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A Novel Way to Write


DON'T give me that crap: "Yes, I do a bit of writing on the side but nothing worth showing." You're just a coward, a hoarder. You're afraid that, having come to Greece to write the perfect novel, thus achieving the prologue-bit of your dream, you are now unable to write anything readable. It's not for a lack of inspiration, it's perhaps just the opposite - there's too much inspiring stuff going around. So much in fact, that it's doing your head in; you can't stop to write it all down in a way that would make the person you imagine reading it (a big cynical publisher sitting in a comfy desk chair in London or New York) gasp, smile, get tears in his eyes or - work up a pulse.

So you sit there with the start of a novel in your hard drive or desk drawer. You talk about it to friends and acquaintances, sometimes intermittently, sometimes 'their eyes have glazed over but I can't get myself to shut the hell up' obsessively.

You fear rejection. Even when you read 'best-selling' colour-covered books that you know one sentence of your shadow of a novel would put to shame, you resign yourself to believing it's only the fantasy hero version of yourself who is momentarily confident about the black scribbles you've wasted paper with. Or perhaps you are an arrogant self-deluding author, tapping away throughout the night whilst sipping a strong something and chain-smoking, a la F Scott Fitzgerald only to then lock your treasure in a drawer and forget about it. Because you're convinced that after you have gone from this earth, the next Andy Warhol will dig it out of your desk and use it as the soul food of a thousand generations.

Kate Bush and the angel Gabriel knew what they were warbling about when they told us, "Don't give up". You're in Greece for goodness sake, the place amazon. com lists 9079 books on. Get writing! Don't be inhibited by convincing yourself the 9079 books one can find in one virtual bookstore alone will put your own piece of genius in the 'bin there, done that' category. Because the Athens News conducted a bit of research which shows that most of those books are about ancient Greece (say, 68.12 percent), followed by books on mythology, religion, the Byzantium, culture, politics, cooking, other historical periods and of course travel. There's Cats in the Sun and Dogs in the Sun, beautiful photography books set on the magnificent islands. And then there's a handful of novels.

The point is to cut out anything openly linked to ancient Greece . You can use it for inspiration but don't tell anyone. Use your imagination to come up with fresh local -based, current ideas. Greek MPs in the Sun or Greek Salads in the Sun, for example, would be a start. Or use any of the things you come across every banal day as sources of inspiration for your starting point at least. Such as:


A friend who happens to be a weathered traveller (read: soaks everything in but is by now impressed by little, rain or shine) was enthusiastically rattling on about the amazing opportunity for experience one can find only in Greek cabs. Whether it roots from you being squeezed for a two-hour ride between a smoking giagia, a cage of parrots, Captain Corelli and six obese children, or being driven around the city by a driver who's more like a bouzouki singer on acid than the guy you'd like to take you home, or any other incredible, daily scenario, it's certainly food for reading. Something originally presented and interesting to chew over and easy to digest. Or perhaps something to compulsively wolf down, difficult to swallow and impossible to stop burping up. But memorable, nonetheless.


You are now living here as a resident, try-hard novelist, so you can start looking at tourists from afar. You can soak up their behaviour and make all kinds of things up about them.

Take that couple joined by little more than their recent vocal cord removal operation. They're pushing their shockingly over-priced sea food around the plate and taking big gulps of retsina in the centre of Plaka. They stare at passer-by organ-grinders, flower-carrying gypsies and old men selling little lazer-beam thingies with the attention one would give to the Pope in a tutu because they're bored. They glare at passing couples who have vocal cords and dextrously use them to laugh together. You could write about her being his stalker, who has followed him to Greece and whom he's finally agreed to sit with but she's so ashamed she can't talk. You could suppose they're newlyweds on a honeymoon but she just found out he was having an affair with her twin sister. Or maybe they're still in a post-coital afterglow. Speechless.

loony cults

Perhaps because Greece is the basin of democracy, so many loony cults decide to come to a country where they can have their say and not have a pint glass smashed in their face. Here they can gather at a cheap taverna to whinge tirelessly about Greek supermarkets not selling all the things they miss from home, like Kool-Aid. Here they can creep up to the Acropolis at night and sacrifice a bottle of ouzo under the spell of the Gods. Study them from afar but call it quits if you start hearing voices in your head. Especially dyslexic ones.


Pretend you're one of them (you are, but that's beside the point) and like Hercule Poirot on a roll, start to detect patterns. "That Vera, she takes three swigs of beer in a row and then puts her glass down" is not exactly what I mean. Patterns such as where people go on which days, who they visit and in what mood, etc. Imagine, why are they here? To live? Of course not! There are a multitude of other exciting reasons you can make up in your novel. People who used to be called Pat but are now called John; Hunted ex-spies; Axe-idental murderers; Wholesome housewife running away from a family of 2000; Alien cleverly disguised as English teacher but in fact brainwashing children with 'kill human race' messages; Deluded artist; Self-indulgent bon vivant. Loads.

stray dogs & cats

Don't buy a fun camera and capture the amazing grace of these in a book because, as revealed earlier, that's been done before. But think Disney. How many of their best feature films are based on dancing hippos, spaghetti-eating dogs and singing fish? You know the answer. And it doesn't need to be an animal-based children's novel either. George Orwell knew a thing or two when he wrote his black political satire. Imagine that fat ginger snoozing on your parked car roof quoting Euripides or Rouvas to her good-for-nothing Tom-cat lover. Think Syrtaki-dancing dogs, Rover the Greek. All you have to do is stare out your window for a while.

Cocaine-laced smog. Doomsday of the Mediterranean diet. The abduction of the Parthenon marbles resulting from a gay lover's tiff. Steep Kolonaki streets and slippery heels. The upcoming Olympics. The expansion of the Athens Metro. There's so much out there to inspire the great novel in you. Someone wrote A Guide to Mussolini's Body Language and its three copies were bought out instantly by Greece 's opposition party leader Karamanlis, so why shouldn't your works be immortalised? All it requires is good, old-fashioned perseverance.

And as Delos said:

"Justice is loveliest, and health is best,

But sweetest to obtain is heart's desire."

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