Saturday, 25 March 2017

Life on a Greek Island ...or Two.

Jennifer Barclay is surely to be envied by many Grecophiles, since she's lived not only on one Greek island, but is now on her second. Like so many of us, she came here once and it got into her blood. Once that happens you're trapped. There's no way out. 

Jen has been running a hugely popular blog about her life first on Tilos, now Karpathos, plus various other far-flung parts of the globe, for a number of years. It's called "An Octopus in My Ouzo" which, incidentally, is also the title of her second book of Greek memoirs. Her first, "Falling in Honey" received a very warm welcome and no less than 94 of the 115 reviews on its Amazon UK page give it four or five stars.

Jennifer Barclay at a book signing in London recently.

So, in view of the foregoing, it's only to be expected that she'd turn up in my occasional list of authors who've been subjected to my fifteen questions. Interview number eight then is with Jen and I'm quite sure that all you Grecophiles out there who are hungry to read anything with a Greek connection will thoroughly enjoy her answers, not to mention her photographs.

Here goes then...

1. Where do you live?
With my partner and dog, a few minutes’ walk from the sea in a valley of olive trees known as Ayios Minas. We’re about 12km from Olympos in the north of Karpathos, one of the Dodecanese in the South Aegean, between Rhodes and Crete. For five years I lived on the island of Tilos, and from my village of Megalo Horio I could sometimes see Karpathos on the horizon, but had no particular interest in going there. Then I decided to visit Olympos for research, and never really left. Except to go back for the dog.

Lisa, the dog Jennifer went back for.

Olympos village, Karpathos.

2. What do you write about?
My first book, Meeting Mr Kim, was about three months I spent travelling around South Korea. Since 2011, when I moved to Greece, I’ve published two books set here: Falling in Honey, about my bumpy journey to life on Tilos, and An Octopus in my Ouzo, covering my first three years living on that tiny, beautiful island all year round, and my observations of how life works on an island with a population of about 500. 

3. Why Greece?
Life here is intense, colourful, beautiful and interesting – asking to be written about. 

4. How long does it take you to write a book?
Years. I don’t write full time as I also work as an editor and agent from my home office, and usually do something else to involve me in the community – now my partner and I work together at our taverna and rooms. And a lot of time goes into promoting my work, ensuring people hear about the books so I can keep on publishing them. So I must block off time to write. Then it usually takes quite a few drafts to shape my thoughts properly (I’ve had to rewrite my answers to this interview several times! [I am a man of infinite patience! - JM]). And I always need an editor to get rid of the lazy writing. However, every book is different, so maybe the new one won’t take as long… 

5. What do you enjoy most about writing?
Two things: the moment when you capture something beautiful in words, or quietly convey a message about something that seems important in life; and when you receive messages from readers saying they loved something you wrote.

6. What, in your view, is/has been the greatest gift from Greece to the world?
Escape. Escape from the mundanity of modern life, to a place where you can wander without modern boundaries, where if you meet people you will be made welcome, and all you need is time.

Escape? Know what Jen means... April on Eristos Beach, Tilos

Also Tilos.
Jen (plus Lisa the dog) with some new neighbours on Karpathos.
7. How do you come up with an idea for a book?
My first two books were based on journeys of different kinds. An Octopus in my Ouzo was different, more of a meditation on the idea of how islands and people have to break our boundaries to evolve. And a reaction to the idea some people have that life on a tiny island must be boring. 

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?
Once I start writing, I get completely immersed in it, and I find research quite fascinating. With An Octopus in my Ouzo, I wanted to quote a line from a poem that popped into my head one day as I was walking to Plaka beach, a poem I learned when I lived in Toronto. I started looking into the poet’s life, and it turned out that although she was Canadian, she’d been married to a Greek and spent some of the happiest days of her short life on a tiny Greek island.  

9. Which other authors do you read?
I read mainly literary fiction and inspiring or funny memoirs (by non-celebrities), and rarely read more than one book by the same author because I have to be quite widely read, working with books. Living somewhere remote gives a nice serendipity to what I read – I may pick up something someone leaves behind, a book I might not have bought, and am pleasantly surprised or at least learn something. At the moment I’m enjoying The Crocodile by Maurizio di Giovanni, because my client Yianni Xiros recommended it.

10. What's your preferred kind of music? 
Anything I can dance to – popular music with rhythm and beat. I’m more physical than cerebral. I’m indifferent to classical music and jazz.

11. Do you like Greek music and if so, which kind?
Yes – rembetika, old folk and pop songs, contemporary pop songs, the traditional music for festivals on the islands… Here in north Karpathos the men still play a weird kind of goatskin bagpipe called a tsambouna. But equally some of the romantic pop: I still melt a bit when I hear the opening notes of ‘An Eisai ena Asteri…’ [Beautiful song by Greek singer Nikos Vertis. - JM]

12. Favourite Greek dish?
Impossible to have a favourite. I love all kinds of food (with a few notable exceptions, e.g. snails), and love writing about food (cooking snails was great material for the book!). I actually provided the text for a book called A Literary Feast, which was a real pleasure to do – picking the great descriptions of meals from some literary classics, and creating recipes for them.  

13. Favourite place in Greece and the reason(s)?
The place I live. I grew up in a village in the Pennines in the north of England, so I feel most at home surrounded by hills and nature; and I love to hear the waves. 

Agios Minas Karpathos. Favourite place question? A no-brainer really!

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?
Best place to start is:
That has a contact form, so please feel free to make contact. 
My books are available online via Amazon and Book Depository
I’m very happy to be friends on Facebook.

Jen Barclay's latest Greek offering

15. And finally, reading device or real book?

Because I work with books, people are always sending me things to read on my computer, but I prefer a paperback for pleasure reading.

There you go folks. Jen's life is so full she gives me a headache. Ah, but then, she's a mite younger than me. Hope you enjoyed her answers and photos as much as I did. There's another in the pipeline, this time with a male author, but judging by the time he's taking to come back to me, I reckon he's re-writing his answers several times too, like Jen did!


  1. Have read both books and really enjoyed reading them. Can't wait for her next one.

  2. having been to Tilos 2 Summers ago I really loved reading your books...hoping to return next September! so happy to hear that Lisa's journey went well....will you take her back to Greece with you?

    1. I fear Jen may not get this message Joanna, since you've posted it on my blog, albeit on my posted interview with Jen. Maybe post something on Jen's blog too?