In the studio with: Sean Mallen
So here's something fun: we're in a book.
That time we all fell for London
Our friend Sean Mallen was an award-winning journalist for Canada’s Global Television Network for almost 30 years.
He covered stories across Canada and around the world, but his dream job as a foreign correspondent always eluded him—until 2011, when he was appointed Europe Bureau Chief, based in London.
That’s where we met him, his wonderful wife Isabella and their fab daughter Julia, who was a classmate of Adelaide's at the Royal School Hampstead. We all became great friends.
Landing the job of a lifetime was great for Sean, but not, at first, for Isabella and Julia. They really did not want to uproot their lives and move to another country, another city that they had never seen.
Lucky for us all, they agreed to go and, after a few bumps, embraced the adventure and turned it into a wonderful experience that has cast a lasting glow on all of our lives.
The Falling for London book tour comes to New Jersey
Back stateside now since mid-2014, it’s fun to remember what led us to settle in the small seaside town of Fair Haven, NJ. High up on the list of reasons not to fear the suburbs is River Road Books, a gem of a women-owned indie bookstore that’s two blocks from our house.
River Road Books hosted a fun, vibrant evening celebrating Sean and his book. Here's a peek into the coziness of the event. We're so grateful to have this fabulous shop in our community.
Five questions for Sean Mallen
We caught up with Sean (which, let’s be honest, is a favorite thing to do anyway) to chat about his inspirations for Falling for London, the absurd challenges of London real estate, and more.
Tell me about the day you got the job offer.
Because I’d been passed over on several other occasions, I wasn’t really expecting to get it, so when the call came I was struck silent for a moment, an odd experience for a broadcaster who is trained to keep his lips moving no matter what. They told me I needed to move within a couple of weeks because they wanted me to cover the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
I immediately called Isabella, and she had a similar stunned reaction, just saying something like, “Well, I’m glad they finally recognized you.” Five minutes later she called back, in tears, to say there was no way that she could move away from family, friends and a job she loved.
About a week’s worth of intense negotiations ensued before we finally agreed that I’d take the job and if all went well they would join me in the fall, in time for Julia to start school.
What prompted to you write a book about it?
On the day I was moving to London, with the taxi waiting out front to take me to the airport, Isabella handed me a journal with a green cover and said: “If you’re going to put us through this, you’d better write a book.” She’d always had faith in me as a writer and saw before I did that I would never have a better opportunity. It was a very wise and generous gift.
I filled that journal and two other volumes during our two years in London. I never could have imagined that I’d have such a wealth of material.
Was there a moment or incident when you saw Isabella and Julia were falling for the city?
It was a process. While I was busy, jetting all over Europe and the Middle East for my work, they were starting to build friendships through the school and the social networks that Isabella tapped into.
The teachers and staff at the Royal School were so kind, especially Julia and Adelaide's teacher, the redoubtable Miss Eisele, and the wonderful Christine, the Cockney lady who ran the kitchen and took Julia under her wing to teach her that a jacket potato was something you could eat.
Isabella started taking sewing lessons at a lovely non-profit dressmaking school called Little Hands, where she spent hours in fascinating conversation with the remarkable women who were taking the course with her.
Most important were the friendships she made with the families at the school, including you, Jon, Adelaide and Celia. We were all in the same boat and an impromptu mutual support society sprung up to help us all adapt. London is an endlessly fascinating place, and Isabella really grew to appreciate and love the arts scene, but the human connections were crucial.
But you had some issues with London, especially with your flats?
Oh yes. Our first place, on Buckland Crescent in Belize Park, was pretty dumpy, even though it’s a posh neighborhood. The color scheme was in shades of barf, the bathroom was decorated in what in might call early-Alcatraz and the lobby looked like it hadn’t been vacuumed since the Blitz. It just had the benefit of being less crazily overpriced than the alternatives in the neighborhood and was convenient to both the school and my office.
The topper came when we returned one night to discover the ceiling had collapsed into the reception room. It at least gave me a metaphor for the book title.
We moved to another place a short walk away that was larger and ruinously expensive, only to discover that there were mouse droppings around the fridge, the freezer quickly turned into a mini-glacier and the security system constantly beeped and could not be turned off because the landlord didn’t know the code. We went through four flats in the first year before finding something adequate.
Why do you call the book A Cautionary Tale?
Because it was no fairy tale. Life has a way of lifting you up, while simultaneously kicking you in the ass. I got my dream job, but there were big complications.
It would have been way simpler if I had become a foreign correspondent in my 30s when I was single. But almost certainly I would have been terribly lonely.
Sharing it all with Isabella and Julia, despite all the bumps, made it a much richer experience. London is now an indelible part of our lives. We would all happily live there again, if only we could afford it.
Thank you, Sean!
And thanks to you for reading. You can grab a copy of Falling for London on Amazon or, in many cases, at your local indie bookstore. And for always-interesting updates from a man who will forever be a journalist, even while running a busy media training business, follow Sean on Twitter.