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Written by Mike Stotter

From journalism to fiction?

I was a journalist early, 17 years old, writing mostly about the Montreux Jazz Festival. Things then moved very fast but it was like walking on a bridge collapsing behind my back, with layoffs plaguing Swiss newspapers. In 2005, after I published my first novel, I quit my post as deputy editor of a daily and went freelance. I wanted to spend more time in Greece and to write mainly for myself.

 Switzerland or Greece.  Where is home?

I feel most at home in Athens. But maybe because it’s not my real home. I used to spend six months a year there. It was a dream. But I had to accept reality: in 2008, no paper wanted a full-time correspondent in Greece. So, I found another way. I make frequents trips to Athens staying only a few days. It’s a short flight but it’s like flying to another planet. To live in Athens is a mix of nostalgia and daily joys: home. But to be honest, I live more in Switzerland now. Jobs, family, house… 

Books on your bedside table? 

Kjell Westö: Yellow Sulphur Sky.  Esther Kinsky, an Austrian writer: Am Fluss, La Rivière in French. The story of a woman in the suburbs of London. I like the images, the rhythm of her writing. And the correspondence between Camus and Maria Casarès.

Books that changed your life?

Ulysses by James Joyce, The Lost by Daniel Mendelsohn, Les mots et les choses by Michel Foucault, Emily L. by Marguerite Duras, Sanctuary by William Faulkner, Stones by Yannis Ritsos. And of course, Mark Twain. I should not forget Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl stories, from when I was a child.

Favourite crime writers?

James Lee Burke, Georges Simenon, James M.Cain, David Goodis, James Ellroy, Cesare Battisti. I discovered two extraordinary writers: Sara Gran and Emily St. John Mandel. And a French one: Franck Bouysse.

Favourite noir series?

Mulholland Drive from Lynch and True Detective. I’m deeply inspired by the writing of Nic Pizzolatto.

Do you write to music? 

No. But if Calexico asks me, I’ll say yes! Please let them know I’m ready and waiting.

The Greek Wall tackles topical and important issues,  corruption, human trafficking and immigration.  Are these topics close to your heart? 

As a journalist, I went to Turkey, the Balkans, Greece, the Middle East, Central Asia, following or crossing the roads of migrants. My Greek grandparents were confronted by forced emigration of sorts. When my mother was a baby, the Greek civil war had begun. There was no choice but to leave your village to go to Athens, if necessary on foot. An exodus like the people from Syria and Iraq leaving everything behind: home, family, friends, skies, landscapes, the brilliance of olive trees in the sun. My grandmother came back to her village in the Peloponnese ten years after leaving it. It was only 350 kilometres from the capital, but coming back to your abandoned homeland was like coming to a foreign country. Devastation, no time, no money. Such was life in the 1950s in Greece. We must never forget how much rural exodus has affected the mentality of modern Greece.

Will Agent Evangelos be back? 

He’s retired now. But I’ve heard he was in the wrong place at the wrong time in the northern port of Igoumenitsa. Something strange occurred there. A new case perhaps….

A Greek recipe?

The most economic and tasteful soup: avgolemono. An egg-lemon soup or sauce. You make it with beaten egg, lemon juice and chicken broth.

You are speaking in London at a European Literature Network event.  Do you have a favourite London place you like to visit?

I’ve been twice to London as a journalist. During my free time, I did what I do when I visit any foreign city: walk for hours. I loved it. This time I’d like to discover an old bookstore, where you can journey back in time as soon as you open the door, and you hear the sound of an old bell.

© Bitter Lemon Press

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Nicolas Verdan

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