yes,” over and over again. From taking a city tour with a cop and his kid (because no one else was willing to show her around) to taking a night of accommodation at the next open lodging she came across, Sheridan’s tour de divorce saw her doing all those crazy things you read about other people doing and secretly wish you had the balls to do yourself.
Being an insatiable travel bug, I really loved reading about the places she visited – not just the descriptions of the pretty terrain, but the cultural observations, too:
“Biscuits are ‘cookies’ and scones are ‘biscuits.’ Steak is ‘broiled’ not grilled, but chicken is sometimes ‘boiled’. Sweets are ‘candies’ and never dessert, which may be called ‘pie’. You wash up before a meal in a ‘vanity’ not a sink. You tip 15 per cent if you hate the service and 25 per cent if you don’t.”
My god, how I can understand that passage!! It was also reassuring to know that I wasn’t the only Aussie girl who couldn’t get a proper cup of tea to save my life in America! Sheridan’s book turned me into that peanut who actually laughed out loud on the train in the morning and evening commutes while reading it; classic Aussie-hits-the-frog-and-toad writing, which was a nice break from other writers who try to emulate a more American or British style of writing. With that in mind, I was stoked to received a follow up email to see if I’d like to ask Sheridan a few questions about the book (absolutely!), so here they are…
Q&A WITH SHERIDAN JOBBINS
The best part of reading your book was the raw honesty of it – I love to read books written as if the author was just talking to you! What made you decide to share such a personal experience with such honesty?
I wrote the book in several stages. The first was on the road when everything was raw and real. Years later, I wrote it as a love letter to my husband. Sometimes, when you’re not the ‘first’, it can be hard to know what you mean to someone who loves you. I wanted to tell him who I was when we met, and how he transformed my life. Afterwards, I lent the book to girlfriends who were having a hard time, and they seemed to find it soothing. When we moved to Geneva, there wasn’t a lot for an English language script writer to do, so I turned my rom-com film experience onto the story. That draft found an agent (Tara Wynne at Curtis Brown.) She found Martin Hughes and Kieren Rogers at Affirm Press. They gave me Fiona Henderson as an editor.
Isn’t that a pragmatic reply to a passionate question? Thing is – the writing was passionate, the refinement was pragmatic. Together, everyone who touched the manuscript helped to transform it into this book – which I hope is still heartfelt and funny, and now accessible to the reader doesn’t know all the characters personally.
You wrote early on that there were a few shocked reactions to what you did. Why do you think people have such high expectations that thirty-something year old women should have their shit together, and are so horrified when we don’t (and do something crazy like running away for a while)?
Oh – don’t get me started. I think western culture – all cultures! – want women to be frightened of the world. Apart from the failure to recognise the incredible strength and versatility of women, it fails to recognise that the women who are murdered, are mostly murdered in their own home by someone they love. Because of that, all women learn to navigate their lives with an eye for safety, and it’s no different on the road. I thought it was hilarious that almost everyone I met said, “Aren’t you frightened someone will murder you?” I answered, “No! I’m driving at high-speed on the wrong side of the road. I’m frightened I’ll die in a car accident.” And that’s the truth of it. Women may as well embrace a life of adventure, as we’re most likely to die of breast cancer and heart attack. That said, I did avoid bars because, 1) that’s where the trouble started for Thelma and Louise. 2) Drink driving would increase the dangers of me dying in that car accident.
As to not having my shit together. I get that a lot – and always wonder, ‘Why would anyone want to have all their shit in one place?’ Sadly (or marvellously – you’re allowed to take it or leave it) ‘ditz’ is one of my factory settings. I’d like to plan everything meticulously in advance, but the infinite possibilities of the universe mean that often what the future throws up is better and more fabulous than anything I could imagine. ‘Let’s see what happens’ is a great plan, especially if you don’t have to consider anyone else’s schedule.
You said that you chose America because it was the “land of sitcoms with happy endings” and if you could “just get there, everything would be alright.” Do you still feel that way about it after your grand adventure?
I do. I really do. For all the cultural downturn that the U.S. is experiencing under Trump, America has always been the great can-do land. People dream of America, like they dream of no other place. It’s an ideal, but also, it’s a country where one by one the inhabitants are among the most generous, optimistic, and curious critters on the planet. Americans will always talk to you. If you ask for help you’ll get it. They may be currently embroiled in the politics of greed – but their god-fearing heart is not like that. They will literally feed you if you’re hungry, and shelter you if you’re cold. They’ll certainly talk your ear off at any opportunity.
Finally, I’m about to head back to America myself and had a rotten time getting a decent cup of tea anywhere last time. Any tips on how to get my tea made properly this time around?!
Ah – go in peace friend. The American relationship to tea is deeply ingrained, culturally hostile and totally irrational. That business in Boston back in the 18th century? The one when they poured the tea into the harbour? That was the defining moment of their break from Britain – and they’re not backing down from it. Tea is a symbol of resistance, and getting past their suspicion to a decent cup of tea requires a lengthy negotiation.
But there are still a few avenues open to getting a steaming hot cup of bliss, depending on the strength of your desire and persistence.
Firstly, carry your own preferred brand of tea and an immersion heater or kettle. It’s cumbersome, but effective.
If that’s too much, when ordering tea, break your requests into its components and then build it yourself. (Deconstructed tea. How modern.) As an example, when ordering tea say, “I need,” (for some reasons Americans never ‘want’ in a restaurant,) “a cup of boiling water, a tea bag, and a side order of fresh whole milk.”
There’ll still be some argy-bargy over the tea. Generally they’ll offer you herb tea or (urk) Earl Grey. They often offer a box of tea bags to choose from. If you don’t see one you like, choose Darjeeling, orange pekoe, pekoe, Assam and Ceylon. Any of those will do the trick if you like a clean taste. Orange Pekoe and Pekoe is a common blend. (I love that it sounds like an L.A. intersection.) It’s worth nothing that Pekoe and Darjeeling are both lighter coloured teas. They might not give you the deep colour you want if you like your brew strong. The flavour will still be good, but it might look pukey if add milk.
Finally, the chain store Starbucks generally has the best generic tea in America. They offer a broad range of recognisable blends. You can ask them to heat the water. They supply a range of milks at a separate counter. Their home-brand English Breakfast is perfectly ok.
So go forth and spread the word. Tea is delicious, and not nearly as anxiety-inducing as as the Americans would have us believe.
Affirm Press generously passed on a second copy of Sheridan’s book, so if you’d like to get your paws on it, head on over to Instagram and tell me: