The Heart of the Matter: In Conversation with Kristin Duncombe

Kristin Duncombe in Argentina, April 2015. Copyright Kristin Duncombe.

Kristin Duncombe in Argentina, April 2015. Copyright Kristin Duncombe.

Kristin Duncombe is an American writer, psychotherapist and consultant who lives in Geneva with her Argentinian husband and two children. Her award-winning book Trailing: A Memoir chronicles her experience of becoming a “trailing spouse” and following her Médecins Sans Frontières husband to the frontlines of disaster and disease in East Africa. One critic writes of Trailing: “A perfect novel for ex-pats, or for any woman who is seeking a sense of purpose”. Hello just about all of us.

Not least, Kristin was the winner of our Kiwi Writer in Paris giveaway.

She won a copy of New Zealand author living in Paris, Lizzie Harwood’s fantastic book Triumph: Collected Stories (as an aside I’m currently reading Lizzie’s Xamnesia: Everything I Forgot in my Search for an Unreal Life—loving it for its humour and genius rendering of 1990s Auckland nightlife). Welcome to lovewordsmusic, Kristin.

Saturday, no work commitments; how does the perfect day look?Someone serving me coffee in bed (one after the other, super strong, with milk, and piping hot, three times as I am a three cup a morning type of gal). To clarify, this never happens and probably never will as I am always the first one up. Still, it remains a fantasy. The rest of the perfect Saturday looks like this: someone else does all the cooking and kitchen clean up while I lie on my extremely comfy sofa reading whatever wonderful book I happen to be reading at that moment (I just finished the un-put-down-able: A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout). Then a fabulously strong person (man or woman, it doesn’t matter) appears and gives me a two hour long foot massage.

Tell me about an object you treasure?

My kindle, even though I prefer paper copies of books. I read so much and the kindle is kind of magic that way. It’s THE instant gratification machine. You hear of a book you want to read and presto, it’s downloaded in seconds.

One thing you’ve always wanted but don’t have yet?

My own personal massage therapist. I do have this plug-in shiatsu machine, but it just isn’t the same as a real live person with good hands. So I guess what I really want is to have enough money to get a regular massage!

One-year-old Kristin's passport photo. Kristin's love of travelling began early in life, as her father was in the US Foreign Service. Image copyright Kristin Duncombe

One-year-old Kristin’s passport photo. Kristin’s love of travelling began early in life, as her father was in the US Foreign Service. Image copyright Kristin Duncombe

Did you always think it would turn out this way?

Nothing has turned out the way I thought it would in my life. Then again, who knows what I really thought was going to happen? When I was very young I wanted to be a writer who lived on a horse farm. At this point I am terrified of horses and thought I was going to have to surgery to put my internal organs back in place after the last (and I mean THE LAST) time I went horseback riding while visiting my husband’s family in Argentina. But I am a writer! So that part came together. When I was a bit older (high school and college) I dreamed of having a talk show.  I became a therapist instead, which in many ways is a completion of the fantasy—just without an audience.

The album, or song, that altered your world forever?

There are way too many to choose one definitively, but I can tell you hands down which was the very first. When I was 8 years old I fell madly in love with Shaun Cassidy. I got his first album—that one where the cover is a close up of his extremely adorable face, and he’s wearing a white carpenter’s cap. I boogied on down to that album, sobbed over the slow songs, kissed the album cover, and re-played the same fantasy over and over—that I would break my leg in the presence of the mean gym teacher at school and Shaun would appear and take me to the hospital! (Cue his song “Audrey” playing in the background, but replace “Audrey” with “Kristin” and you will get the full extent of the fantasy). That experience was my first foray into passion for another person, and how music and lyrics can blow your mind. I can still sing every single one of those songs!

The one book you can trace it all back to?

I don’t have as precise a memory of “the book” the way I do the Shaun Cassidy album. My mom is a librarian and I grew up a voracious reader. The BoxCar Children was a favorite series, all the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drews, all the Judy Blumes, Beverly Cleary, Lois Lowry, and so many others. I can’t trace it back. But I can say books are my life’s greatest treasure (material, of course, as the greatest treasure of all are my awesome kids—Carmen is 16 and Lorenzo is 10!)


3 thoughts on “The Heart of the Matter: In Conversation with Kristin Duncombe

  1. Ah, Shaun Cassidy!! I was in love with Supertramp’s “Breakfast in America” at that stage and can still sing all of that album. Caroline, thank you for the shout-out. What was your album of awakening?


    • Hey Lizzie. I have that Supertramp record, it was my dad’s, love it. So many albums, but of note, Toni Child’s ‘Union’ and the soundtracks Flashdance/Fame/Footloose (what’s with all those Fs?) and Dirty Dancing, and how could I forget ‘Let Love Rule’ by Lenny Kravitz. Kristin would be happy to hear I had a pop-star fantasy too – I had a huge poster of Michael Jackson (‘Bad’ album era) on my bedroom wall and dreamed that when he came to NZ in concert he’d come to our house for dinner. Ahem. Some would say I’ve always dreamed big 🙂


      • LOVE. All of it. And especially that UNION is one one of my favorite albums. Was listening to it this weekend and singing loudly, to my family’s dismay.!!! I want DREAMER to be played at my funeral. And I am not joking!


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