Monday, 23 September 2019

Moving Over

Yes, folks I've now moved over to the new blog, which is called "Accretions," a name which is explained in the post "Early Morning Musings."

Hopefully you'll come along with me. If not, thanks for sharing our Rhodean adventure. I'm using Wordpress for the new blog, and it's not as easy to use as Blogger, so bear with me while I get up to speed on how to use it to best effect.

Once again, RFR will remain on line, because it carries so much information about Rhodes which I hope will still be of use to many who go there for a holiday.

Right, I'm off to bed folks, I'm tired! Kali nichta.

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

On The Move

It's been a strange couple of months. Entirely unexpectedly, the house we're living in has been put on the market. The reasons don't matter. Our friends the owners have their own crises to face in their lives right now, so it's the way things have to be. After the initial moments of shock and disbelief, we decided to think along the lines of a 'glass half full' and set about making plans for the next phase of our lives.

We've had 14 eventful years here on Rhodes. It's rather disconcerting to look back and see that friends who had toddlers when we first got to know them, now have kids in their late teens, even early twenties, and that seems to really underline how quickly the years have flashed past. I know, I know, everyone says it, because it's true I suppose.

Anyway, looking forward, we're now truly excited about our new life in the south of the island of Crete. We went over there (as you'll know from such posts as 'Up, Up and Away' and 'Falling in Love Again?') in August and, after becoming rather disillusioned at first with the properties we were shown, eventually found something that could not have been more perfect for us. So, for the first time in over 14 years, we shall once again be living in our very own home. 

Right now, though, it's like being a couple of squatters, students even perhaps. We're reduced to sleeping on a mattress on the floor in a bedroom devoid of furniture. Today, as I type this we're waiting for the truck to arrive to take our 'stuff', hopefully in order for us to be reunited with it early next week at the new house. Yesterday a couple of really good friends, and I use the word 'really' advisedly, came over to help us pack the pallets.

Do those two pallets really represent all that we are in this life?

That's Vagelli on the right. Our 'salvation' in human form.

Back in the UK we were no strangers to moving house. In fact, we were musing on the fact this past day or so that we'd never lived in one home in the UK for as many years as we've now lived in this house in Rhodes. In Blighty, I'd hire a 'Luton' van more often as not (what the Americans would more likely visualise as a U-Haul, I'd guess), a few mates would turn up, and we'd run in and out carrying boxes, lampshades and coffee tables and all the paraphernalia that we humans feel the need to gather around us to make us feel comfortable, to feel at home in our nest, as it were.

Here it's nothing like as simple. For us there are two reasons. The first is we're moving islands, so that makes it more complicated. The second is that you just can't go hire a box van here like you can in the UK. We found out when we first moved here that you're not even at liberty in a 'free country' here in Greece to buy a van or a pick-up without having the paperwork to prove that you have a trade that requires such a vehicle. It's true I tell you. To make the move from the UK to Greece, I bought a Mitsubishi L300 van from a roadside used vehicle dealer not far down the A38 from Bristol, we kitted it out and drove all the way. Well, OK, we let the ferries do some of the work. All the gen on that is to be found in my first published work, 'Feta Compli!' - as if you didn't know that already.

Here, even if one could hire a van (which one can't), it would still be a non-starter, because the ferry timetables would mean I'd have to keep the thing for a week before I could bring it back to Rhodes. Oh, there will be some out there who live over here (or who wear anoraks and study the Greek ferry system) who'll point out that one could get back to Rhodes by going from Crete to Piraeus, then from Pireaus back to Rhodes, but that would not only be a helluva grueller, it would also cost the flippin' earth!

So, no, the only choice is to hire a moving company. That was where our good friends Vagelli and Ioanna came in. Unlike a lot of Greeks, they've moved quite a few times and know all the tricks. Thus it was that, after I'd turned up a price of over a thousand Euros to move our stuff from Kiotari to Athens, then from Athens to Crete and on to the new home, Vagelli said he'd do a little research for us. With a few phone calls he brought the cost down by hundreds! Plus the company who are taking the stuff to Crete from here are a Cretan company and they scoffed when we asked if they'd be taking our stuff through Piraeus. No, no, they go straight to Heraklion. A result.

Not only did he sort that out, but they also spent a long day helping us pack stuff and, whilst doing so, revealed the most important secret one has to learn when moving house in Greece. Don't ask the company to pack everything for you, get yourself some sturdy wooden pallets (which grow on trees around these parts!) pick up a roll of heavy-duty pvc membrane (cling-film) from the local DIY store (€8.50, and worth every penny) and stack and seal the pallets yourselves. Thus it was that yesterday they came over once again and Vagelli took charge of stacking the pallets, which he called "playing  '3-D Tetris'."

Were it not for them we'd never be ready. But we are. The house here is almost empty, save for a mattress that the local Dimos will (I hope) take away for us when we leave, and the stuff that's coming with us in the car.

A new era is approaching. We're living like squatters for a few more days yet, but it's a busy week this week responding to the many invitations we've received to have 'parea' with old friends, so it will pass quickly. Just like the last 14 years, in fact.

The new blog is here: "Cries From a Cretan Hillside." I do hope you'll come along with us. I'll try and make the posts fun and informative. So, if you have a little time to waste, you can keep us company on our new adventure. There is only one introductory post over there at the moment, but that will soon change once we've got the internet sorted out in the new house.

"What about Brexit?!" I hear some of you cry. I'm sure I'm not alone in responding, as would thousands of other ex-pats who've made their home here in Greece, "This is our home. We've chosen to adopt this country. We'll still be alive and breathing on November 1st."  Y'know, to me the whole thing's liable to be a damp squib for those such as us anyway. I well remember the soothsayers telling us how the world's computer networks were all going to shut down on January 1st 2000, owing to the fact that the Windows operating system had some essential flaws in it that would cock-things up royally. What happened?

Nothing that's what. What will happen here though, is we shall go on living in this wonderful climate, making new friends and enjoying the life we've chosen, warts and all.

PS. RFR will stay 'live' for the indefinite future, because of all the info it carries for fans of Rhodes.

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

What's in a Name?

I said goodbye today to Despoina, who runs one of the local DIY stores that we've frequented for the past 14 years. She and her hubby Nikos have been good to us during our time here. There was the occasion once when we were without electricity when a trip rod blew on one of the poles down the valley (to the sound of a huge BANG!), only affecting the three houses up here and consequently probably not getting noticed by the electricity company.

Back then I had no idea who to call and my Greek would not have been good enough to carry on a telephone conversation about such an issue. I couldn't use the phone anyway, because it's a cordless and there was no electricity. Plus, my mobile phone was on charge. So I called in on Despoina in her store and she said, "Leave it to me. I'll get the technicians up there."

The whole story of that day is related in chapter 26 of Tzatziki For You to Say, but the long and the short of it was that, a couple of hours later a pickup bearing the ΑΔΜΗΕ logo screeched to a halt outside our front gate and two fellas jumped out screaming "Where's the FIRE?!" They fixed the problem, that's the main thing. And all thanks to Despoina.

Another time the pump which sends water to our holding tank at the top of the hill above the house burnt out and we only became aware of the fact when the water stopped coming out of our taps a couple of days later. Once more Despoina and Nikos stepped into the breach while we tried to source a new pump. Nikos filled a big square tank which he put on the flatbed of his substantially sized pickup and drove it up to the holding tank and syphoned it in, giving us enough water to get us through until the new pump was fitted and working.

The only thing about Despoina is that she will insist on calling my wife Irini, although her name is Maria (but known to our British friends and family as Yvonne. It's complicated. Don't ask). I've lost count of the number of times this has happened. My wife rarely accompanies me when I drop in for a few fittings or something, but, every time I leave, Despoina will politely ask me to give her best wishes to Irini. Not that long ago we did both drop by together. I introduced my wife and politely made light of the fact that she's actually Maria and not Irini. Despoina was all profuse apologies, and we assured her that it wasn't a problem but, since we were both there together, we thought we may as well set her straight.

So, I decided to let it go when yesterday, after we'd exchanged all the usual "Good health, long life, all the best" and the rest, Despoina added, as a parting shot, "And do give my best to Irini, won't you."

And so to the reason why I was saying farewell to our local DIY proprietor. If you haven't gathered already, we're upping sticks and moving house after 14 years on this most peaceful, green and secluded Rhodean hillside. The house we've been living in is on the market and we decided that it was time to put the capital we'd put aside when we sold our house in the UK to use. We're going to Crete, to a quiet, peaceful, secluded hillside there, with a view of the sea. Sound familiar?

The only problem is, I still have to find a name for my new Cretan blog. I shall, of course, keep RFR live on line for the foreseeable future, because there are people who consult it for all the info it carries about Rhodes and things to do here. But I'll leave a link to the new blog in the last post here, and I hope that if you've enjoyed all my drivel this past decade or so, you may want to carry on reading about what will befall us in our new home.

TTFN, talk soon!

Sunday, 8 September 2019

The Fury

I'm furious.

The other evening we went down for a swim on our regular beach. Aa we swam along, our attention was drawn to a couple, both of whom were rather on the large side (no offense!), who were paddling around just a few feet into the water. They had a pair of those plastic li-los laying on the beach with the rest of their 'stuff.' It was quite a windy evening, with the wind coming off of the land.

I must admit to being one of those who sees red whenever I see inflatable plastic li-los and the like, especially as the flippin' things weigh next to nothing and can so easily be picked up by the wind when left unattended.

No one could have failed to notice that plastic pollution, especially in the oceans, is a very hot potato right now. Who hasn't seen news reports of whales being found dead, having choked on plastic bags, turtles being strangled by those collars that six packs of beer often come in, fishing line cutting into a dolphin's flesh? The list is endless. There's even a floating plastic mass, reputedly as big as Wales, floating around in the Pacific Ocean.

So am I alone in wondering why these disgusting rubbishy li-los are still allowed? Maybe I'm simply an old grouch, but I sincerely believe that they should be banned, made illegal, at least from beaches. I can illustrate my point with what happened next.

As we swam past this couple, one of their li-los was picked up by the wind from the beach behind them, it then flew past them and out on to the surface of the sea. Within seconds it was a hundred metres out and moving swiftly away from the shore. What did these two caring and environmentally aware people do? The watched it and laughed. The two of them laughed, as 'hubby' pointed with one index finger while shading his eye with the other hand. Hilarious, eh? Another choking whale before long I shouldn't wonder.

As we watched in horror (and I should point out that if I'd been twenty years younger I may have had a go at this myself), but as we watched the offending couple chortling as they single-handedly added a few metres of plastic waste to the ocean, a socially responsible man who'd been splashing about in the shallows nearby, set off at as quick a pace as he could master, swimming the crawl, to try and catch the offending item. I well remember some years ago when I'd done something similar when someone's ridiculously lightweight beach ball had gone bounding off across the surface of the water on Skiathos. I'd swum for all my might, but had to give up when I could see that the ball was travelling much quicker than I. As I turned dejectedly around to head back to shore, I was shocked at how far out I'd gone. I made it back, but not without becoming very exhausted.

Now, this chap who'd gone after the li-lo did appear to be gaining on it for a while, that is until a gust of wind lifted the li-lo from the water and started it cartwheeling out to sea much faster still. In the end, like me some years ago, he had to give it up as a bad job, but we could see from a distance that he'd truly spent himself, as his strokes had slowed and eventually ceased as he began to tread water to get his strength back for the return swim to shore. I'm not exaggerating when I say that we both became concerned that he'd not be able to make it back from sheer exhaustion. The man could have drowned, all because of a couple of irresponsible idiots who couldn't bear to go to the beach without carting this plastic disaster along with them.

As the li-lo continued to cartwheel on out to sea, a speed boat came along towing a few screaming holidaymakers in one of those rubber ring-type things.

"Ah ha!" we both said, "Maybe he'll stop for a second and retrieve it." Huh. As they say in Yorkshire, "Did 'e 'eck as like?" The driver of the speed boat just kept roaring past, when he could very easily have positioned himself downwind of the offending object and intercepted it.

Never mind, now a jet-ski came charging along the surface of the sea, travelling in the direction of the li-lo. Maybe this bloke would try and retrieve the thing. He did appear for a second or two to consider it, as his speed lessened and that huge jet of water that often spouts out from behind a jet-ski lessened to a limp gurgle. But no, he too was apparently not concerned enough to make the effort.

I have to admit to being so dismayed by such sights that I can't tear my eyes off of them until the errant object is lost to view. All the while feeling desperately upset at yet more plastic crap being allowed to pollute the already suffering seas. I only have to walk past a tourist shop in a resort, and I become thoroughly depressed at the huge amounts of plastic on display for holidaymakers to buy. Sometimes you can hardly see the front of the store for li-los of all shapes and sizes (the latest craze is those big pink swans), not to mention inflatable beach balls, cheap umbrellas and all the rest.

The couple who had owned the flyaway li-lo simply carried on splashing around once their lost li-lo was too far out to be seen by the naked eye. I almost considered making a citizen's arrest. 

Seriously, though, am I the only person (well, I should say "are we the only two" since my wife agrees 100% on this) who thinks that it's about time legislation was introduced to prevent thick people from parading down to the world's beaches with objects that are far too likely to add to the world's pollution problem than they are to be carried back home again after a session on the shoreline?

What truly depresses me is the thought that, for every li-lo or beach ball that I personally see flying off to add to the oceans' woes, how many times is the scenario being repeated the world over? Would it really detract so much from people's enjoyment of a day on the beach to not be able to bring such pollutive 'accidents waiting to happen' with them?

As I said, I'm furious. Simply can't help it.

Monday, 26 August 2019

Up, up and away

Heading for the hills has a meaning all of its own in Crete. While staying with our friends in Ierapetra, we were invited as a foursome to go up to the village where the parents of our friends' friends have their ancestral home, their καταγωγή, roots or origin. Only one of the parents in question now remains, and she is so old that she cannot any more make the ascent back to her home village, but must live with family way down in the town, about an hour away by road. So the house is kept for weekend retreats, where the family can relax up in the cooler mountain air during the oppressive summer months as and when they can get away.

We've been up some twisty-turny mountain roads in our time, and we've been to villages perched at some pretty high altitudes, but I'd hazard the guess that this one is up there with the highest we've been to. One such 'climb' was the road to the village of Manolates on Samos. In chapter 11 of "Moussaka to My Ears" I talked about this village and the night we danced with a group of Turkish tourists in the tiny taverna that's perched outside of the village at its highest point above sea level.

About half an hour along the coast road, heading east from Ierapetra town, one takes a small left turn and immediately the narrow road begins to climb. Then it climbs some more. And more. And then some. Along with the ascent, you also have to negotiate the regulation hairpins, plus sections of road where, were you to run your tyres over the edge, you'd very soon become a passenger as your vehicle plummeted several hundred feet through steeply-sloped wooded hillsides. Meeting something coming the other way is always 'fun.' And it happened a couple of times. I was so glad our host had smeared vaseline all along the side of his car (I'm lying about that bit).

The views as we ascended were beautiful. It was late in the day and sunset was not far off...

This is looking back the way we'd come, during a brief stretch of road that had almost levelled out, merely to lull us into a false sense of security. Somewhere down that gorge at the beach would be Makrygialos.

Our destination sits in that 'saddle' way beyond the two rock faces. By the way, the armco wasn't there for every occasion when there was a fairly alarming drop to one side of the road.
It took us probably 40 minutes, from leaving the main road far below, to enter the village, a small strung-out selection of old houses clinging to an impressively high mountainside.

As we drove into the village, the sun having now gone down, dusk was settling as children played in the road and ya yas sat on steps, fanning themselves with little bunches of herbs. Everyone greeted us, at the very least with a wave or a nod, but quite often with a word that meant our friend who was driving had to stop the car to show respect and decorum. It was that all-too-short half an hour between the sun going behind the mountain to one's west and that time when darkness descends completely.

The outside temperature was reading 28ºC in the car, whereas it had been reading 34 when we'd turned into the lane way, way below. Small wonder that, even though the number of residents left in the village is now very low, and the percentage of houses that have permanent residents is only about 30 or so, the place is vibrant on a weekend evening when all the scattered offspring of the village's original inhabitants make their way up here to experience relief from the summer temperatures that prevail more than half an hour below.

We pulled up at the bottom of some stone steps, which led up through fulsome jasmine, basil and lemon geraniums to a terrace, from where the smoke of a charcoal barbecue could not only be seen emanating, but the delicious smell of fishes being cooked over the coals drifted to tantalise my nostrils. Following our hosts up to the terrace, we were warmly greeted by the residents, a couple of similar age to our friends, together with their eight-year-old son, who was vigorously pushing a toy car with big fat wheels along a stretch of wall that was just the right height for the purpose.

All the cheek-kissing and warm hugging dispensed with, the food very soon began to appear as the women placed huge bowls on the tables that had been laid end-to end to accommodate six adults and a little one. It was simple fare, but perfect. A ginormous potato salad took centre stage, together with plates of home-made hummus. There were freshly cut chunks of lemon, village bread and also a green salad with red onions. A bottle of wine, some cans of beer and the ubiquitous bottle of water were shoehorned into position among the plates of meze that also peppered the table top. Sliced (lengthwise) Cretan cucumber were also presented, to be eaten by hand. If you've never seen a Cretan cucumber, it rather resembles a cross between a courgette and a traditional cucumber, and it's delicious.

When Akis, our host for the evening, had finished cooking the fish over the charcoal, he climbed the few steps from the lower terrace where he'd been tending the barbecue and passed around a huge plate laden with Tsipoura (Sea bream), all complete with their heads and tails and smelling divine. Each fish was about 20 - 25 cm in length. We were bade take a whole one each and we all set about the serious business of demolishing the spread that lay before us. At the far end of the terrace where we were sitting, was a grape vine trained over a tubular frame, the grapes on which looked almost ready. I felt green with envy at just how laden that vine was...

Eventually, as the darkness beyond the lamps which burned on the terrace and in the street below became complete, the table beginning to look like a war zone, we all pushed our chairs back, stretched our legs further beneath the table and tucked into huge chunks of water melon, while putting the world to rights. Shame that political negotiations can't be carried out in such circumstances, the world's problems would be sorted out in no time. Bouzouki music drifted over the rooftops as we talked.

As midnight approached it was time for us to bid goodnight to our hosts, who wouldn't hear of us washing up. They only allowed us to clear the table and take the empty plates and glasses into the kitchen because we all threatened to fall out with them in a big way if they didn't. By the time we'd turned the car around and begun to head back down through the village and onwards down the massive gorge and valley which the road negotiates on its way back to civilisation, it was past midnight and the street was still full of children playing games and knots of people sitting on small terraces or talking on doorsteps. Our friends had to stop the car every few metres to greet yet another friend or acquaintance, and at one point we all got out while the car was shoehorned into an impossibly small side driveway and we paraded into the house of another friend's aged mother, right to her bedside, in fact, where the dear old lady was sitting watching some fifty-year-old Greek movie on an ancient TV which sat on a doily on the top of a cupboard at the foot of the bed. It simply isn't done to pass the house of an acquaintance or friend without going inside to pay one's respects. If she was irritated at being made to miss part of the movie, she didn't show it. Mind you, I'd be surprised if she hadn't already seen that movie a dozen times before.

By the time we got back to our friends' apartment in Ierapetra town it must have been about 2.00am. Even then, Soula, our hostess, insisted on making us a cup of herbal sleep tea each with a generous spoonful of Cretan honey in it to help ensure us a good night's rest.

We awoke at around 10.00am to a silent apartment, our two hardworking hosts having got up at the crack of dawn to go off to their job of work. They run their own cleaning business as a husband and wife team. Respect, eh?

All in all another superlative memory to add to our sack of reminiscences, one of the best, in fact.

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Falling in Love Again?

I've had a relationship with the country of Greece since I first went out with the girl that eventually became my wife. Anyone who's read my lighthearted "Ramblings From Rhodes" series of books will know a little about how I first met my wife and discovered that her mother was Greek, resulting in my first ever visit in the summer of 1977. In "Feta Compli!" I mentioned how I first fell in love with Greece when the airplane doors opened on the tarmac at Athens Glyfada airport back then, and this visit that we're currently enjoying with close friends in the south of the island of Crete is kind of taking me back to the excitement that I very first felt back in those very early days.

For a very young not-very-well-travelled English lad to suddenly experience the joys of eating out with one's feet just inches from the crystal waters of a sea that never goes away and comes back again, as it does in the British Isles, owing to our tides there, chucking pieces of bread to the fishes and almost going into a rapture over the aroma of charcoal sizzling fresh fish just a few feet away, while also tasting for the very first time such delights as Tzatziki, Skordalia, Revithokeftedes, Retsina, Metaxa, Ouzo, Feta, kalamari and bougatsa (not all at the same time, granted!), it was almost a given that I'd very soon fall in love with the country that was my wife's heritage.

This visit to Ierapetra has rekindled my excitement, making me fall in love with Greece all over again. Two nights ago, as we strolled the delightful 'promenade' that graces the seafront at Ierapetra, before sitting in a waterside bar full of Greeks and very few tourists and enjoying 'parea' with truly close friends over a couple of beers, accompanied by some savoury nibbles, I again experienced the goose bumps that my very first visit had given me. As we all talked (and you know when you're with really good friends when the conversation simply never lapses and you all laugh a lot) and dipped savoury crackers into a delicious guacamole (OK, not very Greek, but nowhere's completely perfect - and anyway, I love guacamole!) before crunching them enthusiastically between our teeth, I found myself gazing around and thinking, "You just can't do this in the UK. For starters it's maybe once in a whole summer when the temperature will be 28ºC at 11.00pm, and for another thing, the sea doesn't stay where it is for long enough. Plus, the simple joie de vie that the local Greeks display isn't to be found among the sulky, moody Brits."

OK, so I'll probably have upset some UK readers with that last remark but, be honest, national characteristics do exist and when you're out and about in Britain, maybe it's the climate, I don't know, but people just aren't as relaxed, as civil, as content with the simple pleasures, as they seem to be in the south of Europe. They're just not as happy. Everywhere here friends and neighbours 'volta' during the late evening, stopping frequently to bear-hug a neighbour, back-slap and double cheek-kiss a relative or work colleague, all the while talking excitedly and enthusiastically with no hint of aggression or swagger. The other night was made particularly special by the still almost full moon creeping above the far headland in a blaze of crimson, throwing shimmering red fluid flashes all across the surface of a flat sea while we all turned to gaze in humble appreciation for the show that Creation puts on.

Yup, got to admit it, I'm smitten. Here are a few more shots from the past few days. See whether you don't get infected by what I'm 'suffering' from...

This was taken in a village up in the hills on Sunday morning. I couldn't now tell you the name of the village, but this old ya ya struggling up the steep 'street' - although living her pretty hard life - nevertheless presented me with a scene that's been played out in this part of the world for millenia, no doubt.

Sorry Frappé, but I've deserted you in favour of the much more healthy, not to say tasty, Freddo espresso these days.

This and the last few below are actually taken at Makry Yialos, a tiny resort about half an hour to the east of Ierapetra. We holidayed here twice back around 2002-2004 and wanted to just come back and see how much it had changed. Happily, not much, certainly development has not taken place at anything like the pace that it has on Rhodes over the past decade and a half.

Amazingly they actually do have railings here, but they're still quite rare on water-side walkways it seems to me. As far as I'm concerned, it's a good thing in general. As far as we hear, someone falling off the 'quay' is a very rare occurrence indeed.

Next post will be about a visit to the tiny village of Oreino, way, way up in the mountains above Makry Gialos, where we spent an Elysian evening with some friends of our friends the other day.

Monday, 19 August 2019

Girl From Kritsa

For members of the Facebook group "A Good Greek Read" that I'm quite proud to have started a few years ago, I'd hazard a well-educated guess that the name Yvonne Payne is not going to be new. Yvonne is, of course, one of the four 'Admins" currently ensuring the smooth running of the page. Yvonne wrote her first novel, the epic and true tale of Kritsotopoula, a young girl whose heroics resulted in her going down in history as a heroine of the island of Crete, back in 2018, and its reception among readers has been very warm indeed, with 96% of its reviewers giving it four or five stars on its Amazon UK page.

Yvonne has since gone on to write a second novel, Rodanthe's Gift, plus a very good guide to Kritsa, her adopted home village on the island of Crete, which includes much more than simply information on what to find where. As its Amazon page says, "Explore Kritsa" is a book in which, "in an informal and lively style, Yvonne shares her month by month insights into Kritsa life and the local customs, food, history and culture. Yvonne also shares 15 of her favourite walks around the area, ranging from a gentle stroll to steep, uphill hikes.Whether your stay is a brief visit to the village, a holiday in the area, or you plan on making a home in Kritsa." ...this book will delight.

Thus, Yvonne well is qualified to be the next 'victim' in my occasional series of interviews with fellow writers on a Greek Theme. And so, I'm proud to produce what follows, an interview with fellow author and Grecophile, Yvonne Payne:

Where do you live?
Along with my husband, I spend my life between two small homes. One is an apartment in Swindon, Wiltshire in the UK, where we have easy access to family and walks in rolling green countryside.  The other, our favourite, is a house in the traditional hillside village of Kritsa on the island of Crete. 

Kritsa scene

Here we appreciate being part of the community and our walks are in rugged mountains and countryside, often with views of the sea. People say we’re lucky, but it took a lot of planning and compromise to achieve our preferred balance. Where we are lucky is to have the health to enjoy our chosen way of splitting the year. 

What do you write about?

I write historical fiction based around my village of Kritsa. Bear with me and I’ll explain how this came about… Kritsa has a famous heroine called Rodanthe. Back in the time of Ottoman oppression a local Turk ruler had her abducted from her home in cruel circumstances. Somehow Rodanthe killed the man and escaped to the mountains wearing his clothes where she joined a group of rebels led by Captain Kazanis. She maintained her disguise as a young man and fought alongside her fellow rebels in a huge 1823 battle just outside of Kritsa. Severe battle wounds led to the discovery of Rodanthe’s true identity. 

Rodanthe’s family home in Kritsa is close to my house and as local villagers still hold an annual memorial for their ‘Kritsotopoula’, meaning Girl of Kritsa, I soon learnt her story. As with many folktales, local people share the legend of Kritsotopoula via an epic poem. I set about researching the life and times of Rodanthe to write a leaflet for village tourists. Then two questions kept turning over in my mind: 1.  How did she maintain her disguise? 2. What equipped the daughter of a local priest to fight so bravely? When my research failed to find answers, my leaflet turned into a novel, "Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa." 

This period in Cretan/Greek history was very turbulent and when I found out that Captain Kazanis, a key figure in my first book, had fought in the siege of Missolonghi on mainland Greece the result was my second novel, "Rodanthe’s Gift."

Now I’m hooked! My future novels will continue to have a basis of historical fact with the key action centred in Kritsa – I’ve discovered a wealth of information that will keep me busy for years. 

Oh, and I should mention that I’ve recently published a non-fiction book, "Explore Kritsa," featuring 15 local walks.

How long does it take you to write a book?
"Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa" evolved over several years as it grew into a novel needing several rewrites as I learnt more. By the time I wrote "Rodanthe’s Gift" I had a much clearer idea of what I wanted to achieve so it only took two years. I completed "Explore Kritsa" in less than a year using accumulated knowledge and walking routes that we’ve been enjoying for over eighteen years. 

What do you enjoy most about writing?
As I write historical novels, the research is both essential and enjoyable. I strive to gain a good grasp of facts before weaving them into a story. This takes conversations, visiting sites, reading books and internet searches. I try to corroborate facts from at least two sources–then the inconsistencies and unanswered questions leave room for my imagination to take over. This phase can be fun for my husband too as it involves visits to new places, museums, walks to check feasible routes and, for "Rodanthe’s Gift," a holiday in Missolonghi, Greece. 

I also relish the second rewrite as this phase brings characters to life and I also add in details like smells and taste. 

How do you go about writing, that is to say, are you organised, do your research, disciplined, are you a messy sort who gets it done one way or another?
I guess you’d say messy as I flit about collecting a wide range of information as I never know what will be useful. 

Look at this photo of a painting that I took during a visit to the museum in Missolonghi as an example. 

Wikipedia informed me of a battle on a nearby island but this painting gave me a whole chapter for "Rodanthe’s Gift" and that couldn’t have happened without going to Missolonghi. My description of clothes worn by Lord Byron and a general are all taken from paintings in the museum. If I make it as real as possible for me then I think it adds to the reader’s experience too.

Where I am organised is in my use of a tool called Scrivener as it means I don’t have several notebooks on the go making it difficult to find information when required. It is as easy to use as Word but a quick click and drag alters the order or even which manuscript a piece is in. Once the draft is complete, it takes seconds to produce a Word document for editing. This allows me to have complete flexibility over how I store the information i.e. a screenshot of a webpage, photos, or a written scene between evolving characters that may or may not prove to be useful.  At present I’ve got three story outlines on my Scrivener. No matter how much research I do before I start I always need to look up specific pieces of information while writing. For example, when writing "Rodanthe’s Gift" I had to look up limb amputation techniques in the 1820s – very gory!

By the time I’m ready to get on with the writing I know the characters and plot so well that I can write at any opportunity, I don’t work office hours or need to sit at a desk. However, that’s not as mechanical as it sounds, as characters, who are of course real to me, can take me in unexpected directions. I remember my husband being bemused to find me in tears when a much-loved character in Kritsotopoula died unexpectedly in horrible circumstances.

Which other authors do you read?
I have always chosen action and adventure stories where the setting is a key part of the inspiration behind them – Wilbur Smith and Ken Follett are two that spring to mind. I’ve read several of the books by Nikos Kazantzakis and my favourites are Christ Recrucified (the setting for much of the 1957 film was in Kritsa) and Captain Michalis (known as Freedom or Death in the UK). A book that seems to have less notice than it deserves is Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernières set in a small community in south-west Anatolia at the end of the Ottoman Empire. The Carpet Weaver of Uşak by Kathryn Gauci is another great read in the same era.

I read many of the books featured in your Facebook group, A Good Greek Read. I knew I’d like your recent wartime book, Panayiota as you based it on fact and took me to an era I knew less about. 

Apart from research, what do you enjoy most about the internet? 
I love how it makes the world a smaller place. As a child I had pen friends in Australia, France and Canada. A grown-up version of this is blogging and social media sites like Facebook. It is possible to develop friendships and gain insights to life all around the world from the comfort of your armchair. Some people spend time reading magazines and flick through until they find an article that interests them and I do the same with blogs about travel, cooking, writing, and lifestyles. I’ve been fortunate to meet up with several bloggers and, as we’ve already something in common, it makes the basis of a good friendship.

Favourite Greek dish?

Traditional cooking methods turn a few humble vegetables into a feast. This is great for me as I chose not to eat meat and I’ve yet to find vegetable dish I dislike. If pushed to choose a favourite, I’d say vegetarian moussaka made with green lentils and aubergines. As well as eating out, I enjoy shopping for seasonal produce in the weekly Agios Nikolaos farmer’s market to recreate tasty dishes myself.

The memorial to Rodanthe, which stands in the village of Kritsa today.

So, there you have it, Yvonne Payne's answers to my questions, giving quite an insight to the background behind the two interconnected novels that she's written so far, and a definite hint that there will be more where they came from. If you want to explore Yvonne's writings further, here are a few live links:

Website -
Amazon -
Facebook -

For the next post I shall be returning to a photo-heavy travelogue about our continuing stay in Ierapetra, in Southern Crete, not much more than a stone's throw, in fact, from Kritsa.