A LITERARY WORLD: Greece. An Interview with Sara Alexi

Posted in on 24 July, 2016 in News

A Literary World: Greece. An Interview with author Sara Alexi.


Today’s guest is the delightful  Sara Alexi. A qualified psychotherapist, Sara ran her own practice for years. Artistic by nature, she also spent a considerable time as a painter and exhibited widely. Her move to Greece was the catalyst that began her writing. Welcome to A Literary World: Greece Sara. It’s good to have you with us.
1. Where do you live?

I have the luxury of living between Nafplion in the Peloponnese in Greece and the UK. Greece gives me the inspiration to write the books but I look forward to being in the UK for the culture and the contrast.

The Illegal Gardener2. Can you tell us what your novels are about and what inspired you to write them?

The first novel was inspired by a man living in the village in Greece, who had travelled here illegally to find work. This was years before the current Syrian refugee crisis. I met this man pulling weeds down the lane that leads to my house and he told me he relied on casual labour and that often it was difficult to find work and there had been occasions when he had worked and had not been paid. It got me thinking to how lucky I was to have been born in a prosperous European country and to be able to travel freely around the world, and about how much choice I had compared to this man.

I am incensed by injustice, and I related the exchange I had had to a writer I knew and suggested he write a book about it. ‘I cannot write your story,’ he replied ‘You write it.’ I did not feel I had any ability to write, after all I have struggled all my life with dyslexia but my passion for this man’s story inspired me to sit down and at least try.

The book is about a Pakistani illegal immigrant and a British ex-pat living in the village. I wanted them to both be foreigners to add a symmetry to the tale and to explore our preconceptions and to give a tension that derives primarily from the lack of privilege on one side and the extreme privilege on the other.

In the book Juliet is wealthier than the people in the Greek village whereas Aaman, the illegal immigrant, is less well off than those around him. The village creates a meeting ground of the two where the differences between them and the differences in their backgrounds can be examined.

3. Where in Greece are your novels set?

The Greek Village Collection is set in an imaginary place that could be any Greek village and any Greek island. I took elements of many places I have been so any reader who has been to Greece would feel that they recognise the places I describe. There are elements of the village where I live just outside of Nafplion. The town of Saros in the series is based on Nafplion and the island of Orino is chiefly derived from the beautiful island of Hydra. They say ‘write what you know’, and these are the places I am most familiar with in Greece.

4. What is it about Greece that inspires you?

What doesn’t inspire me about Greece! The warmth, the people, the culture, the joy of life, good food, uncrowded beaches, hospitality, limitless possibilities. When I wake up in Greece I feel anything could happen with the day. It is unexpected, surprising and beautiful.

The Rush Cutter's Legacy5. How did you come up with the titles and the design of the covers?

Title choice is really difficult and I struggle for a long time to find a single phrase that matches the essence of the book. I cannot say specifically how I arrive at the final choice but it does take a lot of brainstorming and a lot of time to come up with the right title. The covers on the other hand are designed and produced by an extremely talented friend of mine. But this too is a struggle as he will come up with two or three that are lovely and then I am expected to decide which one is right! I have, more than once, asked the readers I am in contact with through my Facebook page to help me choose as they are so supportive and helpful and I trust their judgement.

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

It took me six weeks to write the first draft of The Illegal Gardener. Once I had started I felt so liberated and so inspired I could not stop, I just sat and wrote from dawn to dusk. Generally the first draft takes me this length of time, four to six weeks, as I don’t like to lose the flow. But then the is the editing and so on, and I tend to average four books a year.

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

This is more true than I sometimes care to admit. I would say nearly all the events that happen within the stories I write either I, or someone close to me, has experienced. Sometimes it is the plot that has been taken from life, sometimes the plot is a combination of events I have experienced. As for the characters I think if there was such a thing I would called myself a Method Writer, because as with Method Acting I spend a considerable about of time and energy trying to totally get within the skin of my characters so I can truly understand their nature.

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

My favourite is always the one I am writing at the time, I get so engrossed I often fear the other books will fade by comparison to the one I am working on right now! Each character teaches me something and every character increases my compassion for human nature.

A Stranger

“A Stranger in the Village” Released July 2016

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

Inspiration! Now this is an interesting subject. I often feel I have nothing to do with the books I write, I feel I am just a conduit through which the characters who have something to say are expressing themselves and telling their tale. When I talk with my readers about the books I am just as excited as them over characters and plots as I don’t feel they are really my creations. Once the books are published, until recently, I could not read them, much like some actors cannot watch themselves on screen. But I have read one or two recently and I got very excited and involved in the story and I was amazed at how entertaining they were. I even stopped once or twice to be amazed and pleased and mutter to myself ‘Did I write that!’

10. 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?

They say there are no new stories and there are no new ideas, the same themes tend to be recycled again and again just in different eras, and the best stories are those that deal with human condition, the struggle of life, death , birth, marriage, conflict. I think the Greek myths for example have stripped these stories back to the bare elements and have identified the elements that contribute to the human experience and that we can all identify with and understand.

 11. 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?

Yes I think perhaps it would be a mistake to believe that Homer was solely responsible for the creative input that lead to the Iliad and the Odyssey. It is more likely that Homer reflected the culture in which he lived and it is reasonable to expect that the tales he heard influenced what he wrote. I have been given to believe that the reason why we remember Homer is because he wrote down his stories which normally, around that time, would only have been spoken. He wrote himself in history.

A Wanderer12. 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?

In my opinion Greece is beyond compare. But it is more than the light, more than the sea. I wish I could pin it down but I am always left with the inability to explain where the beauty is. Is it the people, the landscape? It would be an easy way out to say it is just in the air, or the quality of the warmth. But I think, for me, it is the attitude and outlook of the people that is brought out by the soothing warmth of the sun. They find humour in almost anything, even the most bleak situation, they make no distinction between work and play, it is all life. There is no great hurry to do things immediately if it would make life unpleasant but then if something needs doing many hands will help to ensure it is done. Greece makes everyone feel beautiful.

13. 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?

The Church has played a significant role in Greek culture. During the 400 years of Turkish occupation the church was responsible for maintaining both the Greek culture and language. They ran secret schools to teach Greek which was not allowed under Ottoman rule and this has not been forgotten. Right until the last inauguration the High Priest has always been present at the swearing in of the Prime Minister and I have witnessed priests being asked to bless everything from babies, to cars, to new businesses. From my observation the Greek Orthodox Church is a thread that runs through the majority of the people binding them together and giving them a sense of common identity from which they can relate to one another.

 14. 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?                   

During this time of severe austerity I believe I have seen the people decide to just get on with whatever life throws at them in their village. I am often left wondering if this is a characteristic that has come from 400 years of Turkish rule, stories being told and passed down from grandfather to son with the knowledge that as a race they survived that! They have also dealt with an extremely hard time during the Second World War followed by a civil war and yet life has gone on. Such hardships to strengthen cultural identity.

Being15. What would you say are the elements of the Greek spirit?

The one element that seems to unite the Greeks as a people is their benevolence and generosity of spirit. For me what distinguishes them from any other race or culture is their total and unquestioning acceptance that we are all human and therefore, more often than not, our foibles are not only forgiven but just as quickly forgotten. I have rarely met a judgmental Greek.

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

I love when I come across something in the tale for which I need more detail. They may be only tiny things but I hope they had a certain truth the story, such as learning a little about beekeeping to understand the process and the yearly cycle, or finding a little out about trimming goats. I find this sort of research very exciting.

17. What are you working on now?

I am currently on the final leg of the first draft of what I feel is a lovely tale of belated self discovery. But at this stage I will say no more than that.

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

My place of work is inside my head and I can go there any time and any place. I feel very lucky that I can carry my work around with me like this. I am seldom without my laptop and I have written in some very strange places such as waiting for the tank of my car to be filled, in the post office waiting to be served, in the waiting room when my plane has been delayed. I also have written in some really beautiful places; in my garden in Greece, on the beach, in a Nafplion cafe, lounging in my bed on a Sunday morning on clean white sheets. Sometimes I think my heart might burst with gratitude for this way of life.

Nafplion 2

And a few quick questions:

19. What are your favourite books set in Greece by Greek or foreign authors?
My favourite book set in Greece is The Magus. I also like Eleni but parts of it are a bit harrowing.

20. Favourite type of Greek music?

Sotiria Bellou

Sotiria Bellou

Eleftheria Arvanitaki and Sotiria Bellou – check them out!

21. Favourite Greek film?

Zorba the Greek is a great comment on Greek attitudes but I think Never On A Sunday is my favourite film in English. And of course there are all the old Finos films – how do you choose between them?

Love 'Αγάπη Για Πάντα' (1970)

Love For Ever. ‘Αγάπη Για Πάντα’ (1970) Finos Film

22. Favourite Greek monument, sculpture or painting?

Mycenaean pottery. The designs are so fluid and well observed.

Mycenaeon octopus vessel 1

Mycenaean ‘octopus’ design vessel.

23. Favourite Greek food?

Patzaria me Scordalia. (Beetroot and garlic dip)

24. Favourite Greek drink?  

Ouzo, sketo – whch means straight, no ice, no water.

25. Favourite place in Greece to escape to?

Not telling!

And where can we buy the book?

Links:  USA – http://www.amazon.com/Sara-Alexi/e/B008M6D60K/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

UK – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sara-Alexi/e/B008M6D60K/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

Website:  https://saraalexi.com/

Blog; https://www.facebook.com/authorsaraalexi

One of the joys of doing these interviews is finding out if my guests and I share similar tastes. In your case, Sara, there are a few – Mycenaean pottery; the book, Eleni – powerful and tragic, and one of my favourite films is also Never on a Sunday. I also still have my Sotiria Bellou records from my time in Athens. Thank you for joining us on A Literary World: Greece, Sara. We wish you continued success.

For previous interviews, please visit my blog at www.kathryngauci.com

The Embroiderer

The Embroiderer1822: During one of the bloodiest massacres of The Greek War of Independence, a child is born to a woman of legendary beauty in the Byzantine monastery of Nea Moni on the Greek island of Chios. The subsequent decades of bitter struggle between Greeks and Turks simmer to a head when the Greek army invades Turkey in 1919. During this time, Dimitra Lamartine arrives in Smyrna and gains fame and fortune as an embroiderer to the elite of Ottoman society. However it is her grand-daughter Sophia, who takes the business to great heights only to see their world come crashing down with the outbreak of The Balkan Wars, 1912-13. In 1922, Sophia begins a new life in Athens but the memory of a dire prophecy once told to her grandmother about a girl with flaming red hair begins to haunt her with devastating consequences.

1972: Eleni Stephenson is called to the bedside of her dying aunt in Athens. In a story that rips her world apart, Eleni discovers the chilling truth behind her family’s dark past plunging her into the shadowy world of political intrigue, secret societies and espionage where families and friends are torn apart and where a belief in superstition simmers just below the surface.

Set against the mosques and minarets of Asia Minor and the ruins of ancient Athens, The Embroiderer is a gripping saga of love and loss, hope and despair, and of the extraordinary courage of women in the face of adversity.