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 April 2011. Since then, Jennifer has also spent much 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 two books about her life on a Greek island: Falling in Honey and An Octopus in My Ouzo.
I loved reading both of them. In her blog, An Octopus in My Ouzo, she also reveals all her current adventures.
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.
- Would you suggest a song to hear while reading your interview?
You may find this strange but I can’t listen to music while I’m reading. The words compete with the music. I like peace and quiet for reading, maybe the sound of the sea. But I should recommend an inspiring song. It has nothing to do with Greece, but I’m going with ‘Gorecki’ by Lamb – it conveys my feelings about the wild places I love!
- How would you introduce yourself in a paragraph?
I grew up in a lovely village surrounded by hills in the north of England but I had travel in my blood and lived in different 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 I close the laptop at a certain point every day and 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?
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. Over the years it’s become better and better. If you’re not happy with your situation, start finding ways to change it – no one else will do it for you. I started with three ‘gifts to self’, doing three things for myself to make life better, and it set me on the right path.
- 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. Then I took a couple of years out to travel, started writing my first book about South Korea, and moved over to the editing side of things, craving more creativity in my work. I moved back to the UK and spent seven years as editorial director of a small independent publishing company before deciding to move to Greece. I went completely freelance a couple of years later, and I do work with travel memoir but also with other genres. One reason for moving here was to create more writing time for myself, and since being here I have published two memoirs set on the island where I live, Falling in Honey and An Octopus in my Ouzo.
- 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 are going through similar things all the time and always have. 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.
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 a really 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?
I lived in several different countries but they were always a compromise for work or for someone else, although I always enjoyed it. This was something just for me, finally, and 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. I have a photo of myself on the first day of a holiday on Tilos before I came to live here, and even though I look pasty-white in my bikini and shorts, my arms are spread wide with sheer joy at the freedom of the outdoors.
Because Tilos is remote and not well known, I could afford to rent a house with a garden, and sea and hills nearby, and a view of the Milky Way above. Tilos felt far away from traffic and shopping centres and crime, a place unlike everywhere else, magical.
- 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?
Actually, although I moved here in April 2011, since then I spent almost a year living in Australia and a year and a half on another island, Karpathos. My new life has been full of opportunities, something I love. It’s had to say what the biggest challenge is – there have been challenges along the way, of course, but on the whole, it’s been fairly smooth because I already had a grounding in the language, took things step by step and knew what I was looking for. I think the major challenge awaits me: I am hoping to buy my own home here (I’ve always rented until now) and if so, will have to grapple with bureaucracy…
- When you first moved to Greece in April 2011, the country was in big financial problems. Weren’t you preoccupied?
I’d been planning to move to Greece for a couple of years, and it never occurred to me not to go because of the financial crisis. I work long-distance and earn my living in the UK, so I wasn’t hoping to find work in Greece, I was only spending my money here and I only had myself to worry about. Life has certainly become harder for local people, but the islands earn their living from the land and from tourism, so it’s not as serious a problem as in the cities. You hear people saying a lot that as long as they have their health, that’s what matters.
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 here. You have to adapt to the pace of Tilos; even my parents, who have travelled a lot, had to get used to things like the lock not working on a hotel room door (why do you need a lock?), or waiting ages for lunch because the restaurant has run out of tomatoes and needs to go and get some. Siga-siga. Because life is challenging here in the winter, locals can’t understand why you’d be concerned about some trivial matter when you’re on holiday. Tilos can be hard to get to because of ferry schedules, but remoteness is what keeps it special. 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?
All Greek islands are busy in July and August, so personally, I prefer to travel off-season, but if you do visit in the summer then you get to attend the festivals, which are really quite special. The biggest is Agios Panteleimonas at the monastery in late July, and a couple of days later there is a smaller version in the village of Megalo Horio called the ‘koupa’, which is easier to get to and more intimate. You can buy food and drinks from the kafeneio and the traditional music and dancing goes on well into the early hours of the morning.
The other highlight of summer for many people is going to Stelios’ kantina on Eristos beach, where a hippy style of free camping is allowed and thrives. It’s also worth visiting the museum to see the bones of the last elephants in Europe; and the abandoned village of Mikro Horio, which turns into a music bar at night.
For many more tips, there are also my books, Falling in Honey and An Octopus in my Ouzo…
- 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?
The ferries, on the whole, are accommodating to pets, and both booking.com and Airbnb have filters where you can search for pet-friendly places. I’m actually surprised how much dog-friendly accommodation there is now, and I’ve started a ‘Dog-decanese’ page on my blog to highlight this. Buses and taxis are a problem, but I now even have a dog-friendly taxi driver in Rhodes! Many people in Greece adore dogs, but 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?
For my first years on Tilos, I rarely wanted to go anywhere else, but recently I’ve begun exploring the nearby islands much more. I’m lucky to have the freedom to travel out of season and to meet a lot of people because I speak the language. I look for a mixture of meeting people and discovering the old culture, while also searching for deserted beaches and mountain paths. I like to walk as it’s a great way to get to know a place well while getting fit and building up a good appetite for dinner…
I don’t have a favourite travel experience as I have so many, but I avoid packaged experiences and commercialised places in favour of the less famous but more authentic. What’s important to me is not to go to a famous place but to get to know a place in my own way and learn unknown stories.
I have found some wonderful communities on my travels. It was just before Easter a few years ago when I first visited Olympos in the north of Karpathos, and I was so entranced that I ended up staying… Although I love finding astonishing landscapes, for me it is also very much about the people. My next trips are related to a new book I am trying to write, and so they will probably be to delve deeper into the Dodecanese islands that I already know and love. I believe you don’t have to travel very far to have adventures.
Inspiration, food and happiness
- Where do you draw inspiration from? Which book and/or movie would you recommend reading/watching to get inspired?
Inspiration can come from anywhere: I was editing a self-help book for my job when I realised it was up to me to find more time for my own writing. I often get inspired when I’m on the move, so I always carry a notebook. My clients inspire me too – I love working with people who have pushed themselves and done extraordinary things because they have learned some secrets about what life is really all about.
- What’s your favorite Greek recipe/food so far?
I love Greek food, but I’m a lazy cook. I like good ingredients, simply put together – cheese, local fish and vegetables, herbs I’ve gathered, bread I’ve baked. In the winter I love roasting pork in the oven with potatoes and lemons, oregano and olive oil – all from Tilos. I also love cooking gigantes (broad beans in tomato sauce) and melitzanosalata (aubergine dip). Goat in tomato sauce is delicious, but it’s harder to eat it when you’ve been watching baby goats happily leaping around the fields all day. Maybe one very boring winter’s day I will learn to make moussaka.
- What is happiness for you?
After a busy but interesting week, I’ve just spent several hours alone on a beautiful beach half an hour’s walk from where I live, swimming and snoozing and reading… I walked back via the shop where I bought fresh eggs and a cold bottle of white wine to have with the vegetables I bought from the farmer earlier today… And tonight I will go to sleep with the sound of the sea. Happiness!
Jennifer’s blog – An Octopus in My Ouzo
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