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Monday 5 August 2013

Anne Zouroudi

Lizzie Hayes in conversation with Anne Zouroudi

Anne Zouroudi  was born in rural  Lincolnshire, but raised in South Yorkshire.  She was educated at Sheffield High School for Girls.  She then went into the IT industry, a career which took her to both New York’s Wall Street and Denver, Colorado. In America she began to take seriously her ambition to write fiction, and bought a typewriter for her first short stories.  On returning to the UK, she booked a summer holiday with her sister. The location they chose was a tiny island in southern Greece.  Anne spent a number of years living in the islands; she married a Greek, and her son was born there. Anne currently lives with her son in Derbyshire’s beautiful Peak District, where she’s working on the next book in the Greek Detective series.

Lizzie Your books feature Hermes Diaktoros, also known simply as "the fat man".  He is an enigmatic character. You have said that ‘he just came into my mind’. Does this mean that he is totally from your imagination, or based on an amalgam of several people?
Anne: The idea of Hermes seemed to come suddenly to mind, but he’s an amalgam of thinking and reading over several years. He stems I think from a strong interest in mythology and Jungian psychology (Jung, of course, had his own theories on personal archetypes, of which Hermes was one), and from plenty of exposure to the more earth-bound heroes of crime fiction. As for his appearance, he’s one of the only characters I’ve ever written based on a real person; he was modelled on a man I knew only briefly, who stood out from the Greek island crowd as a very snappy dresser indeed.

Lizzie: From what I have read about you - and it certainly comes through in your books - it appears that you just fell in love with Greece on a holiday that you had booked with your sister. Did you do a Shirley Valentine and just stay on when the holiday came to an end, and if so how did you earn a living there following a career in IT?
Anne: I was indeed a Shirley Valentine, and though it sounds a cliché now, I committed what was seen at the time as a very rash act, giving up a lucrative job for marriage to my holiday Romeo. It was a huge change in lifestyle, and money was very tight; there was no work in the islands in winter, so we relied on what we could grow, or catch, or slaughter during those months. Summer was different, much easier, and life was good then. The marriage didn’t work out, but I never went back to IT, and I’ve never regretted never going back.

Lizzie: Hermes is, it would appear, not totally of this world. When people don’t help him their TV’s go wrong or some such thing. And yet we have now met his feckless but rather likable brother Dino, clearly of earthly origin.  So are we to learn more of Hermes, the man of mystery, in future books?
Anne: I’m asked this question a lot, and my answer tends to be the same, because some readers don’t want the solution to the puzzle, they prefer to hold on to the air of mystery which surrounds Hermes. So I’ll just refer anyone who’s struggling with his identity and origins to the preface to The Messenger of Athens. There’s a passage there from the Odyssey, and all you need to know is in those few words.

Lizzie: Hermes does have a sort of paranormal feel to him.  Are you interested or have you experienced anything paranormal that influenced your decision to create this type of character?
I’m hugely interested in the paranormal, and a real sucker for TV shows like Ghosthunters. I also love ghost stories, especially the Gothic classics from writers like MR James. I’d love to write a novel to rival The Turn of the Screw or The Woman in Black, but believable ghost stories – if that’s not an oxymoron – are tricky to pull off. Subtlety is everything. Perhaps that’s why I’m never overt about who Hermes is. He needs to keep his air of mystery.

Lizzie:  Are the ideas for your books sparked by real events and people, or do ideas just come to you? Or a mixture of both?
Anne:  I draw inspiration from many things. I wrote a short story recently after seeing a man dragging a suitcase through city streets, and wondering where he was going. One of my favourite places for plot inspiration is those snippets of news you see in newspapers, the ‘In Brief’ section, where there’s sometimes just a line or two about something intriguing, but enough to spark a good idea. It’s intrigue that drives my writing. Some of my ideas stem from my research, which for me usually involves finding a suitable cafe on a suitable small Greek island, ordering coffee and watching the world go by.

Lizzie: Do you plan your plots before you start writing?  And, if so, do your books change during the writing process, or do they pan out exactly as you originally planned?
Anne: I prefer to write using the seat-of-pants method, because it makes the writing of the book much more interesting if I don’t know whodunit. It’s an approach not every author likes, because inevitably it involves at least a few sleepless nights, worrying whether you’ve got 50,000 words of unworkable manuscript. But in my experience, if you have faith in yourself and your subconscious, it’ll all work out in a satisfactory and satisfying conclusion. So far, anyway.

Lizzie: The food is for me a wonderful part of the books. In the latest one, I was just salivating as the food was brought to the table as the family were waiting for the kleftiko to arrive.  Did you learn this style of cooking by living there, or did you take a course?
Anne: I’ve been a cook since my early teens; I learned from my mother, who was an excellent cordon bleu cook – that style of French cooking very popular in the ‘60s and ‘70s. She used to make hugely complex dishes like chicken in aspic (who on earth does that any more?), and everything was served with brandy-and-cream laden sauces. So by the time I got to Greece, I had a pretty good handle on basic cooking methods. What came as a shock there were the raw ingredients – seafood I’d never laid eyes on before, especially. I learned a lot from my mother-in-law, who always thought I was a bit stupid, I think. In her eyes, a woman who can’t clean and de-spine a scorpion fish is no good for anything.

Lizzie: Living in a place as you describe it  (‘The brilliant blue sea, the scent of herbs on the breeze, the timelessness of the place’) did you manage a regular working day? And if so has it changed now that you are living in the Peak District?
Anne: The working day there is structured differently, because of the heat; we used to get up very early (a habit I still keep) and get the day’s chores out of the way before it got too hot. There was a siesta in the middle of the day, when we’d sleep for a couple of hours, so we’d stay up very late. I found that daily rhythm came very naturally. Now I try to be more UK-conventional in my habits, but it doesn’t always work.

Lizzie: When embarking on a new book, what area of the book challenges you the most?
Anne: I find there’s always a point in the middle – somewhere between 35,000 and 50,000 words – where it feels as if it’ll never be over, never be done, and I get dispirited. But novel writing is like a marathon, and you have to find inner reserves to keep going, especially if a deadline is looming.

Lizzie: Do you have a favourite part of the writing process?
Anne: Absolutely - the moment I press ‘send’, and the finished manuscript goes off down the wire (or however it works) to my editor. It’s always time, then, for a celebratory G&T.

Lizzie: Is there any possibility that we will see Hermes in a TV Series, and if so who do you think would do him justice?
Anne: I can’t say too much, but fingers crossed... As to who’ll play Hermes, I don’t know. Ideally I think it should be some unknown, who emerges from the shadows of Central Casting, plays the role, and disappears back whence he came...

Lizzie: Anne,  tell us about your just -published seventh book ‘The Feast of Artemis’
Anne:  The book is the last in this series of seven, based on the Seven Deadly Sins, and the Feast, unsurprisingly, is about the sin of gluttony. It focuses on two families who are rivals in the olive oil business (which is, I have discovered, quite a dark trade in its own right). A young man is burned in an incident which may or may not be an accident; then an old man dies, apparently of natural causes. But all is not as it seems, and when it becomes clear there’s a strong smell of retribution in the air, Hermes steps in to dispense justice. 

Now you have finished The Seven Deadly Sins, have we seen the last of Hermes?  Is there a new series in the pipeline? What are you currently working on?
Anne:  What comes next is probably the question I'm most asked, and I've had lots of suggestions. Hermes is a very popular character - readers don't want to say goodbye to him, and neither do I. I've considered the Seven Heavenly Virtues - Faith, Hope, Charity etc - but I don't think virtues are anything like as interesting as sins. So I think it will probably be the Ten Commandments. They'll keep Hermes occupied for at least the next decade, and happily I've got plenty of plot-lines up my sleeve. As for what I'm doing now, I'm having a short break from the Greek islands, working on a couple of short-stories and an idea I have for a TV drama. I'll keep you posted.

My thanks to Anne for taking the time to talk to us. 

Books are:
 The Messenger of Athens (2007)
The Taint of Midas (2008)
The Doctor of Thessaly (2009)
The Lady of Sorrows (2010)
The Whispers of Nemesis(2011)
The Bull of Mithros (2012)
The Feast of Artemis (2013)


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