Saturday, 1 September 2018

Putting the 'Ram' in Ramblings?

Time for another in my occasional series of interviews with writers on a Greek theme. This time it's Katerina Nikolas who's in the hot seat. Katerina's "Greek Meze" books, which now number six in the series, carry a decidedly caprine flavour, since three of the books have the word 'goat' in their title. Others, though, do share it out a little with donkeys and roosters also featuring on the rather fun front cover designs. Reflecting the way the industry is changing, Katerina's books are only available in electronic format (primarily Kindle) at present, which has now become the largest market for on-line book purchases anyway.

Katerina Nikolas lives in a small Greek village with her teenage son and cat. She is considering acquiring a goat.

By and large Katerina's book receive a very enthusiastic response, and so I decided it was time to see if she'd like to explain herself! She agreed, and so, off we go then...

An apparently still goat-less Katerina.
About Me
I live with my teenage son, a cat, and a couple of resident pensioner tortoises in the olive grove. I keep threatening to get a goat and really ought to, as I spend so much time writing about them. I have a degree in English literature and spent years working for a finance company. Before I turned my hands to novels I spent a decade writing for a living, with finance as my speciality, and three years writing for a bridal company.

Where Do You Live?
Just outside Stoupa in the Mani, close to the fishing village of Agios Nikolaos. It’s blissfully quiet here in the olive groves, but only five minutes drive to the sea and only an hour over the mountain to the bright lights of Kalamata, a great town steeped in character. Modern life is creeping in but it often feels as though this area is in a time-warp. 

What Do You Write About?
The Greek Meze Series is farcical humour set in a fictional Greek fishing village with a cast of quirky characters. I’ve lots of other ideas for books but have a natural bent for humour when pen hits paper, or rather when fingers hit the keypad. Astakos is visually inspired by Agios Nikolaos.

Why Greece?
Well, it’s inspirational and full of quirky characters I can draw on. 

How long does it take you to write a book?
Three months from beginning to publication, with my self-imposed deadlines. I don’t write terribly quickly but am methodical in always spending the first part of the morning going over everything written in the last few days, making changes and adding things. When I’m satisfied with previous chapters I send them off to the editors as I go along.

What do you enjoy most about writing?
Who said anything about enjoying it; it’s a torturous process and one has to be in the mood for comedy. Half the time I have no idea if something I’ve written is funny or not, as I’m too close to it. Seriously, I do enjoy writing when I’m in the flow. I love self-publishing as it allows the author control over all aspects of the book, from cover choices to publishing deadlines, which is important to me as I’m terribly impatient. The best part by far is when readers notify me to say they love the books and enjoyed some laugh-out-loud moments. If I’m having an uninspired moment then a bit of fan mail revives the mood. 

What, in your view, has been the greatest gift from Greece to the world? 
Greek olive oil, pure nectar, and of course our local stuff is the absolute best. 
Fresh, new, virgin olive oil, straight out of the press. One of the best things on the planet (IMO - Ed)

How do you come up with the idea for a book?
The Meze series originated as some humorous short stories set in Greece, some of which were published in an American magazine. I ran with the idea and turned it into a book. I’d actually been intending to do it for several years before I sat down and finally got on with it, but once I started I realised I had enough material for a series. I often think of new plot lines when I’m writing and file them away for the next book. My series is inspired by many real life things, though often exaggerated, whether it’s the body under the chicken coop or the fisherman being too shy to ask a woman out until he could afford to replace his teeth. One recurring feature of the books, for instance, is the hideous old lady dresses as sold in the village hardware shop. 

Caption hardly needed!

How do you go about writing? Are you organised, do your research, disciplined, are you a messy sort who gets it done on way or another?
I’m extremely disciplined, though it was much easier to stay focused on bridal fashion or finance, than conjuring up farce. I like to write very early in the morning and hope the inspiration hits. I start a book with a few plot lines in mind, but rely on my characters springing to life and taking over as I write. If, for instance, I decide in the next chapter the characters will have an evening in the taverna, I have no idea what they’ll get up to until I start writing. On really good days the books write themselves when the characters just take over.

What other authors do you read?
Among my favourite writers are Margaret Yorke, Douglas Kennedy, Tom Sharpe & Douglas Murray. Recently I’ve been reading through Paige Dearth’s books. My all time favourite books are Eleni by Nicholas Gage, Hand Me Downs by Rhea Kohan, and Replay by Ken Grimwood. I enjoy a lot of non-fiction and love biographical accounts of people fleeing repressive regimes and pretty gloomy stuff such as factual accounts of Japanese prisoner of war camps. I’ve shelves full of Holocaust literature.

What’s your preferred kind of music?
I need total silence when I write but love to have something to sing along to in the car: Motown, Nina Simone, Leonard Cohen, Bryan Ferry, or a bit of opera. My son is always threatening to throw my music stick out of the car window as it’s stuck in a time warp. (I'm firmly with you on that one Kat!! - Ed)

Do you like Greek music and if so which kind?
Yes, the older stuff such as Kokotas and Bithikotsis. I love it when the old men play the bouzouki. 
(Stamatis Kokotas was my mother-in-law's favourite singer back in the seventies. He's still performing nowadays, still with a very distinctive voice, not to mention exceedingly darkly dyed hair! - Ed)

Favourite Greek dish?
Grilled octopus, and Greek yoghurt with honey, but not together obviously. I end up gutting and cooking a lot of fish, often with hooks still attached, when I’m gifted some of the catch. 

Favourite place in Greece and your reasons?
Limeni, a tiny village further south in the Mani and my favourite place to swim. It’s my dream place to live, but would probably be a bit isolated in the winter as it doesn’t even have a shop. This area is very lush but when you head further down the coast it becomes more barren and rocky: I like the contrast between the two.


Links to books: 

At some point I ought to do a blog but I have no patience with computer stuff, so for now it’s just my Amazon UK author page, Amazon US author page.

Finally, Reading device or a real book?

These days it’s the kindle every time. The house is already stuffed full of books so the kindle is a great space saver. I love being able to adjust the font size and it’s my go-to device in the power cuts since it can be read in the dark. Since putting my books in KU I’ve been a big fan of the Amazon library. It’s great value with lots of new writers to discover.
Thanks for inviting me to do this John, it’s an honour to be part of the Ramblings from Rhodes Greek lit scene.

My pleasure Katerina. I'm sure a lot of readers will enjoy not only hearing a bit about you, but seeing the photos too.


  1. Love Katerina's books, great interview John, thank you.

    1. Thanks Richard, I'd no idea I had such a famous reader of the books.

  2. Thanks for featuring me John, I especially like the editorial comments. Also realise I should have kidnapped a goat to pose with.

  3. Lovely interview. It really helped with my interpretation of the books, as we know the real village/town of Astrakos in western Greece quite well and it was hard to dissociate the ficticious place from the real place, especially as the descriptions really fitted! Now I know the stories are based on Agios Nikolaos which I also know it is time to return to read more in the series! And expect to find this comment as a review Katerina!

    1. Thanks Suzi, all reviews most welcome. I usually check everything so carefully. but when I named the village for a lobster hadn't realised there was a real place with the same name. The antics aren't really based on Agios but I imagine things taking place in a setting that looks like it, with all the shops around the harbour.

  4. Am interesting article with a new author to now go and read the books of.

  5. A wonderful interview with an excellent writer. I have read all 6 books and love every page of them. I am sure I have met a Bald Yannis and a Tootless Tasos in my many visits to various Greek villages over the years. Keep them coming Katerina.
    Thanos the Greek.