Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Spina-wrong-a Part the Second

The island is visible through the restaurant seating area.

At the small café on the front in Plaka, there was one customer. It was a man, a rather portly man who was probably in his sixties and evidently a regular. I tell a lie, across the other side of the path there were tables under a canopy where two other people were sitting, one puffing away at a cigarette. Neither seemed to be interested in us.

I tell another lie. It’s not a café, it’s a taverna, and one with two names apparently. Its sign reads “Taverna Plaka Giorgos Giovanni’s” - Take your pick. Maybe they get a lot of Italian tourists, I don’t know. Anyway, this man soon gave us a cheery “kalimera” and so we trotted over to him. He was fiddling with a mobile phone. Times have changed. Once upon a time it would have been a komboloi.

After we’d exchanged a few pleasantries, he asked us what we were doing, evidently expecting us to say that we wanted to make the crossing to the island. Of course we didn’t disappoint him and so he asked us how many of us there were. We replied that we were just the two of us, but that down on the jetty there was a French couple and also there were the two German ladies who were mooching about nearby. 

“Ooh, at least six of us,” we replied, hopefully.

“Hold on then,” he said, “I’ll make a call.” And he did. He was soon talking to someone at the other end who apparently runs a boat that makes the crossing to Spinalonga and was telling him “Yes, some tourists here want to visit the island… About six, seven at least… Yes, they’re here now.”

He waited while the bloke at the other end made his excuses, all the while glancing occasionally at us with a look that said, “Don’t get your hopes up”, whilst his eyes rolled upward slightly.

After the person at the other end had talked a while, he added, “Yes, of course they’re willing to pay.”

‘Ooer,’ I thought, ‘…Could be costly this. Personal service and all that.’ My wife gestured to get his attention, so he looked her way and she said: “Our friend. Well, no, our friend has a friend, I think he’s called Tassos. He used to work here. He’s an archeologist or something. He told us… well, no, he told our friend, that there are crossings to the island off season, at least on Saturdays and that’s why we came today. it’s our only chance. We’ve come a long way. The weather’s perfect…” She was right on that score. But the man, who evidently had been trying to get his pal on the end of the phone to hear this too, raised his head slightly in that tell-tale Greek backward nod that says, uh oh. He placed the phone back to his ear.

Another minute or so passed before he hung up, placed the phone back the table beside him and said, “He won’t come.”

“Really? But we were told that there would be boats. There would…”

“If you were here last Saturday, there were boats. But they’ve stopped for the winter now.”

Great eh? 

Ah, well, there was nothing for it but to have a little further stroll around Plaka and then make for Elounda and then Agios Nikolaos. Seeing the island up close and personal would have to wait for another year. But before we could leave a young chap appeared at the door of the taverna and asked us where we were from. He spoke perfect English, explaining to us that he’d been schooled in the UK, although he hailed from Plaka. Not that we’d spoken to him in English at all but, like so many Greeks, he wanted to practise his English on us and he did so. Not that he needed practise. I even detected a regional accent from the UK in his speech!

Whether he was hoping that we’d take a seat and order a coffee I don’t know, but he was nice enough and, after a natter of five minutes or so we made our excuses and headed back to the car.

TTFN, then "island". Maybe next time...

Before we reached the car, the two German ladies that we’d seen approached us and asked, 

“Do you know if there will be boats? To the island?” 

Why they were asking us wasn’t too clear. As I’ve often said, although my wife looks Greek enough, I look more like one of their countrymen than do quite a few of their countrymen. We explained what had just gone on around the corner, which anyway they’d been observing from a distance and they were as disappointed as we were. We’d actually followed them along the coast road from Elounda earlier and surmised that they were off-season travellers hoping for what we’d hoped for. Their little Japanese car had the name of the hire company emblazoned on each of the doors. A dead giveaway. Turns out they were friends and were staying with other friends in Heraklion. They, like us, love the islands when the tourist hordes aren’t in evidence.

After we’d wished them a happy remainder of the stay and they’d slumped off dejectedly, we hopped into Tim’s car and made our way back to Elounda. Of course, it never occurred to us until much later that the two women would have thought that we’d know what was going on since the car we were driving is very obviously not a hire car and looks very much like it’s owned by locals. You know what I mean, liberally sprinkled with scrapes, bumps and cracks in the bumpers. Never thought about that at the time.

Elounda has a pleasant enough harbour area, but we weren’t so impressed by the buildings, which seemed to us to be quite modern. It has the Kefallonia feel about it. We decided though on balance that we could have had a nice holiday there. After a brief stroll along the front, we made off to Ag Nik. where we so wanted to see the bridge and the lake.

Have you been to Agios Nikolaus (various spellings, we know!)? It had been on our “to do” list for years, after all those fabulous photographs one keeps seeing showing the outer “port”, the bridge and the inner lake. TBH, when we got there and found a place to leave the car, then began to explore we missed it first time around. It all seemed to us to be much too small. I had the impression that the harbour and lake were pretty huge, when they’re actually not much larger that a couple of tennis courts. Mind you, once we’d adjusted to it and eventually come to realise that the bridge was in fact the one we’d been seeing in all the photos, we found that we really liked the place. Once again, all the photos of the area seem to be taken from a height. When you actually walk on ground level it comes as a shock to see how steep the streets are that lead away from the waterfront.

Anyway, by now it was well past frappé time and so we plonked ourselves down on a pavement table outside the Asteria Café/cake shop and ordered. Thus the photos that now follow…

Elounda harbour.

Still Elounda. or was this Ag. Nik? help!

Frappé at the Asteria, Agios Nikolaos

Taken from upstairs at the Asteria.


Umm, ditto again.

That's the Asteria, across the way, to the left of the bridge.

Of course, while we were sitting there a woman sauntered past with a little dog on a lead and a couple of newspapers under her arm. The Daily Mirror was one of them.

Hey ho, ex-pats are everywhere, eh?

The lake, which is reputed to be bottomless, hence the dark colour of the water, whilst it's quite blue in the harbour outside.

We'd crossed the bridge twice before realising that it was the one in the photos.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Lazy I know, but...

While I beaver away not only at my new novel, but also at part two of the Spinalonga story, Here's a post mainly of photographs which hopefully will hit the spot for lots of Grecophiles...

This is the rather impressive Farangi Gorge, juts a few miles north of Ierapetra. I know, I thought it was named after an alien race in Star Trek too.

Words can't quite capture the grandeur of the palace at Knossos. All excavated by an English chappie too, Sir Arthur Evans.

See what I mean?

Yea Tim, nice portico, needs a decent patio set though...

Two models on a shoot? Well, I wanted to score a few points.

The rather delightful Agios Nikolaos off season. Loved it, but it was all a bit smaller than photos I'd seen had led me to believe.

Not a bad place to sit for one's morning Elliniko.

The sea front at Myrtos.

Ditto. Incredibly, there was one bar open. A group of what we concluded to be German ex-pats were sitting on the promenade sipping their drinks as the sun went down.

Archetypal Greek caique shot at Sitia. Good calendar photo I thought.

Vai. They came in search of paradise.

The beachfront restaurant at Vai. A bit of an understatement I thought.

Sea front at Ierapetra. Late November. Good eh?

The Old Kastro on the sea front at Ierapetra. Quite a surprize.

Ierapetra sea front again. Two blocks down from our friends' place. That's some of the wife's hair on the left by the way. Just in case you were wondering.
Mandraki, Rhodes, just last week. Ugly maybe, but a virtually brand new chic charter cruiser, called Tortoise. Google it. If you've a couple of million to spare you can hire it for a week or so.

I stuck this on the "Novels" Facebook page recently. Literally snapped it as we were walking past. In the old town of course. Experts will recognise it. I love this shot. Looks rather Français, oui?

Click to enlarge. The aaah factor. Near the beach road at Kiotari a few days ago.

Don't tell me you don't know where THIS is.

...or this.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Horsing About

Many, many years ago I used to frequent Bath Folk Club, when it was held every Sunday evening in the skittle alley out the back of the Ring o Bells pub in Widcombe. One of the artistes who'd play there probably about once a year was called Mike Absalom and he was brilliant. I am amazed to find that he's still going and nowadays paints (rather exquisitely as it happens) and also works as a children's entertainer. I am also glad to see that Bath Folk Club still functions and now meets not a stone's throw away from the Ring o Bells at Widcombe Social Club on Widcombe Hill.

Bear with me here, all right? See, I mention Mr. Absalom (who nowadays looks uncannily like Uncle Albert from "Only Fools and Horses", which is dead appropriate when you consider the theme of this post. Synchronicity or what?) because a rather earthy joke he once told between songs still sticks in my mind to this day, probably some 40 years later and it goes like this (excuse the language, but it works best with the original wording that he employed):

"How do you keep the flies out of yer kitchen?"
"Keep a bucket of shite in the hallway." (dunno why, but I picture horse manure in that bucket, hence the tale. Not the "tail" of course, that would be silly)

Aha! There you have the link to what this post is really about. The stuff that comes out the back end of a horse. Don't worry (as if you were anyway, eh?), part 2 of the Spinalonga story is waiting in the wings and will follow shortly, but something that happened just yesterday has to be related because it just goes to prove what a little gem I have in the woman I'm married to.

The soil in our vegetable patch is exhausted. It's dusty, yellow and in summer dries to such a hard consistency that the only way to get into it is with a pickaxe. A garden fork won't touch it, it's that hard. When I first "dug" it over (mainly with said pickaxe) and planted it up some eight or nine years ago it did manage to produce a couple of seasons of half-decent vegetables, notably some French beans, red onions, beetroot, aubergines, peppers, lettuce and a couple of other things as well. This was probably owing to the fact that prior to the house being built the land had lain fallow for a long time. By the time I'd planted it up for a third time though, full of expectation and eagerness to see my veg grow and grow and some day arrive on our table, it was decidedly awful and the crops deteriorated to the point where I gave up planting anything. Well, I have to admit that the occasional lettuce still manages to grow in it, quite why I've no idea. I have to plant them though because my friend and horiatis Mihalis from Kalathos hands me a plastic bag full of red lettuce seedlings annually and gives me that look that suggests that I may come to some harm if I don't put them in.

Of course, I've considered various ways of enhancing the soil. I've left it a season or two and then dug in the weeds and planted it up in the hope that it would have recovered through being allowed to rest. Nah. No good. Well, no good for the veg, the weeds had a great time re-establishing themselves.

I've talked to various Greeks in the area about the best way to boost the soil and been told that the best manure is goat manure. Have you ever SEEN goat manure? It's comprised of little pellets not much bigger than those left by a rabbit. Either most goats are severely constipated, or rabbits have watery eyes every time they do a no. 2.

And how in tarnation is one going to collect enough to make an appreciable difference to the soil? I am told that at certain times during the winter months, if one sits in the kafeneion up at Asklipio one may be fortunate enough to encounter some bloke with a pick-up who drifts in now and again to advertise the fact that he has sackfuls of the stuff on his flatbed and he's prepared to sell it. I can't imagine how much he must charge, but considering the man-hours involved in filling a sack with the stuff it'll probably require drawing out a lot more cash than the "capital controls" here currently will allow.

Probably be cheaper to buy some Moroccan (know what I mean? nudge, nudge) than the goat manure on the back of that pick-up truck.

When I ask a Greek about using horse manure the response is often "Ooh, no. Burns the soil. Goat is much better. If you use horse then you have to leave it to 'season' for quite a while before you can put it on." 

The things is though, our old friend Dimitri "the horse" (see the books in the RFR series for more about him) has had some of the horses he uses for tourists to ride along the beach on during the season tethered in our valley of late and they have, of course, been depositing generous quantities of their poo within walking distance of the garden. I also know from past experience in the UK that, despite the dire warnings to the contrary that I receive from some local Greeks, horse manure is nevertheless well useful as a means of enriching one's soil for growing stuff.

So, anyway, I bought a new laptop last week (wince) and had to nip down to Lardos on Tuesday to see if my friend and computer whizzo Panos could sort out a problem I had with the e-mail settings on it (another story. Believe me, it is. All sorted now though, but not by Panos, despite the fact that he's PDG generally with such things). So, there I was driving back up our kilometre-long lane when who should I come across pushing the wheelbarrow up the hill in the direction of the house but my better half. In the wheelbarrow was a very respectable load of fresh horse poo with a spade resting atop the whole pile.

The sight I encountered represented a deal of spade work and a substantial degree of physical labour on her part, and there's her suffering from a heavy cold too. Drawing up alongside her and lowering the window I expressed my admiration for her enterprise, whereupon she dropped the handles of the wheelbarrow, came around to my side of the car, removing her gardening gloves all the while and opened the car door. 

"You can do the rest, I'm knackered." She said and bade me exit the vehicle henceforth, forthwith, if not sooner. 

Now, I could have argued that I hadn't foreseen such an activity as part of my plan for the day; there are those that would have I'm sure. But I didn't have the heart. After all, prior to my returning she'd wheeled that barrow over half a kilometre down the lane, thrown  a hundredweight of the smelly stuff into it and begun wheeling it back, which represented an uphill push of the same distance. What can the decent chap do? He has to comply doesn't he? Scores a few points too chaps.

So, weeping (well, symbolically anyway) as I watched the car recede before me as she drove it on up to the house, I grabbed the handles of the wheelbarrow and began the trek. Actually, horse poo isn't all that heavy for its volume, unless you're wheeling it uphill all the time, in which case a certain Sisyphus comes to mind.

Reaching the front gates having worked up a very respectable sweat, I can tell you, I comforted myself with the thought that she'd no doubt have the coffee on to welcome me home.

No such luck. She was washing the car.

What a pleasant, bucolic scene eh?

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Spina-wrong-a, Part the First

Ever since I read Victoria Hislop's "The Island", some time before the Greeks made a TV serial out of it, I ...well, I should say we - have been curious about visiting the place. The Greek TV serial, which went out a few years ago now and is available in (as far as I understand it) abridged form on a DVD with English subtitles, was arguably the best piece of TV drama the Greeks have ever produced. But then, that's just my humble opinion of course.

The island in question, as no doubt you'll know, is Spinalonga and it served as a leper colony from 1903 until 1957, with the last resident finally leaving the island in 1962. Although Victoria Hislop's book is fiction, it is of course based around the true events of the time and is a truly heartrending tale. People living on the island of Crete for many years up until a cure was found for the dreaded disease lived in perpetual fear of catching it, with the inevitable prospect of being banished to the island for the rest of their lives.

As with so many people who've read the book, the desire to visit the island has been with us for some years and so, with the opportunity to visit and stay with friends on Crete, who live only half an hour's drive from Plaka, the village across from which Spinalonga stands, we got a bit excited about the whole adventure. Should have known better, this IS Greece after all.

We'd originally wanted to visit during the season, but were assured by our friends that they know a bloke who used to work on the island and he assured them that we'd be able to visit during November. OK, no sweat then, we went off season.

The day dawned for our expedition and our friends lent us their car for the day. This time we were going it alone after a few trips here and there with them. After several visits to Crete, during which we'd never been into Agios Nikolaus or Elounda, we were "right made up" (as Northerners would say) about the prospect. The weather all week had been kind, with only two periods of rain, both of which had been after dark. The day for our trip to the Island dawned sunny with cloudy patches, so we were very positive. First though, my wife insisted that we had to make a visit to the weekly Laiki (street market) which was within walking distance of our hosts' home. She and our host, Sylvia needed a dose of downmarket-downhome rummage-type retail therapy.

Reluctantly we trotted up the road, with me all the while watching my watch to see how much time we were losing from our planned excursion, to begin the excruciating "stroll" along the endless street where the market was being held. Pretty soon the two women had found a stall selling tops, skirts, leggings and all that other stuff that usually sends members of the female gender into paroxysms of delight and Timothy and I began hanging around, trying our hardest to put on expressions of mindless boredom in the hope of eliciting some sympathy. The vain hope I should say.

Of course, the sound of Greek music was wafting along the street from some bloke's stall selling dodgy CDs and even dodgier ghetto-blasters and thus my better half began showing her appreciation by dancing to it. This had the effect of making him turn up the volume even more to ear-splitting level, whereupon she danced all the more. I pretended not to notice...

Tim shows his apprehension at the prospect of purchases being undertaken. The women, of course, were oblivious.
You know, when women get into the zone in such circumstances, us blokes have no chance. In the end Tim and I stood together to one side for so long that people began approaching us, proffering cash in one hand for the garment they were holding in the other, thinking that we'd been there so long that we must be working there. Had we not been honest as the day is long we could have cleaned up.

Finally, after I'd tapped my watch for the umpteenth time and my wife had satisfied her primal homemaking urges by making a couple of well-chosen purchases, we agreed that it was time to get going and, catching the car keys that Tim tossed me, we bade our farewells and headed back to the car.

We headed for Plaka first, with the plan of coming back through Elounda and then to Ag. Nik. before heading home. It was probably about 1.30pm when we arrived at Plaka, under a clear blue sky and with the sea looking like the proverbial millpond. "Yes," we'd been told, "There will be boats going today, no worries." This from someone who had worked on the island remember.

As you'll know, in this country if someone says "no worries," then it's usually the time to worry. Driving through the village and catching glimpses of the island, only a few hundred yards offshore, we strained to see where the quayside was from which the boats would probably be going. Having parked the car and walked through to the front we found it. There before us was a stone quay, completely devoid of boats and none were visible across the other side at the tiny quay on the island either. Hmm.

Not far, is it.

Not that rough either, eh?

The breakwater above the quay can be seen bottom right. 
You know, when one imagines a deserted village, well one usually pictures what we were now seeing. There was hardly a soul anywhere. Well, there was a French couple ambling along the quayside, evidently doing what we were, looking for a boat. I ought to add that there were in fact several, but none of them was actually in the water. They were propped up on wooden blocks on top of the quay. There were also two women from Germany, also looking to see if they could make the crossing. We know, because later they asked us about what had happened at the small café on the front.

What did happen at a small café on the front? I'll tell you next time. Master of suspense, eh? Alfred Hitchcock eat your heart out.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

City to Sitia

Yea, I know, corny title again. It's just the way I am I'm afraid. Plus, I suppose you could say that Rhodes Town isn't actually a city, but there are more than a few maps and guides dodgily translated into English for me to rest my case on that score.

Anyway, I like it.

Sitia, for the uninitiated, is on Crete, right at the eastern end. It has had an airport for yonks and, up until the last time I went there, which would have been about 5 or 6 years ago, it was not much more than a runway that stretches out on a headland, dizzily high above the sea, with a terminal building that could easily have doubled for someone's house.

I went there with a bunch of blokes for a seminar and so the better half wasn't with me. I remember the flight well and was always hoping to get the opportunity to do it again. If your whole experience of flying is charter flights between countries, then this one's a distinctly different experience. If, on the other hand, you live somewhere remote, or on an island chain (what's that - an archipelago, or archie-peel-a-gogo or something?) then you'll be very familiar with what I'm about to describe. 

Flying from Rhodes to Sitia is a hop, taking in two other smaller islands en route. The airline is Olympic and basically what was formerly the very grand Greek National airline is now the internal flight division of Aegean. For Internal flights within Greece, you're flying Olympic. Most international flights and also some internal ones? You'll be flying Aegean. The Rhodes-Sitia flight is on a 37-seater the Dash 8-100. It looks like this:

I reckon it's not much different in size to your average executive jet, except that the cabin has had all the mod cons removed and 37 aircraft seats installed instead. Anyone over 15 stone would need a very strong bladder, because they'll never fit into the aircraft's passenger toilet. Photographed from this side you don't see the luggage hold door. On the port side (impressive eh? That's the left for you uneducated types) there's a door at the rear of the fuselage, just behind the past passenger window, that opens to reveal the baggage hold, which is a walk-in affair, so your baggage travels just behind the cabin and not beneath it as it does on larger passenger jets.

The majority of passengers on these flights are Greeks going between islands and using the plane very much as a Brit might go by National Express or an American by Greyhound bus. So, you can endlessly amuse yourself looking at your fellow passengers, always assuming that there are some, and guessing whether they're just dropping by to see some relatives, off to Crete/Rhodes (depending on which way we're taking about here) for some shopping, or on their business trip visiting clients and stuff. Most of them are dressed like they're just either popping into town, or down to the allotment, depending on which gender you're looking at. 

Hardly anyone has a suitcase. 90% of them will only be carrying hand baggage. We took off from Rhodes punctually at 07.30am on Monday November 23rd with precisely five passengers on the plane. We'd previously watched from the terminal as the baggage truck had driven sedately out to the plane in order the for the two-man crew of handlers to load one single suitcase - ours - into the baggage bay. Our suitcase had the truck's trailer (which can probably hold a hundred cases) all to itself. Then we all got into that low bus that they always use at airports and were driven a good ten metres to the aircraft.

Once we were aboard, the stewardess dutifully had to go through all the usual safety procedures, including the bit with the lifejacket and the whistle, just for the five of us. Having done this once before, I told my wife that she'd be witnessing this three times before we finally flew into Sitia, just over an hour and half later.

As it happened, after the twenty minute hop to the first stop, Karpathos, the other three passengers got off, temporarily leaving just the two of us and the stewardess on the plane. Of course, some local official with a clipboard and a day-glow jacket came aboard to tick a few things off, one of the pilots nipped out on to the tarmac for a fag, and then they let the boarding passengers on. Well, actually - passenger, it was one scruffy horiatis, well, that's what he looked like. 

Nice view of Karpathos.
After around fifteen minutes, the props started rotating, the door had been closed and the preparations for takeoff again began in earnest. The stewardess walked back along the aisle to the bloke who'd got on, who was sitting almost at the back, and asked him:

"You familiar with the safety procedures and stuff?"

"Yea, of course." He replied.

"Great, thanks," she answered, "We can forget that this time then," whereupon she walked back to the front and sat down to give us the announcement...

"Welcome aboard this Olympic Airways flight No. blah-de-blah. Our flight time to Kassos will be five minutes..." and so she went on.

I reckon that the flight between Karpathos and Kassos must be one of the shortest scheduled flights on the planet. Where's Norris McWhirter when you need him?

Without gaining more than a couple of thousand feet it height, we were once again making our approach, this time to the tiny airdrome on the tiny island of Kassos, where there's one village and a load of goats. It does have a pretty harbour though, at least it looks nice from the air. If there's one thing that truly makes doing this trip a pleasure though it's staring down at the sea surrounding the islands that you pass over. The turquoise and blues, even in late November, look exactly as they do in high summer and you really want to get down there on to that deserted beach, throw your togs off and go swimming. Probably get hypothermia too, but there's always some drawback or other.

The landing on Kassos completed, the same procedure was followed as at Karpathos. Off jumped out sole fellow passenger, to comments from my wife like "How can they afford to run this service? They surely can't make enough out of this number of passengers!"

I didn't want to sound too smug, so I kept to myself the thoughts that, just like a country bus service in the deepest UK countryside, there are times when there isn't a soul on board, but others when you can't get a seat. It's the nature of things, eh?

Anyway, as it happened, once the customary procedures had been followed, boarders from Kassos were allowed on to the plane and we were well impressed to be joined by half a dozen people. There was a bloke in army fatigues, probably going back to his National Service base after a weekend during which his mum did all his washing, there were a couple of young women looking like they needed some retail therapy and a couple more older folk clutching shiny plastic bags containing those boxes of Greek cakes that they always take to a friend's house for a special occasion. Evidently Kassos has at least one kafé-zacheroplastion then.

Once again the stewardess was into her routine, this time going through the security and safety procedure with a look of resigned boredom on her face. After we'd been offered a jelly baby for the third time, eaten our mini-choccy croissants and downed a few drinks of water and fruit juice - all free it has to be said - we were making our approach to Sitia airport, a mere fifteen minutes from Kassos.

As I said above, I remember Sitia airport as a house and an airstrip. No more! As we flew in to land I couldn't believe my eyes, a terminal rivalling the more recent one at Rhodes greeted our eyes. Boy, things have moved on. The stewardess registered my surprise as I was leaving the plane and asked me, "Do you like it?"

"It's amazing," I replied. "Last time I was here..."

"I know," she said, "it was very small."

"How long has this been open?" I asked, 

"Only 2 or 3 [here I was expecting her to say 'years', but she actually said...] ...months."

The eight passengers stepped down the short staircase from the plane and were directed across several hundred meters of tarmac to the arrivals door of the new terminal. I couldn't even see the old one, so I assumed that it had been demolished to make way for this one. I was wrong about that, as our experience while our host Tim drove us back to the airport a week later was to confirm (Yes, that tale will be posted eventually).

There are no photos yet available of the completed building, but I found this one of the building under construction...

As we walked into the baggage reclaim area, it was as though we'd walked into the air terminal version of the Marie Celeste. Before you could say "Greeks - showing efficiency?" our case appeared, along with three others...

That's a passenger!! Evidently wanting to beat the scramble...

There was no one else about. We grabbed the case and made our way to the exit doors, which opened automatically to allow us to begin our Cretan adventure. It was to prove a fabulous one too.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Coming up...

Just back from a week in Crete. So there is a new post (several, in fact) coming up soon, honest!!

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

One Good Turn

I was recently interviewed by writer and blogger Chrissie Parker about my novel "Eve of Deconstruction". If you haven't read the interview, you can find it HERE.

I thought it would be quite fun to turn the tables and ask the same questions of Chrissie herself that she had asked me about her excellent book "Among the Olive Groves". So, what follows is exactly that, an interview with (lots of links) with a very creative lady...

Click Here.

Book description:
Elena Petrakis adores living on the Greek island of Zakynthos.  When World War Two looms her way of life is threatened.  Left with no choice she joins the island's resistance to fight for what she believes in - her family, her home, and her freedom.  

Decades later, thousands of miles away in the Cornish town of Newquay, Kate Fisher prepares to celebrate her twenty-first birthday, but her joy is fleeting when she learns she is adopted.  Abandoning life in England, Kate flees to Zakynthos, where she is forced to acknowledge a life she has struggled to come to terms with, one that will change her future. 

From the beautiful crystal turquoise seas of the Ionian Islands to the rugged shores of the Cornish coast, 'Among the Olive Groves' is a story of love, bravery and sacrifice.

Interview with Chrissie Parker, the author:

Welcome to my blog Chrissie. Can you give the readers a brief overview of your book, Among the Olive Groves?
Among the Olive Groves is a work of historical fiction set on the Greek island of Zakynthos, and in Cornwall and Bristol in England. It spans two periods of time; World War Two and the 1990’s/2000’s. It’s a powerful and emotional story that centre’s on the lives of two main characters Elena Petrakis and Kate Fisher, and the struggles they face in their lives; Elena having to live through the horrors of World War Two, and dealing with becoming a member of the resistance. Kate learning that she is adopted and having to come to terms with the fact that everything she thought was true about her life is actually the opposite.
    The book is very much about family, change and learning to adapt. It’s also about fighting for what you believe in and having the strength to see things through to their very end, whatever happens.

What inspired you to write Among the Olive Groves?
In 2005 I visited my family and friends on Zakynthos, and whilst talking to a local I learned a few things about what happened to islanders during World War Two. It was a really interesting discussion. One of the things I found out stayed with me for a long time, and played on my mind.  I thought that it would make part of a good story.  Eventually I sat down and worked out a plot and the character of Elena Petrakis was born.

What challenges did you face when writing Among the Olive Groves?  
One of the biggest challenges was writing about the island during World War Two. I love history, but I’m more into ancient history than modern history, so researching World War Two was a steep learning curve. The other problem I had was trying to learn about what happened on Zakynthos during the war. Many locals who lived during that time don’t like talking about it, which is understandable.  There isn’t a lot of written information now, as a massive earthquake hit the island in 1953 and a lot of records were destroyed in the fires and general destruction of the time. Luckily a friend living on the island managed to get me some great information from one of the few remaining sources, and this information has been woven into the story to make it as authentic as possible which in itself was a huge challenge!
    The other challenge I faced was making the story of the war as realistic as possible, without being too horrific. A lot of what people endured during World War Two was just too awful to talk about, and even though I wanted to be honest to the story and what actually took place during that time, I had to be careful not to make it too violent or graphic; readers wouldn’t appreciate that.

Why was it important for you to write Among the Olive Groves?  
As well as telling Elena’s story, I wanted to show people what happened to Zakynthian’s during the war, and remind them that there were very brave people during World War Two who fought not only for themselves, and their family, but for the rest of the world, and we should never forget them. 
    I also wanted to highlight the island and its people nowadays. When I originally came up with the idea, Greece and the island was going through a bit of a rough time (something that sadly continues) and I wanted to show the world what a beautiful place Zakynthos is, despite the hardships and negative press. 

Did writing Among the Olive Groves involve a lot of research?
Yes, as well as researching World War Two I had to research what life in Greece was like from 1939 to 1944. It was a very different time then, they didn’t have tourism, and most of the islands like Zakynthos didn’t even have airports. Life was about family, community, and tradition; some of which still exists now. The difference was, that back then, each island was like a little bubble, they were a long way from the rest of the world, and things rarely changed. Then World War Two came along and their lives altered dramatically. 
    The war in Greece wasn’t straightforward. They were ruled by both Italians and Germans and it was important to get all the facts right. I also had to research the role of Greek resistance fighters, which proved to be a real eye opener. Some of their accounts were equally brave and harrowing.  Many resistance fighters were women who fought and died for their cause, and most have been forgotten about, which is quite sad really.

What do you enjoy the most about writing?
I enjoy creating a story, letting the characters run wild and seeing where they take me. My head is always coming up with new ideas.
    I like being able to combine my love of history with my love of writing. Writing is a huge part of me and has been for many years. I always carry a notebook with me wherever I go and my brain is constantly coming up with ideas and plot points. It’s very rare that I am stuck for something to write about! I love what I do and it makes me very happy. 

What you dislike the most about writing?
I don’t think there’s much that I dislike, the thing I find the hardest though is not having enough time to do everything I want or need to do. I have Epilepsy, so I can’t work long days and need regular breaks so that I don’t get over tired. 
    I think this frustrates me more than anything!

Do you read?  If so what type of books do you read? 
Yes, I read every day. I read all sorts of books, everything from Women’s Fiction to murder mystery, the only genres I won’t read are Horror and Erotic Fiction, just because I don’t really enjoy them that much. I think that reading is so important, something that everyone should do, it’s the best entertainment around!

Do you have a favorite author?  If so, who and why?
Yes, my all time favourite author is Agatha Christie. I love how she is so clever with her plots and she writes the most engaging characters; Poirot is just fantastic! I think her books are so well written, and like me she had a huge love of ancient history and archaeology.
    I also love reading books by Iain Fleming, Elizabeth Peters (The Amelia Peabody Series), Belinda Jones and Nora Roberts (her thrillers/suspense books). 

What’s next for Chrissie Parker?  Will you be writing more books and if so can you give us an idea of what they will be about?

What’s next? So much!
1) I’m in the processing of revising a novel called Wind Across the Nile that has already been through one round of editing that will hopefully be released next year. 

2) I’m half way through writing Retribution the third book in the Moon Series, which I also hope will be released next year.

3) I have a book called Under the Scorching Sun finished that needs to go for editing, it was previously published in 2008 under the name of Nabataea, but I wasn’t happy with it so it’s undergoing a re-vamp!

4) At the request of my readers I am also in the process of planning a follow up book to Among the Olive Groves that will be called A Night of Thunder

5) There are also a few other projects in the planning stage! 

Quick fire round...

Sweet or savoury? - Sweet

Beach or countryside? – A hard choice, I love both! 

EBook or paperback? - Paperback

Cream tea or Fish and Chips? – Cream Tea

Classic or modern? - Classic

Sun or Snow? – Snow!

About the Author:

Chrissie lives in Devon, UK, with her husband and is a freelance Production Coordinator working in the TV, documentary and film industry.  

Chrissie also has other works an Author.  Her thriller Integrate (Book One of the Moon Series) was released in October 2013. Her historical fiction Among the Olive Groves was released in July 2014. Her thriller Temperance (Book Two of the Moon Series) was released in October 2015.

Other written work includes factual articles for the Bristolian newspaper and guest articles for the charities Epilepsy Awareness Squad and Epilepsy Literary Heritage Foundation.  Chrissie has also written a book of short stories and poems, one of which was performed at the 100 poems by 100 women event at the Bath International Literary Festival in 2013.

Chrissie is passionate about Ancient History, Archaeology and Travel, and has completed two six-month Archaeology and Egyptology courses with Exeter University.   She is learning to play the Ukulele and likes to read, collect books, listen to music. To find out more about Chrissie visit her website www.chrissieparker.com

You can also catch up with this very busy girl with the following links:

And finally, a few more words from me...
I feel quite exhausted after reading about all the stuff that Chrissie Parker gets up to. If you haven't read "Among the Olive Groves" yet, then I can heartily recommend you do so. 

If I'm being honest, which of course one should always be, I (and it's purely down to taste after all) wasn't particularly fond of her writing style for the first, maybe 25% of the book. But I'm so glad that I stuck with it. In "Olive Groves" Chrissie has produced a work that may not be as epic in volume (word count that is) as "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" but story-wise it certainly competes.

The book in my humble view is screaming out for someone to turn into a movie, only hopefully without being truncated as was the travesty of a movie that Captain Corelli became. Anyone who actually read De Berniere's book must agree that the movie's ending was a huge, monumental disappointment.

Chrissie Parker's book definitely, though, does in my mind for the island of Zakynthos what Captain Corelli did for Kefallonia.

I shall most certainly be reading the sequel, A Night of Thunder as soon as it comes out.

This post has been somewhat of a departure from my usual type of post. I hope, though, that you've enjoyed it and that you'll go and investigate Chrissie's work after reading it.

There'll be a bunch of posts about our current visit to Crete coming up soon.