Writer of the Month
Anne Zouroudi was born in England and has lived in the Greek islands. Her attachment to Greece remains strong, and the country is the inspiration for much of her writing. She now lives in the Derbyshire Peak District with her son. She is the author of six Mysteries of the Greek Detective: The Messenger of Athens (shortlisted for the ITV3 Crime Thriller Award 2008 for Breakthrough Authors and longlisted for the Desmond Elliot Prize), The Taint of Midas, The Doctor of Thessaly, The Lady of Sorrows, The Whispers of Nemesis (winner of the East Midlands Book Award 2012) and The Bull of Mithros.
Writing East Midlands caught up with Anne to chat about her writing:
Visit Anne’s website annezouroudi.com
Visit Anne’s writer profile on Writing East Midlands here.
Photo by Wolf Kettler
Your Mysteries of the Greek Detective series are based around the 7 deadly sins. How important is a set theme to the continuity of a series like this?
I think a set theme is the exception rather than the norm, but the idea of writing a book for each of the Seven Deadly Sins seemed like a good one when I came up with it. It’s been a useful template for me, encouraging me to delve into different facets of human behaviour, which to me is what makes fiction interesting. And I’ve always had the completion of the series as a goal to work towards.
But there’s an obvious downside – my theme’s self-limiting. That didn’t matter back at the start, when Book Seven was years away on the distant horizon. Now that book (The Feast of Artemis) is finished, I need a new theme.
Your main protagonist is Hermes Diaktoros, the Greek Detective. How invested in the character do you become when writing the books? Do you think you’ll be able to leave him behind?
Hermes and I have been together the best part of a decade now, and I’ve no intention of leaving him behind! Even minor characters can have a hold on a writer, and Hermes is such a strong character, I think he’s settled into my psyche for good. He’s become real to readers, too. Women fall in love with him, and I’ve had several tell me they want to marry him, though I don’t feel that way myself. I have a very healthy arms-length respect for him.
The Bull of Mithros, released in June, is the sixth book in the Greek detective series. How does the character of Hermes develop in his latest adventure?
It’s in Hermes’s nature to be cryptic regarding his origins and background, and that limits what I want to give away about his character. There’s a mythological twist to my books, and Hermes is much more than he at first seems, so figuring him out is as much part of the novels’ mystery as the plot. He arrives when he’s needed and leaves when all’s as it should be, and the reader may be no wiser about him on the final page than they were on the first.
How important is sense of place in your writing? Some writers like to be very descriptive; others leave more spaces for readers to fill in. Where do you stand on this?
I’m definitely on the descriptive side. I’m a careful observer of locations, and I try to write as true to life as possible, using small details to make settings come alive. My books are part-travelogue, hymns to Greece, and I write both for those who know and love the country as well as those who’ve never been there. I hope that for the Grecophiles, my descriptions will bring back memories, and for those who’ve never visited Greece, I can persuade them to go and discover it for themselves.
When you finish one book in the series do you find yourself with an idea for the next and itching to write? Or do you like to take breaks in between?
One of the commonest questions I get asked is where I get my ideas from. I don’t actually know, but I do have a lot of them, so whatever I’m writing, I tend to have the next plot brewing in my head. I have an ‘ideas’ file on my laptop, and when I’m inspired, I make a note in there. Most of those ideas I’ll probably never have time to use. Having an idea and writing a book from it are two very different things; one takes a moment, the other at least a year. Writing a book with a deadline looming can feel very pressured, so it would be lovely to have a long, leisurely break between commitments, but in the world of commercial fiction, that’s not really an option.
Tell us about your writing process. Do you self edit as you write or let it flow and edit afterwards?
There’s a witty and very useful book on writing called Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, in which she talks about allowing yourself to write shitty first drafts. That’s what I do. I would never let anyone anywhere near my early drafts of anything. I write my first draft longhand with a fountain-pen, and anything goes, because I find self-censorship is death to creativity. Then I re-write, and re-write, and re-write. I think of the process as being like a painting, with the shitty first draft just a pencil-sketch, an outline which bears very little resemblance to the finished product.
You’ve been nominated for several awards and last year your novel Whispers of Nemisis won the East Midlands Book Award. Was there a moment when you knew that you would be successful in your writing?
When my first novel, The Messenger of Athens, was shortlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize, I began to think maybe I might possibly get somewhere. It was hardly overnight success, though – I was well into my forties by then.
Having made the move from a career in IT into full time writing, what advice would you give to others thinking of making a similar leap?
Don’t do it for the money! I worked all kinds of odd-jobs to keep my head above water, but it wasn’t easy.
Can you tell us about the event you’re taking part in for the Nottingham Festival of Words?
I’m doing an event to celebrate the East Midlands Book Award, which I won last year. The EMBA is a really exciting addition to the UK literary awards calendar, as it’s raising the profile of our often-overlooked region. We have some brilliant writers in the East Midlands! Alongside previous winner Mark Goodwin, I’ll be doing a reading, answering questions and signing books. Shortlisted authors Paula Rawsthorne and Gregory Woods will be there too. Find us at the NTU Newton building on Sunday 17th February, 2.45-4pm. nottwords.org.uk/events/embaauthors
What do you think the Festival will mean for the city?
Nottingham deserves a vibrant litfest, and in the Festival of Words, I think it’s got one! My hope is that through the huge range of events, everyone who takes part – readers, writers, performers and artists – will all bring something unique and special to the party, and that we’ll all, when we leave, take away something new from the wonderful world of words. Maybe the festival will inspire new writers to pick up their pens – future EMBA winners, perhaps?