I was thrilled recently to be a guest at a Book Club meeting where the book under discussion that month was mine, The Sifnos Chronicles: tales from a greek isle. Over baklavá and almond cookies that the hostess had gone to great lengths to procure, members talked while I listened as closely as I could. After all, how many authors have the chance to sit, as it were, on the shoulders of readers who are engrossed in your book? They mused about the characters of Sifnos they’d met – the kind ones, the ones whose actions perplexed and amused them so, and those they found gobsmackingly eccentric – and wondered what’s become of them since then. They talked about the taverna on the square and its owners who lived their lives so unselfconsciously out in the open, with every one of their family foibles and daily dramas in plain view of anyone who cared to notice. They talked about the whitewashed main alley where one night we’d all joined the community of fond watchers as a tiny tot played with a ball and rolled her new word, balla, balla, balla, over and over and around on her tongue. They marvelled at the freshness of the fish in a tiny seaside village that a fisherman selected from his catch and then cooked for us himself. And my Book Club readers talked at length about the lessons they’d learned from what I’d shown them about the Greek way of life.
When I sat down to write The Chronicles, my sense of who its audience would be was hazy at best. They’d be, I guess I’d figured, people who were interested in learning about the rest of the world, those who’d travelled to Greece among them, those who wanted to, or simply those who, I hoped, would find this a good tale. Since I launched it into the world, however, this audience has come into much sharper focus. And that, I’ve discovered more than I thought I ever would, is one of the great joys of being an author.
I always thought that those people near to me – the Friends and Family Brigade, they might be called – would say they’d liked my book, and they have. What I hadn’t expected so much, though, were the messages I’d receive from complete strangers around the world, the ones that arrive at the most random of moments, and how those words would make my spirits soar. And I certainly didn’t expect that relationships would develop from there. But develop they have.
Some of these have been fleeting. A random email or Facebook message arrives, say from Malta, from Ireland, or from Nova Scotia in my own country. I reply. A bit of conversation evolves. Or not. I know, at least, that my stories have touched someone out there.
Sometimes the contact is more prolonged. The last time I was on the island, it introduced me to more than one Sifnian I hadn’t met before. And more surprisingly that time, it also brought me face-to-face with two readers I’d already met online, one from Cambridge in England and the other from San Diego, who happened to be there at the same time I was. The Englishman loves Sifnos so much that he and his wife have since taken a leave of absence from work, returned and rented a house on Sifnos, and whose almost daily Facebook photos make me quite envious, I must say. The American, a kind soul who returned to Greece earlier this year to volunteer with Syrian refugee mothers, will be in Sifnos again the next time I am, I am thrilled to hear, and plans for dinner are underway. The tribe of those who love Sifnos as deeply as I do, I’m learning more all the time, is much larger than I ever imagined.
My book brought one Lindaki mou into my life, who lives not that far from me and who over tiropitakia and horiatiki in what must be the best Greek restaurant in Canada, entertained me with her own tales of Sifnos. (Read about these here.) A backpacking teenager in the 1970s, she happened upon it, decided it was as good a place as any to stay for a while, and for the next six months worked at delivering goods to customers who lived beyond where the few roads at the time ended, that is, leading a donkey across the island’s centuries-old trails.
When I think of unexpected encounters my book has brought me, there are two in particular that come to mind. One day, the daughter of a woman I’d followed for a while, and really knew nothing about, asked her mom’s Facebook friends to send a photograph of a flower for the lady’s special birthday. “Why not?” I thought. I chose a shot I’d done a few years back and added the message, “Bougainvillea from the Greek island of Sifnos.”
“Sifnos!” the mother replied right away. “Say hello to …” she said, and she named a person and the taverna he owns and where we would find it. Though I hadn’t said so, I was in Sifnos at the time, it was a half hour before dinner, and my husband and I were headed to that very taverna that night. We eat there more often than anywhere else and, of all the Sifnians we know, I’d have to say he is the one we know best. She, I learned then, lives in Australia … and we have the same friend.
The other occurred when, as happens from time to time most often on Facebook, I come across someone I don’t know who excitedly shares that they’re off to Sifnos very soon. Some even count the days out loud. Sometimes, quite brazenly some might say, I contact these people, let them know about The Sifnos Chronicles and where they can buy it, should it interest them.
“I’ve already read your book,” one woman replied. “That’s why I decided to go.”
To all of my readers, thank you. You’ve made my book come alive and you spur me on with the next one. No title yet, but it’s well underway and, yes, it will take us all back to our beloved isle.