Interview With Doreen M. Cumberford, Author of Life in the Camel Lane

Can you share a bit about your journey to becoming a writer/published author? Any interests or early signs as a child that hinted you would later put pen to paper?

Growing up in Scotland at an early age I was in touch with the invisible and magical side of life. Intuition and knowledge were values that were transmitted early on. I loved the traditional British adventure books and read them furiously.
I was such an avid reader that I concocted all sorts of ways to extend my bedtime. I also did than my fair share of sleepwalking around the house as a young child. I remember on more than one occasion waking up in a wardrobe, the same size and shape as the one in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. My over-active imagination served to literally catapult me out of bed on several occasions.

I did not write professionally until I was 49 years old and became a Yearbook Editor for Saudi Aramco schools. Since then I have participated in an anthology, been the co-author of an anthology on the subject of repatriation, Arriving Well: Stories of Identity, Belonging and Rediscovering Home After Living Abroad, and now the recently published Life in the Camel Lane – the identity of writer fits well some days and not so well on others.

I look forward to publishing more material at the nexus of self-development and travel in the near future.

What inspired your to write Life In the Camel Lane? What do you most hope readers will walk away with?

When I look outward, at the state of the USA today, I find more and more reasons to write Life in the Camel Lane once more. I was inspired by the multi-cultural experiences that reached all the way inside and changed us from within. I would wish everyone the opportunity to live in a United Nations bubble with so many other characters and nationalities. Even today it’s a gift that too few get to experience. That piece alone would inspire me to do it all over again.

I am grateful and delighted to have spent so much time in the company of people from different nationalities, religions, backgrounds, languages and perspectives. I believe we became seasoned and tempered by humanity, in a way that is different when we are the average. Living as an outsider or the other over decades teaches so many lessons about grace and tolerance. Who knows, the world might coalesce our brilliance and intentions clearly to combat major threats like Covid-19 and global warming. Living, working and playing inside the world’s largest oil company with dozens of different nationalities provided a glimpse into what’s possible.

Review HERE!
I hope that readers walk away with two things. The first is a deeper understanding and appreciation for the country of Saudi Arabia based on a real life perspective and not the drama of what I call the “Princess books”. If you will remember years ago there was almost an entire genre of books about the dramatic and tortured lives of women of the royal family. While those served to educate and reveal some of the dark side of the country, they did not serve to educate people on the beauty of the people and the culture.  

My second goal is to encourage, inspire and educate men and women to become expats, or if they already are, to support them in living in liminal space while they balance all the affects of living between two or more cultures.

I believe that there are few tools like long-term travel that inform, inspire or change our souls at depth. I hope that Life in the Camel Lane will truly encourage people to choose the road less travelled, to take the risk and to launch themselves overseas and discover what the rest of the globe might have to teach us.

Kids are so in tune with their environment. How was your daughter affected by spending her young, formative years in Saudi Arabia - especially the time right after 911 when safety was such visual concern with bunkers, guards and guns obvious? What was it like for her to move to North America after such an amazing experience abroad that others her age hadn't had? Was it challenging for her? In what way?

I believe that we managed to deliver an almost ideal lifestyle to our children while living in Arabia, especially in their younger years. The subject of Third Culture Kids (TCKs) is uppermost in the minds of many people currently scattered around the globe as so many children are growing up in that lane.
The Aramco kids grew up as true TCKs, with several nationalities in one classroom. Many of my daughters’ friends had names like Tariq, Nour and Lili with the kids representing about twelve nationalities in their classroom. Likewise, languages, food, religions and cultures were mixed. And yet these kids grew up together, learned to respect each other’s cultures for the most part, they learned to share, honor and welcome each other’s difference.

As young adults, they have mostly gone into fields that are either international or service oriented like medicine and the military. Looking at my daughter’s classmates now, we can see the results of the education and privilege they experienced. I really would not presume to speak on behalf of my daughter; however, I can say she has grown into a very single minded, intelligent and creative young adult whom I admire.

Lynsey has at times said she would never send her kids to boarding school; however, we all know that change is all there is and she will make her own choices. Moving to the US at 15 years old to attend boarding school was a challenge that she grew and learned from. Most of the kids who attended boarding schools were well prepared for University. Mostly they develop chutzpah from a wide menu of life experiences and grow up faster due to the absence of our parenting they endure and a large variety of surrogate parents at boarding school.

Another book by Cumberford
I know you reached out to other ex-pats for their stories as well. Where did you find them and how did you reach out to them? With all that research needed plus the writing to do, how long did it take to bring this book to publication?

As a former ex-pat for several decades I have a network of connections that sprawls across the planet. I am also a member of FIGT (Families in Global Transition) and have at times been connected to SIETAR, the Society for Inter Cultural Training and Research for professionals involved in the intercultural field.  Being an Annuitant, which means retiree, from Saudi Aramco is also a benefit. We stay in touch through company reunions every two years, except in 2020 Covid has cancelled our upcoming reunion which would have been held in September. 

I stay connected with people abroad and around the group also in Facebook. Friends from Saudi Arabia stay close and we manage to stay connected as one large grand family. I also have two Facebook groups, one called Re-Entry Rockstars for people returning from overseas to and another fun one for house and pet sitting which is called Life in the Housesitting Lane. Now we stay in touch with Expats overseas and help take care of their pets and properties while they are travelling. Although I have US citizenship, I feel as though I am an expat living in the US, I therefore gravitate to everyone else who feels similarly. 

The time-line to write this book was lengthy in that I started in 2011 or 2012 then moved to Houston back to Bellingham in the PNW and finally to Denver, Colorado. Then in 2016 we started pet and housesitting across the globe. That interest takes lots of time, energy and attention away from writing. I originally had a book-writing coach, but the problem was – he was a male, and just couldn’t quite get his head around how it had felt being a women in Saudi Arabia. He did assist me and I did get plenty written, however it wasn’t until I found my current Editor that Life in the Camel Lane began to become a complete manuscript.

Over those years I asked questions of my colleagues who had been in Saudi with me, and many of them I interviewed then I had to dig into the stories that were the most pertinent to the points I was making. Yes, it was time-consuming, but truly a labor of love and I will be forever grateful for the journey. In total entire journey encompassed between seven and eight years, although I was actually working on the manuscript for about half of that solidly.

The book launch was earlier this year in May of 2020. We were stranded in Mexico during the Covid shutdown and I had a virtual book launch. Somehow it turned into a resounding success. People attended from eight countries, so I was thrilled and very happy to have many people from my life story gathered on one screen. That was a seminal moment that will forever stay impressed in my brain!

The author has a chapter in this
collaborative book!
How does the writing process work for you? Do you schedule a time every day, work madly when inspiration hits or ?

I meet with a group of other writers twice a week, at 6:00 a.m. in the morning on Mondays and Thursdays. Believe me, it’s sometimes a chore and I have been known to skip on cold Colorado winter mornings, but generally for the last five years you will find me on a Zoom call with fellow authors twice a week. 

Currently, my most favorite writing time is on a Friday morning with I meet with my speed writing group. This group is a very disparate group of women. We are differing nationalities: one gal is Singaporean but lives in DC, one gal is English and lives in the Netherlands, one gal lives on the Isle of Man, another gal is French living in Germany and I am Scottish living in Colorado.

We choose really simple prompts, write for ten minutes then listen and offer praise. The turn of phrase, together with the wild and visceral writing complete with a vocabulary that could fill several dictionaries emerges through these women’s voices. I hear language and content in an environment that I could never recreate here in Colorado. This is my most favorite and fun writing every single week.

As an author - what do you enjoy most about writing process? What feels like a chore?

I enjoy the moments of inspiration. When that idea lands and seems to explode with energy and delight – that’s my favorite moment in the writing process. I do also enjoy the excuse to sit by a stream, a river, a lake – or pretty much any body of water, with a purpose. Flowing water helps my words flow onto a page.

My least favorite is the tedious part of editing, then re-editing and the process of moving large pieces of text around. I find that I lose my place when moving pieces of text and large swaths of writing and I need the help of a terrific editor to partner with me on those tasks.

When not writing, what do you most like to do to relax? Any favourite books you enjoy curling up with?

Here’s the short answer: house and petsitting! Here’s the long answer: my hobbies are dependent on where I am in the world. 

Because I am a globally mobile writer, my writing frequently has taken a backseat to the travel. I am now managing to find my lane more frequently and easily while I am on the road. Writing about travel while on the road makes my writing more visceral and brings it more present. In the last year I have spent a month in each of six countries, then seven months in Mexico, four of them stranded by the Covid-19 pandemic.

This time last year we were living in a five-story townhouse in the north of Brussels, Belgium. Near the Royal palace and parks and close to the Atomium, we were caring for Patci, whose family were on vacation in Peru. Patci, is an enormous Australian shepherd puppy who at eight months old was over 70 pounds packed with energy and enthusiasm for life.  We spent hours in the Royal park, meeting other dog owners, struggling to communicate in their language of choice. French, German and Dutch are the official languages of Belgium, while normal day-to-day business is conducted in French and Flemish. Most locals speak some English, many are fluent, the dog owners who frequented the park were eclectic and represented many nationalities, lifestyles and cultures.

Since my husband retired, we have added international pet and house sitting to our activities and have just returned from more than a year away. Is it a hobby? Yes! But it’s also a new lifestyle which both of us thoroughly enjoy.

Writing is a relatively still pastime for the body, I find balance is best created by both sitting still and thinking, inter-mingled with plenty of movement. My thoughts, ideas and inspiration come from not only moving my body through exercise, but also by transporting it somewhere by bus, train, plane, car or boat. Leaving, arriving and departing contain terrific life lessons in leadership and culture which we can apply anywhere we find ourselves.

My home base is Colorado, in the US and while home I love to play pickle ball, hike, bike and my new personal passion is now time spent paddle boarding. Just a few days ago I managed to sustain two different yoga poses on my paddle board, that’s a huge personal milestone for me! Since my lifestyle is frequently portable or nomadic, I need to have activities that are also portable. My feet carry me everywhere. I make it a priority whether in Scotland or Mexico, to take the time into every week to walk, hike or just generally explore. We make a concerted effort to build some exploration into every week. This practice seems to widen our ideas and contributes to keeping me feel like life is an adventure not a chore.

Both this and your previous book - Arriving Well - have been content gleaned from your years of traveling and living abroad. Will you be writing more books on travelling in your future? Anything in progress now? 

Yes, actually thanks for asking Marilyn. I have two books in the works.  One book is called Home Again, Home Again, Jiggedy Jig! A Guidebook to Returning Home After Living Overseas. It is a work of heart and will be formed into a work of art. There are very few resources for people returning from overseas.
Corporations, governments, universities, international agencies all send people overseas. When they return they are mostly expected to fend for themselves, rebuild their lives and get on with it. Nowadays, (pre-Covid-19) we can easily get on a plane and within a few hours arrive at a distant destination where the culture, food, language and pace of life is quite different. Naturally, when someone returns home they are looking forward to reunions, familiar places and experiences that they will recognize.

However, in the meantime, this sneaky activity called change has happened. People may have moved on, their hometowns may not even look the same, rapid developments appear seemingly overnight, and even more erroneous is the belief that culture stands still. I believe that the act of returning home is more like a recovery process and one’s internal mental, physical and spiritual self has to catch up with the changes. These changes cannot happen on an eight or a ten hour flight, therefore Re-entry requires some serious reflection and navigation. I believe that we need to re-frame our Re-entries as a new platform from which to create new adventures. A heart-felt project like this I feel requires me to be more raw as an author and I plan to keep ripping the band aids off in order to write this book with authority.

My other project is a documentary of experiences and lessons assembled while pet and housesitting across the world since 2016. This title is Life in the Pet and Housesitting Lane: the sub-title has yet to reveal itself, but it will be something like How to Create Adventure in Your Third Act! This book is designed to encourage people of a more senior age to get out of their Lazy boys and travel the globe to learn and grow personally. Our few years of house sitting have been the greatest life curriculum plan imaginable and I am grateful for the amazing people we have met, the trust and nature of the pets we care for and the unfathomable variety of homes and lifestyles that we humans enjoy on this beautiful planet.

There it is – down in black and white. You can say you hear it first on Marilyn’s Blog! Please look out for Home Again, Home Again Jiggedy Jig together with Life in the Pet and Housesitting Lanes!

Connect with the Author: website ~ twitter ~ facebook ~ pinterest ~ instagram ~ goodreads


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