A LITERARY WORLD: GREECE An Interview with Anne Zouroudi
A Literary World: Greece. Author Interview with Anne Zouroudi
Today I’d like to welcome to A Literary World: Greece, the award winning author, Anne Zouroudi. Anne’s books are set amongst the beautiful landscapes of Greece – “between the olive groves and the sparking blue seas – where time has little meaning, and the pressures of modern life are easily forgotten” – something all lovers of Greece can relate to.
Thank you for joining us, Anne.
1. Where do you live?
These days, I live in northern England, amongst the moors and hills of Derbyshire’s cold but beautiful Peak District. Think the Bronte sisters and Wuthering Heights and you’ll get the idea.
2. Can you tell us what your novels are about and what inspired you to write them?
I’ve written seven Greek-based novels, all featuring enigmatic investigator Hermes Diaktoros, who wears Italian suits and white tennis shoes and is something of a gourmet. Essentially my books are crime novels, but with a good sprinkling of mythology, a little travelogue and plenty of wonderful Greek food in the mix. So plainly they’re not run-of-the-mill crime novels – and there are no courtrooms and not many policemen in them either. I tend to think of them as morality tales, because Hermes dispenses his own brand of natural justice. I wrote the first, The Messenger of Athens, because I’m a huge crime fan, and there’s a definite lack of Greek crime novels out there. I also wanted to share my personal view of Greece, where I lived for a number of years – that’s a story in itself.
3. Where in Greece are your novels set?
My settings change from book to book. All are based on real places in Greece – Rhodes, the Peloponnese and the island of Skopelos all feature, though they’re heavily disguised. The Messenger of Athens is set on a small island I call Thiminos, but it’s based on Symi in the Dodecanese. I lived there in the 1990s when I left a lucrative career to marry a fisherman. It was a huge change for me, going from business suits and BMWs to growing and catching most of our food. You’ll be expecting me to say ‘I loved it’, but life’s not as simple as that. Some things I loved, some things I struggled with. The Greek islands in winter can be difficult – drama, as my sister-in-law used to say. If you read the book, you’ll see what I mean.
4. What is it about Greece that inspires you?
I remember to this day my first visit to Greece, stepping off the plane onto the airport tarmac and feeling I had come home. So many people feel the same way. I think it has to do with soul – Greece is a deeply soulful country, and she touches us in our hearts in a way few other places can. Such a feeling of connection is naturally inspiring, and everything I write is first and foremost a hymn to Greece – to the people, the landscapes and the sea.
5. The Greeks believed that inspiration came from the muses, as well as the gods Apollo and Dionysus. Where do you believe inspiration comes from?
There’s one question I get asked more than any other, which is ‘Where do you get your ideas?’ I’m a great believer in divine inspiration, but for me inspiration can’t strike without one vital ingredient – silence. I have always believed good writing comes from peace and quiet, so I live my day-to-day life as quietly as possible – no radio or TV in the house during the day, and I spend a lot of hours walking the dog on the moors. There’s no better way to find a solution to a sticky plot issue than five miles in the fresh air.
6. 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?
There are so many great and terrible stories in the literature of ancient Greece – fathers unwittingly eating the boiled flesh of their children, kings sleeping with their mothers, gods changing into animals to rape maidens. There are recountings of epic adventure – nations conquered and monsters slaughtered – and countless tales of love, loss and death. These are such BIG stories that it is no surprise at all to me that they are still so widely read, referenced and re-worked. The pity is contemporary literature offers so little to match it. With very few exceptions, so much writing these days seems safe and lacklustre.
7. 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?
Beyond any doubt, religion still plays a big part in day-to-day Greek life. In the smaller islands, the women’s social life revolves around the church and very little else. I think Greece is remarkable in the amount of influence it seems to give the church. Often on TV you’ll see the prime minister at some official engagement standing alongside the archbishop. Here in the UK, I don’t think we’ve seen a head of the church given equal billing with the head of the government since the time of Henry VII back in the 1500s! In my books, Hermes is very scathing of the Orthodox religion (he has his reasons…) but he often takes an interest in the origins of ecclesiastical buildings. Churches and chapels were often built on the sites of temples to the old gods, and it’s so interesting to take a close look at the symbols and carvings in those ancient places. Almost certainly you’ll find an indication that one of the Olympians was worshipped there long before Orthodoxy came along.
8. Which Greek past or present would you most like to have dinner with?
I am a total foodie so this question is a good one for me! I think it would have to be Epicurus. Epicurus has given his name as a byword for gourmet cuisine, suggesting that he was someone who enjoyed rich food and complex dishes – larks tongues in aspic, for example. But actually, his life-view was rather opposite to that – he enjoyed life’s simple pleasures, and a loaf of good bread, a jug of wine and a few olives would have suited him very well. What Epicurus did enjoy was conversation, and companionship with his meals. It all sounds rather wonderful and Utopian, and I would have loved to be present at one of his legendary lunches.
9. What would you say are the elements of the Greek spirit?
Patriotism. Anarchy. Pride. Passion.
10. What are you working on now?
I’m working on a new Hermes book, The Gifts of Poseidon. The first seven books were all based on one of the seven deadly sins. Now I’m tackling the Ten Commandments, and The Gifts of Poseidon is the first of these.
And a few quick questions:
11. What are your favourite books set in Greece by Greek or foreign authors?
I love Panos Karnezis’s short stories, Little Infamies – they’re quirky and magical and reach the very heart of Greek village life. And it’s a cliché, but I love Zorba. I’m very proud to say I share a publisher with Nikos Kazantzakis for the Greek editions of my books
12. Favourite type of Greek music?
I love the traditional music of the islands. When I hear the first notes of the gaida it sends shivers down my spine.
13. Favourite Greek film?
I love My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Mama Mia of course – who doesn’t??? – but I also really enjoyed A Touch of Spice, which I think deserves to be better known.
14. Favourite Greek monument, sculpture or painting?
I love the statue of Hermes over the entrance to Grand Central Station in New York. The gods are always with us!
15. Favourite Greek food?
Fish, every time. Something fresh-caught and grilled over a barbecue with a little oil, salt and lemon, a simple salad and a slice or two of wood-fired-oven baked bread – heaven!
16. Favourite Greek drink?
Retsina! Love it! But it doesn’t travel (why is that?), so I never bring any home with me these days.
17. Favourite holiday destination?
St George’s bay, Symi. An amazing beach with fantastically clear water and plenty of peace and quiet. And also, incidentally, a great place to barbecue your fish.
Where can we buy the books?
All my books are available via Amazon or other online retailers and in the UK can be found, as they say, at all good bookshops. They’re also available through libraries.
Thank you for joining us today Anne. It’s been a pleasure to have you with us and we wish you continued success. And I do agree with you, it’s a pity A Touch of Spice is not more well known. So for all those lovers of Greek and Turkish food and a taste for the exotic, do try and see it. The original Greek title is Πολίτικη Κουζίνα (Politiki Kouzina) which means Cuisine of the City and refers to the Cuisine of Constantinople.
“Anything is possible if you’ve got enough nerve.”
For earlier interviews on A Literary World: Greece please visit my website at www.kathryngauci.com