Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Daring Dogs and Other Diversions

Ruth Zavitsanos is of partial Greek extraction. Her maternal grandfather was from Corfu and emigrated to the USA in 1919. She has a degree in journalism and has written a clutch of very successful and popular childrens' books, among others.

As of yet, only one of her books is particularly centred on things Greek, this one...

The Old Fortress Dog is actually called Leonidas and he takes his responsibilities very seriously. Set in Corfu it's a delightful and in parts moving tale for everyone's children, even some of us slightly older kids too, and has been well received by Grecophiles of all ages.

Although she has only the one title to her name that specifically relates to Greece, she has something new in the pipeline which will appeal to Grecophiles and thus, in addition to the fact that she's part-Greek anyway, I thought RFR readers would like to know a little more about her as well as discover her work.

Thus, dedicated as ever to bringing RFR fans something of interest, I subjected Ruth to my fifteen questions. Her answers are below.

1. Where do you live?
I live outside of Philadelphia or, as I describe it, halfway between the city of Philadelphia and Amish country.

Rocky and Pebbles. Inspiration for Ruth's writings?

2. What do you write about?
My writings vary. I have children's chapter books told through dog's point of view set in exotic locations and the latest, a historical fiction, is set during the Winter Encampment in 1778 at Valley Forge. Though they are classified as children's (illustrations and easy read) adults enjoy my books, too. I recommend them for travel enthusiasts and dog lovers, as well as the educational community. Currently I'm working on my second Novella, A LIFE UNFOLDS IN THE CITY. This historical fiction takes place in 1906, New York City and is part of a Novella series of stories that all take place in NYC during different eras. I'm also working on my Memoir/travel essay which leads to your next question.

3. Why Greece?
Why Greece? My paternal Papou (grandfather) came to America in 1919 from Corfu, Greece. I've always been interested in my heritage and am fortunate enough to have visited Corfu more than a dozen times over 30 years. I consider my memoir (which will be completed after this next trip to Corfu in late June) to be My Big Fat Greek Wedding with a slice of Moonstruck meets Eat, Pray, Love. [See, I told you something was in the pipeline!  - Ed.]

4. How long does it take you to write a book?
It depends on the length of the book. My children's books take about three months to write and then I go back and forth with some revisions and edits, along with working in the illustrations. My novellas take about six months to write since they are close to 100 pages. I have a full length historical fiction, SISTERS INN, that took me a year to write. And, I've been working on COME TO CORFU for five years on and off. [Yet more for Grecophiles on the way! = Ed]

5. What do you enjoy most about writing?
Writing is truly my passion. I love when the scene unfolds and my dialogue flows, bringing my characters to life on the page for readers. Of course, the most satisfying part of writing is knowing my stories are read and enjoyed. I'm very grateful for the positive feedback. People have so many distractions these days that the fact someone took the time to read my words and then tell me they enjoyed the story, is very gratifying.

6. What, in your view, is/has been the greatest gift from Greece to the world?
The greatest gift from Greece to the world? Ha, my Papou would say there are too many to mention. Language, Democracy, Astronomy, Theatre, Sports (Olympics), Yogurt (ha, that last one is somewhat of a joke!) and the list goes on and on. Some of the greatest Greek Philosophers are still being studied today. All that Greece has "gifted" remains in modern times.

7. How do you come up with an idea for a book?
I usually come up with a setting and then go from there. For instance, THE OLD FORTRESS DOG, takes place at an actual ancient ruin in Corfu. Since I love to travel, finding settings to build on is a joy.

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?
My writing flows. I don't plot. I write names down and do research to add to the story.

9. Which other authors do you read?
Like my writing, I tend to read a variety of authors. For suspense, I enjoy Lisa Scottoline. Women's fiction, Robyn Carr, Dorothea Benton Frank, Lauren Wittig (historical fiction) and Arianna Huffington, Thrive (self-help).  I also read a variety of Memoirs/Travel Essays, too.

10. What's your preferred kind of music? 
I prefer music from when I grew up and danced in Discos. That said, the 60s, 70s and some 80s, too. I also enjoy some of the latest from Pink, Katy Perry, and a few of the popular country artists. However, while cooking I put on Dean Martin and classic Italian music CDs. My grandfather played the Mandolin and Bouzouki so I have a soft spot for Greek music at times, too.

11. Do you like Greek music and if so, which kind?
The Classic Greek dance music. ZORBA gets me going.

12. Favourite Greek dish?
 I love Spanikopita and make a very good one! [I'll be round later Ruth - Ed!)

13. Favourite place in Greece and the reason(s)?
 I've toured the mainland and Athens, along with visiting Santorini. There are other islands I'd like to visit. However, my heart will always find its joy in one place, CORFU.

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?
I hope your followers will follow me on my Facebook page Villa Dog and visit my website: to learn more about more books. 
They can also follow me on twitter @ruthzavitsanos. 
I'm a HuffPost blogger and all of my books are available on Amazon. Here's my author link:

15. And finally, reading device or real book?
In that I like to consider myself adaptable and versatile, I use both a real book and my Kindle/Nook. I lost my Kindle, bought a Nook and then found my Kindle. So, I'm showing no favoritism in that respect! :)

If you're reading before the first weekend in June. Ruth's doing a book signing in Corfu (kommeno) on Saturday June 3rd, 7-9 pm.

Hope you enjoyed getting to know Ruth. Regular post coming up next.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Dead Heads and Degrees

Fans of the band the Grateful Dead will well know that they're often called "Dead Heads". Sorry to raise false hopes then, because this post has nothing to do with the ancient American West Coast rock bank led by Gerry Garcia.  That is, unless any ageing Dead Heads out there are also keen gardeners; in which case, read on.

Further to something I referred to in this post a while back, ie: the advice that actually more than one local has given me to never water fruit trees while they're in flower, a recent visit to the local plant nursery/garden shop just down the road from us has provided me with the explanation.

We dropped in there to purchase a flowering plant to put in where something had died and decided to ask the friendly chap (never have asked him his name) about this and his answer, I must say, makes some sense.

What he said, in essence, was that if you water a fruit tree while it has flowers then you make it feel that there is no urgency to produce fruit - and thus seeds - because it's in no danger of dying of thirst. If the tree can be fooled into thinking that it'll need to get on and produce fruit because it's in possible danger of experiencing drought and thus possible death, then the survival instinct that's encoded in the plant's DNA kicks in and it decides to start the fruit growing process quicker in order to get the seeds into existence before it's too late. 

Once the flowers drop off and the tiny fruit has begun to swell behind the flower head you can once again begin to water, this time to fatten up the fruit itself. The irreversible process of producing seeds to ensure the tree's survival has begun and it can now be helped along again.

It does make sense to me. It carries a kind of logic. It reminds me of the advice we always get about deadheading roses. If you cut off the flowers as soon as they die (preferable pruning back quite hard to a nodule or leaf growth) then the plant goes into overdrive to produce more flowers because only when the flowers have gone over can the 'hips', which contain the seeds, begin to form. Thus a rose can be kept in bloom for months if deadheaded with regularity, whereas if you don't deadhead, the hips will form and the plant will stop flowering because, in essence, it thinks its work is done.

Eat your heart out Monty Don, eh? (That won't mean much to my readers outside the UK!)

The garden just after sunset a couple of days ago.

We were talking to an Albanian friend recently and she revealed something that, in the several years that we've known her, we didn't realise before. She has a husband and two growing boys and she works, as so many of her fellow countrymen and women do, as an orderly in a hotel, cleaning twenty or thirty rooms every day, seven days a week, for the entire summer season. One could be forgiven for thinking that these folk, humble as they are, are probably not very well educated. How wrong we'd be.

Our friend revealed that she's a qualified teacher and the only reason why she is reduced to cleaning hotel rooms for a virtual slave's wage is that there is no prospect of work in her actual profession back in Albania. She's been to university and has a degree, poor woman. She speaks three languages. She also told us something else that I for one hadn't appreciated. 

I may have mentioned in times past about the disgraceful habit that so many of the larger hotels here have of not paying their staff for months on end. I always assumed that it was simply a ruse using the economic climate as an excuse, when in fact they're making money hand over fist. I believed that they were simply hanging on to their money and making it work for them, while telling their lowly workers that they couldn't pay them owing to cash flow. It turns out that my Albanian friend's explanation is far more likely to be the true one.

She told us that by making their staff wait, often until way past the end of the season, for their hard-earned wages, the management can prevent their staff from resigning and changing jobs mid-season. They feel that they have no choice but to hang on because, if they were to leave, they'd surely never collect the back-pay that they're owed, or at least not all of it. You see the logic of this? In essence these hotel owners are saying that, rather than make their staff happy by providing them with good working conditions and a living wage, with the result that they'll want to stay in the job, they treat them badly and prevent them leaving by getting them over a barrel. 

I do know of one or two local hotels where the staff are paid on time and you know something? It works much better than the other 'blackmail' method. I collect guests on my excursions from these hotels where the owner is a local Greek who does take reasonably good care of his workers and I always get the same story. The guests tell me that nothing is too much for the staff and that they are all helpful, friendly and attentive. It's interesting that among the hotels that don't pay their workers are some that I know are owned by non-Greeks. So the profit's going out of the country anyway. Interesting, eh?

It's not rocket science, but happy staff means happy guests. A lesson that some hotel owners and managers may do well to take to heart.

Our friend George, who has the Pelican's Nest down on the beach road here in Kiotari, has been titivating his store ready for opening for the season. Last year he changed it from a restaurant into a souvenir shop with a difference. We were walking past the other evening when we came across him painting the words "Mini Market" on the wall outside the premises. 

Our George is always ready with a smile.
I asked him how last season had gone. 

"Not too good, Yianni." He replied. 

I wish him well for this season. If you're down here in what I call the "real" Kiotari, and you come across George's shop, sandwiched between "Stefano's" Taverna and "Il Porto", give him a go. Apart from the regular kinds of stuff we see in every souvenir store, he stocks some slightly more unusual things too.

To close on a lighter note. Our wheelbarrow is badly in need of a new tyre. If you've read my latest memoir book, A Jay in the Jacaranda Tree, you may remember my tale about having my abdominal hernia done here on Rhodes in the municipal hospital. The surgeon who did the op, on examining the offending bulge the evening before surgery, had exclaimed, "Poh poh! That is a big one!"

Umm, ouch?

Every time I look at this tyre, it takes me back...

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Nooks and Crannies

Largely a photo-based post this time. I've been wandering around the old Town and Mandraki area both during the day and in the evening this past week while doing my first few excursions of the season. So I thought I'd bring you these...

"I'm just popping across the road darling..."

You may recall I mentioned this before a while back - these arches are earthquake measures. They work! 500 years proves it.

"Yea, so anyway, this fella in a baseball cap was driving it. He asked me where the golf course was. I told him, I said "You're way off mate. You need to be in Afandou..."

Hmph. Still no tourists to pet me yet then...

All you need now is a gin and tonic.

Spiros, I think you could have squeezed a little more on to that board...

Room with a view. Just not much of one that's all.

Handy storage space for kitchen cleaning utensils.

Elvis? You in there?

Lights, camera, action?

Just in case passers-by forget which country we're in.

Left here...

The Mandraki windmills at dusk.


Well I hope you liked those folks. If Avril and John are reading this, I thoroughly enjoyed your company last night by the way. Would have probably liked a bit more shop talk with John, but then, probably better as it was, or Avril would have gone off in a huff (Only joking Avril!!).

Avril and John, for the rest of you out there in web-land, were a couple on my excursion to Rhodes last evening. John was in the same trade as me in his former life, graphic design. Oh, and Vicki and Keith - guess what, they're from near Norwich!

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Agatha Christie Lives! (Only she's now a bloke and she's Greek...)

Avid readers will all know about the great Agatha Christie, of course. In most of her books someone (or several someones!) meets a grizzly end and the reader is led a merry, yet absorbing dance while the whole thing unfolds, culminating in a great exposé at the end. Gripping stuff.

If you've read all of hers though and wish she'd written more, fear not!! Not only is there a contemporary version of Agatha, but she's a 'he' and the tales he writes take place in our beloved Greece.

Don't let it put you off coming here for your holidays though. Despite what you may read (it is fiction, after all) you really are relatively much safer on a Greek island than you are back home (wait a minute? What was that noise?).

Cue my latest interview "coup", because I've only gone and got Luke Christodoulou for you haven't I!

Now, even if some of his stories put you off your breakfast, I'm quite sure that the interview won't, in fact it's a fascinating insight into what makes the man tick. You carry on reading this while I go wipe the blood off this knife...

Where do you live?
I live in Limassol, a cosmopolitan town on the picturesque island of Cyprus.

What do you write about?
I write murder/mysteries set upon the majestic Greek Isles. Each book is a stand alone, yet feature the same investigating duo and a few side characters.

Why Greece?
Heaven on earth! No other way to explain the beauty of this country. [Couldn't put that better myself - ed]

How long does it take you to write a book?
As I do not write full time (I work as an English teacher, too), it takes the whole process from idea to publication a whole year. I form the outline in a month, write for eight, then a couple of months it goes back and forth from me to my editor and, finally, it is ready to be unleashed.

What do you enjoy most about writing?
Everything! The planning of the mystery, the clues, the scenery... the creation of the characters (especially the villain [get some therapy Luke! - Ed])... the search for the right adjective, the perfect verb... all of it. 

What, in your view, is/has been the greatest gift from Greece to the world?
It is here, where man first discovered his true powers. Before ancient Greece, man was just a pawn of the Gods/nature. Greeks showed him how to set his mind free. Philosophy, art, history, democracy, astronomy etc. followed. [Yea, but apart from that, what have the Greeks ever done for us? - Ed 😂]

How do you come up with an idea for a book?
To be honest, I do not know. I have twisted, dark corners in my mind. Leave me alone for a few hours and a murderous plot will be born. Psychotic killers follow. [see my earlier aside! - Ed]

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 consider myself disciplined when it comes to writing, yet creativity follows no logic, no program. I will follow my time schedule and my rough outline, but surely will go off tracks.

Which other authors do you read?
The mother of my genre, Agatha Christie. I enjoy the ‘big names’, too, like King, Patterson, La Plante. I will try and read anything if the blurb draws me in. Also, as a father and a teacher, I read a lot of children’s books. Julia Donaldson. Dr Seuss and Eric Carle are my favourites.

What's your preferred kind of music? 
It’s hard to explain what makes us enjoy a certain song and not another. It is almost as if it is not me making the choice. I could hear a song and fall in love with it or immediately change the station/press next. I listen to a variety of genres. Pop, dance, rock, RnB cover most of my car’s play list.

Do you like Greek music and if so, which kind?
It is not my top choice of music, though I have lots of songs that will have me singing along. I like oldies for the lyrics and anything with a good beat from latest offerings. I listened to a lot of Hadjiyianni when he was at his peak.

Favourite Greek dish?
Every single one! All meats! Seriously though, wine-marinated octopus tops the list!

Wine-marinated octopus is what does it for Luke. Wait, is something moving in there?

Favourite place in Greece and the reason(s)?
So many. I will name two. Parga on the mainland and Santorini for an island. Both stunning and alive. My favourite places to walk around without a care in the world, to soak up the scenery and to enjoy an amazing meal. Also, nothing can beat Parga’s waters or Santorini’s view.

Parga, one of the most beautiful bays in Greece, and it's mainland, not an island. Incidentally, it gets a mention in my second novel (can't let an opportunity like this pass) - A Brief Moment of Sunshine.

What links would you like the readers to explore in connection with your work, including, of course, sites where your work may be purchased?
All my Greek Island Mysteries are available through Amazon:

Amazon UK:

Feel free to follow me on FB:

My website for further info:

And finally, reading device or real book?
Both, though I admit, lately I have switched nearly completely to ebooks. Cheaper, more environmentally friendly, less space and no guilt when you delete a ‘bad’ book.

Hope you enjoyed that folks. Here are a couple of Luke's covers...

All of Luke's work can of course be checked out on his Amazon Author Page.


There's already another interview in the pipeline. After a few weeks of my regular posts, it'll appear.

Going Out and Coming In (or maybe the other way around)

Saw this on Facebook last night. Some of you might have already seen it, but perhaps didn't understand the Greek, so I thought I'd shove it on the blog because it's sooo real!

It's a conversation, a brief one, where a young girl, still living at home, is going out. She opens the front door and calls out to her mother, who's not in her line of sight, perhaps in the kitchen or something...

"Mum, I'm off out!"

Here are the likely replies in various countries...

USA - "See you!"
UK - "Bye, then!"
France - "Au revoir!"
Spain - "Adios!"

Greece - "What? Where are you going? Who with? Why? Who's taking you? Who's going to be there? When are you coming home? Every day you go out. This house is a hotel! How much money will you waste this time? Aaach! You never have any time for your poor parents! Only going out matters to you. Aach, when I die - then you'll understand!"

Now, if you don't know much about Greeks then you might think that's an exaggeration, But it doesn't stop even when someone gets married. More often than not the newlyweds live above or below one or other set of parents. I have some close friends who even moved islands so that the young daughter-in-law didn't have to undergo this grilling every time she and her husband got in the car. Her pethera [mother-in-law] would lean out of her kitchen window and say the above virtually word for word, perhaps adding:

"What do want to go there for? You won't like it, you'll spend too much, My son won't thank you for taking him to that place. Not his scene. What are you wearing that for? You'll catch your death! Do you really need all that makeup?"  - and more besides.

Now, the above photo was taken when we were staying in Barry, South Wales, last month. What's it doing here? Well, I was showing the holiday snaps on my iPad to a friend, a Greek girl who's never been to the UK. Never been outside of Greece as it happens. She's not, like, a child or anything, she's almost 30 years old and has a couple of small children.

I wanted her to see where we came from, plus to demonstrate the fact that in the UK we do now and then see some sunshine. I found myself saying...

"We walked across that beach, which you can only do when the tide's out. When it's in that harbour wall to the right is sticking out into the sea and boats can sail in and out."

Her expression was one of puzzlement. She looked at the photo, then at me and without a word told me that she didn't quite 'get' what I was on about. After a few seconds she said:

"What? What is a tide?"

I'm being straight up here, honest. I replied:

"Don't tell me you've never heard of the tide? You know, 'high tide' and 'low tide.' The distance between where the sea is when it's out and where it is when it's in, every twelve hours or so. That tide."

"The sea moves?"

"Of course. All that sand you see there is under water every twelve hours or so, when the tide is in. That photo was taken when it was out, which was why we could walk across the harbour entrance."

I could tell that she was that far away from saying, "You're having a laugh, aren't you. How can the sea move?"

I could tell, because that's what she then proceeded to say. It was then that it struck me. She's only ever seen the Mediterranean, she's never seen the Atlantic or any other ocean. Here in her home country, give or take a couple of feet or so, the sea's always in the same place. All I could do was try and give her an explanation of how the moon affects the sea levels and why it doesn't happen in the Med. Straights of Gibraltar and all that stuff.

I dunno what they learn in Geography, or even physics, in Greek schools. Maybe she just didn't pay attention, too busy thinking up replies to her mother's rants when she went out I suspect. But the old expression that my mum used to say sprang to mind...

"There's nowt sah queer as folk."

My mum wasn't Yorkshire, but her father, my grandfather, was. He was probably 'on Ilkley Moor bar tat' as often as not, thah naws.

Google it.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Another Quickie

This one's a quickie. Things are waking up tourism-wise and I start work on my excursions this coming week. Not a lot of time at the mo', plus I'm preparing the next author interview with Luke Christodoulou. 

So this one's just a few recent photos...

Sun beds and umbrellas at the ready at the Rodos Maris Hotel. At least they're still leaving our quiet little corner of beach (bottom right) alone, phew!

One of our favourite walks off-season is to stand on that headland and watch the vast sea. This was just last week though.

One of the neighbours while I was gardening in Pilona last week (see this post)

...and another.

Fancy a stay at the Paraktio Beach Apartments near us?

St. Paul's Bay, Lindos, looks all right doesn't it.

As I mentioned above, the next author interview is with Luke Christodoulou and it ought to be getting posted fairly soon now.

See you soon!