NOT JUST WORDS...
Fragrance of the Past
Fragrance of the Past
Recently, I found myself walking around the streets of my hometown. I hadn’t been there for a while and this particular day I came face-to-face with something I had not gone looking for – my childhood. It was hot, humid, the sun beating down on my already sweating head, but there was also a small breeze, and whenever I walked in the shade, it was quite pleasant.
I haven’t lived in the city I was born in since I was seven, but I have visited it almost every summer, so I am familiar with its uneven pavements and over-crowded roads. I strolled about looking up at the old houses built in the late 19th and early 20th century, noticing how run down yet full of character they were, and a strange feeling started creeping in. At first, I couldn’t pinpoint what it was, but it was deep and intense. It wasn’t an uncomfortable sensation – it was simply eluding me.
I went about my walk and didn’t do anything different to what I’ve done numerous times in the past, but the more I ascended through the narrow streets, the more my senses started opening up, fumbling with outstretched arms, until I was able to put a name to what I was experiencing. In one word, it was nostalgia.
Snapshot images of scenes from my past came hurtling back, not with a vengeance, but with something gentle, tender, dressed in soft pink and green shades. I couldn’t work out what had sparked this sudden onset of memories, but the more I walked on, the clearer everything became, until I knew exactly what had helped these long-gone recollections to come forward from the fog of ageing – it was a smell, or rather, a series of smells. I suddenly knew what summed up my hometown for me, what its fragrance was: the fresh doughy aroma of bakeries, with their scents of roasted sesame seeds, caramelised sugar, melted butter, and exotic vanilla and cinnamon. They mingled together, formed such an exquisite sensation in my body, it almost knocked me over!
They say smell is the strongest sense connected to memory and emotions and they're right! With these scents came a waterfall of memories: the hint of snow in the air, filling my lungs with the sharpness of life yet chilling the skin, forming goosebumps on my arms and legs; my woolly hat which I liked wearing but made my head itch; the distinct yet non-descriptive scent of century-old buildings, of sun-soaked bricks, dust wedged between the cracks, bringing forth the presence of days gone by, of lives lived, laughter, tears, death, fires; walking above the square with the Roman ruins, the memory of running my fingers around the chicken-wire fence came back, of how it numbed my hand and how that numbness spread up my arm, but how I loved doing it anyway; moments of hiding in my grandparents’ walk-in wardrobe, not because I was trying to avoid something but because I craved the silence and darkness of the enclosed space, gazing up at the shelves full of my grandmother’s high-heeled shoes and above them their old suitcases stacked one on top of the other, sniffing the pungent smell of naphthalene which, to this day, makes me cough; setting the tiny canary I had been given as a present free because I felt sorry for it being trapped in a cage, then being told it was probably going to be eaten by owls, the deep sense of guilt and sadness I felt – all these memories, and more, swept through me, uninvited, taking me by surprise. It’s as if fragments of my buried childhood woke up, resurfaced, breath after breath, until what I saw before me was a scrapbook of my life, snippets, internal commentaries which tugged and scratched at the lining of my heart bringing tears to my eyes.
What was I crying for? Were these memories too painful for me to handle? Too raw? Not really. Then, why did they affect me in this way? Did I want to trap what I had unveiled back into their dusty mould-covered box and close the lid, block out the sunlight, put the memories back where they belonged? Is that why I cried? Or, were they tears shed for the simple fact that I remembered, reclaimed a part of my life I had thought forgotten and lost? I don’t know why those drops of saltiness escaped my eyes and, in truth, I didn’t much care. I was just grateful I had glimpsed my childhood again. That was all.
The strength with which those recollections assaulted me made me understand that every city has its own smell, its own notes and colours, and if we don’t go looking for them, they find us and force us to remember.
© Annia Lekka, Salonica, 2015
Just a brief note to apologise for being absent from the website for almost half a year! (It seems like a very long time when I write it down like that, but in my mind it isn't!) These last six months have been spent doing a lot of yoga, receiving lots of ideas from my muses, having some super wild dreams, as well as contemplating life. I haven't been writing that much on my new novel - Monochrome - (although I've written more than 35,000 on it already), but I have been editing The Perplexing Case of Seraphim Karalis (still doing that, actually), as well as coming up with some new ideas for novels and projects/collaborations...and some ideas are unrelated to writing! So, I'm back, in my own weird way and, hopefully, I will be more active on here, too!
So, thank you for being patient with me.
Some Exciting News!
Some Exciting News!
I'm very happy to announce that my short memoir, Alice, has finally been published in Chance Encounters: Travel Tales from Around the World Anthology! The anthology includes 23 different stories from around the world.\
*** One mistake: they have printed that I already have 3 published novels...which I don't! Other than that, it's a great book! ***
Here's a snippet of the press release:
Travel never goes quite like we expect. Planes are late, maps are misread and unexpected detours are made. When this happens, the twisting roads of travel can lead to adventures we never imagined — and lessons we never expected to learn. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we cross paths with people who show us life from a different angle or provide kindness when it’s needed most. Those we meet while traveling can change our journey, our experiences or even our lives. Come along with some of the world’s top travel writers as they share their stories from around the globe.
Sometimes on the road of travel, we cross paths with unforgettable and extraordinary people.
Here are 23 true stories of travel encounters that will long be remembered.
• Meet three Americans who help a Belgian woman find her voice
• Bust a move with harmonica-playing pygmies in Uganda
• See how a former enemy can become your friend
• Watch a Kenyan girl face a heartbreaking custom with bravery
• Learn from a wise young monk as he hikes in Bhutan
• Marvel at the kindness of strangers on a pilgrimage in Japan
• Take an unforgettable elevator ride with a courageous woman in Paris
• Gain new understanding during an unspoken conversation in Cambodia
• Experience Nepal through the eyes of a child
• Take a wild ride in Turkey depending only on the kindness of strangers
And many more…
It's available in both print and as an E-book, too.
Here are some links:
Barnes & Noble
I think December has entered on a good note! What do you think?
An Interview with the Composer/Music Producer Babbis Blazoudakis
An Interview with the Composer/Music Producer Bobby Blazoudakis
Photo credit: Alex Bouris
I have been very lucky, in that I have listened to everything Bobby Blazoudakis has composed and I can say without any hesitation, that his music rocks!!! It doesn’t matter if it’s classical, for films, rock or more ethnic in sound, he has a sensitivity and depth which he brings to his compositions that one very rarely meets in music.
So, it is with great pleasure that I post this interview, in the hopes that others will grow to love Babbis’ unique music as much as I do.
Annia: When did you first realise you wanted to be a musician and composer?
Bobby: When I was 14, I went to a high school concert by slightly older kids performing a variety of songs – mostly covers. I left that concert knowing that that’s what I wanted to do.
I then proceeded to play LPs on the record player and, after buying a guitar which I liked I played along with that I heard, adding my own notes. Any structured and organised music lessons I took made the magic in music and sound disappear. So, I’m basically self-taught.
Annia: Where do you get most of your inspiration from?
Bobby: Two things really inspire me: Nature and myths.
Whilst walking in Nature, I find that stopping and looking at a tree, and how fascinating it is in its existence, (a true child if the planet), can give me a lot of energy. Tasting its fruit and going into that thought, putting that flavour into the experience, while still looking at the tree, can be very rewarding as an inspiration. It’s an exchange of energy.
As for myths, they inspire me because they are the distillation of human experiences that have such enormous colour, as they come from a variety of races in time.
Annia: Is there something you do, like a hobby or an activity, which doesn’t have anything to do with composing, but which inspires you in your music, nonetheless?
Bobby: Human interaction, a walk in nature and movies.
Annia: What music genre(s) do you feel more comfortable with?
Bobby: I would say rock and film music. By film music I mean anything you could possibly hear played by an orchestra. The orchestra can bring out such colour and vibrancy, that the sound itself can be very inspiring.
Annia: How do you go about beginning a new composition?
Bobby: These days, I start off by imagining a story. I’ll try to complete the storyline, then I’ll create possible scenes in my head, and then I’ll compose lots of small snippets for all the scenes. I let these settle for 2 weeks, after which, I go out for a walk and listen to all the snippets, and see how they gel together and which ones are most suited to the piece. Only then will I start the composition and production process.
Annia: Can you tell us a little about your current projects?
Bobby: Currently, I am working on the 9 muses of the ancient world. I’m creating a story and it begins with my first muse, Euterpe, (the muse of music), who, as a middle-aged woman goes deep into the forest in the middle of the night. There she finds a stream and she calls all the notes to her. As she cleanses and rejuvenates them, the dawn of a new day arrives and she is, once again, reborn as a little girl in the clothes of an older woman. It’s a composition for string orchestra, piano, harp and 2 sopranos. The lyrics will be all in ancient Greek, and I am hoping that the performances will take place in museums, as they are the real and original homes of the muses.
Annia: What advice would you give self-taught musicians and composers?
Bobby: To spend a minimum of 30 minutes per day writing, and to work hard on creating their own sound/universe.
Annia: What future projects do you have in mind?
Bobby: I plan on adding a large variety of albums to my unique musical project, that are on my website. I find that there I am free to create music in whatever genre I feel like.
I would like to thank Bobby Blazoudakis for his fascinating interview. It’s been a real honour and pleasure.
If you would like to listen to some of his superb music, (and I would strongly recommend you do that!), please visit his website:
And on YouTube:
An Interview with Loretta Proctor
An Interview with Loretta Proctor
I have had the honour and pleasure of not only reading (and loving) three of Loretta’s books – The Long Shadow, Dying Phoenix and The Crimson Bed – but also of meeting Loretta in person on one of her visits to Athens, and she is a truly warm and lovey person.
And so, without further ado, you can see for yourselves just how lovely she is and you can read all about her books and what inspires her…
Annia: When did you realise you wanted to be a writer?
Loretta: It’s hard it is to pin down a moment like this because it comes over time rather than in a sudden flash of insight. It’s a part of one’s nature which I think begins to awaken when we first read a story or poem that thrills us to the core. Then something within says, I want to write like this, I want to form words and stories that can really move others as I’ve been moved. So the answer to this question is that I’ve wanted to be a writer from a very, very young age. My English granny gave me a book of hymns when I was very small and I just loved the words. Later it was the poetry of Wordsworth, Shelley and Keats that thrilled me. So if I can pin the desire to write down at all, I formed the resolution to write my own work in my very early teens when I began to read writers like Dickens, Colette, Turgenev, Zola and many other amazing writer’s works.
Annia: Where do you get most of your inspiration from?
Loretta: From within is the absolute answer to that. In other words, the characters are a part of me in my own unconscious, though some may be modelled on people I meet, love, hate, or am curious about. I believe strongly that the world we each create about us is made of parts of ourselves that we project on others who are like us, drawing them into our lives and inner circle – or whom we reject as enemies because we don’t like that part of our own nature and let someone else carry the projection of all we deem unpleasant.
My very first real novel was called My Little World. And I wrote it in a red exercise book when I was about seventeen. It was a great story but my writing was total rubbish! However, I wrote it as a play later and then returned to novel form again and again. And this novel is still being written; I change it and it alters along with me. I now call it Gisla’s Hill…but it may become My Little World again! I call it my ‘soul’ story. My daughter who is in publishing would call it a ‘drawer’ story. The one you feel so close to your heart you keep it in a drawer and never publish.
As far as descriptive writing and poetry is concerned, I am always inspired by Nature and love to draw pictures and scenery in writing as well as painting them with a brush. Thomas Hardy and his beautiful description of Nature is a great source of inspiration. The scene when Tess of the D’Urbevilles descends into the Vale to become a milkmaid, the descriptions of Egdon Heath in The Return of the Native are just stunning. The scenery is almost a character as much as the people. I tried to achieve this in Middle Watch when describing the lighthouses and coastal scenery of England.
Annia: Do any other art forms inspire you with your writing?
Loretta: Painting has certainly inspired me. The work of the American artist, Edward Hopper, was a source of inspiration for a series of short stories I’ve written about them and can be found on my website below. I hope to add more stories to this page.
Room in New York, Edward Hopper, 1932
I also love the PreRaphaelites. They too tell stories in their work and the colours and ideas are stunning. Especially Dante Rossetti’s earlier, more medieval works. John Waterhouse came after the PreRaphaelites but paints in similar style. I used his picture The Crystal Ball for the cover of The Crimson Bed. His paintings are gorgeous. Who doesn’t love deep, dark Circe or The Lady of Shalott? Here’s one of my favourite Rossetti's – The Wedding of St George and Princess Sabra.
The Wedding of St George and Princess Sabra, Rossetti, 1857
But, of course, music also inspires. And it’s helpful when writing stories set in Greece to play lots of Greek music and songs to get me in the right Greek mood! I love the songs of the 1960’s singer Vicki Mosholiou. They take me back to the time I first visited Greece as an adult. Ta Deilina (twilight) is my favourite.
Annia: What genre do you usually write in and why are you drawn to that genre?
Loretta: When I was in my teens I came across Walter Scott’s amazing historical adventures such as Ivanhoe and The Waverley Novels. Then discovered a writer called Jeffery Farnol who wrote historical works that were romantic and thrilling. His first book The Broad Highway was so beautiful, philosophical and meaningful to me. History has always fascinated me rather than imaginary future and science fiction. History has happened and has the lure of something mysterious and past – what Flaubert called the ‘golden memories of the past.’. They always seem so much more interesting and attractive than the present!
However, I seldom write earlier than the Victorian era and prefer the early twentieth century which is, of course, my own youthful era. Many writers write in their own youthful era, even Dickens. It’s one’s own history and one’s own past.
I also like stories with love interest and particularily those that feature strong, passionate, feeling women like Therese Raquin, Anna Karenina, Scarlett O’Hara. So I try to have such a woman in my stories. I like to explore their psychology and have real people with all their weaknesses and faults.
Annia: Could you tell us a little bit about the novels you’ve written so far?
Loretta: There’s a few in the cupboard! But I eventually published four of them. The first is The Long Shadow which is set in Salonika, Greece during WW1 and follows the Allied Campaign sent there and a Red Cross nurse who also went over to help the wounded. She falls in love with a Greek officer and has his child. It’s partly her story and partly that of her son who sets off back to Greece to try and find his roots. This story was a deep exploration of my own feelings about being Anglo-Greek. I then wrote The Crimson Bed, set in Victorian London during the time of the Pre-Raphaelites. It’s about two painters and their loves, art and creative sufferings. Quite a different story and again about real people rather than just a romance. One of the painter’s lives is based on that of Dante Rossetti.
Next came Middle Watch which is set amongst the lighthouses of England and follows the adventures of an unhappy orphan who goes to live in a lighthouse and has a somewhat tangled love life. I really enjoyed researching this story, visiting lighthouses, writing about the sea which I love.
My latest story is Dying Phoenix and this is a sequel to The Long Shadow. Back once more in Greece in the late1960’s when the country was hi-jacked by the military who held it in their iron grip for seven years. This forms the background to a love story between a husband and wife whose adventures take them deep into danger while in Greece.
Annia: What are you working on now?
Loretta: I have an idea in my mind to write about my parent’s love story and how they met on a street in Athens during WW2. Or else a story set in Egypt in the 19th century. So for now I’ve returned to working on Gisla’s Hill while I research these ideas still floating about in my mind!
Annia: What is your connection to Greece?
Loretta: My mother, Diana Safralis, was actually a Greek born in Constantinople. But she came to live in Greece as a young child. This is where my father, an airforceman with the British Mediterranean Expedition met her. They fled to Egypt when the Germans entered Greece and there I was born! We all came over to Britain after the war and I have lived here ever since. But I still have lots of relations and friends in Thessaloniki and Athens.
Annia: Can you tell us about your exciting news?
Loretta: I’m thrilled to say that The Long Shadow has been picked up by a Greek publisher, Oceanida, who have had it translated. It is now called O Iskios tou Polemou (The Shadow of War) and will be out on December 4th – strangely the day my Greek mother died. I’m looking forward to the book launch and book signing on December 18th at Ianos, a prestigious bookstore in Thessaloniki. I suspect my Mum will be there in spirit!
Thank you, Loretta, for this interview and for sharing some of your thoughts on writing and your work with us. It’s been a great pleasure!
If you’d like to read some of Loretta Proctor’s books, please, visit her webpage:
Or her Facebook author page:
And click on the following links, too:
An Interview with Jeff Blackmer
An Interview with Jeff Blackmer
I’ve been wanting to do this for a while now, and finally, the time has come! I will be posting a series of interviews, mostly from authors, but also from musicians, composers, artists, poets…and more!
And, today, to kick it all off, I have the great honour to welcome the writer, Jeff Blackmer, to my website. I first ‘met’ him on the Harper Collins website, Authonomy, where we’d both uploaded sections of our manuscripts. There, I had the pleasure of reading parts of his first novel, Draegnstoen. Since then, I have been honoured enough to read his novel, Gears of Uriel, which was recently published by Thorstruck Press, and I really look forward to reading Tyrian.
Annia: Where do you get most of your inspiration from?
Jeff: A number of different sources, but primarily from dreams. There seems, for me, to be two different types of dreams. The crazy ones feel like my subconscious is just tossing things together without rhyme or reason: Those are so outlandish, they’re laughable. And they quickly fade. But the ones that stay with me, or I wake up from, or sometimes experience as lucid dreams; that’s where much of the inspiration comes from.
Annia: Is there something you do, like a hobby or an activity, which isn’t related to writing or reading, but which inspires you in your writing, nonetheless?
Jeff: I find that music inspires my writing, and movies often do as well. But I read an article recently that said we have a part of our brain that sorts things out for us, it looks for patterns and relationships. For most people, that part of the brain kicks in while we are sleeping. But writers and other creative people always have that part of the brain engaged, awake or asleep. And so, seemingly random things often give me those ‘aha’ moments. The fun part is that it’s always a surprise.
Annia: What genre do you usually write in and why are you drawn to that genre?
Jeff: I was supposed to be a Science Fiction Writer! That’s almost all I read when I was a kid and I love Science Fiction movies. But other things interfered. I’ve always loved maps and in high school, out of the blue, came an interest in history. I became interested in the "gaps" of history, the missing pieces of the puzzle of which we knew very little, and I discovered I loved thinking in terms of possible events that could have taken place in those hazy gaps. And that led me to historical fiction. But I wasn't interested in the recent past. I was drawn to times and places at least a thousand years old. An element of fantasy seemed to fit in those old stories, and so I suppose you could say my preferred genre has been historical fiction/fantasy.
Annia: Could you tell us a little bit about the books you’ve published?
Jeff: My first published novel was Draegnstoen. This happened because I was interested in a few seemingly unrelated things: the purposes of Stonehenge, the almost universal dragon myth, the Roman occupation of Britain, discovering that Old King Cole was an actual historical figure and becoming fascinated with Boudicca, the ancient warrior queen of a British tribe. All of those pieces somehow came together to make a great adventure, the story of a descendent of Boudicca finally rallying the northern tribes of Britain, with help from the Picts, for one last battle to expel Rome from Britain.
This story was reviewed by the Harper Collins website, Authonomy. They gave it a good review and promised to consider it for publication. On the strength of that review, I was able to sign with a literary agent. Unfortunately, she had a lot of personal issues going on and so things progressed very, very slowly as far as finding a publisher. She said the book needed a sequel, which made me laugh. But my brother told me the same thing – it needs a sequel. I had not planned for one and felt there were no threads of the story I could expand on. However, while waiting for her to get a publisher, I found a thread in the story I could build on. So, while I waited, I wrote Highland King.
Highland King is the story of Coel’s sister, who has married into the Pictish royal family of Caledonia. A brief recap of that story: Doncann (nephew of Coel from Draegnstoen) is a young Pictish prince. Swept up in the politics and murderous infighting of claimants to his grandfather’s throne, he is falsely accused of murder and exiled to the north. Often fighting for his life, he is protected by the magic of women, mentored by a Celtic demigod and shown how his fate is part of the collective future of his people. He learns that he is the promised Highland King, the one who is to reunite the broken kingdom, save the land from an invading army and learn the secret of the Stone of Destiny. It’s another work of historical fiction, with elements of folklore and mythology to fill out the story.
My most recently published novel is Gears of Uriel. This is also a work of historical fiction/fantasy with some added spiritual elements. My publisher, Thorstruck Press, calls it Metaphysical Spiritual Fantasy, a genre title which has a wonderful sound to it, but one I hadn’t heard of before!
This story came about because of an article I read about the Antikythera Mechanism, a brass machine made of gears, found in a shipwreck off the coast of the island of Antikythera, Greece. It is unique because it was built over 2100 years ago, and yet accurately shows the movements of the known planets around the sun. It contradicts the religious belief (held for around 1500 years) that the earth was the center of all things. In Gears of Uriel, a young man is inspired in a vision to build this device. The main theme of the novel is that great truths are available to us all and religious dogma and doctrine is often a hindrance to spiritual growth and a search for the truth. The story spans a period of about 500 years and tells of the trials of the builder’s descendants and everything they went through to guard this truth.
Annia: What are you working on now?
Jeff: Right now I am working on Tyrian, a sequel to Gears of Uriel. This one spans a period of almost 700 years, but has one central character, named Atrox. He’s an anti-hero with a very long journey ahead of him, both of travel and spiritual growth
I am also working on editing an old short story called Zeara ga mouche for inclusion in an anthology by Thorstruck Press. This will probably come out in January.
Finally a Science Fiction Story!!
Annia: Can you tell us a little bit about your own journey and experience with religion and spirituality?
Jeff: As I was wrapping up work on Highland King, I’d done a lot of research in a wide variety of different areas. I began looking deeper into the doctrines taught by my own religion. My goal has always been a search for truth, and I felt if my religious beliefs were based on truth, digging deeper could only strengthen them. Alas, I found this was not the case. I saw the beliefs I’d held onto for such a long time were based on fear and control and were discouraging me from finding truth that would make me truly grow. I finally came to the point where I could see I had to leave if I was truly going to be happy and fulfilled. People were angry, sad and frustrated that I’d left. Many people who I’d thought were friends stopped speaking to me. It was difficult, but it was worth it. I’ve embarked on my own individual spiritual journey. It’s much more peaceful and filled with love and inspiration. Gears of Uriel is actually a metaphor for that journey.
Annia: How long does it take you to write a novel, from the first initial idea, to the final draft?
Jeff: Well, the answer to that one is all over the place! Draegnstoen took four to five years, probably because I’d never written a novel before, and no one can really teach you everything about how to do this crazy thing called writing a novel. Beyond acquiring a certain level of writing ability, there are many more pieces that you must learn on your own.
Highland King took less than a year, and I was amazed. It just flowed. Gears of Uriel took over two years, I think because a lot of it had to do with religious research I was doing. I’m hoping Tyrian will be done before next August, less than a year after Gears of Uriel was published!
Annia: What’s the most important thing you’ve learnt (and that has helped shape your life) through writing?
Jeff: I would have to say it would be that we must not be lazy about learning. When we entrust others to tell us what is true and what is not, we are learning things they want us to know. And that can be repressive. At the very least, even if their purposes are benign, we are seeing the world through their eyes. Although it requires far more effort, we must never stop learning for ourselves. It often requires sifting through multiple sources to find the truth. And best of all, by being willing to embrace truth wherever you find it, you surrender your pride. At that point the journey becomes a spiritual one, filled with inspiration.
Thank you for inviting me to do this interview, Annia! It’s been fun and made me do some thinking! And that’s always a good thing.
Annia: Thank you, Jeff, for some great insights into your writing and the way you think and work. It’s been a real pleasure!
If you are interested in reading some of Jeff’s work – and I highly recommend it – please visit his webpage:
Or his Facebook page:
Or his Twitter page:
And here are some links to Jeff’s books:
Gears of Uriel:
I promised some time ago that I would write a little bit about Erik Satie (1866-1925), the French composer, (and one of the characters in my novel The Man Who Stole Satie), so here is that little something.
My fascination with Satie’s music began many years ago, decades, in fact, when I was in Paris for 4 months. I was 18, living alone for the first time and scared out of my wits that I’d have to be communicating daily in French! I’d been studying the language in school for years, but it’s one thing to study and another to practice. Anyway, there I was with a fair amount of free time on my hands. I went to French classes, wandered around the streets of Paris, watched films and went to theatre performances by myself and would regularly meet some family members who lived in Paris. I’m not too sure when I actually became aware of his music, but it was there that I first listened to one of his most well-known pieces, Gymnopedie No.1 and, soon after that, his other very famous piano piece – Gnossienne No. 1. The gentleness in his melodies, the feeling that I was taking a peek inside his mind and was allowed to dream, grabbed me immediately and I was captivated. I have been ever since!
I still didn’t know much more about the man behind the music until I started writing my novel, The Man Who Stole Satie, but in order to find out a bit more about him, I read a number of books and articles about his life and eccentric character. (I shall include a list of the books I used as research at the end of this blog post.)
To say the man was quirky would be underestimating his unique take on life and his utter genius. I have no doubt in my mind that Erik Satie was the forefather of modern music and, as such, was not openly received by all. There were critics and professors at the Paris Conservatoire that thought he was a complete failure, and in fact, kicked him out twice calling him lazy and untalented.
One particular critic and journalist, Henri Gauthier-Villars (more commonly known as Willy and the mentor and first husband of the French novelist, Colette), had frequent altercations with Satie. On one such occasion, Satie threw Willy’s hat on the floor, and Willy hit him with his cane. The city police was called and took Satie away.
Of course, there were music critics that saw Satie’s talent. One such man was W.H. Mellers. In his Studies in Contemporary Music (Dobson, 1948), he said:
“...there is no music like it; because never before has the artist felt so apathetic – not antipathetic, which is a different matter – to humanity as to make such a strange achievement possible. Only a very remarkable personality could attain to the degree of impersonality which makes this music, not one man’s loneliness, but an aspect of the modern consciousness, transformed into sound.”
I won’t bore you with every single thing that happened in his lifetime, (for a purely historical take on his life there are plenty of sources online and in books), but I shall give you a general idea of who the man was in short little anecdotes and facts.
- vErik Satie was born Eric Alfred Leslie Satie on 17th May 1866, in Honfleur, France. After 1884, he started signing his name as Erik, to stress his Viking lineage.
Eric Satie, circa 1898 (Photo credit: public domain)
- vHe was a solitary man, and both aware of his surroundings but also indifferent to them.
Roger Viollet/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
- vIn his life, he only had one recorded love affair, to the painter and artists’ model, Suzanne Valadon, (and the mother of the painter Maurice Utrillo). Their affair lasted only 6 months but it was intense and passionate. She painted a portrait of Satie and gave it to him.
Portrait d'Erik Satie, Suzanne Valadon, 1892 (Photo credit: public comain)
- vIn fact, there was one event reported, whereby Satie and Valadon argued and he pushed her out of the window. She fell to the ground and Satie was sure he’d murdered her. So, he went to the police station and ‘gave himself up’. But, to his good fortune, (and unbeknownst to Satie), Valadon had been a circus acrobat in her youth and, thus, she avoided being harmed!
Suzanne Valadon (1865-1938) (Photo credit: public domain)
- vIn 1896, Satie bought 7 mustard-coloured velvet suits – all identical with matching caps – and he wore them for seven consecutive years. He was known as ‘The Velvet Gentleman’.
- vHe frequented various cabarets in Montmartre, such as Le Chat Noire and Le Divain Japonais. There, he would hang out with artists and musicians.
- vSatie always carried a small black book in his pocket, where he kept his notes.
- vHe would send himself postcards as reminders to do something, or to give himself an idea, as well as to present to himself his own daydreams, in the style of small advertisements.
- vThrough his music, Satie wanted to find and re-introduce the forgotten sounds of ancient Greece.
- vFor a while, he was a member of the Salon de la Rose & Croix – an artistic religious movement which included many prominent Symbolist painters, writers and composers of the time. It was established by Joséphin Péladan who was fascinated by the Medieval Rosicrucian secret society.
- vSatie did not remain for long with the Salon de la Rose & Croix. He founded his own church, L'Église Métropolitaine d'Art de Jésus Conducteur in 1892. The aim of this organisation was: “...to fight against those who have neither convictions nor beliefs, no thoughts in their souls nor principles in their hearts.” It was also: “...a defence of Art and the regeneration of Western society.”
- vHe was attracted to mystical and medieval notions.
- vSatie hated the sun. He called it:
“...a brute and a criminal who, not content with toasting our prison windows amuses himself by wickedly burning up the peasants’ crops. What a crashing bore he is! He looks like a great calf with a head as red as a cock’s! He ought to be ashamed of himself!”
- vHe enjoyed drinking cognac which was served in small graduated conical-shaped carafons. These were carafes divided into three supposedly equal portions. However, Satie observed that the bottom section contained slightly more cognac than the other two, so he would ask for an extra glass, saying he only wanted to drink the bottom portion of the carafe. When waiters told him all sections were the same, he would reply:
“I prefer the underneath portion because it hasn’t been exposed to air; and, what’s more, I am legally entitled to drink only the middle portion if I choose; and if I don’t, it’s solely so as not to cause you any inconvenience.”
So, he would empty the top two portions and pour the remainder in his coffee.
- vSatie never washed his hands with soap but with pumice stone.
- vHe was a gourmet and an insatiable eater, but he also went through strange phases. In Mémoires d'un amnésique, he said he lived entirely on white food: “...sugar, grated bones, salt, the mildew from fruit, cotton salad, and certain fish without skin.”
- vSatie suffered from chronic bronchitis all his life. By the time of his death of his death, he also had pleurisy and cirrhosis of the liver, from his excessive drinking.
- vHe wore a top hat, suit, and a black silk ribbon attached to his pince-nez. But he wore old army boots and tattered trousers. So, he was called, ‘Monsieur Le Pauvre’ – ‘Mr Poverty’.
- vA great number of his musical scores have no bars or time signatures. Instead, Satie wrote down very unusual phrases, meant to guide the pianist on how the music should be played. Here are some of his annotations:
Detached but not dry
Put yourself in the shade
Looking at yourself from afar
Continue without losing consciousness
On the tip of your mind
Fall till you are weak
Do not look disagreeable
Quiver like a leaf
Full of subtlety, if you believe me
Avoid any sacrilegious excitement
And my two favourites:
Like a nightingale with toothache
Behave yourself, please: a monkey is watching you
All these fascinating facts I have found in the following books and articles at the Music Library of Greece – Lilian Vidouri. I would like to take this moment to thank two wonderful ladies, Alexandra Tsakona and Rinio Chrisadakou, who made my research possible:
- vErik Satie by Ornella Volta
- vErik Satie by Rollo H. Myers
- vSatie: Seen Through his Letters by Ornella Volta
- vA Mammal’s Notebook: Erik Satie. Writings edited by Ornella Volta
- vThe Strange Case of Erik Satie by Rollo H. Myers
- vErik Satie’s Poetry by Peter Dayan
- vThe Life and Times of Erik Satie by Jack Marshall
I have come to the end of this blog entry. I hope it has served as a small teaser, and has interested you enough in Satie’s unique character to want to find out more about him. And, if his person does not appeal and intrigue you, then, I have no doubt his music will definitely hold you captive!
This is a real honour!
It's been a looong time since I last updated my blog - apologies for that! The summer was busy and there have been a few life changes - all good, but keeping me on my toes, nonetheless - that's why I've been so silent. But, I have a number of ideas in my head for future blog entries, as well as some interesting projects happening, so, keep checking this space.
In the meantime, I would like to say how honoured I am to have been interviewed by a very good writer, and also a friend - Jeff Blackmer.
I am attaching a link to Jeff's website. Check it out because his stories are captivating and well written! And the interview is great, too....he asked some wonderful questions!
And, Jeff....Thank you!
Oh, How I Love These Two Words!
(Yes, the final words are hidden, and, No, Aromatherapy has nothing to do with the novel! It's the only book that fitted perfectly!)
It's true! The Man Who Stole Satie is finished!! It’s over 103,600 words, and is made up of 78 musical movements (not chapters!), both in French—of my choosing—and also in English, taken from Erik Satie’s actual musical notations—or as he called them, Performance Indications. I found them in a superb book about the composer by Ornella Volta, Satie: Seen Through His Letters. He was an incredibly fascinating and truly eccentric man and, in my mind, greatly misunderstood. I will, at some point, write up a blog entry about him.
But, coming back to my novel…the end has taken me by surprise. No, that’s not quite right…this whole novel has surprised me more than any of the others. It has flowed easily and, although, this has not been the one that took the shortest time to write (The Perplexing Case of Seraphim Karalis was completed in 6 months, and this one in 8), it has, nonetheless, felt like I’ve been guided all the way through it by some unseen force! Information appeared just when I needed it, books, documentaries, paintings…you name it, I found it at precisely the right time! In fact, there were moments when it was a little uncanny how clues popped up, helping me along! I have no idea why that is…and I’m not even going to try to understand it. All I want to say is how grateful I am!
So, in honour of this big moment (for me), I am going to enjoy my, by now, customary black Greek beer, and take a BIG breath of relief! Aaaah!
The first draft of the novel is done!
Here’s to the next novel…whatever that may be!
Taj Mahal Stories
I had a conversation online with a writer friend about different types of stories and what it feels like to follow their trail. It got me thinking. As with most things in life, it’s never only one way.
This is how it is for me.
Some stories come gradually, are serene by nature and are like going for a walk in a park. You stroll amongst the green foliage, pick up hints of fragrances from various flowers – roses, jasmine, bitter orange blossoms, depending on the season. You might stop off to smell one of these flowers, to admire its translucent colour. That’s when you notice a perfect little bee sucking nectar and pollen, its fine wings fluttering so fast they look almost static. You’re so engrossed by this tiniest of beings, you become unaware of your surroundings, of how big the plane tree behind the rose bush really is, how many magpies are flying above your head or whether the sun is high in the sky. You breathe in the fragrance of the rose and marvel at the bee circling it. You go in deep, observe the smallest happenings. Each detail has a message and a story to tell, and you go silent. You pay attention.
Then there are other stories that, from their creation, are full of grand sceneries, immense oceans and breath-taking mountain peaks hidden from view behind white luminous clouds. You take in the larger picture, work big, explore the story with your arms outstretched. Nothing is seen through a microscope, only through a panoramic lens. Your legs begin to ache after hours of walking about these landscapes and you begin to wonder if you’ll ever reach the end. But you persist and are rewarded when, at last, you manage to see the whole world and everything beyond it right in front of you. Some breathing space is needed between such stories. They demand a great deal.
At times I follow one route or the other. But, there are those rare and wonderful occasions, when these two very different ways of experiencing writing and the world come together. These I call my Taj Mahal stories. Here’s why.
Let’s go back to the first description. For me, a Taj Mahal story will often begin that way. I’m walking (in my mind’s eye) in a lush park, surrounded by so many trees I cannot possibly name them all – I am in the park, I cannot embrace it as a whole. I pause by a Tea rose bush, see that small bee buzzing round the budding flowers. It settles on a pale-yellow petal, its edges tinged with lilac-pink. How long has it been there? I cannot say, but I remain watching its every move for a while longer.
After some time, I lift my eyes and, to my amazement, notice that this rose is one of a million other colourful roses in a huge field full of rose bushes. Where has the park gone? I have no idea, but I’m so overwhelmed by this change in scenery which, although surprising creates a lovely image, that I raise my eyes a little higher. I see mountains behind the field and think, Hold on a minute....isn't that Mt Everest? I don’t ask why it’s there. I accept it as it is and follow it wherever it wants to take me. How am I sure it’s Everest and not some other mountain? Easy. It’s in my head. What else would it be?
Without warning, I find myself flying over the mountain. I’m swept over snow-covered peaks, feel the cold inside my nostrils, sense it travel down my body. Goosebumps appear on my skin. I study everything around me and am struck by the appearance of a cave – well hidden – but I notice it nonetheless. I stop flying to take a closer look. There is a shrine made out of rocks and clay by the entrance – a square pagoda-shaped base, painted white, leading to a bulbous dome, and above it, a long spire. My feet crunch on snow as I walk past the shrine, closer to the cave, and enter.
Once inside, I feel the difference in light and temperature with the chilly, bright expanse of the Himalayas. It takes a moment for my eyes and body to adjust to the darkness and the protective warmth of the cave. Then I wonder…is this a cave or a cabin? I am not sure. I distinguish all sorts of details I could never have even guessed were in there as I flew about the mountain, small objects like a neat row of butter lamps, their rich smell filling that small space, paintings on the walls of the cave in russet reds, ochre, smudges in black, and coloured prayer flags hanging on the ceiling. Only now do I really notice them. I walk in a little further, and realise that this is only a small room leading to something much grander – a whole world is encompassed within this cavern.
I spot some steps carved out into the stone, descend until an entire underground village, hidden within Mt Everest, appears in front of me. Inconceivable to think this was ever here! Pure sunlight shines down on the low, flat-roofed houses scattered about and on the lush, green utopia. I walk on further, until I reach a field and, with wonder, see the rose bush that I’d seen in the beginning, the bee buzzing around the flower as if nothing special has happened at all! That’s when it dawns on me – this must be the Shangri-La of stories...one that starts off small, grows huge, then takes me inwards again, only to open up to a more glorious unknown jewel!
And, that, in my mind, is a Taj Mahal story!
In its essence, it's a large structure, even a little overwhelming at times, but it has a structure nonetheless, and logic. But there is also magic. It knows where it’s heading. Still, all the lapis lazuli, the jasper, jade, carnelian, turquoise and other semi-precious stones that, sadly, no longer grace the walls of the Taj Mahal, in my mind’s eye, continue to illuminate and decorate the building’s white marble walls. They speak to me in hushed tones. I gaze within their hidden light and see their fire.
I am grateful when these stories come to me.
Photo: Katholikon, Gouverneto, Crete (Annia Lekka, 2008)
Almost at 62K!!
Yes! My new novel, The Man Who Stole Satie is a few hundred words short of 62,000!! I'm so happy!
My characters are continuing to surprise me and take on a life of their own, but I've learnt from the past to listen to them now...even if I think I know them, I usually don't, and they guide me in just the right direction. Especially one character, Madeleine Durant, my artist. She is far darker than I ever gave her credit for. Interesting.
I am also thrilled because, as with previous novels, useful information appears as if out-of-the-blue! If I need something, it comes my way, and I am so grateful for that!
Even though the novel is not finished, yet, I want to thank two wonderful friends for all their help along the way...two Alexandras, in fact...Alexandra Pel and Alexandra Tsakona!
Alexandra Tsakona gave me access to incredible books on Erik Satie, via the music library of The Athens Concert Hall, which, in turn, helped me discover the most fascinating facts about the man himself--what a unique and eccentric character he was!! Being able to get a hold of these precious books meant finding out that I'm going about this novel in the right way. so, thank you, Alexandra!
And Alexandra Pel has guided me on everything to do with painting, and how to discover/track down lost works of art by various artists of the past! My art historian in the novel has been closelybased on her, so, if for no other reason than the fact that she'd given me permission to turn her into fiction, I thank her tremendously!
Thank you, ladies! Your help is invaluable! I couldn't write this novel without you!
And so the work continues! Being this close to the end, and yet having some way to go still, I am more restless than usual, but also excited.
Watch this space...hopefully news of the novel being finished soon(ish)!
Bye for now!
Apologies For the Silence
Yes, I know...I haven't really been here for about two months, and it's a long time. I apologise for the strange silence.
This will not be a long post, only one to say that I will soon write a proper entry.
I have been busy researching and writing on my new novel, as well as working on various edits, hence the lack of attencance.
It's all coming along well and I am now at 32K. I'm enjoying this novel, as much as I did the others, even though it has a different character, is set in a new place and time and it seems to be 'writing' itself in its own unique way. But, as with most of my previous writing, I am being guided and sent what I need at the right time! And for that, I am very grateful!
So, just saying I'll be here soon.
Bye for now!
Saying Goodbye and Thank You to 2013
Unbelievable as it may seem, another year is almost over. And as with all other years that have gone before it, 2013 had much to offer, as well as many lessons to learn. I’d like to take a moment to reflect on all that’s happened in 2013, and to Thank Life for everything it’s given me. I have been blessed with the best family in the world, and the most incredible friends, and for that alone, I'm truly grateful!
But, here is my list of what was great this year (not including family and friends, which always fill me with love and joy!):
- 1) We’re living in our own home – and it’s the BEST home EVER!
- 2) I finished Lydia’s Letters, my second novel, which I’d been working on for about 10 years! AND I've also finished the 1st & 2nd edits!!! Woo hoo hoo!
- 3) I completed my third novel, The Perplexing Case of Seraphim Karalis in about 6 months! (I'm still shocked!)
- 4) I painted, again, after 20 years of…nothing! (Nothing less than elation with that accomplishment!)
- 5) I managed to spend one whole week alone in the summer! (Last time I did that was 20 years ago!)
- 6) I started writing my fourth novel, The Man Who Stole Satie.
- 7) I signed a publishing (and translation) contract with a Greek publishing house…and then it got cancelled. (What an INCREDIBLE lesson that was!)
- 8) I think I now make the perfect mashed potatoes! Ha!
- 9) I reconnected with a dear friend, Despina, whom I hadn’t seen in over 10 years, and she's still as lovely as ever!
- 10) Another dear friend, Tricia, came to visit me and we went on a writing retreat in the mountains! Four blissful days!
- 11) I’ve laughed a LOT this year.
- 12) I managed to visit my birth city, Thessaloniki,…and I’ve fallen in love with it, again!
- 13 ) I think I’ve become a little more patient….I think…..
- 14) I’ve also finally learnt a very BIG lesson: Letting Go!
- 15) I feel more connected than I’ve ever felt before.
- 16) We all decorated the Christmas tree together, and I loved that! (Last year, because we were moving, we had no tree, and I felt like I'd missed a Christmas.)
And so, I’ll end this post, (most likely the last one for 2013), with immense gratitude and hope in my heart!
Thank you, 2013! You have been a great teacher.
And…WELCOME 2014! I’m ready to receive all you have to offer!
I wish you all a truly magical New Year, full of inspiration, imagination, much laughter, love, lovely surprises and may your dreams come true!
À bientôt!! x
...full of love, light, creativity, laughter and inspiration! x
And some not so good news....
I just found out that the contract I had signed with the Greek publishing house has been cancelled, due to the financial difficulties this country is experiencing at the moment. So, my first novel, Ané, will not be translated and published as was planned.
My thoughts and feelings on this are mixed. I understand this economic crisis we're all going through and I know it's not because of the book itself. But I do I feel a mixture of disappointment, sadness and understanding.
Still, I hope on. Maybe I shouldn't, but I do. And, I like to think that, some day, my novels will be published!!
So, until that day, I will just keep on writing...
Over and out!
The Arduous Work of Editing or Tearing Your Work to Pieces
Yes. I’m editing. Lydia’s Letters is undergoing massive reconstructive surgery. And it is painful. But it is also needed, very much so.
My super beta readers have come back to me with their constructive comments. Even so, I’ve been plagued with thoughts of how I can best fix this novel that’s been tormenting me for a decade!
The good thing is that it’s not all hard work. There are some easy changes, and they’re usually the ones when two or more (usually more) readers all say the same thing. In fact, I was lucky with Lydia’s Letters, because all of my friends had a problem with the ending…so, that won’t be hard to change. And, if I’m to be completely honest here, I wasn’t too happy with the ending, too. So…all good on that front.
But, the real challenge has to do with some main characters and the way they’re behaving (or misbehaving in their case)!
I am reminded of the following quote:
“... The Book is more important than your plans for it. You have to go with what works for The Book ~ if your ideas appear hollow or forced when they are put on paper, chop them, erase them, pulverise them and start again. Don't whine when things are not going your way, because they are going the right way for The Book, which is more important. The show must go on, and so must The Book.”
(Am I whining? I hope not!)
When writing a novel, characters have their own way of appearing to me, of showing me who they really are and how they want to grow within the story. I have always trusted their voices, taken them at their word and have written them the way they’ve wanted to be written. But, sometimes, they do things that are just…well…not quite according to character.
Some may argue that I don’t know my characters well enough. Perhaps. I don’t think that is the case, but it is a possibility. I like to think that it’s only because it’s a first draft: we’re all getting to know each other in a friendly way. We’ve met out walking, or in a coffee shop, and we’re discussing general ideas. That’s how it feels like to me. With each chapter I write (always in the first draft), they’re unfolding, opening up, showing me a little more, telling me one more secret. And, I write it all down.
Still, as Ernest Hemingway very rightly said:
“The first draft of anything is shit.”
~ Ernest Hemingway
But, as with every relationship, I get too involved, too obsessed and often miss things. My beta readers help me see these flaws clearer, because they’re not connected the way I am.
And so, the first edit begins.
This part of the relationship is where things start to get messy. I challenge my characters at this point, ask them why they would do something that isn’t really believable, or is wrong. You’d be surprised, but, they come up with pretty good answers.
And so, once again, I listen. But, this time, I push them a little, I confront them, and they come out with something that resonates at a deeper level and helps the writing grow. They explain that, yes, they acted out of character, but it’s only because of the pain they felt, or of the frustration or anger or...the list is long. They sometimes reproach me for not having believed in them enough. But it’s not true. I do trust them. And I show them this by cutting what is unnecessary, or filling out what was missing. Sometimes, that means a whole chapter...or two! But, more often than not, it means cutting out. And rearranging.
Stephen King’s famous bit from his book, ‘On Writing’ comes to mind here:
He’s right, of course!
This goes on and on, and with each edit, it does get easier, because barriers drop and I no longer have to ask them any questions – they answer willingly.
I am looking forward to that part.
But, I am not there yet. I am at the point of that second, deeper unfolding. The first edit. And, it isn’t always pleasant.
Still...I shall persist. I believe in this book and in my characters with my heart, and want to give them this chance to become what they were meant to be.
So, I shall leave you with one more quote, one that gives me courage to go on:
“A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit.”
~ Richard Bach
And I ain't quitin'!
(The photo is of my desk this afternoon)
Where Writing Comes Easy
Sometimes, concentration is so high, that it doesn’t matter if you’re sitting in Kathmandu’s crowded Durbar square, on the steps of the Acropolis or on a moving train – writing flows. Effortlessly. People walk by you, scream, laugh, talk, try to sell you bananas, tea, the train rocks to and fro and announcements are loud on the speakers. But it makes no difference – that one-pointed absorption doesn’t waver at all. Life feels good and you accomplish a great deal.
However, there are times, when even the slightest sound of a car driving by in the street, or someone whistling in another room of the house will make you fidget, read what you’ve written at least three times before you realise it’s not what you wanted to write. Writing is clumsy and it’s frustrating. Very frustrating.
I’ve found myself in both situations many times and, in all honesty, tend to prefer being behind a closed door, alone, without music to feel the full power of inspiration rushing in.
At least, that’s how I feel at home.
But, there are some places which seem to make writing flourish. One such place where I find peace, regardless of how many people are in the house whilst I’m writing, or whether it’s hot or cold outside, is my friends’, Takis & Elli’s, house in the mountainous area of Corinth, in the Peloponnese.
I was fortunate enough, and felt truly grateful, to have been given the keys to their home, by my lovely friends for four days, and I went there with a friend, to write. And write I did!
It was the perfect writing retreat!
I have officially started writing on my new novel, The Man Who Stole Satie, and scenes keep coming at me all the time. When I’m not writing, I’m thinking the story out, playing about with small changes and different ideas. My two main characters, Simos and Madeleine, are already speaking to me with clear strong voices. And so is Erik Satie (1866-1925), the French composer and pianist, known for his avant-garde, minimalist music, (such as his compositions Gymnopédies and Gnossiennes), allowing the listener space to experience the music, whilst being very moving, too.
Being in my friends’ house seemed to give wings to my writing. It came pouring out and I loved every minute of it, writing, cooking, lighting the fire at night, as well as lying on a bench outside soaking up the warm sunrays. I was involved in my story, albeit at this early stage, and I already feel I’m on the right track. Time will, of course, show me if I’m right or wrong, but for now, I am eternally grateful to Takis and Elli for giving me this gift.
Writing comes easily there. No doubt about it!
So, until I am lucky enough to go there again, I shall make do with looking at the photos of the view from their top floor balcony, and hope that some of that serenity will continue to inspire and grow within me.
Enjoy the view!
Rebellious Characters and Wayward Plotlines
Yes, you read right. Characters rebel and plotlines go off in directions previously not considered. It happens. More frequently than you can imagine. But, what to do when faced with this kind of mutiny?
In almost everything I have written there has been an element of the unknown. Generally speaking, I know what I want to write about. More often than not, I write down a very vague plot, and then work it out as I go along. Other times, the story is more solid, I am more in control of where it’s going. But, there are times, when I feel like a piece of fruit in a blender, spun around, tossed, chopped up and reduced to a pulp for the sake of my characters. The Perplexing Case of Seraphim Karalis is one such novel.
From the start, I knew – no…let me correct it…I thought I knew – where this story started, how it progressed and where it ended. I now stand humbled, my little writer’s ego deflated, for I realise that, not only am I not really in control as I’d originally thought, but, instead, I am a slave to my demanding and, sometimes, opinionated characters.
What’s strange about finding myself in this position is that, whichever way I think about it…my characters are always right!
They have been guiding me, speaking to me, sometimes even telling me off for now wanting to follow their advice, and I am in awe of their innate wisdom and knowledge of the story I thought I had created!
Maybe it’s because this novel has been sitting in the sidelines for about a decade. Maybe my characters have had time to chat amongst themselves over a cup of coffee, discuss plot glitches and fruitless ideas, coming up instead with a flowing story, complain about my stubbornness and inability to listen to them. For all I know, this could have happened. I am beginning to believe it has, and they have conspired behind my back. I’m so glad they have!
It started with Dr Spiridon, my island doctor. He demanded many hours of medical training, on my part, still does, researching and asking help from a writer friend who is also a doctor. He is a tough tutor, challenging, serious, yet most rewarding when I get it right.
Then, there was Seraphim, my gravedigger. Now, he’s a curious character. Very silent, content to sit in the background and wait, just wait, until I’m ready to listen to him. He’s allowed me to make mistakes in the writing of him, to fumble and make him look almost ridiculous. And just when I’m about ready to pull my hair out, he steps in, with a gentle smile, places his hands on mine to stop me from typing and says: ‘No, look. This is how you’ll do it.’
In reality, I am not very surprised by either of my main characters. I half-expected them to have their own ideas.
However, there are some others that I hadn’t paid any attention to. And they are the ones that have shocked me the most with their requirements. They started off, (in my mind), as small cameo roles, and have blossomed into quite necessary, and main, characters.
But, once I get over the surprise and wonder, both at their audacity as well as their undeniable wisdom, I am left thinking one thing: this business of writing a novel…it is the ultimate lesson in letting go, of following faint whisperings, or even loud voices, of opening yourself up to the unknown, jumping into a deep, bottomless lake, not knowing if you’ll come out alive or be sucked into its darkness. It takes trust
And so I proceed. One day at a time, placing one word after another, feeling exposed, but, all the while, relishing this exciting and simultaneously frightening feeling of letting go and trusting.
Until next time.
Honour your Rhythms, Welcome your Muse.
In the past, I never had a fixed writing schedule. I would write when I felt like it, if I felt like it. I could go months without typing a single word, and then, I would be absorbed by a story, swallowed up completely. When that frenzy came over me, I would lock myself up in my room and write for hours on end, and often well into the night. I am no stranger to those peculiar dark hours - when most people are in their second (or even third) sleep - silent ghostly hours, where shadows loom larger and each minute lasts longer. No. I would not be resting and dreaming. I would be up, writing, would go to bed exhausted, only to wake up a few hours later to get breakfast ready.
I never questioned this way of working. It was what I did. I embraced it and, in fact, for many years, thought it was the only way I could work. I didn't allow for growing older, changing my mind or, possibly, maturing a little, too.
But, I was wrong. There is another way.
Before I found it, I would feel envious of people disciplined enough to sit down at their laptop every day, even for a short while, and write. To be honest, I never thought I had it in me. Yes, I can be disciplined, but, for some reason, didn't think this ability was available for writing. And I would have gone on thinking this were it not for life conveniently stepping in.
About eight months ago, we moved homes, and not only moved, but had to fix the house before moving in...or rather, simultaneously. This was the fourth move in ten years. And I felt miserable to be moving, as well as exhausted. Still, I had no choice. It was, simply, something we had to do.
At first, I fought this life change with all my might, I really did. It only brought on more frustration and unhappiness. So, I decided to let go and allow the change to happen, to try to accept it and flow with it.
This change within myself was the catalyst, I found out. By stepping out of my own way, I allowed a couple of things to happen:
a) Things flowed smoothly with the house, deadlines were (more-or-less) met, the final outcome was just as I'd expected if not better, things came together effortlessly and,
b) I discovered that the only way to keep my sanity throughout this period, was to write on a daily basis.
As you can imagine, this surprised me tremendously! I had not seen this coming!
I made sure that, every day - usually in the evening - I would go into my room and write. At times I felt pressured to do this, told myself that if I wanted to be called a serious writer, I would have to do this every day. My efforts were beginning to become unproductive. So, I created another rule for myself. Namely, I took guilt out of the equation. 'Have to' stopped existing.
And, one of my dearest and oldest friends, Sacha, sent me an article about how working for two consecutive hours is usually more productive than working for much longer stretches of time. So, I have added this to my set of rules, too.
So now, my new set of rules are:
1. I will try to write every day, even if I only write a couple of words,
2. If, for whatever reason, I cannot write one day...that is perfectly fine. I spend the time I would have spent writing, thinking about my story, percolating ideas, thinking out areas of a novel that weren't quite clear,
3. I don't work more than two hours in a row.
A number of months down the line, this has brought about changes in both my peace of mind (which has increased), as well as my creativity (which, I find, has also increased), that I would never have imagined.
If I now go a day, or even a couple, without writing, I don't feel bad about it, don't tell myself off. On the contrary, I crave it! My absence from the keyboard only increases the fire I have within, makes my story more important and my characters more stubborn! As a result of this, I try not to go too many days without writing, not because I have to, but because I want to! And it feels wonderful because I feel like I am achieving something, completing it, creating even more!
Of course, there are times when I sit at my laptop and write and write, and that old hunger gets me like crazy - I cannot stop. That's fine, too.
I suppose, I've learnt to listen to my inner rhythms. They are sacred, right for me.
But, I do help them along...just a little...
How can I fall out of love, when I am faced with the object of my deepest affection every day?
So...welcome your Muse as she is, honour your rhythms. But also give them a chance to go from being something you enjoy doing, to something you can't do without!
Until next time!
A Week of Silence
I have been blessed with a complete week of being left alone at home, to read, write, paint, sing, watch movies, do no cooking and generally relax. I cannot even begin to tell you how much I needed this, and how grateful I am that my family had no problem removing themselves from the house in order to give me this time alone!
And I AM using it creatively!
I am still working on The Perplexing Case of Seraphim Karalis. It's now up to about 37,000 words...and counting! It's flowing well and my enjoyment of this story has not faded at all. But, I have also done something I've been wanting to get back to doing for about 20 years now...namely, paint!
When I was younger, and especially in art college, I would paint a lot, and it was an equally good way of expressing myself and extrenalising what was going on inside me, in the same way that writing was and is. But, what with raising a family and working every now and then, my time was not that plentiful any more. I know, I know...I was making excuses - I don't have time, the house will get messy, I will get dirty, blah blah blah! Well, no more excuses!
Having colour in my life, is just as important as having words near me. I didn't realise just how important art was to me until a good many years into happy family life, when my husband and I went away on a trip to Vienna. On our last day there, we decided to explore the city on our own, and I spent my time going from one art exhibition to another! I soaked in the shapes, emotions, splashes of colour in front of me. And my hunger only grew! I should have realised then that I have to let art back into my life but, as with a lot of things, we find ways of hiding what we really want or need from ourselves!
But, the desire was there, and it was strong! Luckily, it was helped along when one of my dearest friends, the very talented writer, Val Waterhouse, who came to Athens for a visit, and I showed her my old art work. She kept insisting that I should get back to the easel post haste! I, of course, didn't do that! Haha! Once again, I found plenty of excuses not to!
This is where this week has come in as a great boost. Being left alone in the house has been like a mini-awakening! I told myself that I now have NO excuses for getting back into painting, no excuses at all! I'm glad I listened this time round...
When I write, I want total silence. I do not want to be disturbed, don't want to hear little noises or music, either. But, when I paint, I HAVE to have music. And I sing along! Always! Therefore, painting is a dual enjoyment for me: image and music.
I am adding this self-portrait on the site, not because I think it's anything spectacular, I really don't, but because I am overjoyed at having overcome myself. Laziness is no longer an option, and it never should have been. But, the time for making excuses is now over.
Of course, not working on something for so many years makes one stiff, unpraticed, crude. My hair, nose, mouth, flesh tone, all need work, a LOT of work. And self-portraits are a tough form of art, probably the toughest! It's challenging, strips you naked. You are faced with yourself and only have yourself to account for. My task was not an easy one! But, I think that's fitting - it's good to jump in deep waters from time to time, to step out of our comfort zone, feel vulnerable, notice our weaknesses, explore what's inside.
I hope to paint a lot now, from still life to images from dreams I have, although, I confess to having a weakness for faces. Unbeknownst to them...my children are up next! HA!
I'm not sure if I will paint myself again...but, at least, I've made a start!
And, I want to thank Val for that push!
© COPYRIGHT ANNIA LEKKA 2013
Training to Be a Doctor
Writing a novel is a mixture of both gruelling work and fun. There are so many things to be considered - the characters (Are they realistic enough?), the plot (Is there a plot? Does it make sense? Is the novel too plot-driven?), as well as the little details that add authenticity to a piece of writing, especially if it is set in a particular era. It requires copious hours of research, reading books, checking sites on the Internet, rummaging through photographic material, even visiting places a novel is set in. Putting in that extra effort makes the difference, I believe.
For example, these last few days, I have been researching all sorts of fascinting things, like the Four Humours which Hippocrates came up with, (although he wasn't the only one), the symptoms of liver cancer, the effects of laudanum and its dosages, bloodletting, either with leeches or a lancet, dry-cupping, wet-cupping, phrenology...and the list goes on! And I've been truly surprised by how exciting all this research is. I had no idea that leeches can survive up to one year without being fed! That made my mind do loops! Or seeing some of those lancets they used for bloodletting, or the fleam and scarificator...scary stuff, but all terribly thrilling!
My previous novels haven't taken me down the medical path. For them, I had to research corsets and the history of Turkish baths, enuchs, palaces, particular cuisines, the language of flowers, sultans of the Ottoman Empire, rulette rules, tobacco factories, the Heart Sutra, animal sacrifies and Buddhist monasteries, to mention a few....all of it very very exciting. But, never anything medical. I always thought I wasn't cut out for medicine, but this present research is so much fun I'm now beginning to wonder! Ha!
And this makes me think even further...what other gems of knowledge are waiting to be discovered? What am I still to learn?
For now, I'll stick with what I'm doing, namely, training to be a doctor. But, I can't wait to find out what else I'll train to become in the future. As long as I keep my curiosity alive, the training will never end!
Being a writer is the best job in the world! It really is! How grateful I am that it called to me and I followed its call!
Although this photo is of nothing medical, it is of a view from Ay Yorgis monastery on the island of Pringipos, now known as
When the Going Gets Tough....Get Writing!
I'm trying...I'm trying....but it's not easy! Sometimes, writing just flows effortlessly. But sometimes, it feels like I'm pushing a huge rock uphill! I haven't quite figured out why that is, but I have a sneaking suspicion the longer I go without writing, the harder it is to get back into...
Still...I'm not giving up! I do think I need to go back a bit, and write a proper plan for how I want the novel to go. I'm sure it'll be nothing like that in the end, but it helps. At least now, at the beginning.
As the title says, it's begun! And what is that excatly? Well, writing for The Perplexing Case of Seraphim Karalis. I've been researching on various things to do with the book, but now I feel I can start writing. In fact, I didn't write the opening line in a normal fashion. No! I woke myself up, fumbled in the dark for a pen and a notebook, and wrote down the opening line...all in the dark! I think that must have been my mind's way of telling me, 'Enough research! Get writing, now!'
I'm glad to say I listened!
So, stay tuned! Hopefully there will be a chapter up, soon!
YES!! A small moment of celebration...
This is a very emotional moment for me! I have finally done it! After almost a whole decade of writing it, and even longer since I first got the inspiration to write it....I have finally, FINALLY, finished the first draft of Lydia's Letters!!!
(I know it's a little blurred...but you can see it! THE END!!! I have hidden the final words!)
I am so very excited, elated, even! I can hardly believe it!
This novel has taken a lot out of me. It has affected me very deeply. I have written and re-written it so many times, from different points of views, with different main characters, that I can hardly remember how many versions I've written to finally reach this one! I feel both deliriously happy, but also a little sad, as I do after having completed any novel or novella.
However, I also feel another thing. I feel anticipation.
You may very well ask me why. And I won't lie. I shall tell you the truth.
For years now, I had put a self-restriction on my writing. I have told myself that I cannot touch The Perplexing Case of Seraphim Karalis, until I'd finished writing Lydia's Letters. This might not sound like much of a restriction but, believe me, it has been! I have not allowed myself to spend any time on this new novel - [apart from writing a detailed storyline so I can go back to it and, most likely, change it (HA)] - and my fingers have been itching to start!
So, I am feeling a whirlwind of emotions right now - satisfaction for having finished 'LL', sadness (for the same reason), exhaustion and excitement in equal measures, but also anticipation for the new novel that's been waiting in the sidelines to be born!
And, to honour this incredible moment, I have opened a bottle of delicious Greek black beer!
Pretty quiet on this front at the moment!
I'd like to welcome you to my new blog!
What an exciting time this has been for me, preparing this website, designing it with my sister, Ilenya - Thank you, Ilenya! I couldn't have done it without you! - driving her and the webmaster crazy with all the changes! Still, I love the outcome and couldn't be happier that, after years of wanting one, I finally have my own page!
I will write as often as I can, but I cannot promise every day!
As soon as I've figured out the whole site and can navigate it better, I will be posting photos and fun stuff!
So, stay tuned and keep checking this space.
Thank you for joining me and this fun writing journey!
P.S. The photo above is of my writing space. I'm so happy with it!
OK....so, I will now try to upload two photos of my shoulder...where Jeremy Irons signed it! (Now there's a lovely tattoo on it!) This was on 29th September 2002, at the Herod Atticus Theatre. I know it's not very clear because he had a Biro! I can tell you....it hurt! But was well worth it! :)
First Day of Spring
Wednesday 20th March 2013 and it's the Spring Equinox. What a better way to welome Spring than to start writing again?
It's exactly what I did! After about three months of being too swamped with moving and fixing our new home, too tired to concentrate on anything other than getting the house ready, I finally picked up the novel I was working on just before the move, Lydia's Letters, and started reading through it, editing, writing.
Getting back to writing after months of being 'dormant' can be daunting. All sorts of thoughts cross my mind: Will I be able to write again? Has the story left me? Will I be in the mood? The fear that lives with me throughout the months of not writing can be crippling. But, every time I go back to face my writing, I am surprised at just how quickly I become obsessed with my story, how happy I am to see my characters again, the way I would be if I hadn't seen a friend for a long time and we'd finally met for coffee. And I'm amazed at just how real these fictional people are to me. It's a wonderful feeling!
So, this afternoon, I made myself a cup of Earl Grey tea, I ate a wonderful tarte anglaise that the children had bought from the bakery down the street and I was ready to begin. I sat at my desk, switched on my laptop and started reading through my story, and added bits to it. I even drew out a ground plan of Lydia's house.
And I felt happy.
I love Spring. And I love writing.
21st March - World Poetry Day
In honour of World Poetry Day, I thought I'd post one of my 'things'. As you will see, I cannot really call it a poem. But, it's not really a novel, either, and it sort of captures what I felt that moment.
So, here it is. I hope you enjoy it
all their fears
in one big circle
dangle one foot
then the other
feel it spiral
in your belly
one big ball
eat a sandwich
feel it settle
in your belly
like an eagle
in sweeping circles.
all those voices
lines are forming
keep your legs close
feel a pressure
and it’s lift-off.
Then the void
thin air expanding
sounds like humming
near the heavens
clouds become you
you become clouds
drink your coffee
all this makes me
want to STOP.