Stories of the Third Culture Kids

Transect-LogoIn a multicultural age, people’s passports do not necessarily convey the full picture of their multiple origins, ethnicities, or national identities. Rather, the lives of Third Culture Kids inspire more complex stories that cross cultures and languages. A new magazine offers a home for fiction and poetry of the TCK generation, transecting the barriers of traditional English publications. We caught up with the founders, Justin Lau and Alexandra d’Abbadie.

Where did you get the idea for Transect from? How did the editors come together to find a vision for this new magazine?

Justin: As with all my best ideas… in the shower! In my final year
as a Durham English undergrad in Jan 2015, I received a Facebook
message out of the blue from Alexandra, a fellow Durham English
student whom I hadn’t met before. She had found my blog and wanted to
connect so we met for a cuppa at Vennel’s Café –

Alexandra: Possibly the most ‘Durham’ encounter you could have!

Justin: – leading to a heated discussion where we discovered we had the
same ambitions and frustrations. We both wanted to write fiction about
our countries – Mauritius for Alexandra, Japan for me – but were
increasingly frustrated with Western literary magazines rejecting our
pieces for being ‘inaccessible’.

Fast forward a month, when while showering I got the brilliant idea:
if we had trouble with Western-centric lit mags, why not start one
ourselves in order to provide a platform for other multicultural
writers facing the same problems? Alexandra immediately got on board.
We both picked a couple of talented friends to form our brilliant
editorial team and we successfully launched our first issue on 31 July

By Coco0612 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Coco0612 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

On your website it says that Transect “showcases short stories and poetry written by multiculturals (aka cross-culturals, Third Culture Kids [TCKs], etc.) from all over the world”. Why do you think it’s important to have a publishing space specifically for multicultural writers?

Alexandra: It’s important to read diverse voices. Marketing controls
the publishing industry, and it’s a given that if you’re not from a
major literature-producing country you’ll have a tough time getting
published because your voice is so different, marginal even. These
publishers are thinking, ‘What kind of an audience would this book
get?’ and tend to assume it’s minimal.

It’s a given that if you’re not from a major literature-producing country you’ll have a tough time getting published because your voice is so different, marginal even.

Justin: Recently, it was announced that the publishing industry is
overwhelmingly white. As such, it’s encouraging to see more and more
high-profile multicultural writers (e.g. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie,
Junot Díaz). There’s been a recent boost in calls for diversity not
limited to literature (e.g. #OscarsSoWhite controversy) because people
are beginning to realise that diversity isn’t minimal – in fact, it’s
the norm.

Alexandra: Because of globalisation it’s pretty safe to say we are all
multicultural, or will have a multicultural experience at some point:
a three hour transit in an airport, having a really good friend who’s
from a different country, living together in a city with refugees. You
could have different cultures within a single ethnicity, too – it’s a
point we wanted to make, in our first issue for example, by including
a poem about Cornwall, and how Cornish culture differentiates itself
in that way. Transect negates this idea of it solely being a platform
for non-Western literature; it’s truly for everyone.

Flag-Icons-2So far you’ve published work by authors representing 14 different countries. Have you noticed any common themes emerging, or interesting differences?

Alexandra: Everybody thinks they are an Other, even within their own
community. That’s human. It’s the connecting factor in the transecting

Justin: It’s a prevalent yet natural misconception, isn’t it? This
sense of loneliness stemming from an almost self-imposed estrangement.
Yet the fact that it’s a common theme proves the exact opposite: there
are like-minded people, there is solidarity.

Alexandra: It says a lot about us as a species, I think, that even
though we are so different, so moulded by vast and diverse cultures
and countries, we find enjoyment in the same things. Sports, Music,
Art, 9GAG, Reddit. Maybe it’s like an ode to the better parts of

The magazine specialises in fiction and poetry, rather than non-fiction. Why is this? In what way can fiction or poetry give us a sense of multicultural experience that’s different to conventional journalism?

Conventional journalism can make you go, ‘Ah, I see’. Fiction can make you go, ‘Ah, I feel’.

Justin: I believe in the power of fiction, no doubt, but the initial
reason was simple. I’m a Third Culture Kid (born in Singapore, raised
in Japan) and we’ve often found solidarity with other TCKs online,
such as through Denizen Magazine which publishes personal anecdotes
relating identity crises and struggles. These are great, but I noticed
there wasn’t any magazine dedicated to fiction by TCKs, and I saw the
immense potentiality: there were probably hundreds, maybe thousands,
like myself dying to tell rich, vibrant stories!

Alexandra: Journalism and non-fiction imply some degree of truth; it
may just be me, but the moment someone tells me ‘this is how it really
is’, I run away screaming. Fiction as an art form – call me
old-fashioned here – perhaps offers a sense of Kantian sublime. Not a
series of words, per se, but a moment – not exactly a Joycean
epiphany, but some kind of tremor. From Joyce to Heaney to Díaz,
authors and poets give you these moments of being, take it or leave it
– and we take them. Our ideas of place are formed by them.

Justin: Conventional journalism can make you go, ‘Ah, I see’ and
perhaps generate sympathy, but it’s easy to disconnect due to lack of
relatability to a unique real-life situation. Fiction can make you go,
‘Ah, I feel’ and perhaps generate empathy, resulting in a deeper
connection with multicultural experience.

Lastly, your first two issues were themed around ‘birth’ and ‘the sea’. What can readers look forward to in your next issue?

Alexandra: Our next theme is ‘tongue’! So I’m guessing we’ll receive
lots of submissions on language, foreign tongues, etc.

Justin: No doubt about that. One of our distinct features is that
though our pieces are based in Englishes, we allow writers to
incorporate different languages. After all, we live in a world where
there are more multilinguals than monolinguals. Let’s just hope people
remember to submit translations…

Alexandra: …and hopefully more diverse and creative interpretations
too – notions of truth, authenticity, sexuality…

Justin: …ultimately, we have no idea what the content will be, but
we can ensure quality fiction and artwork for [Issue #3: TONGUE] out
31 July 2016 – get submitting!

Alexandra d%27Abbadie HeadshotAlexandra d’Abbadie is half English and half Mauritian, though she grew up in Mauritius all her life. She is an MA student in English Literature at Durham University. If she were braver she would get William Blake’s poems tattooed on her wrists, but she isn’t.

Justin Lau HeadshotJustin Lau graduated from Durham in 2015. Born in Singapore and grown in Japan as a Third Culture Kid (TCK), Justin is bilingual and feels most comfortable speaking Japlish, a hybrid of Japanese and English (not to be confused with Engrish).


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