WHO: Aussie born, Scotland based Georgina Penney has written about the hazards of the peripatetic FIFO lifestyle in her newly-published novel Fly in Fly out. It’s also about growing up to eventually become better people, if we choose.
THE PLOT: After months working on an oil rig in the Atlantic Ocean, engineer Jo Blaine can’t wait to get home. Her job is tough, and she is desperate for some long-overdue girl time. When she walks through her front door to find an unexpected man in her house and in her bed, she’s tempted to head straight back out to sea.
WHAT: FIFO is working your butt off in remote areas, being flown temporarily to the work site instead of relocating semi-permanently. The worker is then flown home for rest and time off before the next bout. Fly in fly out is popular in the mining and oil industries. My engineer brother worked on an oil rig in the North Sea off the coast of Norway and then deep in Indonesia. From memory, I believe the experiences had a huge impact on his life. FIFO is fraught with hazards – emotional and geographical isolation among them, but travel is a big bonus. Georgina has had her fair share of FIFO and I asked her about her experiences which provided the impetus for her novel.
Q & A with Georgina
A FIFO lifestyle can be disruptive for personal relationships. Can you tell me how it affected yours?
My experience was pretty extreme. We dove into the deep end by starting off in Saudi Arabia. Any expat who’s worked in a Middle Eastern nation (or anyone from the Middle East) will probably pale on recollecting the bureaucracy they had to wade through to get the simplest thing done there, especially visas. Visas have been the biggest bane of my existence for the past eight years, made all the harder because visa limbo is something most of my Australian friends, family and colleagues will never have to experience.
When we first arrived in Saudi, an official whisked off with my passport and I didn’t see it for 6 months, only for us to find out it had been stamped months before but someone hadn’t bothered to return it! During that time I missed two weddings and a long-awaited European trip with my best friend. I can’t even count the number of apologies I’ve had to give for pulling out of something important at the last minute because of visa problems over the past eight years. Let’s just say many dodgy ‘forgive me’ souvenirs have been given as gifts, including some rather spectacular anatomically correct proboscis monkey dolls we found in Sabah recently!
What are the main drawbacks of a FIFO lifestyle?
The isolation. I’m not so much talking physical, I’m talking emotional. You do miss major events in your friends and family’s lives. You do miss being in on the current in-joke or being around for the small things – picnics in the park, going down the pub – all the stuff that maintains a relationship. It is something that can get a little hard at times. That and planes. I love being in new and interesting places but the thought of a long haul flight and dealing with airports gives me the twitchies.
For me, it’s been the travel. Definitely the travel. Getting to meet so many new people and experience so many different things is one of the true joys in my life. It helps that I love people watching and I’m eternally fascinated by how different cultures manage the universal things. Going to the shops as a woman in Saudi Arabia for example involved finding another woman to come with me because women can’t drive in the Kingdom and it’s not safe to take a taxi on your own. Whereas going to the shops in Brunei Darussalam often meant driving myself down to the local open air markets packed with fresh vegetables, live chickens and crustaceans and nothing costing more than a dollar or two. It’s the differences and the similarities that are so fascinating.
The great thing about being a writer is that even the most horrible moments in life can end up being awesome material for a book. That time I had to get a letter from the manager of my Bahraini bank saying I was a man for a day because the only female teller was sick? At the time, extremely stressful. On paper? Hilarious.
Is the reality different from the anticipation?
Definitely. You can never really prepare yourself for how it feels to unplug from your life so completely for long periods of time. And you never really prepare yourself for how separate the away and home parts of your life end up or how hard it is for the guys back home to relate. And I’ve already said what I think of planes…
However, the travel is awesome and I never expected to do so much of it or to make so many amazing friends around the world. I’ve expanded my mind so much it’s a wonder there’s anything left in there!
Gone are the days when we could ambush loved ones with a pile of travel photos. Do you think people are no longer interested in other people’s travel experiences?
I’ve given this a lot of thought lately and I’ve changed my perspective a little. I think people are still interested but they need it packaged differently nowadays. We get slapped around so much by the constant bombardment of images on social media – and in the media in general – that I think personal travel pictures are just one more thing we click through on Facebook. Most of the people I meet couldn’t be bothered with my holiday snaps but I have noticed lately that when I get a chance to sit down and have a decent chat, people are interested in the experiences I’ve had while travelling. The more embarrassing or ridiculous the experience the better! If I can put myself in the story and be a bridge between them and my holiday destination, it works.
That’s why websites like yours are so great. They help people feel connected. And a great travel tale never goes out of date!
I posted a message on Taste for Travel’s Facebook page, offering Fly in Fly out to a fellow traveller for review. Sandy Swanton – who quit her job in corporate communications in Australia for super adventurous alternatives in central Italy – put her hand up. It’s fitting perhaps that the book flew out to somewhere. That somewhere is Florence.
Fly in Fly out review
by Sandy Swanton
The issues associated with the impacts on teenagers growing up in a family filled with alcoholism, lies and abuse, coupled with the lack of family love, are not easily tackled. In Fly in Fly out, Georgina Penney addresses these tough subjects – along with the challenge of growing up and moving beyond our teenage selves – with a gentle touch.
Penney’s humour help us feel Jo’s heartache from her childhood, which drives her resolve to protect those she loves, and her determination to live life to the fullest. The portrayal of a reality that too many families experience is handled with care, under-pinning the characters and their story.
By the end of the book I enjoyed the character development and connected storylines. However, I was challenged by inconsistent editing and missing words in the early chapters, and inconsistent spelling throughout the book. The use of both British English and American English is unnecessary, and these types of challenges usually distract readers, prompting many to put the book down and look elsewhere.
I understand this book was first published online, and wonder about the editing rigor. Or maybe the front of the book was written to fit the back and wasn’t given the same attention to detail – I don’t know. I am guessing. Whatever the reason, I know friends who wouldn’t read past the first 20 or 30 pages. And that would be a pity.
If, however, readers are prepared to stay with the story, the second half of the book is worth your efforts, and offers some insights into how we can each move past the awkwardness of being teenagers to become better people. We are all allowed to grow up, if we choose.
The descriptions of life on an off shore oil rig, the exhaustion of international travel and the price paid for a good salary, ring true. With Penney’s descriptive style, I would have enjoyed more description of the beauty and harshness of the Australian west coast landscape, to understand the role it plays in life there.
I look forward to future adventures of the Blaine girls and Hardy family. Hopefully the editing will be tighter, opening the door for more readers.
Fly in Fly out by Georgina Penney, published by Penguin, $29.99. The e-book is coming soon.
Sandy has a personal blog at Global Wanderings and will launch her own travel blog in several weeks.