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Preface to a second edition of Fusion

Since the first edition of ‘Fusion’ came out, fusion has been breaking out all over the place. There’s a new Kosher Indian restaurant round the corner and a kosher bakery serving halal snacks and bacon bagels along the road. In the leafy street, our new neighbours are a young actor from St Lucia and his pretty Ghanaian wife who has a real job, they say, as a lawyer. Seventeen year old Nigerian A-level student Matthew has a blonde girlfriend. We’ve discovered that our Irish friends are in fact Russian Jewish and proud of it. When the family sailed to Ireland, on hearing ‘Cork Cork’ as ‘New York, New York,’ they disembarked thinking it was America and got what they deserved. Fusion in the community of the extended family has produced two Swedish, one Lithuanian, two English and three Irish partners so far. The gardener we needed, to tame a rampant honeysuckle, is Ukrainian and the window cleaners are Hungarian student brothers in need of cash. In the house rented out by friends who have chased the sun, are (at least) four Czech builders who have done a marvellous job of fixing up the wear and tear caused by a year’s worth of five wealthy students with posh cars and mobile phones stuck to their ears. We have observed Shanks’s pony develop into a motor bike, an old car and now a company van. I could go on but that might be never-ending.
I am pleased to say that Gloria Hagberg has received her copy of ‘Fusion’ with her name in the prologue. The first thing I did for the second edition, as Gloria suggested, was to include her husband Gordon’s name. Unfortunately he died many years ago and Gloria chose to continue living in Kenya. Gordon did a great deal to help the scholarship students from Kenya to get to USA and Canada for their University studies. Gloria is modest about her contribution. However, internet research uncovers Gordon’s memoirs and Gloria’s own accounts of how between 1959 and 1962, these students were part of their lives and how hard they worked to find cut price air fares for the students as well as to prepare them for the very different and frightening life they would find in America. Their contribution was immense.
Readers’ reactions have been interesting and, to my surprise, mostly positive. Perhaps some people with negative comments have kept those to themselves. That is not to say there haven’t been criticisms; there have been little complaints like too many dashes, ‘wees’ and ‘in betweens’ or not enough commas, middle-sized mistakes like missing words and giving Dame Kelly Holmes two mothers, big mistakes like making three attempts to finish the book, perceived huge mistakes like being over optimistic and therefore being the cause of all the ills that have befallen Britain in recent days – oh, and having occasional sentences that, though correct and intelligible, are far too long.
I must mention the little pot on the cover; it has been loved and hated and after a few threats it has survived - a happy little melting pot as one reader friend said.
One lady told me she couldn’t possibly read ‘Fusion’ because she didn’t think multiculturalism was working and anyway it didn’t exist. I ask myself, how can something not be working if it doesn’t exist? (Writer Mary Edward (see below) said, ‘Where did that lady’s granny come from, I’d ask.’ Another person professed to be a Christian, though not committed, and he didn’t see why ‘we’ British had to put up with people of other faiths coming to take over our land. (I’m wondering who ‘we’ British are, these days.)
I have tried to address all the little problems so Kelly Holmes has a Jamaican father (not mother) and there are a few more commas and shorter sentences. I make no apology for not changing the extra chapter and the epilogue (the perceived three attempts to end the story) as another comment was that it worked and I agree (of course).
As for the huge mistakes, I stand accused of glossing over the difficulties encountered when cultures collide and of looking at the world through rose-tinted spectacles. In my defence, I could say that Ella, my protagonist, does that, and she can say what she likes and I don’t necessarily have to agree with her. That would be ducking out. Yes, Ella is hopelessly (or should that be hopefully) naïve. Is it not better to be too optimistic than too pessimistic? Some people have to rise above the doom and gloom of the scaremongers who call themselves the realists. The world needs dreamers. I refer to Robbie Burns again; when he said ‘for a’ that and a’ that’, he meant ‘when all is said and done’. I interpret that as ‘after all the heartache and animosity’. Burns follows that with …’man to man the world o’er, shall brothers be for a’ that’, - a simple philosophy but infinitely profound. Perhaps the cynics are lazy; they don’t have to try to make things better because they don’t believe they can.
I made the decision to remove ‘Fusion’ is Darwin and Dawkins for the homespun philosopher’ although nobody took issue with the statement. Perhaps that was because it wasn’t clear what I meant (or it was on the back cover). This (unfortunate) brainstorm was supposed to express two ideas: mankind’s evolution beyond aggressive ‘survival of the fittest’ towards mutually beneficial co-operation (Darwin), and the rejection of mythical religions and adoption of a global philosophy and moral code (Dawkins). This could lead to cultural fusion and Utopian harmony. Even Ella knows that we’re (probably) more likely to roast the planet or blow each other up before that comes about. But, if we don’t keep that perfection in our sights, as something to strive towards, we’re more likely, as a human race, to head in the wrong direction, down into the morass of divisive misunderstanding because no effort has been made to enter into any form of dialogue. Much as I admire some of Dawkins’ ideas, I feel that religion remains integral to most societies in the modern world. Unfortunately, especially in recent years, the distortion of major faiths by a small number of violent fanatics has diluted and almost destroyed the core messages of peace and unity.
Recently the British media has been taking an alarming and, in my opinion, dangerous turn. Enoch Powell’s 1968 ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech has been unearthed and paraded as having ‘come true’. If it has the positive effect of forcing dialogue which leads to greater understanding, then well and good. If, however, it exacerbates the undoubted tensions caused by rapid immigration levels which have not been backed up with enough support for the infrastructure to be able to cope, then this is as abhorrent today as it was forty years ago. Admittedly, the type of multiculturalism which sees people of different faiths or cultures living side by side, but not making any effort to understand each other or confront their inner prejudices, is not likely to result in greater mutual respect for diverse cultures. Happily, what is happening in many communities is not so dire and depressing. Schools are an excellent example of communities where everyone strives to find the basic morality which is common to all cultures and faiths. The youngsters, when gently pointed in the right direction, find it easy to find those threads which tie the different groups together. It would be tragic if such inclusiveness and optimism were destroyed by the reintroduction of the fear and pessimism that so many people have worked so hard to eradicate.
To get back to the structure of ‘Fusion’, Mary Edward, writer of ‘Who Belongs to Glasgow?’ felt the jump, as she put it, from the philosophy in the prologue to remote Caithness in Chapter One, didn’t sit well with her. In a way, that pleased me. I was trying to knock home the contrast between then and now and there and here, and bring out how enormously things have changed over the last fifty years. Mary’s book drew my attention to the fact that, in ‘Fusion’, there is an enormous leap across a chasm between Ewan Cameron’s child-friendly tales of Viking invasions and intermingling of fair, dark and red-headed tribes and what is now happening in the 21st century global village. ‘Who Belongs to Glasgow?’ begins to fill that gap. It is a heavily researched, factual account of the immigration to Glasgow of diverse groups from the slave trade, the impoverished Highlands, famine stricken Ireland, the early and later Jewish diaspora, 20th century Italy, 14th and 15th century Poland and more recently Africa, the Caribbean, China, Asia and Eastern Europe. Some of these incomers are asylum seekers and the writer sensitively describes their plight today (2008). The book pulls no punches and the hard times that these groups suffered in the impoverished conditions in the Gorbals and at the wrong end of the bigots’ tongues and actions are carefully chronicled, but the message that rings through is optimistic. The overall experience for the vast majority of incomers has finally been positive. I quote the Rt Hon Liz Cameron, former Lord Provost of Glasgow, whose answer to the question, ‘Who belongs to Glasgow?’ is, ‘The world belongs to Glasgow’.
‘Fusion’, a light-hearted insight into the cosmopolitan experiences of a young girl from Caithness growing upwards, outwards and older, and ‘Who Belongs To Glasgow?’ the meticulously researched, factual story of immigration to Glasgow over the past two centuries both end up on a similar note of hope.
I suggest they both ask the question, ‘Are the bad days of ‘Keep the Highlanders out of Glasgow’ or ‘Keep the Welsh out of Wembley’ finally over?’
I love Mary’s comment when she agreed to let me cite her book in this preface. She wrote, ‘Multiculturalism is having a hard time but it’s like the sea – it will ebb and flow and find its own way, in all countries of the world.’
However, the main problem with the novel ‘Fusion’, as I’ve known for a while, and have been waiting for others to point out, is that it doesn’t fit neatly into a recognisable genre. The bookshops have put it in General Fiction. It started off as a simple story, with some amusing anecdotes, of a young girl leaving home and going away to a strange land and finally, after a few traumas, ending up happily living in a cosmopolitan society. It seems as if some readers have chosen to leave it at that. That’s fine.
Then the characters assumed a life of their own and the ideas behind the tale gathered momentum until The Prologue appeared and then The Foreword. Eventually, the light-hearted romantic novel took on different characteristics. It wasn’t just a simple story; it was an extraordinary story of the vast global, cultural changes over the past fifty years. That deeper theme took over and the plot outline became filled out with significant memoir and characters who were integral, not just to the plot but to this one idea of migration leading to cultural change - and the constantly conflicting forces which either drive that along or impede its progress. The result was a mixture of genres which might appeal to different age and interest groups which, I’m told, isn’t easy to market. One kind reader friend said, ‘Like some of its characters, ‘Fusion’ suffers from its own identity crisis but that’s what makes it wonderful.’
Another writer acquaintance asked, ‘What do you want the book to do?’ There are so many answers to that question. I want to convey the following. (Here my audience are young pupils with whom I will soon be working in my capacity as ‘old teacher turned novelist’ so please forgive the tone.)
• See how the world has changed in the last 50 years and how quickly cultural integration is happening, but there is nothing to fear because it has been happening throughout history.
• This is what happened to Ella and a lot of other people, like me, but look, we’re still fine.
• It’s all right to be in a mixed marriage and to be born of mixed race. Look at Barack Obama, he’s doing just fine, (and, by the way, it would be good for America and the world if Obama became President of USA.)
• However, perhaps it’s not a good idea to embark on a mixed relationship just to be fashionable. That might be the wrong reason. It’s good to respect the culture you were born into and pay tribute to the good values you have gained from it.
• The people of different cultures in The Global Village should try to understand each other and develop a set of common rules that everyone can follow.
• Different faiths need to respect each other’s beliefs as long as these do not harm others.
• We should be aware that there are communities in the world which are extremely poor, through no fault of their own, and if we can help them to help themselves, the whole world will benefit. To quote a student from the Pestalozzi Village, ‘If you give a man a fish, it feeds him once, but if you teach a man to go fishing, he can feed himself, his family and many others. That is why a good education, and the right motives, can help to break the poverty cycle in the poorest countries in the world.
• Finally I want ‘Fusion’ to ask the question, ‘Can the new generation in The Global Village step forward declaring, ‘We’re all different but we’re all equal.’?
For adult readers, I wanted to inject some fun into a potentially tense and perhaps contentious concept. Writing was also a cathartic experience. I could no more not write the book than fly to the moon. Like Ella, I feel angry with the bullies of this world, small, big or gigantic. I cannot stop writing so be prepared for more ramblings.
‘Fusion’ eventually turned out to be a different experience for different readers. Some liked the story and the descriptions of people, places and events. Some, who knew me, enjoyed trying to work out what was fact and what was fiction and who the characters might represent. The regional differences in sense of humour became apparent. The early chapters amused the Scots and those near the end made the Londoners laugh more. My Kenyan born nephew’s favourite part was Ella’s visit to the farm in Kenya. More discerning readers appreciated the philosophy and felt the love story detracted from the gravitas of the theme. Others were intrigued by and either agreed with or took issue with the view of 1960s politics in Africa, America and Britain. One reader of my blog, though I’m fairly certain not the novel, vehemently challenged the core theme of migration leading to cultural fusion and blurring of identities and pointed out that monocultural isolationism was the only way forward he could envisage. I strongly disagree with his view, but I defend his right to express it.
I shall give the last word to a dear relative who is now in his eighties. Twenty three years ago he arrived in full highland dress to attend the christening party of a new baby to find himself in a large, boisterous, multi-racial, demonstratively friendly group and created a memory for all who attended. His comment was, ‘I really enjoyed reading Fusion whether because I know a little of the authoress or because I liked the story. It is certainly very thought provoking and I am waiting for the follow-up. Why are books often in a trilogy and not a bilogy or a quadrilogy? Don’t answer that! Change in attitudes is happening but cannot be rushed but maybe can be slowly eased along. Keep up the effort. …’

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