A LITERARY WORLD: GREECE. An interview with Ruth Kozak
A Literary World: Greece. Author interview with Ruth Kozak
Joining me today on A Literary World: Greece, is an author who takes us back to that legendary world of heroes and conquests: to a world most of us are familiar with in one way or another. Alexander the Great, while technically a Macedonian, took the Greek world to the far reaches of his new empire – all the way to the Hindu Kush; the place we now know as Afghanistan and India. Alexander not only broke military boundaries, but the culture he took with him would resonate in those regions for centuries to come. Without more ado, I give a big welcome to author, Ruth Kozak.
1.Thank you for joining us, Ruth, Where do you live?
I live in Vancouver on the west coast of Canada in the beautiful province of British Columbia.
2. Can you tell us what your novels are about and what inspired you to write them?
I became interested in writing historicals when I was a young teen. First pioneer stories, then stories with Biblical settings and eventually Rome. When I was sixteen I was introduced to Alexander the Great in a high school history class and that began my long passion for Greek history.
3. Can you give us an idea of the Greek world during the time of Alexander? To what extent did Greek culture and learning influence him and how did his conquests manage to take the Greek culture as far afield as India and Afghanistan?
The Macedonians were a tribal people who occupied northern Greece. Their roots were likely Dorian Greeks and some Macedonians seemed to have connections with the Peloponnese. In the late 4th century BC Alexander’s grandfather, Archelaus , build the city of Pella as his new royal city and invited artisans, philosophers and dramatists from Greece to live there. Greek became the court language.
Alexander was born in Pella during the time his father Philip II reigned as king. Philip invited the philosopher Aristotle to be Alexander’s tutor. Under his tutelage Alexander learned philosophy, ethics, politics and healing.
Philip had aspirations to defeat the Greek city states and set about on a conquest that resulted in the League of Corinth being formed after the famous Battle of Chaironea when the Macedonians defeated the Greeks and annihilated the Sacred Band of Thebes. (This was Alexander’s first major battle when he was aged 18) The Macedonians set up oligarchies in several of the city states including putting an army garrison in Athens.
Philip had planned a campaign to Asia Minor to chase out the Persians who had taken over that part of the world. When he was assassinated in 336 BC , Alexander became king and set off to carry out his father’s campaigns. A brilliant army strategist as his father had been, with a remarkable army backing him, the Macedonians had no problem defeating the Persians and with each victory they continued farther East until they reached the Indus River in India. No doubt Alexander would have kept going had his soldiers not finally mutinied and refused to go on. His aim was to integrate and spread Hellenism throughout the world of his time. He encouraged his men to marry foreign wives and did so himself, including one from northern Afghanistan, Roxana, and one of the Persian princesses, Stateira (who was later murdered). He had a son by Roxana and previously had another illegitimate son by Barsine, a childhood friend and daughter of a Persian envoy, formerly wife of Memnon of Rhodes, a Greek who had fought with the Persians.
There are still remnants of Alexander’s world in those eastern countries and many of the names he had given to new settlements etc., still remain.
4. What is it about Greece that inspires you?
I was first interested in Greece when I was in my teens and wrote an Alexander themed novel in my last year of high school. But I only knew of it by reading books. It wasn’t until 1979 that I made my first visit there (first stop, Pella!) and I became totally enchanted. In fact, I had many déjà vu experiences in Greece which made me wonder if I had once lived there long ago. So I started writing a novel titled DRAGONS IN THE SKY about a Celtic Druid’s girl who was kidnapped and ends up in Macedonia rescued by Alexander. By 1983 I decided to go there to live and did so until ’87 and from then on, during most of the ‘90’s while writing and researching SHADOW, I lived there for six months each year. I set DRAGONS aside when I decided to write SHADOW which started out to be a YA novel but eventually grew into the two-volume tome it is now.
I consider Greece to be my second home and I try to go back every year. I love not only the history, but the wonderful spirit of the people and the beauty of the country. Athens, to me is one of the most exciting cities in the world!
5. How did you come up with the titles?
My current w.i.p. DRAGONS IN THE SKY is titled after the sky-dragons (meteors) that were omens in the Celtic world depicting the birth or death of a king. My novel SHADOW OF THE LION became a two-volume publication because of its length, so it was tricky finding subtitles. SHADOW OF THE LION refers to the people in Alexander’s world, after his death, who lived in his shadow. The subtitle of Volume One BLOOD ON THE MOON refers to an omen at the end of Chapter One. And the subtitle of Volume Two THE FIELDS OF HADES refers to the battles that took place after Alexander’s death for control of his empire. These were battles not only between the Generals, but also between the women – Alexander’s mother Olympias and his neice Adea-Eurydike. And appropriately, volume two is a real Greek tragedy.
6. How long did it take you to write each book(s)?
It took me a total of 15 years to write SHADOW OF THE LION including research. Of course I was working on other projects as well as part of the time I worked full time as a daycare supervisor. DRAGONS IN THE SKY was started in the late ‘70s then set aside and I just resumed working on it after SHADOW was published in 2014. I am still in the process of writing it.
7. 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 definitely get my inspiration from the Muses – music, art, drama. And, as a travel journalist, travelling to the places I write about is also a huge inspiration. I also feel that while I was writing SHADOW the spirit of Alexander was nearby. And while writing DRAGONS, because it is a first person narrative in a young Celtic girl’s voice, I often feel I am reliving a life I might have lived before.
8. The ancient Greeks created masterpieces in literature of such brilliance – poetry, tragedy, comedy and history – that have inspired, influenced and challenged writers and readers to the present day. Do you agree with this and if so, why do you think they remain an inspiration for later writers?
Definitely! And I am fascinated by the Greek dramas, the Greek’s philosophies and their history. It is inspiring to read about the lives of these dramatists and philosophers and I think as a writer you can learn a lot from them. This past September I had the thrill of climbing up a mountain on the island of Salamina to visit a cave where the dramatist/poet Euripides once lived. He was later one of the playwrights invited to live in Pella and that’s where he died.
9. The author, Simon Worrall, states that historian, Adam Nicholson suggests in his book, “Why Homer matter’s” that ‘a whole culture- not a single ‘Homer’ created the Iliad and the Odyssey and that it is a mistake to think of Homer as a person”. He describes these great works as a metaphor for all our lives – struggles with storms. Do you agree with this theory?
Well I believe that Homer lived (and I admire his work, especially The Iliad) but no doubt he was inspired himself by others to write what he did. And as he was blind, obviously he had help with the writing of his sagas. (I use a lot of Homer’s quotes from The Iliad in SHADOW because that was a favourite book of Alexander’s and so many of the quotes are parallel to things that happened in his life, just as they could be applicable to today.
10. 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?
The light in Greece is one of the things that, as a writer, I find inspiring. It is pure and clear and golden and radiates everywhere – off those whitewashed houses and the sparkling sea. Definitely an inspiration!
11. 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?
I find the majority of Greeks (especially the older people) to be quite devoutly Orthodox and even I like going into their churches to light a candle and meditate. The Christian Orthodox Church definitely seems to be an important part of the Greek culture.
And a few quick questions:
12. Who are your favourite Greek authors or foreigners who have written about Greece?
The biggest influence for me has been Mary Renault. She became my writer’s ‘mentor’ in the way that I devoured her books and learned the craft of writing historicals from her writing, especially her trilogy on Alexander. In fact, SHADOW was written because I was a bit disappointed with her final novel “Funeral Games” and felt there was more of that story to be told, especially about his little-known son and heir Alexander IV.
Another writer who impressed me was Jack Dempsey whose book “Ariadne’s Brother” (about the Minoans) caught my eye back in the ‘90’s and later we began to correspond. He encouraged me so much with the writing of SHADOW. Later I also read several of Steven Pressfield’s books about Greek history and we also began to communicate. And another historical writer I met through the internet, Scott Oden, has become a writer friend. All three of these writers offered excellent comments re SHADOW that are published in the front of the book.
Of course I love reading the Greek dramatists, and I have a collection of poetry books by Greek poets. One of my favourite novels is “Zorba the Greek” by Nikos Kazantzakis.
13. Favourite type of Greek music?
I like all Greek music. Rembetika is a favourite. I love Glykaria and the other female vocalists as well as a few of the men such as Parios as well.
14. Favourite Greek film?
“Zorba the Greek”, “Mama Mia” , “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”, and there’s one about Odysseus that I loved (can’t remember the title now but I have the videos). Of course I love the dramas and have seen many of them performed on film and on stage (in particular at the Herodos Atticus theatre in Athens and Epidaurus ancient theatre)
15.Favourite Greek monument, sculpture or painting?
How could I not say The Parthenon and the ancient theatre of Epidaurus as well as the Herodes Atticus and the Temple of Olympian Zeus. There are so many. A lot of them are on the island of Delos and at Delphi. My favourite sculptures are the ones of Antinoos, the lover of Hadrian and the beautiful sculpture of The Charioteer at Delphi. The New Acropolis Museum has a few favourite pieces, one of a dog that I just love.
18.Favourite Greek food?
My most favourite is Arni Kleftiko, bandit’s lamb (I actually wrote a story about this that was published in an anthology called “Foreign Flavors” by Writers Away. I also love Ekmek as a dessert and Kolokithokeftedes, zucchini fritters (which I try to make but I’m not too successful at) I cook a lot of Greek food at home as well as enjoy going to Greek tavernas to eat.
19.Favourite Greek drink?
Ouzo, Mythos beer and most Greek wines
20.Favourite holiday destination.?
I have visited many parts of Greece. My favourite island is Naxos but I also like Thassos (it’s hard to choose, but I prefer the places that are not so inundated with tourists – such as Mykonos and Santorini are – although they are gorgeous to visit off-season.) I went to explore the Mani a couple of years ago and would really like to return to see more of it! (and of course there is Macedonia. Thessaloniki is a lovely city!) This year, because of the Greek Islands ebook guide I am writing I plan to do lots of island hopping and for sure will return to Crete as it’s been several years since I was there.
I recently published an e-book guide to Athens for an American publisher. ATHENS AND BEYOND available on Kindle. And I am currently contracted to write one about the Greek Islands. I am also a travel journalist so I make my visits to Greece part of my ‘writer’s work’ and have published a lot of articles about Greece.
21. Where can we buy the book?
SHADOW OF THE LION; BLOOD ON THE MOON is also available thru Barnes and Nobel
SHADOW OF THE LION: THE FIELDS OF HADES will be published in late summer 2016.
SHADOW can also be purchased from the following major outlets / booksellers around the world:
The Book Depository (Worldwide)
Barnes & Noble (USA)
Books A Million (USA)
Powell’s Books (USA)
ATHENS AND BEYOND ebook
Blogs: http://wynnkozak.blogspot.com (Living the Writer’s Life)
http://travelthroughhistory.blogspot.com (travel blog)
http://shadowofthelion.com (blog for my novel SHADOW OF THE LION
Thank you for joining us today, Ruth. It’s been a pleasure to host you and we wish you continued success with Alexander and your Greek ventures.
“Inspiration is everywhere. Carry a notebook.”
For earlier interviews please visit to my webpage www.kathryngauci.com
Blog page http://www.kathryngauci.com/blog/