Leah Fleming shares the inspiration behind her novel, The Olive Garden Choir.
I have had a love affair with the island of Crete from our very first visit in 2002. We return there every year. I find inspiration sitting in the shade under an olive tree and this contemporary story emerged one afternoon, much to my surprise.
Research for The Girl Under The Olive Tree, set in World War II, took me into one of the darkest times of the island’s history. Many of my novels touch on wartime drama but The Olive Garden Choir is lighter in tone, inspired by everyday living among expats who have chosen to make a home in the sun, many of whom have become friends.
This is not their story but I have gleaned much from their experiences. One thing I did notice is that some residents come for a more relaxed life in the sun, others have embraced the language and culture and are now part of the whole local community. Then there are those who are running away from past relationships or loss. I think we take our Demons with us where ever we land.
That was the angle I wanted to share. Most of my characters have secrets, losses, failures and suffer in silence but Ariadne’s Christmas choir brings them together. Singing touches our souls and emotions and her choir changes lives for the better like Mel, the young English woman married to a Cretan, who finds her voice again, Clive learns to live with his grief, Natalie faces up to her guilt. Each member of the choir, including Ariadne, have private dilemmas to solve and past histories they must share.
There is also another layer to this story because it’s not all sand and sun on the Greek islands. Sammia and her family, who are Syrian refugees, have to fit into this close knit community. They highlight the plight of innocent refugees and force the choir to give them a hand.
This being fiction, I decided to create a little island off the coast of mainland Crete which I call Santaniki or St Nickolas. This gave me the freedom to create fictional characters and their lifestyle while staying true to the beautiful landscape of Crete with its mountains, ancient chapels, villages and glorious food. I couldn’t resist including some of my favourite recipes. It was hard to leave my imaginary island behind so another story from St Nicks is on its way: Strangers in the Olive Garden.
Wish me luck
An evocative novel of secrets, love and redemption under the Greek sun.
On the beautiful island of Santaniki, close to Crete, it’s not all white sands and sunshine. When retired bookseller Ariadne Blunt suggests the English residents form a choir, there are groans of resistance.
After a little persuasion, the group gather in Ariadne’s olive garden to rehearse, but each member of this choir has their own struggles and secrets. Ariadne’s partner, Hebe, is in failing health. Clive struggles to accept the loss of his wife while Della, the Pilates teacher, drinks too much. Then there is Mel, the real songbird amongst them, English wife of a taverna owner who hides her talent until the choir inspires her to raise her voice once more.
In this tiny community, the choir brings the residents together like never before in a bittersweet tale of love and loss – and how life can begin again when you let go of the past.
After careers in teaching, catering, running a market stall, stress management courses in the NHS as well as being a mother of four, Leah Fleming found her true calling as a storyteller. She lives in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales but spends part of the year marinating her next tale from an olive grove on her favourite island of Crete.