This is a very special post today as I’m joined by Richard Clark a best-selling author of books set in the Greek Islands including my favourite, Crete. Richard is a generous supporter of my novels and I’m proud to have a mention in his book ‘Eastern Crete – A Notebook’.
Thank you for making time to chat today, Richard. Let me start by offering congratulations as I’ve seen your new novel, ‘The Lost Lyra’ has already earned a coveted number one spot on Amazon. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and will soon add my five-star review on Amazon.
This novel joins the ranks of your travel guides set in Greek islands. Of these my favourite is Eastern Crete – A Notebook. Yep, that’s my bias shining bright!
How do you describe The Lost Lyra?
I suppose in the broadest sense it is a contemporary romance with roots in recent history and drawing on the experience I have gained writing so many travelogues about Crete and its magnificent landscape.
Where did you gain your inspiration for The Lost Lyra?
Strangely the story came to me almost fully formed. I love lyra music and the idea that it connects the past with the present. For me the music embodies the extraordinary landscapes of the island of its birth and becomes a central character in the book. Through its own story in the book the instrument provided me with a link between the experiences of a British soldier and a Cretan Resistance fighter during the Second World War and the present day. I was introduced to the instrument by the maestro Ross Daly when I lived in Crete in the early 1980s, I have a house in Crete and have spent many years writing about the island so had a reasonable knowledge of its landscape, people and culture. My father fought in North Africa and Europe during the war so I drew on that for some of the historical detail.
How different was the process of writing a novel compared to your guidebooks?
I loved the liberation of being able to create characters and tell their story. Not being constrained by facts gave me a great sense of freedom but it was exacting to ensure the characters and their actions were realistic.
Now you are acclaimed for both non-fiction and fiction, what will you write next?
I’ll probably return to non-fiction with another in the ‘Notebook’ series which I have already planned out, this time about Central Crete. If I can manage to plan out a plot I am happy with, I would love to then write another novel. I have a couple of ideas fermenting away.
I don’t know Central Crete, Richard so I’ll look forward to that. Another novel will also go down well. Luckily for us books set in Greece seem to have become a genre.
I understand you have brilliant canine assistants. How do they help?
Robinson the 5-year-old labrador/retriever cross and Sullivan our ‘puppy’ retriever/poodle cross are my constant companions when I am writing, they chew my manuscripts and lie on my reference books. I get many of my best ideas when out walking with them. They are part of the family and an immense joy, so in that respect they are a great help and in their own way brilliant!
You mentioned you drew on your father’s war-time experiences. I understand he was also an author, so he’d certainly approve of The Lost Lyre. What sort of books did he write?
My father was a prolific crime writer in the Sixties, Seventies and early Eighties he also created several plays for BBC Radio. He wrote 32 novels translated into numerous languages. Unfortunately, he died relatively young. He was a great inspiration to me.
Thirty-two, wow! Are your father’s novels still available?
A publisher recently approached his agent to secure the eBook rights and one-by-one they are being released again. I think ten are already available on Amazon.
Sounds like my husband will love to investigate those. I only seem to read Greek-based books these days. Let’s talk about our shared love of Crete. What first attracted you to Crete?
It was an accident really. In 1982 I answered an advertisement in The Guardian for a job as an English teacher in Heraklion. At the time my degree in English Literature was enough to qualify me for the post and following an interview in the UK, to my surprise, I got the job. I arrived on the island with just a holdall, with nowhere to live, not knowing anyone or anything about the island, the language or the job. From the moment I disembarked the ferry from Piraeus, I was made to feel so welcome. I fell in love with the island. After returning to the UK to resume my career as a journalist, I have returned regularly ever since.
That must have such an adventure. I bet such an opportunity wouldn’t arise nowadays. Where is your favourite place on Crete?
That is a difficult one as there is so much of the island I adore. I suppose I have to say the village of Pano Elounda where we have our house. It is peaceful and friendly and close enough to the sea at Elounda and Plaka where we have lots of friends. But I also love the isolated parts of the island and the cities of Rethymnon and Chania and of course my old home Heraklion.
OK, I’ll forgive you for not mentioning Kritsa! I know you split your time between Crete and the UK. Are you considering a permanent move to Crete?
At the moment I think we have the best of both worlds. For some strange reason I find it much easier working when I am back at home in the UK and as I earn part of my living from that work I do need to spend time in England. We also have children and grandchildren who live near us in Kent and being able to see them regularly is very important to me. I am aware that I am very lucky not to have to make the choice if I did it would be very difficult.
Ah, same as us. It is great splitting time between the two different countries. Like you, I’ve chosen the independent route to publishing. What are the positives and negatives of this process?
When I set out to write my first travelogue all those years ago, my aim was just to see if I could actually finish writing a book. As a journalist, I had already been published in many national newspapers and magazines and had had some TV shows optioned, to some extent the thrill of recognition had diminished over the years. At the time it was the start of the Indie revolution in music production as well as publishing. I was so lucky to have contacts in the publishing business through my position as a magazine editor. So I tapped into these editing and design skills to do a professional job and just put the book out there via Amazon. I was perhaps naïve and luck must have played a part, but that first book struck a chord and found modest success. Encouraged, I continued to write and the books have gone from strength to strength. The Lost Lyra is my 11th book and the readership is building all the time. As I write it has just gained a Bestseller flag on Amazon, ahead of Stephen Fry and Gerald Durrell, which excites me. I like being in control of what I can write and when the books are released, and the production side is fun too. The only negative for me is the marketing, I am naturally shy, so putting myself out there to publicise my books is a challenge.
I’m curious about your writing process. Are you a writer with a well thought out plot or does the story surprise you as it evolves?
A bit of both really, I am quite organised and start off with a strong plan, but I am never afraid to go off piste if that is where the book takes me.
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what tactics do you use to regain momentum?
Sometimes the going gets slow, but having been a journalist for 40 years, the tyranny of the deadline is a great motivator, having to write on demand daily is great training for an author. I always try to write something every day. If I get stuck, I write what I can without worrying about the quality of the words, often just doing this unlocks an idea. I also try to finish my day’s work knowing what will come next, so when I sit down to write the next day, I know where to start.
Mmm, I’m not so disciplined. I think I should try that. What other advice can you share with aspiring writers?
Write every day. Be prepared to take criticism. The more you work the better you get. Get a great editor and good designers so your work is always professional. Enjoy it.
Most importantly, where can people buy your books?
All my books are available as paperbacks or Kindle eBooks via all Amazon stores worldwide. They are also available in some bookstores notably the Hellenic Bookservice in London, Eklektos Books in Elounda and The Art Café Elounda.
How can people keep up to date with your work?
Thank you for chatting today, Richard. Here’s a final link to The Lost Lyra.