A LITERARY WORLD:GREECE. An interview with Rebecca Hall.
A Literary World: Greece.
An Interview with Rebecca Hall.
Today’s guest to A Literary World: Greece, is the multi-talented, Rebecca Hall. After extensive global travels, Rebecca left the UK to return to the country she fell in love with—Greece, where she teaches English, writes and wryly observes that the chaotic nature of her adopted country actually suits her personality very well. All travel experiences, & particularly living in versatile cultures, have helped to shape who she is today. She is a Rough Guide co-author (Greece and The Greek Islands) and has contributed to numerous publications including Apollo Business Class Magazine for Cyprus Airways and Let’s Go for RyanAir, the Daily Telegraph Travel Section and her container ship voyage from Athens to Hong Kong caught the eye of NPR National Radio in the United States, where she was interviewed twice. When not writing, you’ll usually find her drinking coffee with friends, or sourcing a new place to eat baklava. So lets join her for coffee and baklava and find out more about the delightful Rebecca.
Welcome to A Literary World: Greece, Rebecca, where do you live?
Athens, Greece and the UK
2. Can you tell us what your novel is about and what inspired you to write it?
My debut novel Girl Gone Greek is a fictional account of my first year living in Greece. It’s about a girl who doesn’t conform to life’s nine-to-five, find a husband, settle down, etc and seems to be being criticized for this by her family. So the protagonist goes to Greece to teach English, and she ends up falling in love not with one person, but a country: with its chaos, odd characters and their love of life and ultimately, this makes her a stronger person—helping her to stand up to the lifelong antagonism of not feeling she fits in.
I wrote it because at the time when I started it (2010), I was fed up with the Greeks constantly getting (wrong) negative press about being lazy, the ‘lazy dog of Europe’ and I felt that rather than get on my soapbox, maybe if I presented a different voice—one that most people could relate to and give people the different side of Greece in a format that is palatable to most (not journalism, but in a novel format), maybe I could make a small difference. That’s the hope anyway. I want people to fall in love with Greece and see why the protagonist in my book did.
3. Where in Greece is your novel set?
A small town (really a village) in central Greece, near the Oracle of Delphi. Also in Athens. My next work in progress will be predominantly in Athens.
4. Why did you choose to set your novels in this particular place?
Even though my book was a novel, it was written from first hand experience, therefore I could relate well to it. Also, the village I was in rarely saw foreign tourists, hence I got to see the ‘real’ Greece and experience the customs of its people, the odd little superstitions, etc. I remember writing and the sounds, smells and voices of the Greek people all coming back to me.
5. What is it about Greece that inspires you?
Where do I start?! The chaos; in an odd way, Greece appeals to that deep down inner anarchist in me and I admire the Greek spirit in the face of everything they’ve been through. And when I’m there, I have to say the people. Oh my, the people. My neighbour in Athens knocks on my door every couple of days to deliver a plate of food she’s cooked up for me. And it’s HUGE (I don’t want to tell her the food actually lasts me all week). It is unthinkable to her NOT to offer generosity and kindness, and I see this in a lot of people.
My father came to visit me once in Athens and went for a morning walk on his own (I was still dead to the world), and got lost in the neighbourhood. Just as I was getting frantic, a knock on my door revealed my dad and three elderly neighbourhood men, with my dad grinning:
“They’re from the local kafenion. They saw me looking confused and through gestures they realised where I needed to go and they insisted on walking me to your front door” he told me. I honestly do not know where else in a capital city this would happen. It brought tears to my eyes.
6. How did you come up with the title?
Ohhh the title! That was the very last thing to come! I wrote, re-wrote and wrote again my book. Then struggled for quite a while. I had done an interview with an online magazine called Girl Gone International and then I realised “Girl Gone Greek” sounded really good. I especially liked the alliteration. My next book now has the title first!
7. How long did it take you to write your book?
Almost six years
8. The Greeks believed that ‘inspiration’ came from the muses, as well as the gods Apollo and Dionysus. Where do you believe inspiration comes from?
I can only speak for myself really – and that was through my direct experiences of the people and country I encountered. Girl Gone Greek was a very personal book and my inspiration and drive, if you like, was to try to get the positive word out about Greece. You could say I was inspired by anger…but in a positive way; anger at the way this wonderful country that had accepted me like a daughter was being fed to the lions.
9. Visitors to Greece and Greeks themselves make mention of its physical beauty – the light, the wine-dark sea of Homer and a diverse landscape. Would you agree with this?
There’s no doubt that Greece has aesthetic beauty but, as you’ve probably gleaned from my previous answers, I believe it’s the culture and the people that make the country so beautiful. Of course, the sunshine and good wine helps. But I spend some time in the Douro region of Portugal with excellent wine, and the weather wasn’t nearly as good, thus affecting the character of the people. I believe very strongly that weather shapes our character, thus shaping the policies of a country and the way people lead their lives. There’s so much more to Greece than wine and aesthetic beauty. She’s got so many hidden depths, it’s quite fascinating.
10. Apart from the world of the gods, the Christian Orthodox religion played a significant role in shaping Greece’s culture. Do you believe that religion still plays an important role in Greek life?
Very much so. I am not one to comment or even know if that’s a positive or negative thing, but I do notice a respect for the elderly and family (whether that’s born from religion, I don’t know). And back when I was teaching English, one of the first questions a teenage student would ask me is “What religion do you have in England Miss?” I know teenagers in the UK wouldn’t be nearly as intrigued.
11. Greece’s history has been a turbulent one and it is often said that “a man is his ancestry”. To what extent do you think this history has shaped the Greeks?
History shapes every country – and I wonder, sometimes, if there is a ‘point of no return’. Greece has never really been left alone to rule itself, due to its geopolitical interest to other countries, so the identity of the Greeks is always in flux I think. There always seems to be some country or another wanting a say in how Greece should be run. And the Greeks have become belligerent to that.
For example, if someone else is constantly telling you how to live your life or to do something, you do the opposite out of spite. This is a very Greek trait! They will deliberately do the opposite of what you suggest to them, merely because they feel they’ve been told what to do (and they’ve been told what to do for 100s of years).
12. What would you say are the elements of the Greek spirit?
Kindness – and bluntness! Greeks are blunt to a point of being rude at times, almost childlike in their inability to filter and have virtually zero boundaries. But in an odd way, I respect that about the Greeks as at least you know where you stand with them.
13. Which part of the research process did you enjoy the most?
My research was all first hand experiences, embellished slightly but any historical references were researched and I loved talking to my best Greek friends to get their knowledge and experience.
14. What are you working on now?
A follow up to Girl Gone Greek, aimed at highlighting yet more quirks and loveliness of the Greeks.
15. What are your typical working conditions? Do you have a special place to write and can you describe it for us?
I’m not one of those trendies that can sit in a café and type. I either sit at home in my PJs and take frequent eye rest breaks from my computer by gazing at my two cats for about 10 mins (often distracted enough to go and play with them).
Or if I feel my social skills are in need of honing because I’ve been inside for too long, I’ll go to a shared co-working space in the centre of town, which is great as it’s a lovely location and good for meeting like-minded people too.
And a few quick question:
16. What are your favourite books set in Greece by Greek or foreign authors?
Sara Alexis’ Greek Village series has entertained me. I also like Chrissie Parker’s Among the Olive Groves – an historical fiction novel set in Zakynthos. Marissa Tejada’s Chasing Athens made me smile as it’s about Greece through an expat’s eyes – and I could completely relate.
17. Favourite Greek monument, sculpture or painting?
The Temple of Apollo in Delphi. The whole setting is amazing.
18. Favourite Greek food?
Many of the Greek cheeses
19. Favourite Greek drink?
20. Favourite holiday destination?
I love ‘hidden Greece’. I recently discovered – on a three day trip – a number of ‘hidden’ places in Central Greece, around Delphi and Arachova. Many people think of Greece and just think of the islands. There’s so much to the mainland too.
I really want to explore the Mani region as well in the Peloponnese.
If I had to pick an island, I’d say Tilos in the Dodecanese chain; it’s quiet, peaceful and relatively untouched by foreign tourism.
Where can we buy the book?
Thank you for being with us today, Rebecca. We share similar interests. I also love Baklava and find Delphi an exceptionally spiritual place in a spectacular setting.
“I begin with an idea, and then it becomes something else.”
For earlier interviews please visit to my webpage www.kathryngauci.com
Blog page http://www.kathryngauci.com/blog/