The Incomers by Moira McPartlin
An ‘incomer’ is defined by the website www.urband-ictionary.com as anyone who moves into a new community; an economic migrant, refugee or asylum seeker. In Scotland the word ‘incomers’ is a pejorative word, and yet people have been migrating for work since before the industrial revolution so why the negativity? It seems to persist in closed, rural communities where generations have worked and the graveyards have row upon row of tombstones carryin the same surname. But the feeling of being an incomer is not restricted to alienation in rural or even physical places. Who defines incomers and when does one cease to be one? Can someone be an incomer all their lives?Is an incomer a definition in terms of time or a state of mind? Are there some rural villages where is doesn’t matter if you are an incomer? I moved to Killearn from Glasgow in 2005. Before Glasgow I lived in Fife, and it was in Fife that I came to be thought of as an incomer. My family moved to a small mining village in Fife when I was five years old. I was born in the Scottish Borders, but work took us to Nottinghamshire. When I returned to Scotland I had an English accent. We lived in a private house in a predominantly local authority housing area, and I was taken to school in my dad’s car, one of the few cars in the area. During the first year there I was top of the class in every subject and even had the cheek to win the sports prize – I was an alien as far as the other children were concenred. I was called a snob, a swot posh.
Despite this I was immune to most of the prejudice against me, but I can remember one incident when an adult verbally attacked me in the baker’s shop while I was there with a classmate. This incident stayed with me and sparked the idea for my novel The Incomers. ‘Write what you know’ all the writing guides tell you, so I began to write the story of a little English girl who comes to live in a Fife mining village in 1966. The novel soon became autobiographical and painful to write. I was saved by Ellie Amadi, a young West African woman who walked onto my page. ‘Tell my story’ her character demanded. ‘I am a real incomer.’ Her story deal with racial prejudice, colonial oppression and a mother’s love but the other characters in the novel tackle bigotry, superstition, class bullying and depression. I knew nothing about Africa so had to stop writing and start researching. I read vast amounts of African literature, non-fiction, glossy coffee table picture books, travel guides – anything I could lay my hands on. I started writing again, but before I could write the ending, I visited Africa to do Ellie’s story justice. I went to The Gambia for only a week, but it was enough to convince myself that I had the right story.
When I began the story I tried to make comparisons between West Africa and Fife but succeeded in drawing deep parallels between the cultures. I believe those connections are what make this book special. When Ellie’s final chapter was written I discovered that incomers are incomers when ignorance is present. With familiarity and patience, acceptance is possible anywhere. When I moved to Kilearn, a ‘local’ told me I might find it difficult to get to know people, not being a member of the church or having children at the local school.
This is not the case. I joined a Pilates class, I became an active member in Get Reel and I am now a happy member of Killearn Growers. I know more people in Killearn than I did in Glasgow. Killearn has proved to be one of those villages where it doesn’t matter if you are an incomer or not. But if I am honest, even though I may still be an incomer in Fife, it is my spiritual home.