Jennifer Barclay’s Tilos memoir, Falling in Honey: Life and Love on a Greek Island is garnering great reviews. We’re delighted to host her for our August author interview.
GIB: When did you first fall in love with Greece?
JB: When I was a child. It must have happened gradually, over the course of a few family holidays. Snorkeling across St Paul’s Bay in Lindos, Rhodes, had something to do with it. We had amazing experiences pottering around Kefalonia, Ithaca, Paxos, Crete. I studied Ancient Greek at school and by the time I went to teach English in Athens for a year after finishing university, I was falling in love with statues in museums.
GIB: How did you start writing?
JB: That happened when I was a child also. I wasn’t the most social kid but I used to fill endless notebooks with stories, and read avidly (with a torch under the bedclothes after lights-out). When we traveled on family holidays, I kept diaries. A few years ago, I found my diary of ‘Corfu 1980’—it was so hilarious, I had to quote it in my book.
GIB: Have you written any other books?
JB: Yes, my first book was about my love of South Korea after I spent three months traveling around the country in 2000. It’s called Meeting Mr Kim: Or How I Went to Korea and Learned to Love Kimchi. South Korea has lots in common with Greece—a small country, proud of its ancient heritage, a family-oriented culture and distinct cuisine. They both have long and distinguished maritime histories.
GIB: How do you feel about Greece’s current plight? What do you think the outcome will be?
JB: Here in Tilos it’s not so acute, but in Athens people are suffering badly and it’s crippling the country. Some people are still working but receiving a fraction of what they used to, others haven’t been able to work for a year or two, so many businesses are closing—I don’t know how people are managing in the cities. Big, radical changes are needed in the system to reward entrepreneurs and help young people to build their future.
GIB: What’s the funniest experience you ever had in Greece?
JB: Once on holiday in Kos town with a previous boyfriend, I saw a place that looked like a locals’ bar and suggested we try it. We found ourselves in this tiny place where we were bought drinks all night, the female bartender ended up dancing on the bar and the owner was smashing bottles of bubbly on the ground in appreciation… It was crazy. A few days later we found out it was a local brothel.
Getting together with my partner, Stelios, was pretty funny. He’s from Tilos, we’re such completely different people and we barely understood one another when we first met—he’d ring me and I couldn’t understand a word. Now, it’s our playful eight-month-old Labrador cross pup who makes us laugh constantly. Goats make me laugh too.
GIB: What are the best and worst meals you’ve ever had there?
JB: The fresh fish that Stelios brings home during the winter, eaten with fresh bread that we bake, and vegetables picked from our garden or wild—those are the best meals, and very impromptu as I never know what fish he’ll catch that day. The worst meal was probably snails. Stelios gathered loads of them and we had to feed them for a few days, then when we brought them into the kitchen to clean them they kept trying to escape; then there’s the boiling to get rid of the mucus-type stuff. Then they tasted—well, pretty awful to me, to be honest.
GIB: What’s your single most cherished memory of Greece?
JB: The millions of stars up above, the Milky Way like a wash of paint across the sky, and the moonlight as bright as daylight—those are things that still take my breath away in Tilos. If I had to pinpoint a moment, it might have been when I first arrived to stay in spring 2011, and was at the port and watched the big boat leaving in the clear blue harbor, and realized that I was staying; and that I’d be going back and forth on the boat but coming home to Tilos. Whenever I go away then return to Tilos, I’m always amazed how beautiful the island is.