Inspirations behind my first novel The Last Messenger

I’ve always dreamed of being a writer and while working in investment banking in the City of London, I started to write a novel which was set in Greece. The half-written manuscript sat in my desk drawer for over twenty years. It told the story of a student called Andreas who was killed by the police in the famous Athens Polytechnic riots of November 17th 1973.  It is a quest by his girlfriend, who was carrying Andreas’ child at the time of the killing, to find out the truth. It is also a fight between two brothers, one of which was responsible for the murder and now deeply regrets what has happened.  There were many plot holes in the manuscript and my job just did not permit me to give the novel the effort that was needed to complete it successfully. A novel involves a huge amount of work and I’ve got great admiration for those who do a day job and still manage to write in the evening. Writing a novel is not easy and as Christopher Hitchens once said: “Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases, that’s where it should stay.”  I was determined to let mine out of my head but whether I have any talent remains to be seen.    

To find out, I retired from my job a few years early and decided to try my luck at writing novels. The first thing I did was to enrol on an MA in Crime and Thriller writing at City University in London. I was not trying to write literary fiction so this course seemed to be the right thing to do. A requirement of the MA was to complete a novel so it provided excellent motivation to get the novel finished.  My hopes were setback when my tutor told me that the novel I’d started to write all those years ago was not topical enough for a mass market and suggested that I try something else.  I took the advice, but could not throw away my desire to write a novel set in Greece. I’ve been going to Greece for over forty years and fell in love with the country and most of all the people. I’ve always been a big admirer of the novels of Nikos Kazantzakis and his wonderful Report to Greco which steered me towards setting my novel in Crete.  I wanted to tell a story of a young Cretan girl during the German invasion of Crete in 1941. She is called Callidora, and was educated by the monks of Preveli.  She is ostracised by her community after she falls in love with a German Paratrooper who tries to help her. Things get worse for Callidora’s village when it is burnt to the ground by the Germans. Many Cretan villages were destroyed during the occupation by the Germans. One of the most famous is Kandanos in the White Mountains. I wanted to see for myself what the village was like and, although it has been rebuilt, at least I could see the location and visit the monument to those Cretans who were executed.   My experience on that trip into the mountains typifies why I love the Greek people so much. I am told that there is no word in Greek for stranger and I have certainly seen that over the many years I’ve been going to the country. I think the way they have helped the refugees in islands like Lesbos illustrates that point better than my story but I’ll tell it anyway.

On the road to Kandanos with my wife, I made the wrong turning and ended up on a stone track. Foolishly, I kept going and as we began to climb I decided to turn back. I needed to reverse a little but got stuck in a ditch and couldn’t move the car.  Thanking God for good mobile reception in the mountains, I telephoned the car hire company who were not best pleased but, when I said that the car was not damaged and just needed some help, the car hire lady said that she thought she knew somebody and would phone me back. A few minutes later she came back to tell me that a friend from the fire service was coming and that we should start walking back to the main road. In less than twenty minutes, a large fire truck appeared manned by two handsome young firemen, much to my wife’s evident pleasure after being fed up with her husband for getting stuck. The men towed us out of the ditch and left. They refused my offer of recompense for their help and went on their way.

We drove on and found Kandanos, visiting the monument which was moving in its simplicity. There was a strange feeling about the village which, although rebuilt, seemed still in mourning for what had been lost. I came away feeling inspired to complete my novel. Many tourists never get much past the Cretan coast line but in the mountains, you see the true resilience and spirit of Zorba.

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