Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Hello Suzi (Not the Old Amen Corner Hit!)

I've now compiled a list of 15 questions, which I'll be using as the basis for an occasional series of interviews with authors who write on a Greek theme to be posted here on RFR. Links to these interviews can be found down the left hand column, under the imaginatively titled section "The Interviews". Suzi Stembridge is the first to be subjected to my 15...

Suzi Stembridge fell for Greece instantly the aircraft doors were open on the tarmac at Athens Airport in 1960 and the smells of the sea and the thyme on Hymettos flooded the aircraft cabin. She is constantly amazed at how Greece and the Greeks have conspired with fate to make her life almost exclusively about this beautiful country, although she admits to a love of her birth county Yorkshire as well. After holidaying in Greece and her islands almost every year it is not surprising that her creative talents were channeled into building up two travel businesses FILOXENIA & GRECO-FILE almost exclusively for tailor-made Greek holidays and, when the business sold, to the creation of eight novels, one historical quartet - GREEK LETTERS - one more contemporary quartet - THE COMING OF AGE. When she was studying with the Open University one of her subjects was Ancient Greek history and culture. She and her husband also found a beautiful piece of land, an olive grove overlooking the sea near Leonidio, in the Peloponnese, on which they built a house. They have two adult children. Suzi says that they feel blessed, particularly to be able explore vast areas of Greece and experience the true hospitality this country offers, hence the name of their travel company!

Suzi's books are all set primarily in Greece and she seems set to add to them for some time to come. I caught up with her recently to find out what makes her tick and why she loves Greece so much. The captions under some of the photos are written by Suzi herself.

1. Where do you live?

We live on the Pennine hills in West Yorkshire between Halifax and Huddersfield.

2. What do you write about?
I write historical and contemporary fiction, most of which has a Greek bias, either being set or partly set in Greece with other scenes in the UK, particularly Yorkshire, Wales and NW England. (One book is partly set in Cyprus – BRIGHT DAFFODIL YELLOW). Many of my characters seem to like to travel, so much of Europe has been covered in the whole series which I have called JIGSAW. Jigsaw comprises two Quartets, THE GREEK LETTERS QUARTET which starts towards the end of the Greek War of Independence in 1827 and finishes in the present decade around 2011, and a second Quartet THE COMING OF AGE with a time span from 1960 to the present decade. The protagonists in these Quartets make up a family saga, with Rosalind, her son and her great-great grandfather being the main characters.

Book covers for the first three volumes of GREEK LETTERS

3. Why Greece?
Well you might well ask! In 1960 as a rooky air hostess I travelled to Greece on my first flight as aircrew, which coincidently was almost my first flight. 

I was bowled over and the first book I wrote but not the first I published, CAST A HOROSCOPE subtitled DOORS TO MANUAL, covers this embryonic love affair. But when I met my husband in 1965 we had to go to Greece (Corfu) for our honeymoon, and the love affair became a passion. In a tiny open top Fiat 500 we travelled the length and breadth of Corfu, (THE SCORPION’S LAST TALE) as far as one could because the north was still under military control, and most roads were truly dirt tracks. By the 1970s we were using any excuse possible to travel to Greece, exploring all the islands we visited with extensive motor excursions, up mountainsides, down river-beds, Rhodes, (my first visit in 1960 showed Lindos with no-one or anything on the beaches!), Karpathos, Symi, Leros, and by the 80s when I was asked to write the brochures for a tour operator and then sell their holidays I did so. I was studying with the Open University at the time but as soon as I graduated I found myself starting my own travel agency GRECO-FILE followed by my own tour operation FILOXENIA. By the time we retired we had visited almost all areas of mainland Greece, especially the Peloponnese, Thessaly and Epirus and the major islands of the Ionian, Aegean and Crete. So with the business sold we found another dirt track starting up a mountain leading to a small plateau with an olive grove and there we built a small house.

4. How long does it take you to write a book?
It takes about 6 months to draft out a book, and then ‘how long is a piece of string’ to get it to the point where I am happy to let it go.

5. What do you enjoy most about writing?
I love planning out a book and particularly the research. It has been a passion to check the facts, making sure that they are accurate. Studying for my Open University degree taught me the importance of primary and secondary sources. If I say it was sunny on a certain date – it was! It is a great pleasure to sit at my desk in Yorkshire with windows over-looking the hills and the garden and have time to write. When we had our Greek holiday house it was magical to sit under the shade of an olive tree with the sea views and write or edit on a laptop. In this way the GREEK LETTERS QUARTET was conceived and set in the Peloponnese, as was our house!

6. What, in your view, is/has been the greatest gift from Greece to the world?
“Somewhere between Calabria and Corfu the blue really begins,”- No it's not just the light that Lawrence Durrell captured in this quote. But the gift that is Greece is also the amazing mountains, beautiful beaches, the history and precious monuments, the fresh food and wine and mostly that word Filoxenia – meaning friends of strangers, the way that strangers are treated as guests.

7. How do you come up with an idea for a book?
Different books have been conceived for different reason, the first three books in the Coming of Age Series were drafted and typed on a typewriter before I started working full time – and yes put in a drawer. They were conceived as novels with plots based on my early adult life, but not autobiographical. The Greek Letters Quartet was a result of touring all over mainland Greece, becoming very interested in history and travel as we designed tailor-made holidays for our clients. In those days it was frustrating not be able to follow my urge to write, I loved writing our wordy, accurate brochures. On retirement uppermost in my to-do-list was to write a book to help visitors to travel to unspoilt and ‘non-touristy’ areas. And we were aware that tourism can ruin a place. Our clients were encouraged to visit quieter places and hotels in areas where the business would be appreciated. As the books developed I realised they captured an age, a time from the industrial revolution but before the digital age.

8. 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 am not very organised except in my single-mindedness to work. My study is messy, full of stuff, which might inspire me, lots of books, guide books, dictionaries, maps, paints and drawing blocks, old Greek photographic calendars, an evil eye talisman, primitive oil paintings on hardboard. My favourite bought on my first visit to Greece in 1960s is of drunken singers with a bouzouki serenading under a Plaka balcony with the Acropolis in the background; its tiny mirror image bought in Olymbos on Karpathos, in the 1980s, is the same subject but perhaps less sober singers! Because these 8 books are actually one long family saga, seven generations from 1827 to the present day I have had to keep my mind very well organised to remember who is related to who, keep the dates tidy, and it has been quite a challenge. I am not sure how many people have read all 8 books, although I can see some of my reviewers have done so. Despite this massive link I have also had to work hard to keep each book as an independent and different read.

9. Which other authors do you read?
I read a lot, from the classics to biographies but I am doing very well with the authors from A Good Greek Read: Kathryn Gauci, Effrosyni Moscoudi, your own books, - which truly I have loved! – Ruth Kozak, Daphne Kapsali, Marjory McGinn, Sara Alexi, Pamela Jane Rogers, Yvonne Payne, Stephanie Wood, but it is wrong to single people out, there are so many and so many more to read. My first reads were of course Mary Renault, Lawrence Durrell, Gerald Durrell, John Fowles, Patrick Leigh Fermor, until more recently William Dalrymple, Jeffrey Eugenides, Ian McEwen etc.

10. What's your preferred kind of music?
I love opera, classical music, the Beatles, Pink Floyd, (of course with Lindos holidays!) ancient stuff like Frank Sinatra and even today’s music.

11. Do you like Greek music and if so, which kind?
Again any Greek music from Vangelis to Theodorakis.

12. Favourite Greek dish?
I love fish, any fish, such a treat in Greece but I am as happy with a plate of moussaka or lamb kleftiko.

13. Favourite place in Greece and the reason(s)?
I love most places in Greece, particularly a humble non-touristy fishing village or tiny mountain village miles from anywhere, but particularly I love the Peloponnese where the mountains come down to the sea. Nafplion is a beautiful town, a great place whatever your mood. I like Epirus and Thessaly so a pattern emerges of places with mountains, sea, Byzantine monasteries and churches, ancient sites, ticking my box. 

The perfect church of the Holy Cross, Doliana, Thessaly. Fired during WW2 so no frescoes remain

What I do not like is the crazy architecture of the 1970s, eyesores like the necessary power station in Megalopolis in Arcadia, the unnecessary concrete monstrosity that is the Acheloos Dam, now hopefully abandoned before doing untold damage to the rivers and deltas of eastern Greece. One of our dirt road meanderings brought us face to face with this horrendous desecration in the heart of Pindus.

in the Pindus Mountains near the Acheloos Dam which threatened not only the forested valleys but to divert water away from Western Greece and the delta, with no doubt untold damage. Fortunately in February 2016 this ‘folly’ was shelved.

14.What links would you like the readers to explore in connection with your work, including, of course, sites where your work may be purchased?

...or any good bookshop to order. ISBN: Greek Letters Quartet: 
Vol 1 978-1-78507-021-1;
Vol 2 978-1-78507-116-8; 
Vol 3 978-1-78507-283-3; 
Vol 4 978-1-78507-792-0; 
Cast A Horoscope 978-1-78507-363-2; 
The Glass Class 978-1-78507-628-2.

Website: with synopses of the novels.

15. And finally, reading device or real book?
Either, depending on my mood and location: a Kindle on the beach, in the garden, a book in bed or by a log fire.

Well I hope that you will enjoy this and subsequent interviews, plus perhaps investigate Suzi's work if you haven't already done so.

More occasional interviews will follow in this series as and when I get the time to cross paths with other authors who write on a Greek theme. Each new one will be listed in "The Interviews" which can be found in the left hand column.


  1. Terrific interview Suzi and John! Always a pleasure to read more about you Suzi and thank you for the mention. Also delighted you mentioned my beloved Corfu and, wow, you were one stunning hostess!

  2. Great interview. I'm particularly drawn to 'Doors to Manual'. I was late to foreign travel so I'll see what I missed. X

  3. I can't wait to finish the rest of Suzi's books! I wrote my memoir, MatchDotBomb, on the island of Hydra, titling one of its chapters "Home" because of Greece's ever-present filoxenia! Thank you for your wonderful fiction, Suzi! - Francine Pappadis Friedman
    Francine Pappadis Friedman