Character Interview with Georgios Manolas

On the blog today, an interview with Georgios Manolas, the central character in ‘The Last of the Moussakas’ by Fearne Hill. I’m particularly excited by this interview and the book because, as you know, I moved to live in Greece 19 years ago and live on a small island. Not Aegina, the island of the story, but one where traditional family values and the views of the church are obstacles to gay people and therefore love. So, I’m interested in seeing how Georgios’ story unfolds and reading the delicious details of life on his Greek island.

Here is the interview. Enjoy!

Georgios Manolas is a character created by author Fearne Hill.

Fearne Hill, lives deep in the southern British countryside with varying numbers of hens, a few tortoises and a beautiful cocker spaniel.

When she is not overseeing her small menagerie, she enjoys writing MM contemporary romantic fiction. And when she is not doing either of those things, she is working as an anaesthesiologist.

 

First a short introduction – where do we first meet Georgios?

Georgios’s story begins on the Greek island of Aegina. We first meet him clearing the tables at the end of a busy evening working in his uncle’s restaurant, where he is a chef and general dogsbody. His lifelong best friend, Max, is drunkenly slumped at one of the tables. As always, even in his inebriated state, Georgios knows Max is the most beautiful man he has ever seen.

What is your full name?

My name is Georgios Manolas. I’m named after my grandfather. My brother and cousin forget my name sometimes and call me faggot or homo. My best friend, Max, calls me Georgie boy. I kind of like it.

Where and when were you born?

I was born and raised in the same ramshackle house where I live now, hidden amongst the backstreets of Aegina town. A dwelling ideally suited to a family of four but accommodating an extended family of ten. Privacy and solitude are rare commodities. My family have lived here for generations. The furthest abroad I have ever travelled is on the ferry to mainland Greece.

Aegina back street

Tell us a little more about your home

Our stone house is built on three floors, bits of each floor added in a higgledy-piggledy fashion at varying intervals over the last two hundred years to accommodate the growing family. My older brother Dion and I share the tiny attic space. The current permanent residents, in order of apparent importance are: my great grandmother Noni, my uncle Papa Marcos and his browbeaten wife Cynta, my taciturn grandmother (who slavishly cares for Noni), and my own, downtrodden gentle mother Simone. Then there is my spiteful cousin Nico (although he sometimes lives with a girlfriend and their child until she periodically gets fed up with his laziness and throws him out), my permanently depressed teenaged cousin Agatha, my brother Dion, me and my younger sister Ava, who is still in nappies. Which in itself warrants a mention, given that my father died of a heart attack eight years ago and my mum has never remarried. And I don’t actually recall my slender mother ever looking pregnant or giving birth and I’d like to think it’s something I’d notice. Sixteen-year-old Agatha, however, did look fairly tubby a couple of years ago, then took a trip to see some other relatives (we literally seem to have hundreds of them) in the Peloponnese and she lost the weight spectacularly quickly. But we don’t talk about that.

What is your occupation?

I have been the chef at Papa Marco’s restaurant since I left school at fifteen. Along with everyone else, I am paid a pittance. One day, I’d like a restaurant of my own.

Turning to your physical characteristics, what colour are your eyes?

Dark brown

What does your voice sound like?

I am Greek, quietly spoken. My English accent is embarrassingly bad.

What three words would others probably use to describe you?

My brother would describe me as a faggot. My mother would say I was kind. Max would tell me I was beautiful.

Do you have any physical traits that stand out?

I am slight of build with typical Mediterranean olive-skinned looks. I probably look younger than I am.

Let’s talk about your past, how would you describe your childhood?

I can’t recall a time when Max and I weren’t best friends. He has been a constant my whole life. We are actually second cousins, although that doesn’t mean much on this island, as it seems that everyone is related to everyone else at some point along the family tree. He spent every single holiday on the island and all my memories are filled with weeks and weeks of glorious sunshine and Max. Swimming and snorkeling in the sea, day and night, cycling all over the island, camping on the beach under the stars, or hiking up in the mountains. Endless strawberry gelatos and gyros, sleepovers, and sun cream.
My father died when I was fourteen. My mother and I loved him very much. When he died my childhood ended.

When did you have your first kiss, and who with?

My first kiss was with Max. We were only fourteen years old, and a minute later he’d passed out cold on cheap Tsantali wine that we’d nicked from Papa Marcos’s restaurant when no-one was looking. Every time I kissed a girl, I wished it was Max. Max is openly gay and every time he kissed a boy, he says he wished it had been me.

What is your biggest secret?

My biggest secret is that I am homosexual, and Max and I are in love. I think we always have been. My dad used to say, ‘Georgios, if you grow up and finds yourself a wife you love as much as you love Maxi, then you’ll do very well for yourself.’ But I’ll never find a woman like that.

Something a little more personal, do you believe in the existence of soul mates and/or true love?

I have only ever had one true love, which sounds terribly soppy. Max is the soppy one, not me. He tries to be cool and suave but pampers me rotten.

Who is the most important person in your life, why?

Without my Max, I’d go insane on this bloody island.

Your Likes and Dislikes … what is your favourite colour?

The brilliant blue of the Aegean of course; it matches Max’s eyes.

What is your most treasured possession?

I have an ancient Vespa scooter that belonged to Nico and Dion before it was passed down to me. I have very few possessions to call my own.

Do you like to read? If so, what do you like to read?

I read cookery books. I fantasise about reproducing the recipes for my dream restaurant.

What makes you laugh?

My Maxi, when he sings very badly.

What is the quality you most like in a man?

Kindness and understanding. Is that too much to ask for? And patience, because for Max and me to have our happy ending, he’s got to unpick some family feuds going back to the second world war. The Nazis occupied our little island and the rift between Max’s German ancestors and mine is deep. Sometimes, I think it is insurmountable.

Do you like yourself?

Yes, although sometimes I wish I had the fortitude to stand up to Papa Marcos, Nico and Dion. To be gay and proud and hang the consequences. But I have so much to lose if I do.

Looking to the future, where do you see yourself in five years from now?

A dream view

With my own beachfront restaurant in Aegina, packed with tourists and locals alike, because I serve the best food on the island. And after a hard night at work in the kitchen, Max will be waiting for me, in our home up in the hills overlooking the Aegean.
A boy can dream, can’t he?

 

 

If you could choose, how would you want to die?

With Max at my side, when we are both very, very old.

And finally, some questions just for fun, what do you have in your pocket?

The keys to my scooter, my wallet and a paring knife.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Saffron. Specially imported from the Middle East. I use it sparingly.

Who would you like to invite to your fantasy dinner party?

A British chef, now dead, named Keith Floyd. He was a flamboyant rule breaker, a drinker and a raconteur. And while I am none of those things, he could teach me so much. Max would come along too, to keep the conversation rolling while I stare at my culinary idol. Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever confessed that before! Not even Max knows.

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Fearne Hill’s latest novel is available now, you can find her on Goodreads.

Last of the Moussakas

Max Bergmann is Europe’s hottest drum and bass DJ. From the outside, his life is a whirl of glamorous vodka-fuelled parties and casual hook-ups, whilst inside he craves the one thing he can’t have – his Greek childhood friend, Georgios Manolas.

Following a disastrous PR stunt and one drunken hook-up too many, Max realises the time has come to reassess his life choices. Returning to his childhood home on the Greek island of Aegina, if he wants any chance of having Georgios permanently in his life, he has to delve into the mystery of the longstanding hatred of the Bergmann’s by Georgios’s family.

Georgios is a chef and has spent his whole life on the tiny Greek island of Aegina. He has held the family restaurant together since he left school, with very little reward, and dreams of one day running a restaurant of his own on the island. Yet if he acknowledges his feelings for Max, he runs the risk of losing not just his traditional Greek family but also his livelihood.

As Max slowly uncovers the secrets of the past, he is left wondering whether a little Greek girl’s heart-breaking wartime diary could not only hold the key to his family’s history, but could it also unlock his and Georgios’s future together?

The Last of the Moussakas is a warm romance about two men’s quest for the truth about the past and unlocking a path to a future together

Follow Fearne here:

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Website: www.fearnehill.com

Mindset and Language in Historical Romantic Fiction

Mindset and Language in Historical Romantic Fiction
19th Vs 21st Century in The Clearwater Mysteries

Deviant Desire, The Clearwater Mysteries book one

This week, I read a blog post titled ‘How do you read historical romance?‘ written by Joanna Chambers, author of MM Romance novels such as ‘Unnatural’ and the ‘Enlightenment’ series. I found the post of great interest and very well written, and a paragraph towards the end made me wonder about my own historical fiction.

Joanna’s post first discusses what makes a reader exercise willing suspension of disbelief (a phrase coined by Samuel Coleridge, a fact I never knew until reading the post). Later, she talks about the mindsets of characters, and we’re talking about historical fiction here, remember, not contemporary. The part of the blog post that made me stop and think was this:

I will admit to not much liking characters who appear to have wholly 21st-century mindsets and who seem not to struggle at all with being at odds with the society they live in. I like to see the characters in historical romances having to wrestle with the norms of their time…”

I stopped and thought, ‘Do mine do that?’

I mean, do my Clearwater characters have 21st-century mindsets and do they struggle with the norms of their time? I asked this because I have read historical fiction, both MM romance and not, and have put books down after a couple of chapters because a) the language doesn’t fit the period, and b) the mindset doesn’t fit the period, and sometimes c) because there were too many clichés, but that’s another matter. Knowing that I’ve been critical of others’ work, I started to wonder if I was a pot calling out a kettle (to carefully ‘PC’ a phrase attributed to Don Quixote, and later, an anonymous poem published in a magazine in 1876), and I had a think about how I have written the Clearwater Mysteries.

Do my characters have a 21st-century mindset?

Well, yes and no. When writing the books, I am always aware of what surrounds the characters, and I mean not only the landscapes but the politics, the expected norms and the etiquette. They are the ‘shell’ that encloses all characters, particularly those who exist either side of the baize door. As Thomas (Payne, the butler) calls it, ‘The great divide.’

And there’s where my 21st mindset comes in. Archer (Lord Clearwater) and Thomas grew up together, they are a similar age, Thomas came into service at eight and Archer was allowed to befriend him when his authoritarian father was absent. The friendship they formed back then grew and came perilously close to a teenage love affair. By then, Thomas was a footman, and Archer was the Honourable Archer Riddington, so the gay thing aside, a friendship should have been out of the question.

Even when Archer takes the title of viscount, he is still held back by the ‘great divide’, although one wonders if Tom and Archer shouldn’t be the couple living together in love. That can never happen because of the expected norms of the time. A butler and viscount being so personally close was definitely not expected in the later 19th century.

But two men being friends (possibly more) is entirely within the mindset of MM Romance, or, as the Clearwater Mysteries are, romantic MM fiction.

Archer’s liberal views are progressive, and his perfect world would be one without this upstairs/downstairs divide. He treats his servants as friends, and if he had his way, there would be no baize door.

I think what I am trying to say is, if characters in the novels spoke and behaved exactly as expected in 1888/1889, there would be little or no room for what holds the Clearwater Mysteries together; the bonding and friendships between the characters, particularly the men.

Take the relationship between Silas Hawkins and James Wright, for example. Read book four, ‘Fallen Splendour’, and you would be forgiven for thinking that what these two young men have is a ‘bromance’, a word that only came into use in the past ten years, and one which does not even appear in my 2006 OED. So, it’s not a word I could use in the stories, and it wouldn’t have been a ‘mindset’ of the time. It’s my job as an author, to convey the emotion and state of ‘bromance’ so the reader can relate and engage, but without the characters actually calling their friendship a bromance.

Which brings me on to language

Joanna’s post also made me think about language. There are two languages in my novels, that of the narrator and that of the characters in dialogue.

My characters speak with today’s attitudes (so readers can relate), and yet in a language that is appropriate to the period. In book eight (due out later in September), Jasper Blackwood behaves like today’s typical teenager, except he spends his time playing a piano not an Xbox, but his language is period-appropriate. For example, when James is trying to understand Jasper’s teenage sulk, Jasper says, “As I see it, Mr Wright, an older gentleman has me trapped in my bedroom, and he is inappropriately dressed. Some would consider this improper.’ James doesn’t have him trapped, but he is wearing a dressing gown, and if this was a modern scene, Jasper would be far less polite!

Language is where we have to be careful. While rereading one of the earlier stories in the series, I was horrified to see a character use the word ‘Okay.’ I was sure I’d checked this usage, but further research proved that the word didn’t come into use until around 1926. Oops! I am continually checking words and phrases to make sure they were in use in the late 19th century, and sometimes have to change the dialogue to fit. Researching chemistry and medical matters for book eight (‘One Of A Pair’, due out at the end of September) proved interesting as I was dealing with a batrachotoxin which, after consulting with my brother, a chemist, I learned was a phrase only coined in the 1960s, so that was out. I invented a term of my own instead.

What I try to do with my Clearwater mindset and language is to engage the reader with a modern mindset while telling a story set in the past. Contemporary attitudes are present, so the reader doesn’t feel detached from the characters and places, but they are bound by time-appropriate situations and expectations. Hopefully, nothing grates as being to 21st century, while the language remains free of Victorian clutter, though believable, allowing the reader to suspend their disbelief and get on with enjoying a good, romantic adventure.

I know I have wandered from Joanna’s original points, and if you want to read the article that inspired this post, you can find it here: How do you read historical romance?

Joanna Chambers
Blog https://joannachambers.com/
Author page UK https://www.amazon.co.uk/Joanna-Chambers/e/B00MB8JFDM/