When Strangers Become Friends

When Strangers Become Friends

I first met Amy at the launch of my friend Chine Mbubaegbu’s book Am I Beautiful?

“Hi,” I said, “I’m Jennie.”

“Hi,” she answered, “I’m Amy Boucher Pye.”

My brain started racing. Was I supposed to recognise that name? Amy Boucher Pye…was she famous for something? I’ve got a pretty bad poker face, so I’m sure she spotted my confusion and helped me out, “I’m Chine’s editor.”

Ah! I breathed a sigh of relief. I might then have seen the name, but she wasn’t really expecting me to recognise it. We chatted a little, then connected on Facebook, bonded over ‘Call the Midwife’ and gradually became friends.

Fast-forward almost a year, and I was hugely privileged to be invited by Amy to become her editor. She had in turn written a book and, since it’s impossible to edit oneself, no matter how good you are, needed to find someone to help her through the last stages of refinement.

She had sent me an earlier draft of the book and I’d loved it, but there were some things that I’d suggested to her needed changing. Like her overuse of asides to the audience in italics! 😉

Somehow my (extensive) feedback hadn’t been too off-putting, and she was brave enough to let me at it officially.

I LOVED IT!

It helped, of course, that I had genuinely great material to work with. It helped hugely that Amy understood that when an editor suggests doing surgery on your baby it’s to enable it to live and flourish, not to harm it. It also didn’t hurt that we had a few good laughs along the way as we chatted about our cross-cultural experiences.

A search for true identity

Me and AmyThe book, Finding Myself in Britain, (on sale today from all good bookshops) is in part a memoir of Amy’s transition from single career woman living in Washington DC to vicar’s wife, living in a series of poorly-plumbed vicarages in England. In places it reads a bit like Bill Bryson, as she reflects on her observations of us Brits and our strange customs and social mores. The story of how she and I first met made it into the chapter on names. While I thought that the fact she used her full name meant I was supposed to recognise it – she was not just ‘Amy’, but this specific Amy – to her the greeting meant nothing more significant than ‘Hello’.

Reading and discussing tiny-but-significant differences and misunderstandings like this brought back many memories for me of when I was the one out of place, living in Atlanta, GA, and trying to understand my new culture and its ways (and its accent!). Like Amy, I never did fathom some of its foibles (American Football, green jelly/jello in salads), but did grow to appreciate many of them (Thanksgiving, Superbowl parties, the long ribbon of tarmac snaking for miles in front and behind on a road trip) and to love the many wonderful friends I made there. The title of this blog post was an early suggestion for the title of the book, as it also describes that aspect of Amy’s story.

More than just a memoir, though, Finding Myself in Britain is partly a devotional walk through the Christian calendar, beginning in the autumn as that, almost more than January, is often a time of new beginnings. It is also the season when she met the greasy-haired English ordinand in a ‘sweater vest’ who was to become her husband.

As Amy learned the traditions of both her new country and her new church family, she found herself learning, in a whole new way, what Jesus meant when he said “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). She had to die to her old ways, her old expectations, even in a lot of ways her old identity, and at first that was a challenge. Throughout the book, Amy weaves the wisdom she picked up over the years – with disarming honesty – and reflects on wider lessons learned through events in the church calendar, through observations of life and nature, and through an ever-closer walk with God.

A life edited

As editor, my job was often to say, ‘I love this anecdote, but…’ and make her cut out stories that were dear to her heart but which may not have added much for the reader. I do sometimes struggle with that role of critic – always being the one saying ‘I don’t understand what you’re saying here’, ‘this is a bit muddled’, or (with echoes of The Princess Bride, a book and film we also share a love of) ‘I don’t think that word means what you think it means’! Amy was incredibly gracious, however, and although she’d occasionally put up a fight, she’d accept the ‘criticisms’ with good humour (at least in her correspondence with me!), and has been kind enough to say, several times, that my insights and insistences made the book better. Thank you, Amy! I sided with her against many others about the chapter on plumbing, though. If you don’t like it, sorry. It’s important to Americans, and I think she draws some neat conclusions about it, too. So there!

It struck me as I read, though, that her life story is, as so many of ours are, about being edited by God. He gives us freedom to write our stories, but comes alongside and graciously cuts, trims, tightens and reworks different areas (if we will let Him), to shape our lives to tell His story, not our own. A story recognisably ours, but infinitely better than we could have ever crafted ourselves (yes, I know I sound like I’m comparing myself to God here – well, we are made in His image…!).

If Amy had been able to cling to all the things she thought made her who she was, she’d never have found her true self in the One who made her so much more. Finding Myself in Britain will encourage and inspire many others as they wrestle with feeling out of place – or maybe struggle with that lemon tree I wrote about recently.

Free copies

And thanks to the generosity of Amy and Authentic, I’ve got two copies to give away! If you’d like to hear more of Amy’s story, learn how to make her famous chicken noodle soup (for Christmas Eve?!), or ponder anew the art of celebration, just leave me a note in the comments and, in time-honoured fashion, I’ll draw two names from a hat at 9am (British Summer Time) on Wednesday, 7th October 2015.

If you’re not one of the lucky winners, you can buy a copy through Amy’s website, or any good bookshop!

Good luck!

41 Comments On This Topic
  1. Alan Taylor
    on Oct 1st at 8:55 am

    It would be great to get a copy of this new book after reading your fascinating blog this morning. Please count me in the prize draw.

    Reply
    • Jennie Pollock
      on Oct 1st at 8:21 pm

      Thanks Alan! You’re in…watch this space!

      Reply
      • Jennie Pollock
        on Oct 7th at 10:05 am

        Good news, Alan – you’re one of the winners! [Edited from earlier version] I’ll email you at the address you commented with to find out where to send your copy.

        Reply
  2. Sarah Lohse
    on Oct 1st at 9:01 am

    Yes please to the draw – sounds like a good read!

    Reply
  3. theentiretyoflife
    on Oct 1st at 9:04 am

    This sounds fascinating! My pastor’s wife is also American, from Atlanta, Georgia, and I’m going to listening out for how she introduces herself now! She has certainly has some hilarious moments where words haven’t meant quite the same thing, I’m sure she’d love this.

    I’m in the process of writing a book, and whenever someone else reads or edits something it is sometimes very hard to accept. This line struck me particularly.
    ‘when an editor suggests doing surgery on your baby it’s to enable it to live and flourish, not to harm it’ – a great reminder that it’s an important and valuable task, and that we all write unnecessary things…I’ll just reread this now…

    Reply
    • Jennie Pollock
      on Oct 1st at 8:26 pm

      I’m in the (very slow) process of writing a book too. I hope I can heed my own words when the time to be edited in my turn comes! Good luck with yours (and with the competition).

      Reply
  4. ellen flack
    on Oct 1st at 10:04 am

    Can t wait to read Amy s story !

    Reply
  5. Judith Barnett
    on Oct 1st at 11:39 am

    Stick me in the draw (you never know) I want to read a book you’ve edited!

    Reply
    • Jennie Pollock
      on Oct 1st at 6:50 pm

      Heehee! I wonder if you’ll be able to spot my fingerprints.

      Reply
  6. Chris Vickery
    on Oct 1st at 11:59 am

    I have a copy but would love another one to give away!

    Reply
  7. Val Taylor
    on Oct 1st at 1:37 pm

    Oooh. I would like a copy! Please include me in the draw… 🙂

    Reply
    • Jennie Pollock
      on Oct 1st at 6:47 pm

      Will do. I’ve even actually started replying to your email! Wonders will never cease! 🙂

      Reply
  8. mo394ch
    on Oct 1st at 2:09 pm

    As I am in the throes of writing not just one, but two children’s books at the same, I am close to reaching the place of needing an editor. Your post has helped me understand the process much better and also Amy’s journey as she has shared it with us on FB.

    Reply
    • Jennie Pollock
      on Oct 1st at 6:39 pm

      Ooh, good luck with the books! Yes, it’s painful being edited, but they’ll be healthier for it!

      Reply
  9. Lynette Ager
    on Oct 2nd at 3:23 pm

    ooohhh! So very exciting! I can’t wait to read a book that YOU have written as I love your blogs. Amy’s book sure sounds superb, particularly given my own experiences of living in another culture. Count me in please!

    Reply
    • Jennie Pollock
      on Oct 2nd at 4:21 pm

      Consider yourself counted! 🙂

      Reply
  10. Amy Boucher Pye
    on Oct 3rd at 7:46 am

    Wow – so fantastic to see so many people entering Jennie’s competition! Her fingerprints are all over the book. I LOVE editors (being one, you know), and value them highly.

    Reply
  11. Hazel Mennell
    on Oct 3rd at 8:01 am

    Love to read, I struggle to get books I like and this seems like one I’d enjoy.

    Reply
  12. Liz Rose
    on Oct 3rd at 8:20 am

    Would love to read this!

    Reply
  13. Jenn
    on Oct 3rd at 8:34 am

    Would love to win a copy of Amy’s book! Xx

    Reply
  14. Dawn Dorrington
    on Oct 3rd at 9:33 am

    I would love a copy of the book, please Jennie.

    Reply
  15. Alison Been
    on Oct 3rd at 9:34 am

    I would love to win one of Amy’s books. Thank you for sharing your blog on here.

    Reply
  16. fjlloyd
    on Oct 3rd at 9:36 am

    A friend of mine has been enjoying this, so it’s something I’d love to read myself.

    Reply
  17. Kurt Marka
    on Oct 3rd at 9:37 am

    Would love to receive a copy of Amy’s book. Please enter my name in the drawing.

    Reply
  18. Joyce worsfold
    on Oct 3rd at 10:42 am

    Would love a copy of Amy’s book, I’m going in hospital on the 6th and it would really cheer me up as I’m a great admirer of her work.

    Reply
    • Jennie Pollock
      on Oct 3rd at 10:43 am

      Oh dear, the competition doesn’t close till the 7th. Maybe it will help with your recuperation (if you win). Hope all goes well.

      Reply
  19. Linda Raffray
    on Oct 3rd at 11:00 am

    This book sounds amazing and I would love to read it
    Please add my name to the draw
    Thanks

    Reply
  20. Caroline Seal
    on Oct 3rd at 12:07 pm

    As someone who has lived abroad myself, and therefore has an interest in cultural foibles, I look forward to reading Amy’s book whether I win it or whether I buy it! Although winning it would be lovely 🙂

    Reply
  21. Jessica pearson
    on Oct 3rd at 1:53 pm

    Hello…I’m Amy cousin..In Minnesota…and I would love a copy of her book…Though I had planned on eventually buying a copy, Winning would be ” Oh.. So much fun!!” She clued me in here on this opportunity!

    Thank you
    Jessica pearson…

    Reply
  22. Caroline Butcher
    on Oct 3rd at 6:32 pm

    Oh I’d love to be in with a chance please 🙂 . After living in America 10 years and now back home in Northern Ireland I’d love to read it. God bless xx

    Reply
    • Jennie Pollock
      on Oct 10th at 9:38 am

      Congratulations, Caroline – you’re one of the winners (this is a correction from an earlier message)! I’ve emailed you at the address you commented with to find out where to send your copy.

      Reply
  23. marina
    on Oct 4th at 5:01 pm

    Hi jennie!

    I would love to read amys new book! She is very inspiring! Sounds fantastic!!!

    Reply
  24. Ann
    on Oct 4th at 6:49 pm

    Excellent review, Jen, and good to see so many people entering your competition for what looks like an interesting and thought provoking book.

    Reply
    • Jennie Pollock
      on Oct 4th at 7:40 pm

      Thanks mum. Are you entering the competition too?

      Reply
  25. Jennifer Fröhlich
    on Oct 4th at 7:28 pm

    I’d love to be entered in the draw! I live in Germany and am really interested in the subtle (and not so subtle) cultural differences you discover when you move to another country.

    Reply
  26. Val Stewart
    on Oct 4th at 10:50 pm

    I’m learning the cross cultural bit as my son married a Southern Belle and they now live in Nashville. Amy’s book sounds great and I hope will also help me become a Mom as well as Mumma!

    Reply
  27. Jennifer Mook
    on Oct 5th at 2:16 pm

    Would love to win a copy! However, I will purchase a few to spread around Phoenix, Arizona

    Reply
  28. Janet Bertola
    on Oct 5th at 3:56 pm

    Please enter me in the book draw. It would be interesting to read what an outsider thinks and experiences of us Brits.

    Reply
  29. Matt O'Brien
    on Oct 6th at 8:17 pm

    Sounds great, Jennie. Put me in for the draw, please!

    Reply
  30. Jennie Pollock
    on Oct 12th at 3:44 pm

    Caroline Butcher and Alan Taylor, you were my lucky winners, and I’ve emailed you to ask for your postal addresses, but haven’t yet heard back. If I don’t hear from you by the end of the day on Wednesday, 14th October, I’ll redo the draw without your names in it. If you have tried to reply and I haven’t seen it, please leave me a message below, or contact me through the contact form on this website, and I’ll try again. Thanks!

    Reply

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