Symi, Greece, in Winter

Hello, and welcome to Saturday’s blog. This week, I thought I’d bring you up to date with what I am doing and what’s happening where I live.

Current work in progress.

If you saw Wednesday’s blog, you’ll know that ‘Agents of the Truth’ (Larkspur Mysteries book three) is just about ready to be proofed. The cover is done, and there will be a cover reveal next Saturday, so make sure you bookmark this site and be among the first to see it.

Writing on Symi in the Winter

Regular readers will know that I live and work on a small Greek island called Symi. When people think of living in such a place, they immediately assume we have sunshine and warm weather all year round. Well, let me put you straight on that! On Thursday morning, I crossed the porch from the side of the house we live in to the side we work in (I call it the workhouse), and entered my study. This is where I have my computer station in the corner, my writing desk against the wall, my research books and other bits and piece I collect, like my horror model figures. I have a carpet on the floor, and at this time of year, the shutters are closed, and I pull a heavy velvet curtain over the window. All the same, the temperature in the room was four degrees, and all I have to heat it with is a two-bar electric fire. After ten minutes at the computer, my fingers hurt, and I had to dig out the fingerless gloves to try and keep them warm.

The view from the house during good weather.

Yesterday, we had clouds and rain first thing in the morning, so it was slightly warmer in the houses, but still only around 10 degrees. There are times between December and March when you can stand in the sun to get warm, and possibly sunbathe, but as soon as you get into the shade, it feels freezing. We don’t have snow here (not often, I think the last decent fall of snow was in the 1980s), but if the wind is from the north, and the runoff from the overflow has been dripping, you can find icicles. I had them on the rosemary bush one winter. Our house faces north and is exposed to the north and west, so winter tends to be a chilly time for us.

The same view in bad weather.

Village Life

Life in a Greek village, in the winter, is a quiet affair. The other night, we invited a friend to go for a drink at the bar where Neil works in the summer (I will be doing it this year for one reason or another), and we made the proviso that if it was closed, we’d go next door. There are two bars in our village square, and one taverna, and they are usually open all year round. On Wednesday afternoon, when we arranged to meet our friend, our usual bar was closed, so was the one next door, and so was the third we tried which is usually open all day. The village was a ghost town. It was cold and rather desolate, so in the end, we decided to buy a bottle of wine and have a drink at home instead. At least it was marginally warmer because our usual place is a large room that’s pretty basic and not usually heated. But it is a change of scenery.

The peace and quiet of village life is an upside for me. In fact, I can think of few downsides. We have three or four ‘super markets’, as they advertise themselves, but don’t think aisles and shopping trollies. These are what most would call mini-markets, but they have everything we could need. More or less. The one we use most is not far from us, and you can often find eggs fresh from the owner’s farm along with the salted fish, barrels of olives and the usual imports. It’s the kind of shop you go to catch up on village news, learn some new and often naughty Greek words, have a laugh and a joke with the owner. In the winter as much as the summer, it’s a social place as well as a necessary one, though it does come with its quirks. In the Greek tradition, they keep their caged songbirds inside, hanging the cages above the deli counter. If it’s busy, you pop behind the counter to take your own halloumi from the fridge, and for some reason, the bottles of bubble bath are tucked in among the wines. That anomaly is made stranger by the fact that very few houses on the island have baths.

Village steps.

Years ago, we used to use another, smaller ‘super market’ because it was closer to our house. I went in one day to look for sage because I was roasting a chicken and wanted to make stuffing. There was none on the shelf, so I asked if there was any somewhere else. There wasn’t, but hold on a moment… The owner phoned her husband at the other end of the island, told him I wanted sage, and the call over, told me he was going to pick me some on his way home and would deliver it to the house later. Now, you don’t get that service at Tesco.

Village life can bring downsides which you have to treat with a smile or a laugh. If it’s raining hard, like it was the other week, it’s simply not safe to go out. We’re on a hillside, and there are no roads in most of the village, it’s all steps. The rainwater runs off the mountain above us and teams down through the narrow alleyways and turns the steps into rapids and small waterfalls. When it’s raining hard, it’s dangerous. End of story. There are certain facilities we don’t have up here. To go to an ATM, pharmacy, council office and other necessary evil, is a walk down 400 steps and, if you don’t drive, take a taxi or bus, 400 back up again. Gossip spreads like cholera, but on the upside, you’re never far from anyone. Some friends needed paracetamol the other day, but couldn’t go out, so I was able to pop some around to their place, drop off the rubbish at the collection point, feed the stray cats and be home within 10 minutes.

Some of my built models (it’s a nostalgia thing)

Most of all, for me, winter life is only a challenge because I know I should be out and about doing some walking and dropping several lockdown pounds, but it’s currently either too cold or too wet. With the shutters closed, there’s no view and no light, so you end up with no sense of time. In the spring and summer, I can see when it’s getting light, down tools and force myself out onto the hillside for a walk. At this time of year, I daren’t open the shutters because that would let in the rain and cold, and I live and work in a twilight world which consists of sitting at the desk or PC, and later, after my six to eight hours a day, sitting on the sofa. There are occasional breaks from this. Last week we went to play cards with Jenine, my PA, though the exercise gained in the 300-step climb to her house was negated by the snacks. One day a week, my godson comes to me for his piano and music lessons, which is always something to look forward to, and now and then, we pop out for a drink at the bar just for a change of view. Only, of course, if they’re open…

So, the winter on Symi continues, and for me, that means staying at home a lot, writing, watching TV, building models now and then, playing or teaching the piano, and on rare occasions, putting on the thermals and taking a walk up and down a hill. That’s how it’s going to be for another couple of months, and then, when spring kicks in, things will change. We’ll open the shutters, put away the heaters, and before we know it, everyone will be saying, ‘Isn’t it hot?’

Symi winter-scape

Meanwhile… I am about to start on the Larkspur Mysteries book four (untitled). I’m not sure of the story yet, but I have a main character in mind, and it might have something to do with the mysteries of maps. I’ll leave you with that thought, but don’t forget…

Agents of the Truth, cover reveal coming next Saturday. Be here, or be in the dark (like I am).

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.