Most of you will be familiar with Sara Alexi. She’s the author of the Greek Village series of books and I interviewed her about The Illegal Gardener, Book One in the series, The Explosive Nature of Friendship, Book Three in the series (Book Two— Black Butterflies—is just as compelling).
I have just finished reading her fifth novel in the Greek Village series: The Art of Becoming Homeless and am delighted Sara’s agreed to be interviewed for Life Beyond Borders again.
Sara, I loved The Art of Becoming Homeless. This time your book’s focus was on the protagonist’s (Juliet) best friend in the UK—Michelle. Michelle comes to Greece predominantly on business, but as is the way in Greece, unforeseen circumstances force her to take time out and she finds herself on a Greek island where she plans to spend some time before visiting Juliet.
Here she meets various characters. Dino…the son of one of the members of the Village (located on the mainland, just across the way from the island) is one such character and I love your ability to convey to the reader how different relationships are formed. You have a talent for that.
What made you decide to make the main focus of your book on a character not in the Village this time?
I wanted to explore how new eyes see Greece
Having lived in Greece for some time and having seen many ex-pats come and go I have watch how when they arrive Greece is marvellous to them, they see the sea, they see the blue sky, they love the people. They find Greek ways intriguing and amusing. After they have lived here for a time it is human nature to become caught up in the daily goings on in our lives and it can be easy to forget to look at ourselves, to see how wonderous Greece is, some even falling into the trap of focusing on how their individual problems are not being dealt with as efficiently as they would ‘back home.’
I wanted to explore how new eyes would see Greece in direct relation to someone who has lived there all their life, who understands the way Greece works, its frustration, incongruence and humanity.
And what made you choose to focus The Art of Becoming Homeless away from the Village?
No man is an island
Great question which has a threefold answer.
Firstly: to me the village is the people in it, the individuals that make up the whole and it is their sum that gives the village its own flavour. Every book in the series contains someone who lives in the village, or has lived in the village, or will live in the village. They each contribute to the whole. If you know all the people, you know the village and to know someone, you must spend time with them and maybe even share a little history with them. This book, like the others, lets you know a villager in closer detail…even if he or she is not there at present.
Secondly: no man is an island, and just as the characters intertwine and become influenced by each other and their life courses change by meeting and events, so too does the village. A place cannot remain isolated. Its position near to Saros and near to the island both have an influence on who comes and goes. “The Art of Becoming Homeless” mostly takes place on Orino Island where “The Black Butterflies” also took place and so (if you have read that book as well) you have a little of Marina’s history floating through your memory, making another connection to the village as you read about the new events, it gives a sense of time and space. It is the flow of life.
And thirdly, the books represent Greece…and without an island, it wouldn’t be a fair and true representation.
I ask this every time, but do you see a little of yourself in Michelle, the main character of this story?
I try to take on the character’s thoughts and feelings
I think it is important to write what you know about so when a character steps forward asking for his or her tale to be told, I try and find out what we have in common: absorbing their character. In focusing this way I try to take on the character’s thoughts and feelings…and this helps me to understand the possible events that could happen to such a person. It has a lot in common with my training as a psychotherapist.
What gave you the idea to weave in Michelle indirectly with a member of the Village (Dino)? You do this very well—as one reads, it’s like seeing a jigsaw puzzle come together.
There’ll always be a running theme throughout my books
Before I have finished the book I am currently writing at the time one, or often more, several characters from previous books will jump forward in my mind asking to be heard. My first question to those characters is not ‘what happens to you?’ but ‘where do you end up and how does that contribute to the village?’ I knew before I had written even one word of “The Art of Becoming Homeless” the finishing point for Michelle. In fact, I knew this after writing ‘The Illegal Gardener’, the first book in the series, where she is first introduced. The discovery was how she got there.
Alongside the fun of writing about Greeceand the creation of characters there also a serious side to the books. If I do not feel passionate about the story, I cannot write. “The Illegal Gardener” as the most obvious deals head on with the problem of immigration. “The Black Butterflies” dealt with arranged marriages and homosexuality. “The Explosive Nature of Friendship” dealt with bullying and to a degree, our nature to turn a blind eye tothings. “The Gypsy’s Dream” worked on many levels: adolescents becoming adults in their own right, emotional abuse in the marital home and one other issue which I will not mention as it would be a spoiler. “The Art of Becoming Homeless” deals with an issue we all face: work and our attitude toward it and the fears that keep us in place.
What (or who) is the next focus for The Greek Village series? Any plans to move onto a new series?
The next in the series goes to the editor this week (Sept 2013) and this takes place in the village. There are two characters that we have met before as well as some new ones.
I have a duo of books I would like to write about a Gurkha’s wife but at the moment I am not making much headway into the research on that, so I trust life will put me in touch with the people I need at some other point.
I have a whole series in my head set in Yorkshire that is linked to The Greek Village series, and the catalyst for the location is Juliet and Michelle.
Also I have the idea for a duo of books that are rather dark and psychological that The Greek Village readers may find a bit shocking – if I ever write them.
Great thought provoking questions Bex.
Thanks Sara. As always, it’s been a pleasure reading your work and to interview you. I hope to see more books from you in the near future.