The Crimson Bed and the soon to be published Dying Phoenix.
Mary: Hi Lorri! Welcome to my site. I was so happy when I found your books on the net, and even happier when this led to real life meetings.
Loretta: Thanks so much for asking me to your site.
Mary: In this interview I'd like to focus on your 'Greek' books.
Loretta: You are right. I do have a passion for Greece and its history. It's in my blood so I can't get away from it! My mother, Diana Safralis, was a Greek, born in Constantinople (Istanbul now, of course but never to the Greeks!) She eventually moved to Greece in the late 1920s with her mother. During the war she met my father, Alex Cairns, a Geordie serving in the RAF and stationed in Athens. They married within a few months but had to flee Athens on the same day as the wedding as the German army was swiftly advancing from the North. Eventually, after many adventures, they ended up in Cairo, Egypt and here I made my debut. When the war was over we all returned to Newcastle. Can you imagine the contrast from the warmth, comfort and opulence of Cairo to a freezing winter full of snow and the rationed existence of post war Britain?
Mary: Newcastle and Cairo. What a contrast, Lorri!
Mary: I really enjoy the Greek/English balance in your writing. There are countless UK centred books about the First World War, many of which I've read, but The Long Shadow is written from an entirely different viewpoint. I was fascinated by events in old Salonika, the city now known as Thessaloniki.
2. How did you achieve such an imaginative and vivid description of the First World war army camp in Salonika featured in The Long Shadow?
A copy of The Long Shadow is now in the War Museum and Red Cross archives.
I admire your research, Lorri, but I'm even more impressed by the way this is woven into the story. I've never come across the dreaded info dumping in your books. Old Salonika and its inhabitants are so alive. I was shocked, when reading The Long Shadow to discover that much of old Salonika was destroyed in a fire. I’d hoped to visit the homes of your characters. Such wonderful Greek hospitality!
3. The description of the music of the refugees from Smyrna was especially emotionally involving, I felt as if I could actually hear it. Do these amazing characters express your own feelings about belonging to two countries?
The Rebetika music is strange and harsh but so full of feeling, depicting all the pain these poor dispossessed people from Smyrna felt in their new and unwelcoming Greek homeland. I had to make up my own songs due to copyright problems but I think I captured the kind of lyrics they used. There is a marvellous book on Rebetika music ‘Songs of the Greek Underworld’ by Elias Petropoulos and that helped me a lot in the descriptions of their clothes, attitudes and music.
Mary: You composed those songs? That's amazing Lorri. And I could hear the mosquitoes buzzing as well!
4. Your portrayal of the many kinds of love is exceptionally realistic and demonstrates great insight into the difficulties we all face on a daily basis. Romantic love, in particular, receives a much deeper interpretation than the 'floating on clouds' feeling. Could you tell me something about how you've achieved this? Does it arise from the actions of the characters, or do you plan ahead?
Loretta: An interesting question, Mary. It does arise from the characters themselves but above all insight into people's feelings and motives is part of being an author. You're right, I don't 'do' romance of the 'let's all be happy ever after' type. I like to write about real people and real feelings not indulge in wishful thinking. Romantic stories of the latter sort are great and we all enjoy a bit of escapism. But it's not what I want to write about. Much of what I write is based on my own experiences in life or that of people I know well. Through my characters I can explore myself as well. Hans Anderson once said, 'If you want to know me, read my stories.' I so agree with him!
Mary: This explains why your books are too wide ranging to fit into the narrowly focused and formulaic genre classification system. Your approach is literary, but you always include a deeply involving and emotionally satisfying story which can be enjoyed by any reader. Andrew's search for his lost father is a quest that nearly all of us can identify with.
Loretta: This is an easy question to answer because my favourite character is definitely Ethan Willoughby, the ageing doctor who works alongside Dorothy in the military hospital in Salonika. He embodies everything I love in a man; courage, self-sacrifice, duty, old fashioned good manners and restraint and a sort of controlled passion. Very British, in fact. An Edwardian middle class man. Interesting isn't it? That my passionate Greek hero isn't my favourite! I'm also rather fond of May who is Dorothy's best friend while they are in Salonika. May is a sweet girl who becomes embittered by life.
My least loved character is probably Agnes, Dorothy's sister who is a snob and a shallow person. She likes to pretend she is helping with the war effort while having tea parties and gossip with her cronies.
Mary: I’m astonished that Ethan and May are your favourite characters, Lorri. Something I would never have guessed!
Loretta: Well, as I've mentioned, the characters seem to flow from some inner source and so, my guess is they are a part of myself and do indeed feel real. There was a strong feeling of 'having been there' with the first part of the book set in World War One. I believe in reincarnation and sometimes do wonder...was I there in Salonika? It felt so immediate, so vivid. And this city always has a special appeal for me, Greek but not quite Greek, not even now. It's a city with a very ancient history that goes back 2,300 years and was named after Thessalonike, the sister of Alexander the Great.
As I wrote about the fire in Salonika, I could almost smell the smoke and burning and hear the noise of people yelling and screaming. Sometimes parts of the characters are based on people I knew and this adds flesh to them. But none are quite any one person and may even be what I sense about the real person rather than the mask they show the world. On, the other hand, do we understand what is going on in another person because we have experienced those feelings and emotions ourselves and so empathise? Is this what attracts us to specific characters in books? For instance, I am always attracted to tragic, passionate, independent women in books, like Scarlett o'Hara, Jane Eyre, Anna Karenina.
Mary: I share your belief in reincarnation Lorri, so empathise with this answer.
Loretta: Apparently I was taken there to visit my grandmother after the war ended. We were in Egypt at the time and due to return with the troops to Britain. I don't recall this visit at all as I was very young and we never returned to visit her there. My first memory was actually boarding the troop ship that was to bring us home and demanding a top bunk! Plus I fell in love with the handsome doctor who checked me over. My flirtatious career began early!
So my first impressions of Greece were in 1966 when I returned with my husband, John. This is the year with which I begin my new Greek story, Dying Phoenix. My impressions were most vivid, my relations warm, crazy, generous, wonderful ... so different to the cool, undemonstrative English people I'd known most of my life. So I fell in love with Greece and really felt I belonged there, recognised at last that side of my own nature which is crazy, warm and exuberant! As Andrew will tell you in The Long Shadow, it was the music and dance that I responded to above all. However, strange to say, it wasn't Greece where I felt a sense of deja vu but here in England. I always felt totally at home in this country and definitely sure I'd been here many lives before. And I still feel glad to return here from visits to Greece. It's calmer, cooler, more sedate and I need the greenness and the grey skies! Too much heat and sun don't agree with me.
Mary: Living in the UK and visiting Greece obviously works really well for you, Lorri. I am lucky enough to have had a preview look at Dying Phoenix, a book that more than lives up to its title. Once again I felt I was actually living through the powerful passionate story and that all the characters were real. History and emotional truth combined, brilliant. It was wonderful to find out what had happened to the characters from The Long Shadow. I dare not say more.
Loretta: Early in 2013 I received a surprise invite from the American College in Thessaloniki to give a talk on The Long Shadow at an all day workshop over there. They were interested in understanding how the British viewed old Salonika which at that time was a cosmopolitan, heterogeneous city, still influenced by centuries of Turkish rule and Jewish commerce. They also wanted me to take a creative writing workshop with the students a few days later. I really enjoyed doing this and I had a marvellous week there, staying in a beautiful flat on the campus. The various talks at the workshop were inspiring and fascinating and mine seemed to go down well too. I felt amazingly at ease, mainly thanks to the welcome and hospitality of the marvellous Greek teachers and students at the college. We had great fun and I was introduced to tsipoura, a drink somewhat like a whisky in taste. Very enjoyable. A few of those were downed after the day, I can tell you!
Loretta: There was no plan for a sequel when I wrote The Long Shadow but the members of my Greek club seemed to feel there should be one and it seemed a natural progression to carry on the generations to the next big event in Greek history, the military take-over of 1967. This was a strange period of history, even by Greek standards. Many felt it was for the best but those who did not agree with the extreme right wing policies of the Colonels who took charge, suffered greatly. I have tried to put over all the varied views and reactions in my story Dying Phoenix.
Mary: This ability to put forward each person's viewpoint was greatly appreciated by me. The cover is so beautiful, as everyone can see. I don't want to say too much about Dying Phoenix, due to the plot spoiling aspect, but the central love affair was written in a very original way.
Loretta: I am an adaptable person but when it comes to writing, I'm incapable of writing anywhere but at my desk and computer in my own little den upstairs. Some people write outdoors in the garden, in a summer house and so on. I simply can't seem to concentrate unless in my usual place, with all my favourite objects, books and pictures around me. I do jot down ideas if I am out and about and also when I go on holiday. And, of course, the notepad by the bed! However, when I wrote The Long Shadow, scenes poured through my head with all the dialogue perfect in the night. I didn't get up to write them down but somehow managed to remember them pretty well the next morning! This didn't happen with Dying Phoenix quite so much.
Mary: The Long Shadow and Dying Phoenix read together create a compelling story. Events in Greece continue to make headline news and your empathy for your second country comes across in the passion of your writing
Loretta: I have considered a further sequel for my heroine and hero in Dying Phoenix but decided against it and have instead added an epilogue which gives a glimpse into their future actions. I strongly feel that a drawn out saga loses its freshness so it seems right to end here. There's a sense of coming full circle having begun by publishing The Long Shadow in 2006 and a few books later ended with Dying Phoenix. However, there is a further Greek story up my sleeve called Glass Madonna which is a quite different, almost supernatural tale and set in more recent times. And who knows what else may present itself in the future? It would be interesting to set my parent's astonishing war time romance in Greece and Egypt as a story.
! UPDATE ! Dying Phoenix now available
The Long Shadow is a compelling historical novel which tells the human story of the Allied campaign in Salonika during WW! and will appeal to readers of The Island and The Thread.
Fourteen-year-old Andrew discovers his mother's hidden diary at his grandmother's home during a Christmas gathering. His eyes are opened to a family secret when he reads about her time as a nurse in Salonika during the First World War, and the tragic love affair she had with his father, a Greek Officer who died in battle. Four years later, Andrew is impelled to visit his father's land and trace his roots. What - and who - he finds there will change his life forever.
The Long Shadow is filled with descriptions of Greece and its people. Dramatic images of battle and the terrible conditions endured by the Allied Armies entrenched around Salonika in the “Birdcage” are authentic and vivid. Greek music and dance play a vital role, reconciling in Andrew the dichotomy of belonging to two very different cultures and helping him to unite them in his heart and soul.