Tuesday, 15 May 2018

To McGinn at the McGinning...

I know, terrible pun, but there you are. That's me I suppose! I'm once again over the moon to bring you another author-interview, and this time it's especially fascinating for me too, because, as I was reading this author's very entertaining memoir books about her time living in the Peloponnese, I so often found myself thinking - this woman is me in female form, her experiences so often reflect ours here on Rhodes. The title of one of her books even resonates with one of mine!!

So, without further ado, I'm delighted to bring you my in-depth interview with talented and very entertaining Grecophile author, Marjory McGinn.

Marjory, with copies of her latest offering, a novel this time entitled "A Saint For the Summer". More details below.
Let's start with a little background, just in case you're not familiar with Marjory (although that's hard to imagine!)...

Marjory McGinn is a Scottish-born author and journalist, brought up in Australia. She worked in Scotland for 10 years from 2000 as a freelance feature writer. Her journalism has appeared in leading newspapers in Britain and Australia, including The Daily Mail, The Times, The Telegraph; and The Scotsman, The Herald. In Australia she was a senior feature writer on The Sun-Herald, and stories have appeared also in The Australian and The Age.
A youthful work/travel year in Athens inspired a lifelong fascination for Greece. In 2010, together with her partner Jim and their Jack Russell dog, Wallace, she set off from Scotland on an adventure to the southern Peloponnese that lasted four years and was the basis for her three travel memoirs (Things Can Only Get Feta, Homer’s Where The Heart Is and A Scorpion In The Lemon Tree). 
Marjory is a Member of the Society of Authors and also writes a blog with a Greek and travel theme on the website www.bigfatgreekodyssey.com and she can be followed on Twitter www.twitter.com/@fatgreekodyssey and Facebook www.facebook.com/ThingsCanOnlyGetFeta

So, CV dealt with, here's the interview...

Where do you live?

At the moment, my partner Jim and I are based in East Sussex, England, not far from the sea. We’ve lived here since returning from Greece in 2015.  

What do you write about?
Wallace. (I want that dog!!!)
I’ve written four books all based in the Peloponnese in southern Greece. The first three are travel memoirs inspired by the experience of living in remote rural locations, like the Mani, for four years during the economic crisis. As if that wasn’t edgy enough, we had our hyperactive, but lovable, Jack Russell (Wallace) in tow for added mayhem, though his diverting behaviour was well plundered for the books.  The latest is a novel, A Saint For The Summer set in the Mani. It’s a contemporary book with family drama, romance, but mainly has a narrative thread going back to the Battle of Kalamata which is a little-known conflict of World War II that occurred just after the Germans invaded Greece in 1941. It has been described as the ‘Greek Dunkirk’.  

Why Greece? 
I have always loved Greece. And curiously, the passion was sparked right back in my childhood after my family emigrated to Australia from Scotland. By one of those quirks of fate that put your life onto a certain course, my first friend at school was a Greek girl called Anna who took me under her wing and eased me into Aussie school life. I ended up spending weekends and summer holidays with her as well, and her vibrant Greek family. I was eating moussaka as a 10 year old and dancing a sweaty syrtaki [we've all been there! - JM] in a Sydney backyard while other friends were swimming at Bondi beach. 
When I left school and did the European backpack routine, it was Greece I really aimed for. I worked in Athens for a year, some of which I’ve written about in my memoir Homer’s Where The Heart Is. I’ve been going to Greece my whole life. It was inevitable that when I got round to writing books, they’d have a Greek theme. 

How long does it take you to write a book?
About six to nine months to write a draft I’m happy with and then a few months rewriting and polishing, so about a year in all.

What do you enjoy most about writing?
I’ve had a long career in journalism, mainly as a feature writer, so I’ve always loved everything about writing. With creative writing however, especially a novel, there is a kind of magic about the process of transferring all the stuff in your head onto the page. I particularly like it when narrative threads and characters storm into the action unbidden, and surprise you.  Apart from the writing process, I like the consequences of a story being out there and when readers contact you to say they’ve only gone to the Mani because they’ve read your books. Or they’ve gone to a particular village and tried to track down one of the ‘characters’, like Foteini (that's her in the photo below, with Marjory), the eccentric goat farmer I wrote about in the first memoir Things Can Only Get Feta. I don’t know that she would find it enlightening though being chased around the village by foreigners. 

What, in your view, is/has been the greatest gift from Greece to the world?
Greece has given the world an immense amount culturally and academically, but as a writer I would say, its language. It’s a difficult language and I’m still battling with it but it’s also beautiful, clever and logical. To speak it, even imperfectly, feels like a link to the past. Apparently, the ancient Greeks believed that if you spoke Greek, you were Greek. I mostly like that idea. [I think Marjory makes a very valid point about the language being logical. Difficult it may be, but Greek follows its own rules much more consistently than does English, for example - JM]

How do you come up with an idea for a book?
The first three memoirs of course were a reaction to living in Greece from 2010 with our terrier Wallace who sadly passed away last summer. I started the first memoir because I wanted to capture some of the traditional rural way of life in the Mani (the middle peninsula) before it changed forever.  The idea for A Saint For The Summer (published in March this year) also evolved while in Greece. I heard about the Battle of Kalamata while there and how 8,000 British soldiers and allies, after fighting the Germans in Kalamata, had to be left behind after the British surrendered and the naval evacuation ceased. Many of the troops fled down the three southern peninsulas looking for small boats to escape to Crete. There were many tales of adventure and heroism here that really captured my imagination, but I kept the story tucked away in the back of my mind while I got on with writing the memoirs.

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’m not messy. I do keep notebooks with research and so forth and bios for characters, that sort of thing. But beyond that, I tend to keep the story buzzing about in my head and mentally work and rework things that way. As I said earlier, I like the process to have a certain spontaneity. I’ve become a bit Greek; I don’t like rules!

Which other authors do you read?
I read a lot of contemporary books with a Greek theme of course and there are many scribes  attached to the Facebook page you manage, A Good Greek Read, whose excellent books I’ve read. I won’t name names; that would be unfair.  
Favourite contemporary authors are William Boyd and Ian McEwan. I’ve recently read all 12 Winston Graham books in the Poldark series, set in Cornwall. It’s a tremendous saga and I think he’s an outstanding writer but strangely overlooked, despite the popularity of the Poldark TV series. His observations in parts are reminiscent of a Charles Dickens novel. I love great storytellers like H E Bates, Somerset Maugham, and Truman Capote. 

What's your preferred kind of music? 
Probably soul and blues music, like Nina Simone. I like to hear a good Eric Clapton or David Gilmour guitar riff. [Aah, a woman with impeccable taste! - JM]

Do you like Greek music and if so, which kind?
Most of it, from Theodorakis to rembetika and folky stuff. I also like modern pop songs by people like Mihalis Hatziyiannis, Nikos Vertis, Peggy Zina.

Favourite place in Greece and the reason(s)?
Marjory, Jim and Wallace, Koroni, Messinia, 2015
It would have to be the southern Peloponnese. I love the three peninsulas as they’re all quite different, but my favourite is probably the Mani for its authenticity and its rural characters. Some of the Taygetos mountain villages with their fortified stone tower houses remind me of the Scottish highlands. Scotland, but without the wind chill factor. Mostly, I think much of this region is like Greece used to be a few decades ago (in the best possible way) and there lies its appeal.

What links (URL) would you like the readers to explore in connection with your work, including, of course, sites where your work may be purchased?
I write a blog with a Greek theme for our website started when we first went to the Mani www.bigfatgreekodyssey.com
Recent book A Saint For The Summer  https://bookgoodies.com/a/B07B4K34TV

And finally, reading device or real book?
I like my ebook reader for stacking books up for overseas trips mainly. After working on a computer for much of the day, the idea of another ‘screen’ for reading doesn’t always appeal. A paperback is more soothing. I like the feel of paper between my fingers!
Thanks, John, for inviting me onto your excellent website for a chat. I loved the questions.

JM - You're very welcome Marjory, and I wish you every success with not only "A Saint For the Summer", but with all your future projects too.

Well, I found Marjory's comments very enlightening and informative, hope you agree. Next post will probably be the last one about our impressions of Patmos, before returning to rambling on and on (and on...) about life here on Rhodes once again.


  1. Great interview with a great writer John, thoroughly enjoyed it.

    1. Me too. Thanks for the comment, Richard.

  2. Good to "see" you two together. I enjoyed the interview. X

  3. I really enjoyed this interview John, even your outrageous theory that I am you in female form! As long as I don't start sprouting a moustache, I should be fine.
    Regards, Marjory

  4. There's always electrolysis...