An Author’s Easter in Greece

It is Easter this weekend here in Greece, and as I write, Symi is about to be rocked by festivities.

I first experienced Greek Easter in 2003, and I’d never seen or heard anything like it. At that time, we were living in a house at the top of our village, only a few yards away from one of the larger parish churches. We were so close, we could hear the mechanism of the bells before they chimed, and when they did ring, would often have to turn the television off, because there was no point in trying to watch anything; all you could hear were bells. That was one thing, and we got used to it and enjoyed hearing the bells on the hour and the half, at weddings and baptisms, and, later, at Easter.

But Easter in Greece is not only about bells. There are various stages of Lent, the 40 days before Easter. Even before then, the traditions start with a Monday where the last of the cheese is eaten, a Thursday when the last of the meat is consumed, and a carnival, or a Mardi Gras, as they have in other countries around the world. If you follow the Greek Orthodox way of life, you follow a strict diet throughout Lent, which becomes stricter during ‘Great Week’, the seven days before Easter Sunday. On ‘Big Friday’ (Good Friday) for example, you don’t use cutlery, you don’t work, and the island falls eerily quiet – except for the day-tripper tourists. It was during my first Easter here that I experienced the literal silence of the lambs. There were many not far from our semi-rural house, bleating away during the lead up to Good Friday, and then on Good Friday… Silence.

In Spring the sheep are tethered on wasteland to munch their way through the fresh greenery

Lamb is the main staple of the Easter Sunday feast. Say no more.

Today, Easter Saturday, is another quiet day that leads to a very noisy night. Yesterday, the effigies of Christ were removed from the crucifixes in the church and laid on decorated biers. Villagers parade this, bring it into the churches which are decked in black and indigo, and a very serious and funereal service takes place.

The services continue through Saturday, leading to what we might call midnight mass on Saturday night. Then, at midnight, all the lights in the churches are turned off, and the priest appears with the sacred flame. This has come from Jerusalem to Athens by special plane and is used to light other candles and lanterns, which are then passed down to the towns, cities and islands. At midnight, the priest uses the flame to light the candles worshipers have brought, and people share their flame with their neighbours, so the light spreads further.

The Priest sharing the holy flame

This happens at the moment of the resurrection, midnight, and with candles lit, everyone returns home to mark their doorway lintels with X and A, standing for Xristos Anestsi. Χριστός Ανέστη. Christ is risen.

Easter Sunday is a time for feasting, relighting the barbeque, visiting family, and celebrating the new beginnings, and on Easter Monday, there is a national holiday. The ceremonies continue with the burning of Judas (an effigy, often wearing the mask of the global villain of the day, this year, I imagine, it will be Putin), a bonfire and fireworks.

This will be our table for Easter Sunday lunch, we are invited to The Anchor House with its fabulous views

And while all this is going on, there is the noise. Children and many adults delight in warding off evil spirits by setting off bangers (firecrackers), some much louder than others. Teenagers in particular love to find places where the sharp bangs echo most and make the loudest noise, and it takes some getting used to. Then, on Good Friday night and Easter Saturday night, in particular, the menfolk are up on the hillside with massive barrels stuffed with dynamite which they ignite. It’s no exaggeration to say the island rocks. Depending on where you are, you might find debris falling on your head, you can see flares shooting up and dropping onto rooves, lighting the sky red, and some people set off fireworks too. For as long as I have lived here (20 years), I’ve never heard of a fire or serious accident, which is something of an Easter miracle.

I will try and upload a video of the proceedings tonight and share on my facebook page.

That’s where I am right now; in the middle of the Greek Easter weekend. Down here in the South-East Aegean, Symi is starting to wake up after a long, wet and cold winter — we had snow for the first time in many years — and tourists are beginning to return.

Nicknamed the ‘Judas Plant’, this lily is always in bloom at easter time, it looks beautiful but exudes the smell of dead goat

Harbour and village businesses are opening, though the beaches and water taxis aren’t up and running yet, and we have our first visitor too. My mother is staying for a month, which is fun. Luckily, she understands that I have ‘Seeing Through Shadows’ about to come out next week, and I am currently working through the final proof, organising the cover, setting up publication on Amazon and doing those 101 things that need to be done ahead of the release date. That, by the way, should be during next week.

You don’t have long to wait to meet our new characters, Chester Cadman, Henry Hope and Edward Hyde. You’ll find out who falls in love with whom, what eccentricities Fleet is getting up to, and some of the history behind Larkspur Hall. There’s a ghostly mystery to solve, and a few exciting things happen in a bath, a bed and a laboratory…

Seeing Through Shadows
Coming Soon!

I will say no more, except. Kalo Paska – Happy Easter – and remind you to look out for Wednesday’s work in progress blog where I’ll tell you more about ‘Seeing Through Shadows’, the Larkspur Mysteries, book four.

Other People’s Dreams Can Be Yours

Other People’s Dreams Can Be Yours

This week, I want to tell you more about myself, in particular, where I live and why. If you read my story on my Facebook ‘About’ page, you will see that I live on a Greek island. However, I was born on the south coast of England, so how did that happen?

Symi, Greece

I first came to Symi in 1996, and I came almost by accident. Somehow, I found myself able to afford a holiday and having been to Greece once before, wanted to go again. I found a brochure in a travel agent’s and looked for the place that had the smallest write-up and no airport. Symi leapt out at me because it is far south in the chain of Greek islands, and to get here, you need to travel by boat. I stayed for two weeks, and the first one was filled with exploration as the island offers wonderful walks as well as beaches.

My view when drafting ‘Other People’s Dreams’

While on a beach one day, ‘Nanou’ it’s called, I watched a yacht out in the bay. On it was a group of men (mainly naked), larking around, jumping off and generally having a good time. That gave me an idea for a story. Until then, I’d been writing cabaret material, songs and theatre pieces, not prose, but the sight of the boat and that thought ‘What if…?’ got under my skin. The next day, back at my solo studio overlooking another bay, I jotted down some ideas for a story, and the second week of my holiday was spent writing it, or at least, some of it. That story went on to become ‘Other People’s Dreams‘ which I first released under my real name, James Collins. Later, I decided to put into the Jackson Marsh catalogue because it’s more suited to Jackson’s genre. Once I’d finished it, I submitted it to Gay Men’s Press, and it was accepted for publication. However, before the editor and I could set about preparing it, the company fell apart, and it never happened. Years later, I published it myself.

Symi sunrise

The point there was that Symi, a small Greek island in the Aegean, had inspired me to write a novel, and I did. What Symi also did, though, was show me a place where I could find inspiration and have time and peace to write, and from then on, it became my dream to live there, sit under an olive tree, and write books. In fact, when I was up for a promotion at my old day job and they asked me that dull question, ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ I answered, ‘Living in Greece, writing books.’ I was 34 then, and we moved here when I was 39 so that one was off the to-do list.

Recently, I’ve been hammering away at the Clearwater Mysteries and before them, the Mentor series, while also putting together some stories as James Collins in the Saddling mystery series. I’ve also, as James, released ‘Remotely’ a gay/straight body-swap comedy, and have written a few books about living on Symi. So, a lot of writing, but now I can work for myself, I have the time and place that I longed for when sitting on that beach wondering ‘What if…?’

Symi 5600

My Symi books are an honest collection. The first one, ‘Symi 85600’, is a collection of notes, emails, letters and jottings I made when, in 2002, Neil and I left England to try living in Greece for a year. It was my first self-published book, and actually, one of the first to appear on Lulu.com, the self-publishing platform I used before Amazon took over everything. ‘Symi 85600’ talks about our experiences of moving here and I’ve never actually edited the content, so it comes ‘warts and all.’ I don’t believe in glamming up travel experiences and don’t like those clichés one reads in books where the author has fallen as much in love with a country as they have with syrupy adjectives. It’s honest, as is the second one about our experiences of living here, ‘Carry On Up The Kali Strata.’

Part of the Kali Strata, Symi

That second book contains articles I wrote for the local newspaper and some stories, plus other observations, and also some photos taken by Neil when we had a photography business on the island. Later, in 2013, I put together ‘Village View’, which was the name of my column in that newspaper. The third book takes us through one whole year living on Symi. It’s made up of selected blog posts, as I write a five-day per week blog at www.symidream.com

‘Village View’ takes us through my 50th year. Jackson readers who have tried ‘The Stoker Connection’ and/or ‘Bitter Bloodline’ won’t be surprised to know I spent my 50th birthday in Transylvania having coffee in the house where Vlad Tepes was allegedly born. But I digress…

Symi

The fourth book in the Symi, Greece collection is ‘Symi, Stuff & Nonsense’ and is another compilation. This one includes some of my original diaries before and when moving to Symi, as well as travel anecdotes from my past and some other random observations. It takes us up to a couple of years ago, so if you read all four books in order, you travel with me from Brighton to Symi (and elsewhere) in consecutive order from 2002 to about 2017, and hopefully, enjoy the read as you go.

Before I go, I wanted to explain that the 85600 in ‘Symi 85600’ is the postcode, and the Kali Strata is a set of wide stone steps that joins Symi harbour, to the village where I live. If I take a trip to the post office, it’s about 400 steps down and then 400 back up.

And so, that’s where I live and what I’ve been writing since I got here. I guess Symi hasn’t always given me the inspiration to write, but moving here has allowed me space and time, the freedom to write, and now I’m lucky enough to be able to write what I want when I want while looking out at one of the most spectacular views in Europe. Well, that’s only my opinion, but I think my husband’s photos in this post speak for themselves.

I’ll be back next week with another catch-up and post. Meanwhile, if you’re interested in checking out my James Collins novels and Symi books, you can find them on my author page (link below). All bar one involves a gay character in some role. There’s a comedy set on Symi, ‘Jason and the Sargonauts’ that’s historically correct, and another one that’s set here, ‘The Judas Inheritance’ which was made into a film, and filmed on Symi. So, there’s plenty more reading for you there.

James Collins Author at Amazon
James Collins Author Facebook Page

Symi’s charm is in its people and the minutiae of their lives; James’s great talent lies in his careful observation of the absurd and the amusing, the dramas and the difficulties (because nothing in Symi is ever simple), and in reporting what he sees with kind humour and a writer’s eye for the details essential to lively travel writing.
Anne Zouroudi, author of Bloomsbury’s Greek Detective mysteries.