A LITERARY WORLD: GREECE. An Interview with Daphne Kapsali

Posted in on 3 June, 2016 in News

A Literary World: Greece: An interview with author Daphne Kapsali


My guest today is the delightful Daphne Kapsali, writer, translator, massage therapist and reluctant yogi, who, by her own admission, is  a pathological optimist.… something we could all do with a dose of from time to time. Welcome to A Literary World: Greece, Daphne. It’s a pleasure to have you with us.

1. Where do you live?

I divide my time between London and a small Greek island called Sifnos. It sounds a bit schizophrenic, I know, but it seems my personality needs the contrast!

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

A Hundred days of SolitudeMy first book, “100 days of solitude” is a collection of essays, written over 100 consecutive days, documenting my experience of giving up my life in London to write full-time, and spending an autumn and winter living alone as a “reclusive author” in Sifnos. I sometimes call it “the accidental self-help guide to finding yourself”, because writing it was the process of figuring out, finally, at age 36, who I really am and how I want to live my life. And, more importantly, that I can choose to do that; that I can choose to be the best version of myself and live a life I love. And it seems to be inspiring other people to do that, too.

My novel, “you can’t name an unfinished thing”, is basically a love story, except that it begins at the end of the main characters’ relationship and follows them as they make their way back to each other. It questions, at its core, the imperative to always move on and let go, and whether there are times when those aren’t the right choices, and it’s a story I’ve been itching to write for years. And nobody will be too shocked to hear that there are, of course, parallels with my own relationship!

You can't name an unfinished thing

3. Where in Greece are your novels set?

“100 days” is set almost exclusively in Sifnos. “Unfinished” takes place in both Athens and London.

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

With “100 days”, Sifnos was as integral to the book as anything else that happened to me during the time of writing it. The setting – a small holiday island, off-season, and the contrast between life there and in London – may have been largely arbitrary to begin with, but it ended up shaping both the story and me, as I experienced it.

In the case of “unfinished”, the setting wasn’t all that important, so I chose two cities I know well and can write accurately about.

Daphne and donkey5. What made you give up the city life for a life on Sifnos? 

I love London, and I actually had a pretty nice life there, but it just wasn’t quite right. I always said I was a writer, but never really did all that much about it and it was killing me. And realised, eventually, that hoping to fit writing into an existing lifestyle, which – lovely though it was – left no room for anything but survival, was unrealistic. I had to take my life apart and put it back together, with writing at its centre. Hence, I had to leave everything behind and give full-time writing a chance. I ended up in Sifnos mostly because my family has a holiday home here, which meant no rent and very few expenses, but it quickly became my refuge and my writer’s retreat. It gave me the time and the space to be myself and do what I love.

6. How did living on the island influence you?

It changed me in more ways than I could have imagined. It challenged me, and it tested me, and it rewarded me. Within weeks of being here, away from the compulsions and the imperatives of city life, I started thinking completely differently; it was literally like the fog had lifted. Even just the transition from the indifferent metropolis of London to a small island community is enough to shake you up to your very core, and bring you face-to-face with all kinds of preconceptions and beliefs and, often, unpleasant truths about yourself. But good things, too: I learned that I was braver and more positive and more resilient than I thought; I learned to open myself up to everything. I learned to trust in things working out, and how little of the stuff we think we need is actually important to our happiness. And, incredibly, I, the City Girl, the outsider, found my little corner in the word in off-season Sifnos, and I was made to feel like I belonged, like I was accepted. All in all, and as cheesy as it may sound, it was entirely life-changing.

7. How did you come up with the titles and the design of the covers?

“100 days of solitude” was inspired by Marquez’s novel “100 years of solitude” and the amount of time I had originally planned on spending in Sifnos on my own – roughly 100 days. The cover is a photo I took during that time, of a mountaintop graveside at dusk. For me, it captures the essence of solitude – that isn’t loneliness – perfectly. It’s an image that invites reflection: to stop, to look, to see, to open yourself up to the beauty that’s everywhere. To open yourself up to yourself, and your creativity.

“You can’t name an unfinished thing” is my most honest description of that novel, and of most things in life. We’re too eager to give things names, to define them, when, often, we’d do well to just let them be what they need to be. The cover is a painting by my grandfather, Cosmas Xenakis, which, like many of his more abstract paintings, has a sense of both order and unfinished-ness about it, like it could be this thing, but it could equally evolve into another. I liked the idea of commemorating my granddad by using one his paintings and this one, aptly named “Untitled”, felt like the right choice.

8. How long did it take you to write your book?

In the case of “100 days of solitude”: exactly 100 days! “Unfinished” was also written during my time as a reclusive author in Sifnos – ideal writing conditions – and it took just under four months.

9. Can you tell us why you went with the crowd-funding and how you did it successfully? Not everyone has been as successful.

I love the concept of crowdfunding. Artists have historically had patrons, and crowdfunding is the evolution of that, made democratic by the internet. It enables artists to carry on doing their work with the help of people who believe in it, and it also allows people like you and me, who don’t fit the profile of a traditional “patron”, to support projects we find meaningful, to be part of something creative, to be generous. Because, if my experience of crowdfunding so far has taught me anything, it’s that people want to be generous, they want to be involved, and crowdfunding gives them the opportunity to do that.

So, for me, when I found myself in Sifnos with practically no income at the start of a 100-day writing project, crowdfunding was the obvious choice. And the reason it worked, when 70% of author campaigns fail, was down to a combination of luck, obstinacy, and the fact that I know some incredibly generous, supportive people who came through for me. And authenticity: I truly believed in what I was doing, what I was trying to achieve, and I think people could see that, and they wanted to support me. There was no artifice in that campaign, and no marketing tricks: there was just me being me, and people responded to that.

My first crowdfunding project was one of the most stressful and most rewarding experiences of my life, and I promised myself I’d never do it again when it was over. But I’m doing it again: I’m currently in the middle of another campaign. Maybe it’s crazy, taking on those odds twice; maybe it’s tempting fate, but I kind of think fate is on my side. The fact is, I need help and the only certainty is that I’m never going to get it if I don’t ask for it. So I’m asking.

10It’s often said that when an author writes, he puts something of himself in his book. Is this true with you?

Of course. Always. I can’t imagine how it could be any other way.

11. Of all your characters, do you have a favourite?

I don’t think so. They’re all as crazy and as flawed and as likeable as each other.

12. The Greeks believed that ‘inspiration’ came from the muses, as well as the gods Apollo and Dionysus. Where do you believe inspiration comes from?

Living deliberately. Actively looking for the beauty and the meaning in everything. When I was writing “100 days”, I’d sometimes get up in the morning and think: “This is it. I’ve got nothing more to say”. But I always found something; there is always something to inspire you, something to write about, if you look for it. Also, Apollo is the patron of Sifnos and its capital, Apollonia, is named after him. So perhaps he’s helping me, too!

13. 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?

“Struggles with storms” – I like that! I’ve heard the theories of multiple Homers, but I’m not enough of a scholar to actually offer an opinion on the debate. What I will say, however, is that I don’t think it matters who we credit for these works, or how exactly they came to be, but what we do with them now we have them. How each of us, individually, understands and uses them, what meaning we can draw from them, for our own lives.

14. 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 are times, especially when I’m in Sifnos, that I catch a glimpse of something – the horizon, the sea in the distance, a mountaintop – and it literally takes my breath away. So yes: this is a country of incredible beauty. But then again, there is beauty everywhere, if you care to look.

15. 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?

I think it has mostly resulted in a very strong need to protect and assert our national identity. Which can be a good, a bad, or a very dangerous thing, depending on how it’s expressed. There is currently a neo-Nazi party in Greek Parliament, and that is, in part, a result of our history, of always feeling, as a nation, that we’re under attack by some external force, which gives rise to xenophobia. I just hope we remember other lessons our history has taught us – resourcefulness, creativity, adaptability, unity, tolerance – before it’s too late.

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

There is a defiance in the Greeks that can be admirable, but it can also cross into arrogance. I think we are torn between feeling like we always have to prove ourselves and feeling that we really shouldn’t have to, and that makes for a very volatile population! But underneath the arrogance and tendency to complain about everything, we are a warm, generous, welcoming people, with an irreverent sense of humour that saves us when things get hard, and a love for drama that often translates into some exceptional works of literature and art.

17. What are you working on now?

I’m back in Sifnos, with a new writing project, provisionally entitled “In praise of being selfish”. Its form and style are similar to “100 days”, but that’s all I can say about it at the moment; I’m waiting to see how it evolves! I’m also running a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to invest in professional advertising and marketing for “100 days of solitude”, because I believe it’s a book that deserves to be read, to reach more readers than I, with my limited resources, have access to. Finally, I’ve revived an older book project that I’ve been working on, sporadically, for years, and which I hope to publish in the next couple of months.

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

I need a clean, uncluttered space and total silence. And lots of coffee. I’ve found my ideal working conditions in our house in Sifnos where, at the moment, I have my desk pressed up against the window, looking out onto the almond tree in the yard, and a typical Cycladic blue-domed church just beyond.

And a few quick questions:

19. Who are your favourite Greek authors or foreigners who have written about Greece? you prefer)

It’s two poets, actually: Cavafy and Karyotakis.



20. Favourite type of Greek music?

I’m a 90’s girl, so I grew up listening to Greek rock bands, such as Trypes. But I also love a bit of Savvopoulos, and the Katsimicha brothers.

21. Favourite Greek monument, sculpture or painting?

This may sound like an easy answer but, as an Athenian with a serious love/hate relationship with her city, it’s gotta be the Parthenon that tips me towards love. When I’m walking down those dirty, chaotic streets of central Athens and I turn around, unexpectedly, and see it, just sitting there on top of its hill, and I think “yes, OK Athens, you’re alright”.

Acropolis from Monasteraiki

 22. Favourite Greek food?

All of it. Please don’t make me choose.

23. Favourite Greek drink?

Vyssinada – sour cherry juice. Ice cold.

24. Favourite holiday destination? 

The bay of Kamares in Sifnos. For me, there is nothing more grounding than sitting on that beach and looking at the mountains that surround it. I call it my meditation.

Ship Daphne

Kamares Bay

Where can we buy the book?

My books are available on Amazon, on Kindle (internationally) and in paperback (US and European stores): http://Author.to/daphne-kapsali

You can also find them at the bookstore in Apollonia, Sifnos, if you happen to be passing by this way!


Kickstarter campaign: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/daphnekapsali/100-days-for-everyone-doing-what-you-love

Website: http://daphnekapsali.com/writing

Blog: http://100daysofsolitude.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/daphnewrites/

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, Daphne. I also share your love affair with the Parthenon, and like you, still have that sense of awe when it bursts into view at the end of a chaotic Athenian street.

9781781322963-Perfect.indd “A work of art which did not begin in emotion is not art.”

“Paul Cezanne

For earlier interviews on A Literary World:Greece,  please visit to my webpage www.kathryngauci.com

Blog page https://www.kathryngauci.com/blog/