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Interview with Marjory McGinn, the author who puts Greece in the limelight

May 3, 2021
Marjory McGinn
Marjory’s new memoir

Tomorrow will see the release of a new memoir by one of my favourite authors, Marjory McGinn. Having read all three of her lovely accounts of life in the Peloponnese region of Greece, I was thrilled to see she has published a new book of stories about her life there with her husband, Jim, and the incorrigible Wallace, her spunky little Jack Russel. I am also thrilled she agreed to do a Weberview for me, so without further ado, Marjory, let’s talk about you!

Me. Marjory, could you tell us something of your background and how you came to live in Greece when you went with Jim?

Marjory: First of all, thank you Val for inviting me along for an interview today.

I’ve been a journalist by profession for most of my life, starting in Australia where my family migrated to from Scotland when I was a child. I worked mainly on newspapers as a feature writer and later in Scotland where my husband Jim and I returned to live in 2000. During a downturn in the newspaper industry in 2009, and an Arctic winter, Jim and I decided to go on a year’s sabbatical to southern Greece with our Jack Russell terrier, Wallace. This was at the start of the economic crisis there in 2010 which was a bit risky but as someone who has been visiting Greece since my late teens, I felt confident we would be okay. And we were, so much so, we stayed for four years in all. The trip was also planned as a working holiday and we freelanced for various publications while away. My husband is also a journalist.

Me. That says much about your love of the country, doesn’t it? You initially lived in a small village. Was it difficult to adapt to rural life in Greece?

Marjory: We spent the first year in a hillside village called Megali Mantineia on the wild Mani peninsula of the southern Peloponnese. The location was quite traditional and remote and it was exactly what we had been looking for. Although there were expats living there, we wanted to connect mainly with the Greek community. As I had reasonable Greek to start, it wasn’t too difficult to adapt. I’m not saying it wasn’t without its challenges though as most of the Greeks in the village were olive or goat farmers with a different take on life. They probably thought we were quite mad coming to Greece in the crisis, and worse, bringing our slightly bonkers, hyperactive but lovable, terrier, Wallace with us. Greek farmers tend to look at most dogs as working/guard dogs, not pampered pets. No-one in the village had ever seen a Jack Russell terrier before and thought he was a small sheep or goat because of his white body and black face which was a comical notion. And he often acted like a goat, that’s for sure!

The adorable Wallace

Me. Wallace is such a huge character in your books. I think everyone who has read about him has loved him! What did you find most inspiring as a writer about living in Greece? 

Marjory: There’s no doubt the most inspiring thing about living there at that time was the Greek locals we met. They were inclusive, warm, funny and eccentric too, like the goat farmer we befriended right at the beginning, Foteini, who became something of a star of my first book Things Can Only Get Feta. The situations we found there were unlike anything we would have encountered anywhere else, certainly not in a Scottish village where we had previously lived.

Marjory and Foteini, the wonderful colourful character in her Greek memoirs

Me. I loved Foteini. She was priceless, wasn’t she? But Marjory, you started as a journalist, I know, so what prompted you to start writing memoirs? 

Marjory: As I was already writing features for various publications, it wasn’t much of a stretch to start writing my first travel memoir while living in Megali Mantineia. What really inspired me to do it though was my unusual friendship with Foteini and the stories she shared with me of life in the Taygetos mountain village she came from and stories of her struggles to survive as a widowed pensioner on a small farm holding. I realised early on that the Greek way of life we were experiencing was beginning to change because of the crisis and I wanted to capture some of that in a book before it disappeared forever. And I doubted I’d ever meet anyone in the world quite like Foteini. I couldn’t help but write about some of her more eccentric and comical habits like peeling bananas and then washing them before she ate them because they came from “foreign places” or the way she dressed, her clashing layers, her makeshift shoes, which was highlighted in the first chapter of my latest memoir A Donkey On The Catwalk. 

Me. I am so looking forward to reading A Donkey on the Catwald. In fact, I have not only read all your memoirs, I’ve also read your lovely novels. Which do you prefer writing? Fiction or memoir and why? 

Marjory: I like writing both actually. Although I started with the travel memoirs and my new one is the 4th in the Peloponnese series, I later had the urge to write the novels, both also part of a series and set in the same region of Greece. I wanted to write about life in Greece but without the restraints of non-fiction. You could say I just wanted to let my imagination fly for a while, though ironically, it was a real, historic event in southern Greece in WW2 that inspired the first novel A Saint For The Summer. 

Meg Mantineia, one of the stunning locations Marjory writes about

Me. Perhaps that’s the journalist in you! Do you still write anything other than fiction and memoir?

Marjory: I don’t do much other writing now apart from a blog on my website which has been going for over 10 years. I rarely do freelance journalism now unless it’s something to do with the books or it’s a subject I feel passionately about. 

Me. I imagine your blog takes quite a bit of time too. But going back to books, if you had to give the readers here a tip about how to get started on a book, what would it be?

Marjory: I think the main impetus for starting a book is having a subject you passionately want/need to share with other people. When I was a feature writer in Sydney, I interviewed the Irish novelist Josephine Hart who published her first novel Damage later in life. She told me the time to start writing a book is when it’s too painful not to, which had been her experience. I have thought of that over the years and she was quite right. Prospective writers will know when the time is right

Me. I like that. I think I probably felt the same when I started too. Marjory, I know you now live in Cornwall. Do you see a Cornish novel or memoir in your future?

Marjory: Cornwall is a wonderful place for people with some imagination. It’s wild and very beautiful and I am always open to Cornish stories. Had the pandemic not happened so soon after we moved here, I would have been out more by now, hunting down a few stories, or Cornish characters. I hope I still might set a book here one day. It’s a very literary place too. We live in the south not far from Daphne Du Maurier’s old stomping ground and the house called Menabilly which was Manderley in her novel Rebecca. 

Me. Well, I’ll look forward to it when you do. I also love Cornwall and Daphne du Maurier. Right, a quick change of direction now. What is your greatest strength in life? And then (of course) what do you see as your weakest point?

Marjory: Oh, the questions are suddenly getting harder, Valerie! 😊 I have no idea really what my greatest strength is. But if I had to pick something, I would say my curiosity, especially about people which drew me into journalism to start with. Along with that, I’m quite observant. I tend to remember the smallest, often strangest things about people, and places. My weakness would be therefore, not knowing when to stop looking and digging, and take things more at face value. I can’t always do that.

Me. Those all sound like strengths to me. Curiosity and digging are essential qualities for a successful journalist too, I’d imagine! As a writer, I’m sure you must love reading too. What kind of book do you enjoy reading most?

Marjory: I studied English Literature at university so I have read a broad range of English lit and still love classics: Jane Austen, Emily Bronte, Charles Dickens, but I also love modern literary writers like William Boyd and anything by Patricia Highsmith. During lockdown, I rediscovered a diverse range of writers like Ira Levin (A Kiss Before Dying), and I read most of the books by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (The Labyrinth of the Spirits series set in Barcelona). What a fabulous writer he was. And for a change of pace, I read some Raymond Chandler novels for the first time. I love his turns of phrase. He can be very funny, and I do love books that are funny and witty.

Me. I like Raymond Chandler too. His dialogue is wonderful, isn’t it? About your new memoir, A Donkey on the Catwalk, I absolutely love the title. How did it come about?

Marjory: The new book A Donkey On The Catwalk, as I said previously is the 4th in the memoir series that started with Things Can Only Get Feta. It’s a bit different though as it’s a collection of stories and travel narratives mainly set in southern Greece again but the book also features stories from different locations in Greece that Jim and I have visited, including Pelion and the islands of Crete, Santorini and Corfu. And there are a few stories about my own early wanderings in Greece that I haven’t written about before. The book is much like the others however in that the tales are a mix of comical situations (hence the title) and thought-provoking narratives about Greek life. Foteini is most definitely there, and crazy Wallace is still leaping through the pages! Although Wallace sadly passed away in 2017, aged 16, he is still a strong presence in our lives. 

Marjory, Jim and Wallace in Koroni

Me. Wallace will be there for your readers too as long as we have your books, Marjory. I just wondered, though, are you writing anything new at the moment? Can you tell us what it is?

I never start another book straight away. I always need a break and a chance to let ideas distil for a bit. However, I do have a plot bubbling away in my head for the third novel in the Bronte in Greece series, and another idea for an amusing non-fiction book, not necessarily set in Greece. 

Me. That already sounds great! Okay, last question and then I’ll leave you in peace. If you had a bucket list, what would be in the top three positions?

Marjory: One to three…

1. Now we’re close to ‘freedom’ after lockdown, I’d like to see more of Cornwall and walk more miles along the fabulous south-west coastal path. 

2. I’d like to try kayaking (on a Cornish beach of course) which I’ve never done before. I’ve already bought my wetsuit! 

3. Jim and I would love to go a driving holiday around France, staying in small hotels and sampling great food and local wines. If we finally get another dog, it will have to come along – of course. 

Marjory, that’s a lovely wish list and I sincerely hope they all come to fruition. Thank you so very much for having the patience to answer all these questions. It’s been great to have you on board (so to speak). All the very best with the launch of your new book. I’m sure it will be snapped up in great numbers by all your fans!

For anyone interested in reading Marjory’s latest book, here are the details:

A Donkey On The Catwalk: Tales of life in Greece is published on May 5 as an ebook on all Amazon sites, and shortly in paperback. 

Links:

Website www.bigfatgreekodyssey.com

FB  www.facebook.com/marjory.mcginn

Twitter:  www.twitter.com/@fatgreekodyssey

Amaz author page https://www.amazon.co.uk/Marjory-McGinn/e/B00FIQ0FBK

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5 Comments
  1. I hadn’t heard of this author but as I’ve always wanted to go to Greece I shall put the first book, Things Can Only Get Feta, on my ‘want to read’ shelf on Goodreads.

  2. Thanks Val for the chance to chat to you about books, Greece and crazy life experiences. I really enjoyed the interview. I wish you well too with all your own upcoming books. It’s always a pleasure to be interviewed by another writer.
    Marjory x

    • And a great pleasure it was to have you here, Marjory! Thanks for your great responses and the good wishes for my own book 🙂

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  1. Donkey on the Catwalk by Marjory McGinn | Marvellous Memoirs: Reviews and links

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