A LITERARY WORLD: GREECE. An Interview with Beryl Darby
Author Interview with Beryl Darby.
Today I’m delighted to welcome to A Literary World: Greece, English author, Beryl Darby, a prolific author with no less than seventeen books to her name. Her first, “Spinalonga The Leper Island “, was the first guide book to be written on the island of Spinalonga in Crete and has been translated into five languages.
Thank you for joining us, Beryl
Where do you live?
I was born in Brighton, Sussex, England and still live there.
2. Can you tell us what your novels are about and what inspired you to write them?
When you are unable to get a guide book to the island of Spinalonga the only option is to write one. During my research I was able to gain valuable true information about life on Spinalonga. I have to thank my step-daughter for this as she lived in Athens at the time as she was able to contact a man who had been sent there in a strait jacket due to taking part in the hospital riots. He became one of the main leaders of the island community, working tirelessly to improve their conditions.
Fortunately she speaks perfect Greek and was able to ask him questions on my behalf and translate his answers. Eventually I had too much information to incorporate into a guide book so I embarked on my first novel –“Yannis”. The facts about Spinalonga that I have incorporated into the book are from the information he gave me, although events concerning his family are fictional.
The first novel is the story of the family member who is diagnosed with leprosy and sent to Spinalonga. The subsequent books follow the family and the various events in their lives and those connected with them from 1918 to the present day. I ensure the locations (at the time) are accurate, although over the years some are no longer there due to the redevelopment of the area that has taken place.
I have also had to update the guide book twice due to clearance and maintenance that has been undertaken on Spinalonga since it became a World Heritage site.
3. Where in Greece are your novels set?
My books are mostly set in Plaka or Elounda and on Spinalonga, with other locations incorporated as the story line dictates – Athens, Rhodes, Santorini, Italy, New Orleans, England etc.
4. Why did you choose to set your novels in this particular place?
I set the first novel in Plaka as it is the closest village to Spinalonga. As the books gradually became a Cretan family saga the main characters had to stay living in the area. Who would want to move away from such a beautiful place?
5. What is it about Greece that inspires you?
I cannot claim inspiration, more a feeling of “déjà vu” with Spinalonga. I feel a kinship to the island that is inexplicable. I can stand in a particular place and will suddenly ‘remember’ an event that took place there (This happened once before when listening to a talk about Skara Brae, the Neolithic site in Scotland. I knew the beads that were found in the doorway were from my necklace that broke as I crawled through, desperate to get away from invaders. I could feel myself shaking with the same fear as I had felt then.)
6. How did you come up with the titles?
Having entitled the first book “Yannis” it seemed logical to call the subsequent books by the name of the main character.
7. How long did it take you to write your book?
It took me five years to write “Yannis” (on a manual typewriter) as I could only write in the evening due to working and a young family. The finished manuscript was twice as long as the current book and a good deal had to be pruned out. It then took me twenty years to have sufficient resources (and courage) to fund my own publication as no publishing house was interested.
Having completed “Yannis” I then wrote “Anna” and “Giovanni” because I wanted to continue writing about the family. “Yannis” was well received and a year later I published “Anna” (now translated and published in Greece) followed by “Giovanni” six months later. Since then I have managed to write and publish two books each year. I am currently working on number eighteen, due out in June.
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?
Difficult for me to say where my inspiration comes from; an odd word overheard, a particular house or village, a view – can give me an idea. I am a bad writer; I never plan my books out. I allow the characters to take over and see what materializes. This can also cause me terrible problems, of course, that I then have to work my way around. When that occurs I usually think about the plot before going to sleep and in the morning I wake up knowing exactly how to extricate myself from the dilemma of my own making.
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 have never looked on the ancient Greek masterpieces as inspirational or challenging to me. I could never achieve their brilliance. I read them for pleasure and the history they contain.
10. 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?
I like to believe that Homer was responsible for composing the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey” but as his work was originally taken to the people verbally I can well understand that current problems were incorporated into the story to help the populace to understand and deal with them. Again, I do not dissect the “Iliad” or the “Odyssey” for hidden metaphors; I read them for pleasure. They are my favourite books.
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?
I would certainly agree with the physical beauty of Greece. Dark valleys, overshadowed by mountains, are brought to life as the sun moves around. It is like drawing back a curtain to expose the colours. The intense blue of the sea caused by the clarity of the light is quite amazing. I wish I was an artist.
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?
I think the Greek Orthodox religion is still very important to the people in their daily life. Saints’ Days and their Name Days are celebrated regularly as well as the conventional Christian holidays by all age groups. I always enjoy visiting the church of St. Panteleimon on Spinalonga and lighting a candle in memory of my loved ones.
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?
Greece and the surrounding islands have been occupied mercilessly on so many occasions down the centuries that it has to have had a bearing on Greek morale. They always refused to be crushed by the insurgents and remained independently “Greek”. Their traumatic experiences has made them a determined and resilient nation.
14. What would you say are the elements of the Greek spirit?
The Greek spirit that manifests itself to me is one of pride and loyalty. They are proud to be Greek, but even more proud to be able to claim ancestry to the island where they were born. They are proud of their families and are willing to help the most extended of relatives if possible. Loyalty to their friends is unquestioning and trusting, making agreements on a handshake knowing the arrangement will be honoured.
15. Which part of the research process did you enjoy the most?
The most enjoyable part of all my research was being able to meet my original informant in Athens. He was a charming man, full of anecdotes and humour about his life on Spinalonga.
16. What are you working on now?
I am currently working on “Stelios”. He was Yannis’s youngest brother and disowned his family. What did he do? What happened to him? When he is dying he has a desire to meet Yannis and make his peace with him. How does this come about?
17. What are your typical working conditions? Do you have a special place to write and can you describe it for us?
My writing room is up in the roof space of my house. Over fifty years ago the loft was converted into a room. It has exposed rafters that carry the tiles, and is not suitable for anyone who is taller than me. The centre window looks out across the roofs to the sea, and the two glass side panels allow the sun to come in all day. It is painted white throughout and has plenty of shelving and storage space for books and files. My computer and work station are up there and it is my favourite room.
18. Who are your favourite Greek authors or foreigners who have written about Greece?
My favourite Greek authors – I have already mentioned Homer and I enjoy Plato. As a child I loved all the Greek Myths. Later I enjoyed Mary Renault and Leonard Cottrell, finding them ‘easy reading’ but incorporating historical facts. Patrick Leigh Fermor gives an insight into authentic Greek village life as it was and the Durrell series of books are amusing and entertaining, but I tend to read history rather than novels. I enjoyed “Kritsotopoula” by Yvonne Payne as she covered a period of history that I knew very little about.
19. If you were to host a dinner party, which Greek guests would you invite?
I would love to manage to have all my readers in Elounda at the same time and have a large party in the Square. All my many friends who live in the area would be invited and I think it would be a memorable occasion. As this is beyond my wildest dreams I have selected a few people whom I would be very interested to meet and think they would certainly have lively discussions. My one request is that my named guests all speak English !!
1) My friend who lived on Spinalonga and gave me so much useful information.
2) My friend Dioscoro from the Philippines. He was diagnosed as a young man and sent to the leprosarium at Tala.
It would be interesting hearing them talk together about their differing experiences and I am sure it would lead to me asking both of them further questions – sadly both are deceased.
3) Dr Michael Corcos – doctor in charge of various leprosariums and researcher into the disease of leprosy.
4) Armaeur Hansen – who discovered the bacillus that causes leprosy.
It would be fascinating to hear them talk about their work and the progress that has been made since Hansen’s first discovery. I have many letters from Dr Corcos explaining and illustrating his research. I am sure he would be gratified to know that his theories at the time are now facts and much of his work has been published by his son.
5) Sir Arthur Evans – archaeologist who excavated and restored Knossos.
6) Heinrich Schliemann who excavated Mycenae.
7) Spyridon Marinatos who excavated Akroteri . I am sure the trio would argue about the merits of their individual excavation methods and have an informed opinion of the modern methods of archaeological exploration. If they were able to be excavating today which site would they choose – a continuation of those they have already experienced, a new site, an area unexplored as yet?
8) General Stefanos Sarefis – the military commander of ELAS.
9) Alexis Tsipras – present Prime Minister of Greece.
I would like to know if Greece (as a country) is as Sarefis envisaged it would eventually be when he was leading the resistance movement, ELAS. Does he approve of the measures Tsipras has taken to keep Greece in the EU? In Sarefis’s opinion has the life of the Greek people changed for the better (not including modern medicine and conveniences). Does Tsiparis believe the economy for the Greek people will improve in the foreseeable future?
And a few quick questions:
20. Favourite type of Greek music?
I am not a “music” person, but I find “Zorba’s Dance” both moving and evocative.
21. Favourite Greek film?
Difficult question – I loved “Never on Sunday,”, “Zorba The Greek” and “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”. Three very different films.
22. Favourite Greek monument, sculpture or painting?
My favourite sculpture has to be “Poseidon”. I have a copy that sits above my television in the lounge. I would love a full size one that I could put out in my garden – not sure where I would find the space to sit during the summer.
23. Favourite Greek food?
Another difficult question. So much depends upon the chef. I love Dimitris’s peeled prawns in a spicy tomato sauce, but Maria’s keftedes melt in your mouth. I have never tasted a better crab salad than the one served at ‘The Hope’ and the lamb, served hanging from a skewer at a taverna in Agios Nikolaos is mouth watering.
24. Favourite Greek drink?
My favourite Greek drink is definitely Plomari ouzo, particularly if it has been made in a mountain village by the traditional method.
25. Favourite holiday destination?
My favourite holiday destination has to be Elounda in Crete. I like to travel over early to Spinalonga with the workers and find a quiet, secluded spot where I can sit and absorb the atmosphere. This is when I can feel the presence of the previous inhabitants around me.
Where can we buy the book?
Availability: They can be ordered from any bookshop or Amazon. Waterstones in Brighton and City Books in Hove stock the full range including the guide.
All books can be purchased directly from me by using Pay Pal.
In Elounda Eklektos bookshop stocks all of the titles and the guide.
All the titles, except the guide book, are available on Kindle.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on A Literary World: Greece, Beryl. It’s been a pleasure to have you here with us. I share your love of Plomari ouzo and the sculpture of Poseidon. He definitely epitomizes the power and beauty of a Greek God.
“Words carry colours and sounds into the flesh”
Anaïs Nin, “Delta of Venus”
For earlier interviews please visit to my webpage www.kathryngauci.com
Blog page https://www.kathryngauci.com/blog/