First review of JIGSAW ISLAND – and it’s a cracker…

Thank you, Jena Henry.

Review on Goodreads. Five star!

Symi is a Greek Island and a perfect vacation spot. Beautiful waters, bright sun and a happy atmosphere attract tourists from all over. A few years ago, Clair visited Symi as her 50th birthday approached. I read her story in the author’s first book, “Terrible with Raisins”. “Jisgsaw Island”, the author’s second book tells the story of Annie who is connected to Clair by the magnificent Aunt Maggie of Scotland. (Yes, you should read “Terrible with Raisins” and it’s been re-released with a gorgeous new cover. But you can read “Jigsaw Puzzle” first. It has a beautiful cover, too.)

I adored this book. It’s quirky and amazing. Don’t read it on a hot Greek beach, because you won’t be able to put it down and you will scorch rather than stop reading. For the first two-thirds of the book, I thought I was reading stream of consciousness. And Annie, the main character confirmed it. “I just open my mouth and the logjam of my life comes piling out.” “My stream of consciousness covers my adoption to Jude’s birth.”

Annie reviews her chaotic life up until she and her son fly to Greece. She lived in Anniesland, Glasgow. She left home as soon as she could and headed to London when she was 16. She might have considered it an adventure. I thought it was a disaster. She was there 6 months and then returned to her parent’s house, pregnant. She then manages to go to college and raise her bi-racial son. When Jude, age 13, starts to have trouble in school she decides to take him to Greece to visit her brother Fraser and give them both a new perspective.

The last third of the book is a psychological thriller and I never saw it coming. That is what is so amazing about this book. “Jigsaw Island” is a great name for this book, because it’s like a jigsaw puzzle. There are so many characters and viewpoints and you make judgments about their actions or thoughts and then you realize you were all wrong. You hadn’t put the pieces together correctly.

Author McVernon is a gifted storyteller and quite skilled at presenting well-developed characters. The book also casts light on refugees, prejudice, and mental illness. All in all, you must visit Greece with Annie! I received an advance digital review copy from the author. This is my honest review.

Link to Goodreads page

Posted in Contemporary Women's Fiction, Fiction, Greek Islands, Humour, Leros, new writing, Refugees, Single mother, Single mothers, Writers, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Καληνύχτα φίλοι μου – Kalinýchta fíloi mou – Goodnight my friends

It’s been a long day’s formatting and I’ll be sleeping like a log – just ‘cos I wanna be a paperback writer… (spotted the link?). JIGSAW ISLAND the paperback should go live soon. Until it does – here’s an early version of the artwork. All homegrown, my books…

The eBook’s already HERE

Stay safe x

Posted in Art, Contemporary Women's Fiction, Fiction, Greek Islands, Leros, new writing, Personal, Writers, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

JIGSAW ISLAND is live!

Finally, after a l-o-o-o-o-ong birth process, JIGSAW ISLAND is live. Ebook published today. Paperback out in July.

On a holiday escape to the Greek islands, Annie Buchanan discovers what – and then who – is missing from her life… When single mother, Annie, and son Jude take a break away from Scotland to stay with her brother and friends on Symi, they find the warmth and support they need. As they ease into the relaxed rhythm of island life, old and new acquaintances change the course of their vacation. Whether it’s for better or worse, Annie will discover when she visits the island of Leros. There she may be able to put together some of the missing pieces in her life and learn who her friends really are. But she cannot be prepared for some uncomfortable truths about the past and the dramatic way in which they will change the present for her… and Jude.

And this is Leros, my beautiful jigsaw island.

CLICK ON THE IMAGE AND I’LL TAKE YOU THERE

 

Posted in Contemporary Women's Fiction, Fiction, Greek Islands, Leros, Life on the edge, new writing, Single mother, Single mothers, Writers, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

JIGSAW ISLAND – COVER REVEAL

At last – here is the cover for JIGSAW ISLAND, my second novel, both a stand alone fiction and a sequel to TERRIBLE WITH RAISINS. To be published this month.
Excited and relieved…

On a holiday escape to the Greek islands, Annie Buchanan discovers what – and then who – is missing from her life.

Posted in Contemporary Women's Fiction, Fiction, Greek Islands, Leros, Life on the edge, new writing, Refugees, Writers, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Behind the holiday island: The refugee crisis and the future for healthcare on Leros

     Pandeli Harbour, Leros

Here is the second part of the interview with my friend, Takis Varnas, who works as a nurse on Leros in the Dodecanese islands. I am indebted to him for his practical help and advice to better my understanding of the refugee experience on Leros, which forms a background to Jigsaw Island, published this month. More importantly, here’s Takis…

‘At the beginning of the refugee crisis, when around 4-5,000 refugees were accommodated on the island of Leros, local people but mainly professionals, working in public services, either in healthcare or in security services such as the police and the port police, experienced unprecedented situations and had to work in difficult and unexpected conditions without any preparation or training.

Back then a lot of NGOs from different countries around the world were coming to Leros and to other islands by the dozen, providing help in various fields.
Many of them have offered, and continue to offer, meaningful work and services today. In my view, without their expertise in major issues, the crisis would have gone beyond any control. Of course, there were also many controversial NGOs whose purpose seemed to aim at the various profit-making grants, and who disappeared from the map when those grants stopped.

I feel positively about working and cooperating with NGOs whose field of action is refugee rescue, healthcare, and the education of younger refugees. After all, I have been personally involved in various voluntary activities supported by the local Volunteers Blood Donor Association and a lot of my close friends work for or volunteer in such NGOs.’

One of the many children being held in the refugee ‘hot spot’ on Leros

 

 

 

 

How does Takis think outside countries / agencies could help further in the continuing crisis?
‘I believe this is a question which it would be better answered by an official or political person in the municipality of Leros, or perhaps the region of the Dodecanese Islands, who has the responsibility for these issues and manages their details.

As a both a citizen of a country experiencing prolonged economic and humanitarian crises and a person facing day to day difficulties due to the austerity measures imposed on Greece, I believe that Europe and other foreign countries should provide more substantial assistance in the form of services and their funding as well as necessary infrastructures and hosting facilities for refugees and immigrants and for the local population, who must live in harmony and under difficult conditions with these people. An alternative view is that the problem rests with official local and government authorities who do not claim or properly request such assistance.

It was a difficult question to ask, but I wanted to understand the reality of Takis’s work,  the cases – or types of cases – that he and his colleagues experience.

It would be inappropriate to detail the facts and incidents that I have experienced in the emergency department of the hospital in Leros where I work, as they may cause distress to readers. To give you some idea, though, I volunteer to help on emergency cases, also with supporting parents in identifying the bodies of their children, who were tragically killed in the various wrecks. We have dealt with dozens of these kinds of incidents on a daily basis, including dozens of shipwreck survivors with extreme injuries who visit our hospital E.R. department to be examined and treated (early on, Leros E.R. department had only two equipped testing beds).

Here are two incidents that are typical of the pressures faced by patients and staff:

In the first case, after a shipwreck with 43 dead people, my colleagues and I, along with the doctors on E.R., had to treat the survivors. It was a very difficult and serious situation full of panic and horror.  We had to treat dozens of injured and traumatised survivors very quickly. We had been attending to the extensive wounds of one man when, after a while, we realised that due to general panic and pressure, we had been stitching him without applying any anaesthetic. He had shown us no sign of pain. We thought that perhaps he was mentally ill or that he had suffered from brain damage. Shortly afterwards, though, we learned from Social Services that the man was in deep shock because, a few hours earlier, his wife and his three sons had drowned in the shipwreck from which he was rescued.

In the second incident, we were confronted by a violent husband who did not allow the gynaecologist at the hospital to carry out a cesarean section on his pregnant wife, who was in a life-threatening situation. He was demanding to have only female doctors and nurses operating otherwise he wouldn’t let us take his wife to theatre. Of course, his ‘request’ was not accepted and his wife shortly gave birth safely to a healthy baby boy.

At the beginning of the refugee crisis, in the most extreme times, we had to face dozens of deaths and hundreds of serious incidents like the ones I have described, without any special education or training for such situations and the incidence of massive disasters.
It is not a secret that many of the healthcare professionals in Leros hospital often had to deal with psychological issues. I remember having nightmares for a month, unable to rest my mind or body.

But slowly and patiently we all figured out how to manage the situation psychologically, and with the experience we gained day by day from each incident we began to function fully professionally in situations that, earlier, had been beyond our experience.

Takis has been a dedicated promoter of the Blood Transfusion Service on Leros. I asked him to describe the growth of the service and how it is progressing.

For the last four years I have been involved extensively with the local volunteers’ blood donors association. I did so for two main reasons:
The first is that, aged 29, I had a very serious road accident that meant an immediate operation to stop internal bleeding. I needed 8 units of blood, but such a large amount is very difficult to find in a small island hospital like the one in Leros, especially in summertime. For this reason the doctors desperately needed to find out which of the nearby islands’ hospital had 8 units of blood available, so that a port police high-speed boat could carry them in for the operation. Obviously, the waiting time in mobilising aid for such a serious incident was extremely dangerous. This experience made me realise that a sufficient blood supply to hospitals is primarily a matter of volunteer blood donors who must be persuaded to offer their blood, willingly and more often.

The second reason is that, as a father of two children, I would like my kids and the rest of the kids on our island to have the opportunity through comprehensive information to gain the necessary awareness of the necessity and also the benefits of voluntary blood donation.
Here are some indications of progress made in recent years in the field of voluntary blood donation due to campaigning by the local volunteer association to the people of Leros, especially to school students of all ages.

• In a very short time, we have been able to increase by about 20% the annual number of blood units we collect from the voluntary blood donations on Leros.

• There has been also an expansion of age groups coming in to donate blood; most encouragingly, every year, about 15-20 students aged 17 years old are coming in to donate blood (with the necessary written consent from their parents required by Greek law because they have not yet reached adulthood).

• In general there is a very positive change of attitude especially towards young children about how voluntary blood donation should be treated by all of us.’


Takis (he’s the blue giant) with clinical colleagues at Leros Hospital

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I asked Takis what he thinks are the opportunities and challenges for children, growing up on a small Greek island in the 21st Century.

‘In my own and my wife’s point of view, raising our children on such a small island as Leros, which can provide almost anything, is a blessing.

The quality of life and the activities that our children choose themselves, are always, in our point of view, far more effective and much more ‘healthy’ than those that parents can give their children growing up in a big city.

Let me illustrate: our two children aged 8 and 10 have the choice to engage in activities such as basketball, football, tennis, tae kwon do, sailing, ballet, yoga, traditional dances, learning traditional and classical musical instruments, children’s theatre, chess, creative writing, camping, scouting and much more.

It is clear that there are a lot of interesting activities for the children in the early stages. But for higher education, it is necessary to leave the island for a bigger city in Greece. It is also true that if a young person chooses to follow an activity more seriously or professionally, he or she must seek opportunities in a city where such challenges exist.’

Takis out of interview mode:
‘Before ending, I would like to make an announcement so I can inform all our friends who may be interested, that here on Leros I belong to a great team, consisting mostly of healthcare professionals, who specialise in first aid and emergency situations. We have started a very new and ambitious voluntary project which is really necessary and that has to do with Search & Rescue and also with Civil Protection.

The idea is to support and provide help to the government authorities in emergency situations such as rescuing people from shipwrecks due to the refugee crisis, firefighting, rescuing people from car accidents, search and rescue for animals etc.

As you can understand this particular project needs major funding for special training that we have to pay for ourselves and we also need a lot of special rescue equipment, so if someone reading this is really interested and capable of helping us by providing any kind of equipment to our search & rescue team, it would be very welcome. We are not in a position to accept cash. But if someone wants to make a donation or an offer of equipment and materials to our team, our contact e-mail address is: leros.sar@gmail.com. Thanks for your support.’

Takis Varnas

Many thanks, Taki, for your time and generosity, and for giving such selfless support to refugees and fellow Lerians alike. You and your colleagues, female and male, are not just heroes, you are Greek gods. 

That email address again: leros.sar@gmail.com

Posted in Britain in EU, Contemporary Women's Fiction, European Union, Greek Islands, Health Care, Leros, Personal, Refugees, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Behind the holiday island: Leros as seen by Takis Varnas

Apart from the beauty of the island of Leros, Martyn and I return year after year because of the friends we have made there. We have known Takis Varnas and his family the longest. They have all helped me one way and another with my writing, including an hilarious, wine fuelled evening deciding which was the worst Greek swear word.

The consensus opinion is included in Terrible With Raisins. Jigsaw Island, to be published this month, is somewhat different in tone; it still includes the island of Symi but the main action takes place on Leros. As it is set in 2016, it would have been wrong not to include the desperate plight of refugees arriving in the islands.

As a nurse, in addition to caring for the needs of fellow Lerians, Takis is on the front line, caring for the physical and emotional wellbeing of people desperate enough to make the dangerous crossing from Turkey, fleeing from war and deprivation.

He’s been kind enough to take time out of his frantically busy schedule to tell me about his professional life.  It is a long interview, so this is the first of two posts.
Takis with a very new patient

Takis in his own words:
‘I lived in Sydney, Australia for two years (1995-1997) and worked there as a nursing assistant in a Greek nursing home. The incentive to train and pursue my nursing profession was given to me by the choice to work in the mental health and reintegration programs that have operated since 1991 at Leros Psychiatric Hospital. I chose to do this job for a certain period of time (2 years) and for purely livelihood reasons but in the course of my work I discovered how interesting and how special the profession of a nurse is.

The specific and the biggest challenge that a healthcare professional can face on a Greek island with chronically limited hospital facilities and medical equipment is that residents are often unable to access more sophisticated care on Rhodes or the mainland, especially during the winter, due to bad weather conditions.

Under such difficult circumstances, a healthcare professional is frequently called to deal with emergencies and very serious situations that his medical team has to manage and stabilise immediately until the case be referred to a larger hospital with an intensive care unit. Such situations may be for example: multi-complex needs, a car accident or the diagnosis of a rare medical condition that requires immediate and specialised care in hospital.

The specific challenge in these cases is that healthcare professionals have to work with inadequate medical equipment compared to that available in larger hospitals on the mainland.

It is widely accepted, even by European institutions and the IMF who imposed the austerity measures implemented in Greece from 2010 to the present, that they have been (and still are) some of the most severe and disabling financial strictures in world history.

This intense austerity imposed so abruptly on the Greek people found them unprepared; it had a profoundly negative impact on the public healthcare system. Officials were forced to incur huge spending cuts (more than 50%) on healthcare facilities and to the number of healthcare professionals, mainly nurses and medical staff.

Takis & colleague – foot operation

 In public hospitals, for every ten retirements there was one recruitment. This rate is now 5 to 1. The result of all this is a tremendous workload for healthcare personnel at public hospitals as health problems faced by the Greeks escalate due to the humanitarian crisis; the number of hospital cases has increased dramatically, mainly in the islands of the eastern Aegean that host immigrants and refugees coming in from Asia and Africa.

The island of Leros, where I live permanently with my family, is one of the 5 islands in the eastern Aegean where there are facilities for refugee accommodation and identification. so-called ‘hot spots’. Since 2015 until today, due to the search for the best possible living conditions, many thousands of refugees (mainly from Muslim countries) arrive at Leros where they are hosted at the hot spot. Having fled war in their home countries, the aim of the refugees is to reach the larger, more developed European countries for reunion with their families and for a better, safer life.

It is no surprise that, coming from conflict zones, such groups of people suffer mainly psychological but also physical injuries that require specialised medical care. As a nurse working at Leros Hospital, I had to be de facto, indeed, necessarily involved with every aspect of the medical care of these people.

As a health professional and as a human being, I feel very proud of the fact that the people of Leros, in their overwhelming majority, have come to terms with this humanitarian crisis by managing a terribly disproportionate burden with composure and compassion and trying, under difficult conditions, to live alongside people from foreign countries who have completely different cultures and different perceptions on the simple everyday issues of living, family, religion etc.

From my point of view, this is due to the fact that since the mid-50s, Leros has hosted vulnerable groups, such as mentally ill people from around Greece and also political prisoners of the 1967-1973 dictatorship in the facilities Leros inherited from World War II as an Italian navy base. This fact has somehow ‘trained’ the inhabitants of Leros to handle such situations.

Of course, however, we must emphasise that the current refugee and immigrant crisis is becoming increasingly difficult for both permanent residents and those in refugee accommodation facilities on the island.’

TOMORROW
Takis talks about working with NGOs, the problems faced by specific refugee patients and innovations made into healthcare on Leros.

Posted in birthday, Britain in EU, Contemporary Women's Fiction, Desperation, European Union, Greek Islands, Health Care, Leros, new writing, Personal, Refugees | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Running away from it all

A friend of mine said recently – “It’s not too bad a time for writers – they can disappear into their own heads”. That’s true up to a point. I’m re-writing and tidying Jigsaw Island on the advice of my editor and, while I’m doing it, spending a lot of time in Greece. More specifically, the islands. Thought you might like to see a couple of places I’ve been…

Left: Leros    Right: Karpathos

 

And below is where I live – not too dusty, eh?

Meanwhile, this is what I’m looking at most of the time, right now…

 

As everyone is saying, strange times indeed. I am blessed living where I live, grateful to the so many thousands of people keeping our lives going – doctors, nurses, care givers, food suppliers and deliverers, bin men, bus drivers, volunteers, post persons – the list goes on and on, every one of them a brave and generous spirit. We must never forget what they have done for us. And we must fight, if necessary, to save our extraordinary British gem, the NHS, from privatisation and Americanisation. Whoops – veered of post a bit. But you won’t mind?

Stay safe, all of you.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Britain under Lockdown, Contemporary Women's Fiction, Devon, Fiction, Greek Islands, Health Care, Humour, Leros, Life on the edge, new writing, NHS, Personal, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Beside the seaside…

Doing my own final edit of Jigsaw Island before passing it on to the professionals, I am lost in my mind’s eye with memories such as this – Leros, September 2018…

Whereas, from our garden today, this is the view… (btw – if at first it appears sideways, it plays the right way up)

Lyme Bay rollers pounding the SW railway. Frankly, majestic as it appears, I’d rather be indoors at the Apple Mac.

Posted in Art, Contemporary Women's Fiction, Devon, Greek Islands, Humour, Leros, Personal, Writing | Tagged | Leave a comment

Berlin – a city with a conscience

From Winston Churchill’s speech

UNITED STATES OF EUROPE

September 19, 1946. University of Zurich

Our constant aim must be to build and fortify the United Nations Organisation. Under and within that world concept we must re-create the European family in a regional structure called, it may be, the United States of Europe, and the first practical step will be to form a Council of Europe. If at first all the States of Europe are not willing or able to join a union we must nevertheless proceed to assemble and combine those who will and who can. The salvation of the common people of every race and every land from war and servitude must be established on solid foundations, and must be created by the readiness of all men and women to die rather than to submit to tyranny. In this urgent work France and Germany must take the lead together. Great Britain, the British Commonwealth of Nations, mighty America — and, I trust, Soviet Russia, for then indeed all would be well — must be the friends and sponsors of the new Europe and must champion its right to live. Therefore I say to you “Let Europe arise!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was in Berlin last weekend, staying with two new friends who live there. She is German/American and he is British. I asked how they were dealing with the possible consequences of Brexit. The younger couldn’t actually believe it would cause that much of a problem, the older was much more pragmatic. Both were born post the fall of the Berlin Wall whereas I remember the wall going up and coming down. I am concerned for them lest Britain’s hostile stance provokes a reaction that affects their relationship by making living together difficult. That would be a pointless tragedy brought about by ignorance, prejudice and posturing – in fact the antithesis of everything Berlin, as a city, stands for.

The photographs above are of the Jewish Memorial and two columns of the Neues Museum – the bullet holes from the Allied invasion of Berlin at the close of WWII still visible – and between them, the Fernsehturm, the Television Tower, opened in 1969. If anything was iconic for me about Berlin, it was these two sights.

The first, a series of concrete blocks set in ground that slopes down towards the centre until the height above you becomes oppressive, symbolises the seemingly immovable horrors of the Holocaust. It had a profound, emotional effect on me.

The second brings history into sharp contrast. It is fitting that these columns have not been repaired as the reminder of conflict, not so very long ago, is a warning to us all. And yet, visible between them is an example of progress in technology and communication. Whether we use them for good or bad is our choice.

I did, of course, do the usual tourist trek around Checkpoint Charlie, the Berlin Wall Art, Brandenburg Gate and Alexanderplatz. Also, never forgetting my theatre roots, I went to a performance of The Ugly Duckling, not the Hans Christian Anderson children’s tale, but a very clever and riveting production about drag artists at the Deutsches Theater (English with German subtitles and vice versa – hats off to the superb actors – and to the dialogue operator).

I was aware, though, the whole time I was there, that Berlin is very much in touch with its recent past. The modern Jewish Museum concentrates on Jewish history from 1930, the rise of Fascism and its catastrophic effect on Jewish people. It is guarded 24/7 by armed police, a sad recognition that the Right is on the rise again. There is also a Remembrance Garden, opened in 2012, of the Sinti and Roma victims, who met similar fates to their Jewish fellow countrymen. Guilt is a recognition that the city finds hard to shake.

And now, unashamedly, comes my political statement. The greatest peace project we have in modern times is the European Union. Forget squabbles about trade and funding (even though Britain had a better deal than any other member) and remember that we have been at peace for over seventy years. Yes, there are problems, I recognise them. Greece has borne harsh austerity and unemployment which continues today, but this is a complex story and financiers are at fault as much as Europe. Much of my heart lies with Greece, but my hope lies with the EU.

As a writer, I am featuring the plight of refugees passing through the Greek islands and the aid workers and volunteers who help them in my next book, Jigsaw Island. I have met people who have been through unspeakable experiences to escape war, talked to those who work with them and for them. I feel anger and shame that innocent people are in such desperate situations and we do so little for them. It is the disconnection of politicians who, as you read this, are committing crimes against humanity; the greater the crime, the more likely they are to get away with it. And the biggest culprits head up the largest states. And we know who those are.

Let us never forget what lies, misinformation and demonisation of a people can do. The scars are still there to see. Berlin, thank you for your conscience.

Posted in Britain in EU, catasrophe, Contemporary Women's Fiction, Desperation, Greek Islands, Leros, Life on the edge, new writing, Personal, Refugees, Religion, Remain in EU, Writing | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

I’ve got the doodle bug…

Well, TERRIBLE WITH RAISINS is re-edited, re-released and the copies are ready to wing out to new supporters of JIGSAW ISLAND – and, not that I have little else to do, I decided to respond to everyone who commented on the cover of TWR. UNBOUND will be designing a new one  when the eBook is released alongside the paperback and eBook of JIGSAW ISLAND – but until then… wodjer fink?

 

OK, OK – stick to the day job, Lynne…

Link to UNBOUND PUBLISHING

Link to TERRIBLE WITH RAISINS on Amazon

Posted in Art, Contemporary Women's Fiction, Design, Fiction, Greek Islands, Humour, Single mother, Single mothers, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment