Inspiration – Jennifer Barclay | My Greek Travelling Spoon

Inspiration – Jennifer Barclay, the freelance editor and writer living a simple but wonderful life

I can’t even remember how I discovered Jennifer Barclay’s life journey but she has been such an inspiration ever since, mainly because she was courageous enough to shape her own destiny and chase her dream life.

Here is a very short bio as an introduction: Jennifer is a freelance book editor and writer of travel memoirs. She grew up in the English countryside and lived in different countries before deciding to move to Tilos, a small Greek island, in 2011. Since then, Jennifer has also spent some time living on Karpathos, another Greek island, and also in Australia. However, she believes that you don’t have to travel very far to have adventures and I totally agree with her.

Jennifer has published four books based on her life in Greece. Falling in Honey and An Octopus in My Ouzo are about how she fell for the island of Tilos and her first years living there. Tilos is in the centre of the group of islands called the Dodecanese and her third book, Wild Abandon, recounted her explorations of its most deserted places, walking with her dog. The latest book, Taverna by the Sea, tells of the time she spent living in a remote part of Karpathos. In her blog, An Octopus in My Ouzo, she also reveals her current adventures.

I’ve read all four of Jennifer’s books and love her writing style – I also love reading her insights about Greece where I was born and grew up. While reading her last book, Taverna by the Sea, I kept hearing myself say “Oh my, this can’t be for real!” on several occasions. This book has changed forever how I see the tavernas by the sea that we so often visit (and love) while in Greece. Jennifer is a great writer but what I love most about her is that she chooses to live in her unique way: the way that makes her happy!

I am so happy that I get to host Jennifer’s interview on my blog and I hope that you will be also inspired by her life journey and her words.

Inspiration – Jennifer Barclay | My Greek Travelling Spoon

Cyclades in Winter – Photo Copyright Ian Smith

Would you suggest a song to hear while reading your interview?

I can’t listen to music while I’m reading – the words compete with the music! I’ve become more and more sensitive to background noise since living in a quiet place. But to get in the mood, I’d recommend Lamb’s Gorecki which I used to listen to when I lived in Karpathos – it seemed to sum up how I felt about living in a place that I loved.

How would you introduce yourself in a paragraph?

I wrote in Taverna by the Sea: ‘Once, when I was a baby, my mum left me in my pram with the shopping and came back to find me eating a raw potato. That probably says a lot about me: impatient, impulsive, hungry.’

I grew up in a village surrounded by hills in the north of England, but I had travel in my blood. I travelled, lived and worked in several countries before coming to live on a Greek island. I love books and as well as being a writer, I work with authors and publishers; but the outdoors has become very important to my life and at a certain point every day I head outside for a walk and often a swim, any time of year.

It looks to me that you have created your dream life on your own. How did you manage to do that? What would you advise someone who is currently not happy with his life situation?

At a time when I’d become quite unhappy, I started with three ‘gifts to self’, doing three things for myself to make life better, and it set me on the right path. I took it step by step, finding elements of my work that I could do from home, choosing a place where my expenses would be low, working hard to build up my business but always enjoying my life here. Gradually over the years it’s developed to give me the freedom to pursue my interests and I feel very grateful for that. If you’re not happy with your situation, start finding small or big ways to change it – no one else will do it for you.

Why did you become an editor and writer of travel memoirs; what is your main purpose? How and when did you break into this industry?

After university, I taught English in Athens for a year and at that point didn’t know anything about book publishing, but when I moved to Canada I started doing work experience for publishers, literary agents and writers and eventually landed an entry-level job with a literary agency. I stayed there for seven years, learning and moving up to being an agent.

I took a couple of years out to travel, started writing about my experiences in South Korea and co-edited a book of travel stories; craving more creativity, I decided to move over to the editing side of things. After two years in France as a freelance editor I moved back to the UK and spent seven years as editorial director of an independent publishing company, during which time my first book, Meeting Mr Kim, was published. So I already had lots of experience of the publishing industry from various angles by the time I decided to move to Greece, and was already working on my second book, Falling in Honey.

I went completely freelance a couple of years later, which gives me the freedom to choose my projects and the way I work. I love helping people tell their stories; I enjoy travel- and nature-inspired memoir but also other personal narratives, and fiction. I find it rewarding to help authors to shape their manuscripts and book ideas and develop their message to the world.

How easy is it to write about your own life?

I find it natural and important for us to record and tell stories about our experience of life. Stories of difficulty help us to cope with what life throws at us, learning different ways of seeing situations, knowing we’re not alone, that others have coped with incredible trauma and made sense of it. But mostly in my own work I love to write stories about the beautiful things I’ve experienced. I like to record what an extraordinary world this is and to inspire others to see it too and do what they love.

Inspiration – Jennifer Barclay | My Greek Travelling Spoon

Photo Copyright @Ian Smith

Inspiration – Jennifer Barclay | My Greek Travelling Spoon

Cyclades in Winter – Photo Copyright Ian Smith

Life on a Greek island

What was it that made you dream of living on a Greek island?

My parents took us on family holidays to Greek islands when my brother and I were children and I studied Ancient Greek at school with an inspirational teacher who was passionate about Greece. After I finished university and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do for a living, I went to Athens to teach English and had adventures up and down the country, falling in love with the ancient statues and natural landscapes, the romance and passion of life here. I left to pursue my career, but especially in the depths of winter when life felt grey, I had recurring dreams of whitewashed hilltop villages bathed in sunshine with views down to blue sea, and ferry journeys to unknown islands.

Why Greece and why Tilos?

Although I’ve enjoyed everywhere I’ve lived, there were always compromises for work or for someone else and this was something I knew I’d wanted for a long time. Since I only had myself to think about I wanted an island that was small, unspoiled by development, somewhat traditional and rural with plenty of wild, empty space, and remote – it feels somewhat exotic living in the deep southeast of the Aegean, at the edge of Europe. Tilos felt far away from traffic and shopping centres and crime, a place unlike everywhere else, magical. Amazingly, I could afford to rent a house with a garden, and sea and hills nearby, and a view of the Milky Way above.

You have been living in Tilos, Greece since 2011. What do you love the most about living on a tiny Greek island? Which is the biggest challenge?

My new life has been full of opportunities; I’ve learned to ‘live small and think big’ as I expressed it in An Octopus in my Ouzo. So yes, on a small island you can’t just go out and buy whatever you want; but you learn to live with what you do have, which is abundant, and we have an excellent community here. And in my new life I have freedom, so I was able to take a chance on living in a remote bay of Karpathos and helping to run a taverna, the subject of Taverna by the Sea.

After I returned from Karpathos to Tilos, I decided to buy a house and now live fifty metres from the sea, with hills on either side, in a sparsely populated part of the island. So now the sound of waves and goats and birds and the occasional fishing boat are my backdrop. After the summer, as the island population returns to a few hundred, things are incredibly peaceful and I love the way the seasons and the weather bring distinct changes to everyday life. I have so much that I love: walking, swimming, working with books.

For the first year or two I had the security of working for my old company but was a little dissatisfied, and a big challenge was to be honest about that, accept the risk and start my own company. There are still regular challenges – figuring out the system and doing things in a language that isn’t your own – but every day I am reminded how lucky I am to live here and be inspired by my surroundings.

Inspiration – Jennifer Barclay | My Greek Travelling Spoon

Cyclades in Winter – Photo Copyright Ian Smith

Inspiration – Jennifer Barclay | My Greek Travelling Spoon

Cyclades in Winter – Photo Copyright Ian Smith

Travelling in Tilos and beyond

In your opinion, Tilos is ideal for which kind of traveller?

Tilos tends to attract people who want life as it used to be decades ago. No one does a hard sell. You have to adapt to the pace, get used to things working a bit differently. Going to the shop in Megalo Horio, for example, can be a social event one day, or pure chaos another day if a big delivery arrives, and sometimes a cat is giving birth or getting ‘self-service’ from the cat food sack. Opening hours are flexible because the owners might be at their field or having a swim, or going to find a rare flower. The bus driver stops to pick up money for the bank or drop off someone’s prescription from the pharmacy. Chickens wander around the petrol station.

Because life is challenging here in the winter, locals don’t worry about trivial things. You can’t go to Tilos for a day or two because there aren’t that many ferries (and of course no airport). Remoteness keeps it special. You walk off the ferry and you suddenly relax, breathe, smile… People who love walking and nature and tranquillity come back year after year. It’s for people who want to know they’ve been somewhere different, not just to a resort in the sun.

Could you give us a few “insider tips” about the island?

The summer festivals are a treat. The main one is Agios Panteleimonas in late July, but I find that too big and busy, and prefer the more intimate ‘koupa’ which happens a couple of days later at the church in the village of Megalo Horio, with traditional music and dancing into the early hours of the morning. Another wonderful one is Panayia Kamariani in late August.

The best times to visit for walking are the months just before and after the summer. There are paths all over the island, and many beaches that are worth walking to. You need boots for many of the trails as they’re quite rugged. It’s worth wandering around the abandoned village of Mikro Horio but also the beautiful, deserted farmhouses in other areas. There are hundreds of tiny chapels on the hillsides and unlike in other places most are unlocked; some have centuries-old frescoes on the walls.

We’re lucky to have a bus that helps travellers to visit different parts of the island, such as the island’s oldest settlement, Megalo Horio, built into a hillside covered in ancient remains; and Eristos beach, a vast stretch of sand and pebbles that has free camping. Both at the kantina on Eristos and at the kafeneio in Megalo Horio there’s sometimes live Greek music in summer, which tends to happen in an impromptu way and isn’t advertised.

Two last things. Try the tiny local shrimp: they’re eaten whole and are sweet and delicious! And we have an outdoor gym on the seafront in Livadia, with private sessions and group classes available, and the owner organizes ‘ocean games’ that includes trail running.

Lately, you have been also travelling with your lovely dog, Lisa if I am not mistaken. I am aware that this can be challenging in Greece. Do you have any tips for those travelling with pets in the country based on your own travel experiences with your dog?

My dog, Lisa, is from the island of Rhodes and I’ve had her since she was a pup, so we’re pretty much joined at the hip. Many more Greeks have dogs as pets these days, so I’m no longer the only person travelling on the top deck of the ferry to keep my pet company! I still occasionally receive nasty looks or comments from Greeks but much more rarely.

Both and Airbnb have filters where you can search for pet-friendly accommodation and there’s a lot more of it now; there are also more restaurants willing to accept dogs. Buses and taxis and trains are still a problem, alas. But you can find dog-friendly taxi drivers and rental cars and I try to travel with a blanket to cover the seat. Some business owners worry about damage and other guests’ reactions. It’s best to book ahead when travelling with a dog, to make sure the whole family is welcome.

What’s your profile as a traveller? What are you mainly looking for when you are travelling?

These days I prefer to travel close to home because I can more easily take Lisa. But I love going to other islands and I believe you don’t have to travel very far to have amazing adventures. I’m not interested in packaged experiences and commercialised places; what’s always been important to me is not to see something famous but to get to know a place in my own way, find places that seem special to me, meet people and get to know their stories.

More and more, what I’m looking for is a chance to explore landscapes on foot outside of the busy season, looking for deserted beaches and mountain paths, getting fit while getting to know places. For years now I’ve also had a bit of an obsession about finding traces of the old culture and abandoned ways of life, which I wrote about in my book Wild Abandon – it gave me the impetus to delve deeper into the dramatic landscapes and astonishing recent past of the Dodecanese islands. Last winter, my partner and I and Lisa spent a month island-hopping in the Cyclades, which was amazing.

Inspiration – Jennifer Barclay | My Greek Travelling Spoon

Karpathos – Photo Copyright Ian Smith

Inspiration – Jennifer Barclay | My Greek Travelling Spoon

Karpathos – Photo Copyright Ian Smith

Inspiration, food and happiness

Where do you draw inspiration from? Which book and/or movie would you recommend reading/watching to get inspired?

I’m inspired by the natural world around me, and by the extraordinary stories of ordinary people. It was on a short springtime trip to the north of Karpathos to walk and explore that I found myself not only mesmerized by the stunning landscape, but also drawn towards the community of Olympos clinging onto traditions lost elsewhere, and so when I started getting to know the Greek-American owner of a taverna in a breathtaking location, I felt I needed to take up his offer to come back for the summer. I was inspired to write about that place and its people, and sure enough, my time there ended up inspiring both the Karpathos chapter of Wild Abandon, and a whole other book, the lighter side of it, Taverna by the Sea.

My clients inspire me too – I love working with people who have been through something exceptional and learned some secrets about life.

What’s your favorite Greek recipe/food so far?

This changes all the time but if I had to choose to heap a table with Greek food at this moment, I’d go for – well, first of all, of course, a horiatiki or Greek salad using seasonal ingredients and some good local cheese. The local goat’s cheese we bought from the top of the valley when I helped to run the taverna in Karpathos was perfect, but last winter in a mountain village in Naxos we also had salads heaped with soft mizithra. I might go for some fried calamari if the calamari is tender and it’s done in a light batter and cooked just right; but recently while swimming I met some squid face to face so that’s off the menu for now… I love beef stifado – tender, slow-cooked beef, fragrant with herbs and spices, juicy with onions and tomato and silky with olive oil. Add a plate or two of fritters made with chickpeas or courgettes or tomatoes… Or vegetable saganaki – covered in cheese and baked in the oven.

Despite having helped run a taverna for two summers, I’m a lazy cook and quite focused on healthy eating and avoiding packaging for the sake of the environment. So at home I enjoy good local ingredients, simply put together – cheese and eggs, local meat and fish, vegetables and olives, herbs and capers I’ve gathered. I grow a few of my own vegetables, and I have fresh figs and grapes in the summer. I love the goat meat on Tilos as it’s the most free-range, ethically sourced meat available – roaming on herb-filled hillsides until the last – and is incredibly tasty. In the winter I love roasting it in the oven with potatoes and lemons, oregano and olive oil, maybe served with a dish of fresh horta or bitter greens. I also love making tzatziki, and beetroot with its leaves, covered in garlic and olive oil and lemon.

What is happiness for you?

A busy but interesting week, working on my garden, a hike in the countryside, time at a wild, empty beach with a book or my mask and snorkel, walking to the shop for fresh eggs and a bottle of wine to enjoy with the vegetables I bought from the farmer… Falling asleep to the sound of the sea. Happiness!

Thank you so much, dear Jennifer, for this interview. It’s been a pleasure!

Photo copyright:  Ian Smith (unless mentioned otherwise)

Interview updated: November 2022 (1st interview published on July 2018)

Connect with Jennifer here:

Editing & Agency Website

Author Website and author page: Jennifer Barclay Author | Facebook

Twitter @JenBarclayBooks

Jen Barclay | Facebook


Find out more about the books here:

Wild Abandon | Bradt Guides

Taverna by the Sea | Bradt Guides

Falling in Honey (

An Octopus in My Ouzo ( Meeting Mr Kim: My Korean Summer eBook : Barclay, Jennifer: Kindle Store


Read more articles here:

Travel & food guide to Sithonia, Halkidiki

What to pack for a trip with a baby or toddler

Family holidays in Preveza, Greece – What to do

Inspiration Column – Caroline Bishop, author, editor & journalist in Switzerland


Are you visiting Lausanne soon and want to know which are the best places to explore with your young kids? Are you new to the city and eager to discover its charms with your family? Check out my ebook – 48 hours in Lausanne, A Guide for Families with Young Kids which consists of a 2-day itinerary and practical tips on local life.



Inspiration – Jennifer Barclay, the freelance editor and writer living a simple but wonderful life

Walking from Agios Panteleimonas monastery to Eristos beach on Tilos with Lisa (c) Ian Smith


Inspiration – Jennifer Barclay, the freelance editor and writer living a simple but wonderful life

One of Jennifer’s favourite beaches within walking distance of Livadia on Tilos (c) Jennifer Barclay


Inspiration – Jennifer Barclay, the freelance editor and writer living a simple but wonderful life

Photo Copyright (c) Jennifer Barclay


Inspiration – Jennifer Barclay, the freelance editor and writer living a simple but wonderful life

Olympos village, in the north of Karpathos. (c) Jennifer Barclay





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