I have the privilege today of interviewing Author Annia Lekka, from Athens, Greece. A few years ago I read an excerpt from her book, Fishtail Mountain. What I remember most about it was the way it made me feel. I was captivated. Since then I’ve had the privilege of reading her novels ‘Lydia’s Letters and ‘The Perplexing Case of Seraphim Karalis.”
Jeff: Annia, what do you love about Greece and what would you tell people about it that don’t live there?
Annia: People seem to have an image of Greece being long sandy beaches, turquoise waters and heat. That is definitely a big part of this country, but it may surprise people to know that Greece is also a country with lots of contradictions and it varies in both climate and landscapes. Its geographic position makes is a true gateway to the east, the west, the north and south. Its history stretches back over the centuries and I honestly don’t believe there is one part of the land that doesn’t have something else buried underneath it! There are too many things to love about this country: the sun, the most incredible seas, the numerous islands (each one offering something unique and different), old traditions which can be both fascinating and entertaining, tasty fruit and vegetables, its oil, olives, ouzo, yoghurt, mastic, wines, saffron and other edible delicacies…and I can keep going on and on! However, if I were to pick one thing I love most about my country, I’d say it’s this particular versatility that never ceases to amaze me. You could be warming up by the sea one minute, then the next, up in the mountains wrapped in a scarf and jacket, trying to fight the chill. I love this juxtaposition in sceneries and temperatures which, I must admit, is echoed in the people, too. There are many colourful characters in Greece and most people are warm and hospitable. It’s certainly not a boring humdrum life here!
J: I understand you have some exciting things happening with your writing. Could you share some of that with us?
A: I have just started a new novel all about colour. This is thrilling for me, for various reasons. Firstly, I finished my fourth novel in June of this year, so I didn’t expect to be starting a new novel so quickly, but the speed with which this one is being written in both excites and frightens me a little! Secondly, this particular story appeals to my innermost nature because I am a very visual person, and being able to research into the making and history of colour pigments is thrilling. Also, inspiration for this novel seems to be coming in complete ‘downloads’. By that I mean that I feel like chapters are coming to me whole and, sometimes, I even start panicking a little, worrying whether I can write everything down fast enough before the ideas leave me. For example, one night, my husband and I were coming home on the Vespa, and I started ‘seeing’ one of the chapters forming. I kept having to repeat the ideas in my head over and over again, so as I wouldn’t forget them, and when we got home, I wrote them down! That Vespa ride felt like it lasted a lifetime!
A few more exciting things…firstly my short memoir, Alice, will be published in the Go World Travel magazine Chance Encounters anthology in December, and secondly, I will be doing a small reading along with other new writers in a week’s time as part of an arts event. Feeling both a little nervous as well as happy!
J: When did you decide that you were a writer, and that you must write?
A: I am not too sure exactly when I made the conscious decision to become a writer, but I have been writing for as long as I can remember. Whenever I was upset, or happy, or wanted to express something I was feeling, I’d write it down. Writing (and painting) have an immediate effect on me, one of clarifying and releasing whatever I keep inside, as well as relaxing me. So, although when I was younger I wanted to be a ballet dancer, an actress, an opera singer, an artist, an archaeologist and a number of other professions under the sun…it feels that all these interests and pursuits were building up to me realising that what I wanted more than anything, was to write.
J: Greek is your first language and yet you write in English. Have you done any creative writing in Greek?
A: I started learning English when I was 7 years old and my family moved to London. Until then, I’d never spoken a word of English. But, school was in English, (as were my friends), and I was young, so it quickly replaced Greek for me. Whenever I wrote something creative, I never wrote in Greek. I have tried writing creatively in Greek, but it always feels stiff and unnatural. So, I stick to English.
J: I understand you’ve written four different novels thus far. Could you tell us a bit about them? Do they share any common characteristics?
A: My first three novels are not a trilogy but they are interrelated. They all take place on the largest of the Princes’ Islands, (in the Sea of Marmara), now called Büyükada, and Istanbul, during 1830-1912. Although the novels can be read separately, certain characters appear in two novels, and there are threads that can be picked out like connecting dots, a bit like the way Krzysztof Kieślowski includes certain characters that were in one film, in the background of another film in his trilogy, Trois Couleurs: Bleu, Blanc, Rouge. In the same way, these novels have different main characters and stories, but there are similarities, too. The first novel is about the owner of the Turkish baths on the island, the second is about one of the families who owned a hotel right by the pier, and the third one, is about the gravedigger of the island. And the way they connect? I’ll give you an example: the gravedigger, Seraphim, also appears in the second novel but as a very minor character, and his father is mentioned in the story with the Turkish baths owner.
My fourth novel has nothing to do with the previous three. It takes place both in Athens of 2014/15 and in Paris of 1896. There are two main characters and they come together in an unusual way. My Greek main character is a young architect called Simos, and my French narrator, is a woman artist called Madeleine. And somewhere in between the two, there’s the French composer, Erik Satie. This novel deals a fair amount with art and music, and has a lot to do with letting go and forgiveness.
J: What genre do you usually write in and why are you drawn to that genre?
A: I don’t think I can place my writing in only one genre. Being a very visual and observant person, my work is quite vivid and colourful. It can be quirky and unusual. Dreams are vitally important to me, and I often use images I’ve seen during sleep in my books. I am drawn to magical realism, but also love researching, so this means I enjoy writing historical fiction, too – but with a twist. My stories usually have a strong voice and narrative. Everything we do in life revolves around people, so understanding how a person thinks and feels is something that moves and intrigues me. So, put all these together….and I honestly can’t answer what genre my writing fits into.
J: Where do you get your inspiration from and how does a story come together for you?
A: Different stories come together in different ways. As I mentioned above, dreams offer a whole world of inspiration for me. Some dreams have become complete stories and others have helped with a scene, but I use them a great deal. Other times, I might see a person on a bus or the tube and be fascinated by their features or an action of theirs. This might spark the beginnings of a novel. And there are times when I’ll hear a story on the news or from someone, and this will ignite something…and a story emerges. So, I think, the safest thing to say is that I don’t only have one way of approaching a story.
Now, the way they come together also varies. With some books, I’ve written out a very rough outline of how the story will go. But, with others, they seem to write themselves. I’m comfortable with either approach. Each one is challenging in its own way, so I give them the time they need to percolate and allow them to show me how they want to be written!
J: What can you tell us about your current project?
A: My current project started as an idea when I went to the exhibition on Making Colour at the National Gallery in London this August. Colour is so important to us all – unless you have some form of colour blindness – and this exhibition although small, was truly inspiring. My main character is an Art Historian. This is exciting as I’m now researching into all aspects of colour, both in life, in symbolism and in art. It is different to my other novels in that there will be a book contained within the book. I don’t know how it will work out, but I’m enjoying it tremendously!
I’d like to thank you, Jeff, for your great questions and the chance to speak about myself and my writing. It’s been great sharing these things with you…over virtual tea and biscuits! It’s been a treat!
J: Thank you, Annia for letting us get to know you a bit more and for sharing your inspiration with us!
Annia Lekka was born in Thessaloniki, Greece, but grew up in London. She obtained a BA (Hons) in Theatre Design from Central Saint Martin’s College of Art & Design, and was awarded a scholarship by Royal West of England Academy for research studies in Nepal. She has worked as a set and costume designer in Athens and London, and as a stage manager at the Athens Concert Hall. In 2008, she gained an MA in Creative Writing (with Merit) from Lancaster University. In 2009, her short story, Medicine Man, was published in the Year Zero anthology, Brief Objects of Beauty and Despair. In 2011, her short story, The Unfolding, came joint-second in the Ifanca Hélène James Short Story Competition. In 2012, her novella, Fishtail Mountain, was longlisted for the Cinnamon Press Novel/Novella Competition. In 2014, her short memoir, Alice, was chosen for the Go World Travel magazine Chance Encounters anthology, which will be published in December 2014. Annia lives with her husband and three children in Athens. She has completed four novels and is currently working on her fifth.
If you would like to read excerpts from her work, please visit her website: www.annialekka.com
or on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Annia-Lekka/82893230212?fref=ts as well as on