I was a real-life Shirley Valentine…
Twenty five years ago following a whirlwind romance, Anne Zouroudi, then aged 32, ditched a successful career to marry George, a fisherman she met on holiday to the Greek island of Symi.
She recalls George ran a taxi boat and as soon as he asked her and her sister to go on board, she was smitten. “It was love at first sight, he really did sweep me off my feet,” she says.
Despite friends and family saying it was a domed relationship, she ended up giving up her corporate job, going to live in Greece and having a fabulous Greek wedding.
After two years their son Eassilis (or Will as he is known in England) was born – but it was then then the marriage began to disintegrate and when he was five she left Greece.
Back in the UK with a small child and much regret and heartache, she began writing a book about life in Greece. And incredibly, she turned her real life Shirley Valentine experience into a book, was taken on by a top literary agent – and went on to have a successful literary career.
“I had a small child in tow and the daunting prospect of life as a single parent,” she says. “It was an unwanted fresh start, but having always had ambitions to write, it seemed as good a time as any – in between working part-time jobs to keep my son and I fed and clothed – to knuckle down and try and produce something publishable.”
Inspired by my Greek island life, Anne wrote The Messenger of Athens, a dark mystery with a sprinkling of myth and magic that has a fictionalised Symi as it’s setting. The Messenger of the title was the enigmatic Hermes Diaktoros, a mysterious and shadowy figure who arrives in Symi – renamed Thiminos – to investigate the death of a young housewife.
She got her lucky break when she was taken on by literary agent Christopher Little, the man responsible for JK Rowling’s amazing success. With Christopher behind it, the book was picked up by Bloomsbury, and following publication was shortlisted for two national prizes, the Desmond Elliott Prize for Sparkling New Fiction and ITV3’s Crime Thriller Awards. Anne quickly built a fan-base of readers who loved Hermes’s quirkiness, his white tennis shoes and his gourmet tastes, and Bloomsbury bought a further six novels, one for each of the Seven Deadly Sins, all featuring Hermes in the starring role.
Much of what Anne writes is drawn from first-hand experience as during her time in Symi she immersed herself in island life, learning to speak Greek and becoming a proficient fisherwoman. Always a keen cook, Anne also learned to prepare the wonderful Mediterranean produce, most of it grown in the family’s garden.
“I’m a zealous advocate for Greek food,” she admits. “Its flavours are unique, and so many people who holiday in Greece come home wanting to re-create the dishes they’ve eaten in the waterside tavernas. So this autumn I’m going to share what I know in a cookery class cooking Greek dishes featured in the books – aptly called Cooking the Books – to teach people how to prepare the dishes that make Greek island food so deliciously memorable.”
Now Anne has gone back to Greece, this time with a film crew in tow. A TV show, I married the Waiter, will tell the stories of five women – including Anne – whose lives changed dramatically following affairs with foreign men. Some of the stories ended happily, some are more poignant.
For Anne her marriage might not have worked out but she and her ex are on good terms and she now sees it as a great experience.
“It was great to be back in Symi to see family and old friends,” Anne says. “George and I still have great affection for each other, and my one-time next-door-neighbour, Jean, features in the documentary. So do some of the places I used in the book. Symi’s a very beautiful island, and I know seeing it on screen will make me want to jump straight on a plane.”
I Married the Waiter (Tuesday 23rd September, ITV1 at 9pm)
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