Saturday, 9 September 2017

Back Catalogue Books - Q&A with Sara Alexi

Back Catalogue Books is my new regular Saturday feature, focusing on books that are not the latest releases. There is going to be a mix of Q&As and also reviews, depending on what I have the space for. 

If you are an author wanting to take part in Back Catalogue Books then please do email on gilbster at gmail dot com and I'll whizz the questions over to you. 

I hope everyone enjoys this weekly look back at some of the slightly older books that are about but still great, going to aim to read books that have been out for at least 6 months, and that I eventually make a dent in my TBRs as a result of it!

Today I'm interviewing Sara Alexi, an author I hope to start reading when I ever find the time to delve into my personal TBR!

1) Please tell me about your first book, and what started you writing in the first place 

The first novel was inspired by a man living in a village in Greece, who had travelled here illegally to find work. This was years before he current Syrian refugee crisis. I met this man pulling weeds down the lane that leads to my house and he told me he relied on casual labour and that often it was difficult to find work and there had been occasions when he had worked and had not been paid. It got me thinking how lucky I was to have been born in a prosperous European country and to be able to travel freely around the world, and about how much choice I had compared to this man. 

I am incensed by injustice, and I related the exchange I had had to a writer I knew and suggested he write a book about it. ‘I cannot write your story,’ he replied. ‘You write it.’ I did not feel I had any ability to write; after all I have struggled all my life with dyslexia but my passion for this man’s story inspired me to sit down and at least try.

The book is about a Pakistani illegal immigrant and a British ex-pat living in the village. I wanted them to both be foreigners to add a symmetry to the tale and to explore our preconceptions and to give a tension that derives primarily from the lack of privilege on one side and the extreme privilege on the other.

In the book Juliet is wealthier than the people in the Greek village whereas Aaman, the illegal immigrant, is less well off than those around him. The village creates a meeting ground where the differences between them and the differences in their backgrounds can be examined.

2) How many books have you written and what are they?

I have published twenty six books now - it seems I had a lot to say once I got started! There are thirteen books today in The Greek Village Series and seven in The Greek Island series. Alongside these is A Wander Through the Village which is a collection of shorts stories as well as a handbook of all the characters and where they appear in the other books, and then there are two books which are the start of a new series - The Yorkshire Village series. There is also a colouring book and newly released a Greek Cookery book which is also a story.

That must sound complicated so here is a better way of seeing all I have written;

The Greek Village Books                 
The illegal Gardener  
Saving Septic Cyril
The Explosive Nature of Friendship
The Gypsy’s Dream
In the Shade of The Monkey  
Puzzle Tree
A Handful of Pebbles
Watching the Wind Blow
The Reluctant Baker
The English Lesson
The Priest’s Well
A Song Amongst the Orange Trees
The Stolen Book
A Stranger in the Village
A Self Effacing Man

The Greek Island Series

Black Butterflies
The Unquiet Mind
The Rush Cutter’s Legacy
Being Enough
The Housekeeper
An Island Too Small

The Yorkshire Village Series

Saving Septic Cyril
The Piano Raft

A Wander  Through the Village; a guide book
The Greek Village Colouring Book
The Greek Village Cookery Book or The Short and Happy Tale of Pippo Lampo

3) Which book are you most proud of writing?

I think I am most proud of Saving Septic Cyril. It came from the heart and flowed as if I was just a conduit rather than the author. I think that it could, perhaps, touch on many peoples’ deepest fears that they are unlike other people, strange, unique, maybe even unlovable and also touches on society’s deepest unseen prejudices which some people may not even know they have. We are all, myself included, guilty of judging people with the rules laid down to us by our individual upbringings and own experiences; it is a way of making the world more understandable and therefore feel like a safer place so it is not necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes these rules and thoughts become outdated and perhaps it is better to bring them to the surface for a dusting off and a rethink. Saving Septic Cyril gives insight into a character that perhaps I needed to face in order to root out my own preconceived ideas and prejudices.

4) Which book was your favourite to write?

Interesting question. I have enjoyed writing them all as each has been a personal journey and cathartic in its own right. An easy answer would be to say the one I am writing now, as the one in production is always the concept I need to work through at the time. I think the most joyful was Black Butterflies as the protagonist was a joyful person, but then I really enjoyed the positivity of The Gypsy’s Dream as this involved people liberating themselves and casting off the old, which is a brave thing to do and I am sometimes not that brave. But if I had to pick an overall favourite from the writing point of view, at this moment, I would pick The Housekeeper as it flowed so well and, again, I felt like I was watching my hands do the work as the story progress!

5) Who are your favourite characters from your books and why?

Now this is a tough question. I love them all. I cannot say one if it excludes another. Juliet reappears again and again but then so does Stella. They are very different characters - Juliet is finding herself and loving who she is finding, Stella is determined and pro-active despite her social limitations. But then Aaman is so brave and loving to his wife Saabria and Cyril has impressed me by ‘facing his fears and doing it anyway’! Each character has taught me so much I would find it really hard to choose a favourite. 

6) If you could go back and change anything from any of your books, what would it be, and why?

I tend not to look back. They are as they are, each reflecting my writing skills and my thoughts at the time, and I have a wonderful readership who seem to really have enjoyed them so I am saying ‘move on, write better in the future.’

7) Which of your covers is your favourite and why?

I recently gave all The Greek Island Series new covers and I just love the limited palette and the ambiguity between real life and cartoon, I think they reflect the books well - half serious and half storytelling. But I am particularly fond of the covers for the two Greek Village Novellas The English Lesson and The Priest’s Well. I like that they are so benign when the tales reflect the dark character of the protagonists.

8) Have you ever thought about changing genres, if so what else would you like to write?

I have an inkling that I would enjoy writing mysteries but so far no tales have come to me. I think I would also relish writing a psychological thriller. At the moment, with the demand that there is for the series I am writing I feel I do not have the time to venture into new pastures, but that is not to say I won’t. One day a story might pop into my head and then I will go with it. I will welcome that time when it comes.

9) Looking forward can you let us know what you are working on next?

I am always working on ‘the next’ book. I have a series of three interlocking novellas coming out over this summer (2017). That was exciting to plot and write. The next book I am still reflecting on. My mother died recently and I think this may inspire my next cathartic write challenge. I loved my mother because she was my mother and yet I felt so hostile toward her for so many things. I hope to explore this in the next book that will belong to The Yorkshire Village series and that will be out before the year’s end with a bit of luck. I have the outline of the plot and I am looking forward to giving it more detail and writing it in full. After that I have another seed that is germinating but it is so misty at the moment I am not sure I could describe it. It is more of a feeling than a plot or a novel. It will come. 

10) I dare not ask for a favourite author, but is there any author’s back catalogue you admire and why?

Ah well, how long is that list? But always coming to the forefront are people like Emily Bronte, Kazuo Ishiguro and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn as their understanding of human nature is so well illustrated by their characters’ actions rather than description. I am all about the characters and exploration of the ‘human condition’

11) Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your back catalogue of books?

Readers say my writing is addictive. Often I release a book and the reviews start the very next day, and I get e-mails from readers telling me that they had to stay up all night to know the ending. This is immensely flattering and so my final words have to be ones of thanks to the readers, without whom I would not be able to write full time and without whom my scribbles could be classified as a form of psychosis! 

(Psychosis = an abnormal condition of the mind that involves a "loss of contact with reality". - which just about sums up how I feel when I write! Oh dear!)

Wow Sara that is a lot of books that I need to catch up on one day! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions.

Sara Alexi is one of the top 150 most successful, self-published authors of all time; a prolific writer, she has written 15 books (and counting) in just four years, with book sales reaching well over half a million copies. 

Remarkably, Sara is dyslexic. At school English lessons were a time of confusion, she found that books were indecipherable hieroglyphics and she was unable to enjoy reading and writing; growing up in a time when at a time when dyslexia was not well understood and little or no support was available. And so her artistic nature was confined to painting, an art form that she loved and would take her travelling around the world.

Despite her dyslexia Sara qualified as a psychotherapist and ran her own practice in Yorkshire for many years. In a casual conversation with a client, she discovered that Agatha Christie, Jules Verne and Hans Christian Andersen were all dyslexic, and Sara’s perspective changed. The world of fiction opened to her with this shift in perception.

Sara now spends much of her time in a tiny rural village in the Peloponnese, in Greece, where she is (very slowly) renovating a ruined stone farmhouse, whilst observing the Greek way of life and absorbing the culture, enriching her vision for both writing and painting.

Sara’s ‘Greek Village Series’ is inspired by the people she has met travelling, her time spent in Greece alongside her career as a psychotherapist; her writing provides a keenly observed, compassionate insight into people, culture, and the human condition, and is set around a charming rural Greek village

Predating the current refugee crisis in Greece by some three years, Sara’s debut novel, The Illegal Gardener, focuses on the immigration problems in Greece, and the clash of cultures that accompanies those seeking a better life in the West.

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