HELENA: AN ODYSSEY
HELENA: AN ODYSSEY is my latest work of fiction. Below I have attempted to answer some of the questions I am often asked about the book and the research that went into it. If you have a question. Drop me a line. I'd love to hear from you! Carolyn
Why, after growing up in New Zealand, after living much of your adult life in Toronto, did you take on Greco-Turkish history of a hundred years ago? Aren't you supposed to write about what you know?
Yes, And No. I heard Tom Wolfe suggest once that authors might want to get to know something other than what they already do. I felt curious, felt myself compelled to learn about other places, other people, their histories and experiences. How you write comes from the way you understand and interpret the world.
Why choose Greek-Turkish history? Do you know Greek or Turkish people?
I knew very little about 20th century Greek-Turkish history and felt compelled to know more. I wanted to understand a very different culture from my own, to see and feel ‘the other.’ And yes, I met a Greek family who sketched for me what they knew of their family history. I expanded and adapted it for my saga.
How could you imagine life as it was lived in central Turkey in 1908, and in Smyrna in the Levant during Greco- Turkish war of 1919-1922?
It was difficult. I read everything I could about the times in the places where I set my characters. I struggled particularly to get inside the minds of the patriarch’s sons, Adam and Spiros. Spiros grew on me. In the beginning he was just an add-on because I felt that Adam needed a brother. But Spiros insisted on having a large part in the story - rather a tragic one – and sometimes I cried over him.
It seems a bit of a stretch to have a hair dresser as a protagonist. Why did you choose hair styling as Helena's career?
Helena is based on my friend, a Greek hair dresser who is proud of her career. "Creating beautiful hair makes people feel good about themselves," she said. "Through it I can make the world a better and more interesting place."
More than this, I was fascinated by the history and symbolism of hair through all the ages. Think of Samson and Delilah, Apollo, Sun Gods from India to Ireland, Lady Godiva, Merovingian Rulers. Something else: the very seductiveness of women’s hair is the reason why all major religions have required them to cover it.
Your male characters for the most part are not very nice, even unpleasant. Why did you create them this way?
To me only Alex is really unpleasant, but even he has moments of tenderness - even if only briefly. He can be violent, self-absorbed, but is mostly very immature. Yiannis is a typical patriarch of his time and place, while Christos, with all his faults, is often charming and warm-hearted. My intention was to create them as complex, nuanced characters living in a male-dominated culture at a particular historical time.