Okay, so I know it’s still Wednesday in the UK but in other parts of the world such as Australia and New Zealand it’s already Thursday, so I figure I can get away with posting my Thursday’s Children offering a bit early this week. You see it also ties in neatly with the launch of my debut novel, The Butterfly Storm, as the inspiration for it came from the time I’ve spent in Greece.
It was the summer of 2000 that I first went to Greece to visit my boyfriend’s (now husband’s) family. We’d been together for about six months so it was about time I met the parents. After a four hour flight from Heathrow to Thessaloniki we were met at the airport by Nik’s parents and, just as with Sophie in The Butterfly Storm, that was when my sketchy and very basic Greek was first put into practice. We then visited the whole of Nik’s family – his two sets of Grandparents and his aunt Soula – before heading home.
That first Greek holiday I remember being filled with food, sunshine, laughter, more food and day trips to the beach, Mt Olympus, a local festival and the archaeological site at Dion. Nik’s family were so lovely and welcoming and the view from Nik’s parents’ garden was of Mt Olympus. How could I not be inspired?
When I set about writing a novel in 2004 for my MA in Creative Writing, before I had any idea of plot or characters I knew that I wanted to set it (at least partly) in Greece. I started to think about what it would be like to leave everything behind in the UK and permanently move to Greece and why someone would do that. To escape? For a job? For love? And that’s when Sophie Keech began to take shape, a twenty-something woman who leaves behind everything she knows to move to Greece to live with her boyfriend, Alekos, who she’s known for just six weeks.
Alekos and his family live on mainland Greece and although I haven’t been specific about exactly where they’re located, Mt Olympus and ‘fields that merge with the sky’ is the view from their restaurant garden. I wanted to capture the feel of a Greek family and the flavour of life in Greece and so Sophie experiences Greek parties filled with food and dancing. Over the course of the novel, Sophie and Alekos briefly spend some time on the island of Santorini, a place that I’ve been to and one that’s not difficult to understand why you would want to write about it.
The path follows an incline and we puff our way up as what breeze there was disappears. We round a corner and reach the summit and suddenly the other side of the island is revealed. The island slopes down to a flat expanse of patchworked fields and whitewashed buildings ending at the southern side of the island with beaches and the sea. It’s a dramatic contrast to turn back to the caldera on our left and the steep drop to the sea crashing against the black rocks below. We start down the winding path that still clings to the edge of the caldera. Basking lizards scuttle from their sunbathing spots on rocks as we walk past.
With Alekos leading we walk on and concentrate on our footing when the path gets steep and rocky. The soil changes from a rusty red colour to ash white and charcoal black and clings to our trainers. We’ve been walking for over an hour and have lost sight of Oia but I can see across to where I think our hotel is. The ferry we’d seen crossing the caldera earlier is in the port. The whitewashed buildings of Thira are stacked one on top of each other spreading from the sea to the top of the cliffs. We walk to the top of the next hill and reach a whitewashed church with a domed roof and blue bell tower.
Have you spent anytime in Greece? What places or countries inspire you or your writing?