Welcome back to the Author Spotlight! This time, we put Grecophile John Manuel in the spotlight. Meet him and learn about his books set in Greece.
Meet Grecophile Author John Manuel
As avid reader, I love to read books set in Greece or about Greek themes. As a writer, I’m fascinated by writers who though not Greek, have fallen in love with Greece, and are inspired by her. I like to read their perspective on our beloved motherland. Even more intriguing is learning about these writers who are so enamored with Greece that they’ve made it their home. Let’s meet one of those writers, Brit John Manuel, and learn how he was introduced to Greek culture, his life in Greece, and his work.
Q&A with John Manuel
Maria A. Karamitsos: You’re not Greek. Tell us briefly about yourself.
John Manuel: I grew up in Bath, in the West of England. Despite my unusual surname (which never even crossed my mind throughout my very happy childhood) I’m a pretty stereotypical English boy really. I was always good at art and pursued a career (after a few hiccups along the way) as a graphic designer. That said, my two best subjects at grammar school were Art and English, and I admit to always having been a frustrated writer. I could well have gone into journalism, it was close.
MAK: How did you become interested in Greece?
JM: Until I met my wife, who is half-Greek, I’d had no specific interest in Greece at all. My wife’s mother was from Athens and, although having lived in the UK for many years, always filled the house with Greeks and Greek music (bouzouki and rembetiko), not to mention Greek cuisine, and thus began my relationship with all things Greek. Not long after I got married, my pethera insisted that we all go to Athens together for me to be introduced to my wife’s family. I was an addict as soon as the plane door opened!
MAK: You now live in Greece. When did you move there?
JM: We moved to the island of Rhodes in August 2005. We drove all the way from the UK in a Mitsubishi van.
MAK: You’re still there — the economic crisis didn’t drive you away. Why?
JM: To be honest, apart from the cost of filling up the car, the crisis hasn’t affected ex-pats like us as much as it has Greeks who are either civil servants or pensioners. Plus, we follow a pretty simple lifestyle and live on locally produced fresh fruit and vegetables in season. If you know how to live the truly simple life, it’s amazing how little you can live on. The climate, the people, the place — I can’t imagine being anywhere else anyway. Plus, nowhere’s perfect, although this isn’t far short.
MAK: Did you always want to be a writer?
JM: I mentioned above that it was a close run thing between making a living as a designer or as a writer. I won school competitions for my writing when I was as little as eight years old, so it’s always been in my blood, but I wouldn’t say that I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Once I got started on the first book, though, I soon caught the bug.
MAK: What made you want to be an author?
JM: I read works like A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle and Bill Bryson’s books. I rather immodestly thought, “I could do that!” I did originally send off a few submissions, but when I read a Sunday Times article about Lulu.com (the online digital publishing house), I decided to try it and have used them ever since. I’d written four non-fiction books before I even attempted a novel.
MAK: What was your first published work? When was it published?
JM: The first in my Ramblings From Rhodes series, which I was originally going to call “Lela’s Daughter”, but eventually ended up giving the title Feta Compli! It was published as a paperback in 2008. I started using Kindle in 2011.
MAK: Why do you write about Greece?
JM: It may sound corny, but Greece is such an evocative country. Ever since I first came here and especially when I visited my first Greek island, which was Poros, I was enraptured by the uniqueness, the light, the people, the dances, the scenery; plus — to begin with – my new experiences with my wife’s Greek family enthralled me. Now, though? Well, having lived here for well over 12 years it’s in my blood, I suppose. Plus, I’m always amazed at how many people who take vacations here can’t get enough of seeing photos and reading about this country. I know there must be people the world over who are as enthusiastic about any number of other countries, yet so many people I meet agree that Greece just has something that nowhere else has.
MAK: How many books have you published to date? What’s the latest?
JM: I now have 10 books to my name. There are five factual memoir books and five novels. The latest is a novel entitled, Two in the Bush.
MAK: Tell us a bit about your writing process.
JM: Hmm, well, where do I start? If it’s a novel it starts with a simple idea, a scenario that intrigues me. Then I’ll try and flesh the idea out in my mind for a while before beginning to write anything. Once I get started I keep a spreadsheet of characters, their birth dates, status, relationship to the main characters etc. I also keep a text document in which I try to summarise each chapter with a single sentence. It’s weird, but once I get under way the stories seem to almost write themselves. I end up with all kinds of plot twists and developments that I didn’t foresee when I began writing the book. Sometimes I type away for hours if I get into a ‘frenzy’ of ideas. If I find myself getting excited about a way to develop the plot, then it encourages me, because I feel that, if it excites me, then it ought to do the same for the reader.
MAK: Share a story about a reader communication, and how that affected you.
JM: I’ve had so many, but I suppose what really affects me is when someone gets in touch and tells me that they visited a certain place, not only here on Rhodes, but anywhere that I may have written about, after having read about it in one of my books, or even on the blog. People do contact me through the website from time to time. Someone will write and say how they’d fallen in love with an island, or a location on the Greek mainland, after getting the idea to visit from reading my words. The effect it has on me is to emphasise the responsibility one has when trying to convey the character of a place and its people, or the beauty of the scenery there. I could be causing complete strangers to spend their hard-earned cash on my say-so. Gulp! In fact, there have been at least two couples who’ve written to say that they’ve moved to Rhodes, largely on the strength of reading my blog. I hope they never catch me!!
MAK: Anything else we should know about you?
JM: I play bass extremely badly! My wife and I haven’t eaten meat for thirty years, although we do partake of a little fish now and then. We’re both huge Halloumi fans, too. I’m a music addict, primarily guitar-based blues-rock, but I have very catholic (with a small ‘c’) taste. Umm, what else? I have one sister, who lives in the UK.
MAK: What’s next for you?
JM: Off to bed wth a Harlen Coben! Oh, and my wife, of course!!
Meet other authors we’ve put in the spotlight: