A LITERARY WORLD: GREECE. An Interview with Suzi Stembridge

Posted in on 29 February, 2016 in News

Author Interview with Suzi Stembridge

Suzi in Corinth

Today’s guest is English author, Suzi Stembridge. a writer who shares my love of Greece in general and especially stories set during The Greek War of Independence. Welcome to A Literary World:Greece Suzi,

Where do you live?

 We live on a small farm on the Pennine Hills near the village of Ripponden in West Yorkshire. It is a very inspiring location with wonderful views from all the windows.

2. Can you tell us what your novels are about and what inspired you to write them?

Although I say I have been writing since selling our tour operation (a travel company specialising in remoter areas of mainland Greece and unusual islands) in fact I have been itching to write all my life and to some extent I have been doing so. Because I have been travelling to Greece since I was twenty years old, and working with the country, the books just naturally seemed to embrace Greece. There are eight novels arranged in two series – THE GREEK LETTERS QUARTET – historical fiction set over 200 years since the end of the Greek War of Independence 1827 to the present day and – THE COMING OF AGE SERIES – contemporary novels with a Greek bias – CAST A HOROSCOPE a story of an airhostess in the 1960s and issues with childbirth out of wedlock; BRIGHT DAFFODIL YELLOW a tale of an ex airline pilot with an identity crisis (set in Cyprus, London & The Lake District); THE SCORPION’S LAST TALE a thriller written under a pen name with a particularly gruesome antagonist who has been employed by the Greek Junta; THE GLASS CLASS a story set around the fast-living set of young marrieds in the 1970s but death – is it murder splits the crowd and takes them to Snowdonia and then to Spetses where a family tree answers the outstanding questions. All eight books can be read as one very long novel – I don’t like the word ‘saga’ – with all the characters descendants of the chief protagonists 19thc Samuel Carr or ancestors of his great-great-granddaughter Rosalind.

Suzi Volume 2


Suzi Volume 1greek-letters-volume-3 The Eyes Have It3. Where in Greece are your novel(s) set?

The Greek Letters Quartet is mainly set in the Peloponnese, Greece, but also in Cheshire and northern England, as well as other areas of Europe.

The Coming of Age series is variously set in the Mediterranean 1960s -Cast a Horoscope-; a thriller –The Scorpion’s Last Tale-, set in Corfu, Athens & UK – written under a pen name; –Bright Daffodil Yellow– a tale of lost identity set in Cyprus before and during the Turkish 1974 invasion, the Lake District, North Wales and London; a murder mystery –The Glass Class– mostly set in Yorkshire and Snowdonia but which ends in Athens & Spetses.

4Why did you choose to set your novels in this particular place?

I chose areas of Greece I know well, the books are not auto-biographical, they simply draw on my observations of place. I have always loved history and geography.

5. What is it about Greece that inspires you?

I have had a passion for Greece since as a rooky airhostess I landed in Athens on one of my first visits abroad. It could go back further than that to the teacher in primary school who read me the story of Theseus. I have visited Greece constantly two or three times a year, and more when we were running our tour operation, Filoxenia, and after we retired we built a home on the south-eastern coast of the Peloponnese, which we sold a few years ago. Sadly.

6. How did you come up with the titles?

Most of my books have started with a ‘working title’ and it took a long time to settle on GREEK LETTERS which just seemed right for the Quartet (for chapter numbers) but also because ‘correspondence’ became central to each plot. The sub-titles of the Quartet are supposed to ‘read’ as a story- ‘Before’ ‘And After’ ‘The Eyes Have It’ ‘Much More Than Hurt’. The series COMING OF AGE was the route the character Rosalind took passing through life. The titles just seemed right!

7. How long did it take you to write each book?

The ‘family saga’ was not developed until the individual books were created! I then went back and wove each one into the other. What was amazing that the time frame just seemed to fit! So they have taken about 12 years, but a book begins to take shape after about 6 weeks, with 6 months to reach a satisfactory ‘readable’ situation when I can show it to family and friends.

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 have been unable to pinpoint inspiration. A blind great-aunt told my mother I would write so I wrote my first story at 8 years old and have always found if I sit down with an empty note-book and a pen that a story will ‘grow’. My great-aunt’s story is partly told in ‘The Eyes Have it’.

9. 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?

I love the Ancient Greek literature which has been handed down. I love the ancient sites with their theatres and temples. I studied a little at the Open University and enjoy the drama at the Epidavros festival but it would be presumptuous to say that they have influenced my writing. That said I am delighted that other writers have been influenced!

10. Do you have a favourite character in your books?

When you write a saga you become attached to many of the characters! Obviously Rosalind and her great-great-grandfather Samuel Carr are at the heart of the book, but his friend Ioannis Nafrides wormed his way into the first two volumes of GREEK LETTERS and her friends Penny-Sky and John Rhyl-Jones developed into vulnerable but special people and became very important to THE GLASS CLASS.

11The 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?

Yes. But it would be a mistake to narrow this complex book down to a sentence or two. Struggles with storms sums it up well.

11. 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?

Thessaly mountains

Thessaly mountains

mountains and sea Limeni, Mani

The Tagettos behind the little port of Limeni, Mani, major setting for Greek Letter Vol. 1

It is a magical phenomenon and Lawrence Durrell captured it with “Somewhere between Calabria and Corfu the blue really begins…” For myself arriving in Greece my spirits lift on a clear day as the plane crosses the Greek mountains and the mainland lies spread out before you as you descend towards the airport. Then the aircraft door opens and the smell of thyme from the mountains, the salt from the sea, the heat assails you in a way that it doesn’t elsewhere. Although I may base myself by the sea for part of my stay in Greece the urge to climb high into the mountains and traverse the valleys and ridges through or above the forests is immense. The views in the Peloponnese and Pindus whether coastal or from mountains or combined seem to be of paradise!


12. 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?

More so than in any other European country. I am drawn, like the Greeks to push open the wooden door on a tiny Byzantine church or monastery, gaze in amazement at the old stones, the arches and a simple wooden iconostasis and to seek out these remote places however inaccessible these buildings. One can light a candle in homage to a past with more certainty than our own, and to find solace in the beautiful and ornate interiors of the city cathedrals and splendid ancients monasteries, whether in Athens, Nafplio, the Mani, the Meteora, Hoisos Loukas, Nea Moni in Chios, the Peloponnese and Pindus Mountains. Wherever you go in Greece you will appreciate the lavish care taken to look after the churches, and where the doors are hopefully always open. (Less so nowadays although a key can usually be found.)


The most beautiful monastery we know, The Monastery of the Holy Cross near Doliana in Trikala Province in the heart of the Pindus. A setting for a scene in GREEK LETTERS Volume 3 – The Eyes Have It.

13. 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?

Whether the huge hold that history has on the average Greek is a good thing or not it is hard to say but it certainly exists. Sometimes I feel that crucial political and business decisions are made in the light of ancestry, not always for the benefit of the citizens in this modern world. The word philotimo comes to mind especially when you translate it into for the honour of the family!

13. What would you say are the elements of the Greek spirit?

What is good is that this pride in their nation and knowledge of their history has made a race which is hospitable, generous easy to befriend. Indeed “Filoxenia” which was the name of our travel company (meaning hospitality, or literally friends of strangers) really sums up true Greek spirit.

14. What part of the research process did you enjoy the most?

I did a lot of original research even down to getting the weather right on a certain date, and I tried to get as close to primary sources as I could. I am naturally a very inquisitive and curious person. I love reading, learning, writing, visual research, drawing, mapping – so everything is wonderful.

15. What are you working on now?

There is still a lot of work to ready my books for paperback, five now published, three to come, but we have the joy of a young springer spaniel and he is inspiring me to write a book about a dog’s life! It seems that I need to put some space between the events of the last three or four years before embarking on a story set in today’s Greece.

16. What are your typical working conditions? Do you have a special place to write and can you describe it for us?

I used to write at my desk, my library behind us, including old books which inspired the 19c stories. I am proud that all my books got through their first draft without recourse to the  internet (but of course I use it to check things nowadays) With a laptop I have found great pleasure in sitting in our sitting room with its tremendous views.

And a few quick questions:

17. What are your favourite books set in Greece by Greek or foreign authors?

I will read anything about Greece, but I was initially captitvated by Lawrence Durrell’s Prospero’s Cell and then Patrick Leigh Fermor’s books, Mani & Roumeli but I am loving discovering new writers or your own book, Kathryn – The Embroiderer -; Tim Taylor’s Zeus of Ithome through A GOOD GREEK READ, plus Marjory McGinn’s Homer’s Where The Heart Is! Too many to list. I have a huge number of books with a Greek bias, some quite obscure such as T.H. Berens The Monument; Kenneth Young’s historical tome The Greek Passion, The Greek Adventure by David Howarth, hugely useful when writing about the Greek War of Independence; Sarah Wheeler’s Island Apart, even the 19th c travel book Greek Pictures by J.P.Mahaffy, M.A. D.D., (1890) travels and beautiful line drawings. I have books in Greek – which I don’t read beyond the alphabet and a few words- but the pictures are unique.

18. Favourite type of Greek music?

Vangelis and of course Hadjidakis and Theodorakis, in my youth! I wish I knew more about Orthodox Music or that John Tavener had been Greek!



19. Favourite Greek monument, sculpture or painting?

PERACHORA, on the Gulf of Corinth, it inspired Dilys Powell, author of An Affair of The Heart and it inspires me.



20. Favourite Greek food?

A WHOLE GREEK GRILLED FISH, Fagri, Barbouni, Sargos!

Greek fish

21. Favourite Greek drink?

Ouzo,(but it has to be a good one, preferably from Plomari in Lesvos) Tsipero, and the very raisin flavoured local red wines such as I experienced in Lixouri in Cephalonia, and of course the Cephalonia vineries are famed for Robola and Mavrodaphne. We have a friend who is a connoisseur of fine wine and we agree with him that Peloponnese wines such as Nemea, or our own find – Northern Greece wines such Katogi from the famous Averoff Metsovo family and Theotoky from Corfu can more than hold their head held high with the best of them. That said I am just as happy with a good local wine out of a barrel – harder to find nowadays!

22. Favourite holiday destination?

Well yes, a tiny beach near Tyros with its own tiny taverna right on the sea shore. But really I am happiest travelling across the mountain ranges such as from Kastanitsa to Sparta and on to Kalamata, using the byroads or off the main roads and doing likewise across the Pindus mountains from Pyli to Arta! There are often very special mountain hotels away from the coast.

23. Where can we buy the book?

Links: amazon.co.uk http://amzn.to/1nKE5wR

Waterstones: http://bit.ly/1QADd7s


Website: www.greco-file.com

Blog: authorofgreeknovels.wordpress.com

Thank you for being my guest on A Literary Life: Greece, Suzi. Its been a great pleasure to talk with you and we wish you continued success.


“Words carry colours and sounds into the flesh”

                                                                                                                           Anais Nin, Delta of Venus.








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