|Sara at work, with just a few of her published titles on the desk.|
Anyone who likes reading Greek fiction will know the name Sara Alexi. She's probably the leading bestselling author on-line of Greek fiction nowadays. Her "Greek Village" series of books is now acquiring legendary status and, to the delight of her many loyal readers, her prolific output shows little sign of drying up.
OK, so she has published a couple of books more recently which aren't - shock horror - based in Greece, notably her very latest "The Piano Raft" (already a hot seller) and also "Saving Septic Cyril" from last year. I haven't read either of these yet, but with a title like "Saving Septic Cyril" I think the wicked title alone makes that one merit a go.
Sara's Greek Village series has now run to 19 titles, all interwoven around a single village and the characters that live there, or have relatives living there. I can claim to have read quite a few of them, including a couple of short novelettes which were very good indeed. One of my personal favourites is The English Lesson, which had a truly wicked twist toward the end that I though quite brilliant.
Anyway, I'm extremely proud to say that Sara recently agreed to be subjected to my 15 questions and thus, she's number five in my growing list of interviews with Greek-themed authors here on the blog.
So, let's get down to business. Here are Sara Alexi's thoughts on my 15 questions. Her answers are truly expansive and so I believe that not only her existing fans, but anyone else with an interest in Greek fiction will enjoy reading them...
1. Where do you live?
I live in a small rural village outside the town of Nafplion in the Peloponnese, in Greece. It is an agricultural area and I very seldom see tourists in the village.
2. What do you write about?
I am fascinated by people, how they interact, what makes us do what we do, and how our exchanges with other people shape not only our lives but who we become.
Mostly I am impressed by peoples’ resilience and how, in the face of great adversity, they find ways to not only survive but to thrive. So the books I write are first and foremost character driven.
But they say write what you know so I set these characters in a small village in Greece, not dissimilar to the village where I live, and this allows me to draw on what I see around me on a day to day basis. I have been told this makes the books seem very real and, indeed, I receive emails from readers who believe the characters are my friends and the village I write about is one they can visit if they holiday in Greece, which I find very flattering.
3. Why Greece?
It’s difficult to define what makes Greece special. I have visited other warm countries, so it cannot only be the heat, and I have visited other places where the people are friendly, so it cannot only be the people. I have visited places that prize themselves in their culinary expertise, so it cannot only be the food.
All I know is that the first time I set foot on Greek soil I felt I had ‘arrived home’, and other people have said the same. There is something about the combination of all the factors that make up Greece that is unique and speaks to a very deep part of me.
If I understood it I would bottle it and sell it as is it the most wonderful feeling ever.
4. How long does it take you to write a book?
The plotting is the tricky part, that and choosing the very first word. I often procrastinate over both.
But once I have the first line I love the process of the actual writing and I will sit hours a day pondering and moving the story along, or, often, watching my hands and brain as they seem to co-ordinate without me to write stories I did not know I had in me.
If all goes well, once plotted I will do the actually writing in about thirty days. Then, of course, the manuscript needs reading through and giving its first edit. It then goes to a professional editor for round two, then it is proof read and goes out to my wonderful Beta readers. I have only been writing four and half, nearly five years now, so what I do know is that, on average, I have produced a book every ten weeks - which astounds me. It seems I have a lot to say!
5. What do you enjoy most about writing?
I love the creation of a scene, a world, dreaming up the setting and watching the characters inside that setting. But the things I write about are all very personal. Usually it is something I have seen, experienced or heard of that I see as unjust or unresolved and in the process of writing I make these things just and find resolution, so, if I was honest, every book is cathartic and every book is my own therapy.
6. What, in your view, is/has been the greatest gift from Greece to the world?
Feta and spinach pies! Oh... did you want a serious answer? Hm... Let me think... No, it’s definitely the pies. [I'm with you there Sara, 100%, JM]
7. How do you come up with an idea for a book?
Book ideas tend to come to me without my searching. I watch my emotions and if I come across something that I feel passionate about or find a character trait in myself or others that causes me to reflect then I know there is a possibility of a story there. I have to feel passionate about what I am writing about.
Often I start with a character and then I want to explore that character in all its facets until I really understand it. Starting a book is a lot like taking on a client for psychotherapy; you see all the faults and the flaws because those are what are presented, but you search for the beauty, the unflawed inner person, the part you can love and needs to be shown to the world. That is what I aim to do with the books – to show that everyone is lovable if you look deeply enough. Corny perhaps, but I believe it to be true.
8. How do you go about writing, that is to say, are you organised, do your research, disciplined, are are you a messy sort who gets it done one way or another?
I am very organised and disciplined. I always know how the story starts and who my character is, and I always know the end. Sometimes the part in the middle can get a little messy because I am exploring and learning, but it is only messy in my head.
The research is done as I go to keep it fresh in my mind, but despite what might come along, what impasses I come across, what moods my journey puts me in I am very strict about how much I write each day.
I am very aware that it is a luxury to be a writer full time and that is solely due to my readers, and I feel I owe it to them to keep the pace going and to bring out a new book often enough to keep them entertained.
9. Which other authors do you read?
Being dyslexic, reading is not always a joy, or easy, so there are times when I read lots and other times when I only read a little.
I have a number of favourite authors who I read again and again as they inspire me to write better, to observe more accurately, and to be more gracious with my wording.
Old favourites are Anthony Trollope, Charlotte Bronte, and Kazuo Ishiguro. Khaled Hosseini is a recent fave. [wholeheartedly agree on that last one, JM]
If I compare myself to authors such as these I prefer to call myself a storyteller, and not a proper writer!
10. What's your preferred kind of music?
I am very eclectic in my musical taste. I love Greek Music, the traditional rebektika and some modern Greek music, and I also love Opera and classic rock such as Led Zeppelin and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Paul Simon and the Beatles are both in my collection. I’ve been listening to Skrillex too, recently.
11. Do you like Greek music and if so, which kind?
I love it! Especially the old rebetika. Some of the words are hilarious! I love the gravelly sound of Sotiria Bellou and the dreamy lyrics and sound of Eleftheria Arvanitaki.
There is so much good Greek music out there! Have a listen to Haris Alexiou, and Imam Baildi are interesting too – producing a new take on the old classics.
12. Favourite Greek dish?
I love all the Greek vegetable dishes and there are so many of them! Meat was more scarce in the past, and I think this is why there is such a wide choice of vegetarian food.
One of my favourites is beetroot with garlic sauce - just thinking about it is making my mouth water! I also love the horta, which refers to any of a number of greens that are picked in the wild, then boiled and served with olive oil and lemon.
13. Favourite place in Greece and the reason(s)?
I have two favourite places in Greece; one is along the coastal path toward Kamini on the island of Hydra where the view across the sea towards Dokos is the best in all of Greece. There is a taverna there and I could sit many a long hour just to watch the view - the layers of blue on blue as the islands fade into the distance.
My second favourite place is, of course, my home. I bought it as a very run down old farm house and I have rebuilt the roof and found reclaimed old tiles for the floor, and a lovely antique marble sink for the kitchen.
I know every single inch of the place and have either painted or repaired or plastered just about every part of it. It is not finished yet, and may well never be as when a job needs doing the sun has a habit of luring me into the garden or onto the terrace for a frappe!
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?
15. And finally, reading device or real book?
A huge thank you to Sara for sharing her thoughts here on the blog. I do hope you've enjoyed getting inside her mind as much as I have! There's another great interview coming along quite soon, so if you've enjoyed this one, don't stay away too long.
Plus, for all the interviews in the series, check in the left hand column under the heading "The Interviews" for direct links to each one of them.