What's the story..?
John tells the first part himself...
I was born back in the 1950's in Bath, Somerset, UK, five days before my mother's 26th birthday. I am grateful to be able to say that mine was a virtually idyllic childhood in rural south-west England, with a close nuclear family consisting of two loving parents and a sister whom I hated, as all brothers do their older sisters, eh? Today, of course, my sister and I are very close, but when you're six and she's eight and she borrows your toys all the time - well, what would you do?
I attended the City of Bath Boys' Grammar School and then Gloucester College of Art and Design. At school my best subjects were Art, French and English. I always leaned towards the arts and creativity, all things numerical making me break out into a cold sweat. Books have always fascinated me though, and, although I pursued a career in graphic design, I always envied writers. I actually won a couple of competitions for my writing when I was a child, but when a decision was required, I plumped for art and design as a career.
"I met Yvonne, my wife (known in Greece as Maria) in a bar in Bath in the early seventies, and the way in which we met is pretty much as described in "The View From Kleoboulos" when I discuss the night when Dean first met Alyson. That's our story really, although only that part, of course.
Having spent the next few decades coming with my wife to Greece frequently, often to visit relatives rather than simply as holidaymakers, I began to look back on some of my experiences in the light of having read such books as "A Year in Provence" by Peter Mayle and a couple of early Bill Bryson, and I rather immodestly thought, 'I could do that! Some of the things that have happened to me are easily as funny.'
Thus began my writing career, which only really blossomed after we moved out to Rhodes in August of 2005."
The non-fiction works
John Manuel has now written five books of Grecian memoirs spanning almost four decades of visiting and eventually living in Greece.
He began writing his first book of Grecian memoirs [Feta Compli!] with the working title of "Lela's Daughter", since his mother-in-law, although Christened Eleni, was nicknamed Lela and John had married her daughter. He'd written probably 50,000 words before re-locating to Rhodes. He didn't have the time in the UK to finish the project, since his life was just too busy. Apart from Art, English was his next best subject at school; both language and literature. His teachers at school always commended him on his command of the language and he modestly likes to think that he has just a smidgin of the wit demonstrated by the two illustrious authors referred to above.
After the move out to Rhodes in August of 2005, John finally had the time to set about finishing "Lela's Daughter", which subsequently became "Feta Compli!" - a title which he felt had a slightly more punchy ring to it, demonstrating as it does a strong Greek connection with the use of the word "feta" and, for those who understand the French phrase of which it's a corruption, it aptly described where John and his wife were in life. Their move out to Rhodes had been planned, executed and was now indeed a fait accompli.
Following the release of the first book of "Ramblings" John sent a copy to the excellent, but sadly now extinct, "GREECE" magazine in the UK for review. GREECE magazine was a glossy which many Grecophiles used to read and keep all their back issues for reference purposes too. Before its demise John not only received a very positive review of "Feta Compli!", but he became quite a regular contributor, writing pieces which they would publish. Just when he was starting to enjoy this aspect of his writing, the property market for UK citizens in Greece bombed following the 2008 crash and the disastrous effect it had on the exchange rate between the Pound and the Euro brought about a complete drying up of the magazine's advertising revenue, which was almost entirely from estate agents selling Greek properties to UK buyers. Thus GREECE Magazine disappeared from the shelves at the end of 2008, but not before it had been instrumental in raising John's profile and that of the blog quite considerably and for this he will always be grateful to it.
John says that he always thought that he had just the one book in him and so it came as a surprise as much to him as to others that he still had a long way to go when he'd reached almost 80,000 words and he'd really only covered the experiences during the years between his first visit to Greece and the subsequent move out there. Thus "Feta" contains some stuff about their first few months here, but mainly deals with his wife's quirky relatives in Athens and the Peloponnese, plus all kinds of funny things that happened in diverse parts of the country over some thirty years or so, plus their journey over to Rhodes, which was made in August 2005 in a fifteen-year-old white van.
The second book, "Moussaka to My Ears" continues on from where "Feta" leaves off. The amount of the book's content which deals with life on Rhodes grows percentage-wise in comparison to the first book, in relation to the couple's experiences from the previous three decades, but still the book contains a lot of stuff from visits which they've made to areas all over Greece.
"Tzatziki For You to Say" marks a decidedly evident switch in the balance between the author's past experiences and actual life on Rhodes. Twenty one of its twenty seven chapters deal specifically with life on the island, including the characters they've befriended and the nitty-gritty of carving out a life there, warts and all. Whilst perhaps book two (Moussaka T.M.E.) was a little shorter than book one, Tzatziki is quite a bit longer and John feels probably the strongest of the first three. Critics and commentators suggest that his writing style had developed in the right direction too, for which he professes to be both flattered and grateful.
The fourth offering in the series, "A Plethora of Posts" is almost exclusively about living on Rhodes and although, as with the preceding three books, each chapter is still a stand-alone tale in its own right, it kind of follows a chronology through the rhythm of the seasons, a way of life which one adopts subtly over time when living there. Much of its content started out as posts on John's blog, hence the title. Anyway, John says that he was getting fed up of people thinking that his books were about cookery!
The most recent book of John's memoirs is "A Jay in the Jacaranda Tree" and is a frank and enlightening look at over a decade of living on Rhodes. More information can be found on this page.
The works of fiction
In early 2012 the germ of an idea for "The View From Kleoboulos" developed as John remembered a young couple that he'd known many years ago when he'd been living in South Wales whose situation was the same as that into which he places Dean and Alyson. No more will be said about that here because it would be a "spoiler". Finally John felt that he had something which would touch the heart and mind, even challenge the beliefs or morals of a reader and so he began formulating the specifics of the plot. "The homework one has to do," says John, "in order to make something believable is far more involved for a work of fiction than it is for a simple memoir, where all you need is a good memory and a few notes and photographs."
Judging from the reaction John received to the novel he believes that he'd achieved a measure of success. In the list of reviews on Amazon, by far the majority appear to show that the story does indeed grip you. There are plenty of twists in there as well. If you've a few minutes to spare and don't mind hearing John rambling on about his writing work, criticism and other stuff, click here.
Novel No. 2, "A Brief Moment of Sunshine"
It is a kind of prequel (best read afterwards) to "The View From Kleoboulos" in that it's primarily the story of Claire Mason, who features heavily in "Kleoboulos". However, it is never quite explained in "Kleoboulos" how she came to be so melancholy, or quite how her husband met his mysterious death, which is only alluded to briefly in Claire's conversations with Alyson during their travels around Greece and when they finally settle in Lindos on Rhodes.
The story fills out Claire's past, which is both tragic and traumatic. The action shifts between the 1980's and the present day, with several important events in the interim being developed, thus enlightening the reader about how Claire becomes the person that we met in "Keloboulos". The story finally closes out in 2014, some seven years after June 2007, when "Kleoboulos" ended with events which take place at Lindos.
The cover photography was carried out by a very creative team working here on Rhodes, Gallery Photography, run by Chris and Karen Watts. They really did some beautiful work and their website is worth visiting, if you want proof. Sadly, Chris passed away in 2018, at much too young an age.
Before reading "A Brief Moment of Sunshine", it's probably a good idea to have first read "The View From Kleoboulos". It's not an essential, but will probably add to one's experience of reading "Sunshine". John's quite proud to say by far the majority of the reviews on the amazon.uk site are very positive, plus there's a nice one on the Amazon.us site too. "You can't win 'em all though,eh?" says John ruefully over the one negative review on Amazon's UK site.
Be warned though, if you do read "Sunshine" first, there may just be couple of spoilers regarding "Kleoboulos". Not everything is given away, but some things are. It's inevitable, so just be aware!
In the second novel not so much of the action is centered in Greece or on Lindos as in "Kleoboulos", but there is plenty for the Grecophile to absorb his or herself in - "at least I think so!" Says John, "although, needless to say, I'm not writing a book about Greece, but about some characters and their lives, which just so happen to have been lived partly in Greece."
The Third Novel - Eve of Deconstruction
"Eve" has no connection with the first two. It's a story that will resonate with every reader, who will instantly identify with the main character, a woman brought up as British, who discovers quite by accident following the death of her mother that she in fact has Greek roots. Her quest to find where she really came from leads the story out to a remote village in mainland Greece and what she discovers there comes as a complete shock to her and to the reader.
Eve of Deconstruction winds up the tension and the twists come thick and fast the closer one gets to the emotionally charged climax. The story keeps hitting the reader with surprises right up until the very last page.
Novel No. 4 - Sometimes You Just Can't Tell
This story is very different from the first three fictional works. It concerns a social issue that afflicts much of western society, but will surprise many readers to learn is also a problem in small Greek island communities. It's slightly controversal and a little 'dark'. John was moved, however, to write the book after learning what had happened to some Greeks who've become firm friends of he and his wife since they've been living on Rhodes.
"Can't Tell" is once again quite "Hardy-esque" in that it deals with how deeds in someone's past can eventually return to destroy one. It also attempts to get under the skin of the main protagonist of the wrongs that are committed, to reveal that person as a weak human being, rather than simply as a monster. For very good reason, John chose a quote to introduce the story from American politician, businessman and philanthropist Bruce Fairchild Barton, which reads: "Sometimes when I consider what tremendous consequences come from little things, I am tempted to think there are no little things".
The story well brings out the truth of those words.
Novel number 5, "Two in the Bush"
Released in Kindle format on January 1st 2018, and in paperback in early February. The initial reviews and reaction suggest that this was his best work to date. Go and check out some of the reviews on this page.
"Two in the Bush" hits the reader with one or two completely unexpected developments. The first 15 reviews on Amazon UK and the first 4 on Amazon US all gave it five stars.
The fifth novel - Panayiota
Panayiota was a labour of love for John. Although it is entirely a work of fiction, the action centres around real events and parallels much of what was the experience of his late mother-in-law during the Athens of the Second World War. The story is both tragic and yet life-affirming, since it finally leaves one with the belief that humans with resilience can win out against seemingly impossible odds.
John has a Facebook page for his writings. Click on the button to the right for the direct link.
...contains hundreds of posts spanning a period from 2010 until 2019. It's packed with trivia about Rhodes, reviews of plenty of tavernas and bars, plus suggestions about where to stay on the island with links wherever possible. There is also a page giving handy details about how to visit nearby islands whilst staying on Rhodes. In fact the "links" page on the blog is an essential for any true Grecophile.
Accretions, the blog
In September 2019, John and his wife moved to Crete, where they'd purchased a modest little house in a quiet hillside village. From there he's now begun a new blog, charting this new chapter in their lives. Click the link, right, to take a look.
Since February 2015, John also is the administrator of a Facebook group called "A Good Greek Read", which is growing very quickly into a global community of avid readers of literature with a Greek connection. Each member posts links to sites where their suggested books may be instantly purchased, thus making the page into a kind of virtual reference library for Greek-themed literature. There are also links to authors' pages too, where their catalogue of work can be browsed.
John's mother-in-law, Lela, pictured with her mother, in Athens circa 1942-5.
John Manuel at the Pulteney Bridge and weir on the River Avon, in the city of his birth, Bath, UK.