The time has changed

The clocks went back this morning. The autumn equinox has been and gone, and Halloween marks our advent into darkness. In Sifnos, the ban on bonfires will be lifted from November first, and soon the fields will come alive with flame as we all burn away the remnants of the season just gone, dry grasses and cuttings and the husks of summer plants, to make space for winter. Smoke signals and scorch marks calling a new season forth. We are ready; we have been ready for a while.

Last night, finally, it rained. The wind died down and there’s a stillness in the earth-scented air. The plants look greener already, the soil darker. It’s quiet, too quiet, except for the church bells announcing that it’s Sunday. The once-a-week faithful are inside, where the candles burn bright; they will emerge, later, half-drunk on incense and the repetitive chanting of the priest. They will linger in the churchyards, where the rain has formed small puddles on the uneven flagstones, and they will talk about the rain, how it finally came and how it’s not enough, not nearly enough for the thirsty olives. There will be headshaking and then, in time, goodbyes, as they all make their way back home.

In Greek they don’t talk about clocks going back, they say the time has changed. As if the shift is real, a slip into another time, rather than just a collective decision to call four o’clock three, and a few taps on a keyboard to inform the digital clocks of the world of this event. Those who still have mechanical clocks and watches will have to perform this action manually, of sending the hour hand back to the previous number, of consciously giving themselves an extra hour in this day. Except not, not really, not consciously: the action is as mechanical as the device. They will not think of what they’ve gained as they wind that hand back, just like none of us think of what we’re given, every day, when there are twenty-four hours ahead and every chance to make them count.

We have lost our sense of time; we have lost the sense of why it matters. We use it to make appointments, to erect the boundaries of our freedom, the can and cannots that make up the structure of our days. We invented it, and built it into the wrong kind of god to worship and obey. We created a relentless god, and we worship resentfully within the hallowed margins that we set to make sense of our lives, but we have forgotten why it matters. We have forgotten that it isn’t cogs turning and digital numbers changing that make this world tick, just like we’ve forgotten that our other gods don’t live in the churches we built for them or in the chanting of their priests. But the world has no need for clocks; it keeps its own time. The kind of time that makes an hour last forever when you’re waiting, the kind of time that causes three months to hurtle past in a flash. When you hear a song on the radio, and all of a sudden you’re in a basement nightclub with your friend in 1998, sweating beer and squinting at boys through the smoke, and you say “But it feels like yesterday” just as it hits you it was a lifetime ago. When you realise that there is no such promise as tomorrow.

We created an indifferent, unforgiving god, and there is no redemption. We serve it joylessly, with contradictions. We lament its passage while wishing it away; we mourn for lost time when we’re the ones who waste it. We say life is short and live as if we have all the time in the world. But the world keeps its own time: the clock of the world is light, I think, and the seasons. Two more things we have forsaken, along with our sense, in the ever-lit cities we have built to contain us, where we live to serve our man-made gods, for rewards that never amount to redemption. But there are places, still, where light asserts itself over our schedules, where the seasons impose unequivocal can and cannots that blow through our structures. There are places, still, where the old gods rule, unfazed by our clocks and our wires and the plans we like to make. Where promises are renewed with every dawn and redeemed at sunset, every night. Where time is still a loop, the rotation of our world around the sun. No matter if we call it Tuesday or five o’clock or June, it is the light and the season and our position in the sky that have the final say.

A week has passed and it’s November fifth. Bonfire night in England and fireworks going off, uselessly, in the sky, while in Sifnos we toss the summer into the flames to call the winter forth. Fires burn all over the island, thick smoke signalling the end of one thing and the transition into the next, the changing of seasons, the passage of time. Old time, timeless time, the time of the old gods, that still rule here: Sifnos is one of those places. We check our phones for the time and the date, but it’s the weather and the light that dictate when we set things on fire. When we spread our nets to collect the olives and press them into oil. When we prune the trees. When we turn the soil over to give it room to breathe. When we sow and when we reap. What promises we can make, and keep.

I am guilty, too, of wishing time away. I spent the summer longing for winter, for shorter, darker days, for deeper nights, for the quiet and the emptiness. Summer disrupts our time on the island; in places like this, visitors bring along their own schedules, their own agendas, packed tight in their suitcases next to bikinis and sarongs and inappropriate shoes. They drag along their city gods and set them up to rule, and we all pander to their whims as they tap their watches impatiently and demand relaxation, right now. But this seasonal imposition is just another thing the seasons impose, in places like this. The old gods aren’t flustered, like we are: they know about time, and the ways that it matters. And all of a sudden three months have gone by, and my plan of walking down to Kamares for coffee is answered with an unequivocal cannot by the light.
     ‘I was gonna come down and see you,’ I said to Katerina, ‘but the sun sets at 5:24 and I have run out of time. What happened?’
     ‘It’s winter,’ she responded. ‘Isn’t that what you wanted?’
     And I had to concede that yes, it was, but I’d forgotten, perhaps, what it means. All of what it means. That as our world turns towards the deeper nights that I asked for, those spectacular sunsets that set our sky on fire come earlier each day, and between my lit-up home and Katerina’s steaming coffee machine lies an hour of darkness that I cannot cross. That the quiet and the emptiness come at a price, and the old gods always collect. But I was wrong when I said I’d run out of time. The time has changed, that’s all. And as my eyes adjust to the light, as my mind adjusts to the darkness and what it actually means, I am grateful: for change and transition and the passing of seasons and the turning of the world; for the chance to experience them, here. For real necessity and real rewards; for reaping exactly what you sow. Packed tight, as we are, in our ever-lit cities that give us twenty-four hour days and never enough time for our schedules to be fulfilled, we miss out on that: the changing of time, the changing of seasons, and of all what it means. The indifferent gods we serve wipe out the sunsets and the dawns and the space for living in between; they reduce the difference between one season and the next to nothing more than wardrobe choices. There is nowhere we can’t go and nothing we can’t have, and there is no redemption. The time changes but we do not; we simply put our clocks back, or forward, and rush off to our next appointment.

I have been guilty, but I’m changing. I say to Yiannis: ‘Do you remember when it was August and we were counting days until winter? Doesn’t it feel like yesterday?’ But it’s November, and we are finally allowed to burn things, and those endless days of summer are cast into the flames, along with weeds and gnarly branches and rotten bits of wood and mouldy mattresses and any old junk that’s been taking up space in our fields and our homes and our minds. I feed the fire and watch it grow and rage, roaring and crackling and spitting out sparkles in all directions; I take a step back every time and watch it, before picking up the next branch, the next armful of weeds. Yiannis tells me off when I stand too close, but then he often stops and joins me in staring. There is a primitive joy in this that I’ve never experienced before; there is a peace that you wouldn’t ascribe to the violence of fire, these relentless, all-consuming flames.
     ‘It’s cathartic,’ I say, and at first he shrugs, a question, because he’s done this a thousand times before, and I am speaking from a City Girl perspective, fascinated by the things he takes for granted. But then he nods.
     ‘Cleansing,’ he adds, and we both lose ourselves in the flames for a while, and imagine how neat this field will look when we’re finished, how much space there will be for everything that’s new.
     I don’t mention the gods, how this is our offering to them, our sacrifice, perhaps, to redeem ourselves for having stolen fire from them all those years ago, as Greek mythology has it. Our way to acknowledge that, despite our technologies and our progress, the new gods we’ve created to make sense of our lives, it is still the old gods that rule. A practical ritual made all the more meaningful for being practical as well as symbolic. Not like the useless fireworks in the sky, not like when we cross ourselves, unconsciously, in response to another hallelujah. There is more divinity in this smoke that stings our eyes when the wind changes direction than the sweet-smelling incense of our priests; there is more communion here, as we work side by side, wordlessly, than in the hallowed structures we’ve built to contain our faith. Fires burn all over the island, and we call to each other through the smoke; we will all go home with ash in our hair and soot on our clothes and in that, today, we are united.

There is no such promise as tomorrow, but it comes; most of the time, it comes. And you notice it, here, how that promise is renewed with every dawn, how our toil, our faith is redeemed with every heart-breaking sunset. And in between, not hours ticking on the clock, but hours of light and hours of dark, and what you do with them, with all that space for living. For sowing and for reaping. For remembering what matters, and why. For changing, with time. Because all of a sudden it will be years from now and today will feel like yesterday, but it’ll be a lifetime ago, and you’ll have had your last tomorrow.


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Love, what a bastard you are.

Love, what a bastard you are. When you come and when you go. What a bastard, when you linger. When you turn up uninvited, fucking gatecrasher, and make yourself at home with your feet up on the sofa and it’s like you were always there, but you’re just as likely to leave as you are to stay and there’s no telling which. When you loiter, fucking hooligan: kicking us over like rubbish bins so all our things spill out, when you set us on fire and watch us burn. When you scrape us from the inside, when you scrape us raw, when you scrape us clean of reason; not new but worse than new, not naïve but worse because we have known better, because we’ve known this before, but then you scrape us clean of knowing and there is only love. Fucking bomber planes in the sky, fucking minefields: explosions. Running wildly, in all directions, but not away – towards. Easy targets, lonely, frightened people, with our hopes despite, with our dreams regardless, with our romantic notions intact and our defences shattered. Scattered, all of our never agains and our better off alones, every I don’t need you and I’m not looking for anything, actually we’ve ever uttered; BOOM, lonely, frightened fools, fooling ourselves we can live without love. Running away as if there’s anywhere else to go. Fucking twister hurricane, spinning us round so we don’t know where or what or why but only who, this one person all of a sudden, and how the tides might turn, oh how they turn, when you think you’re standing on dry land and now you’re drowning. Fucking earthquake, and that deep rumble that means that the world is rearranging itself, that terrible screech as metal snaps and stone crumbles and everything collapses, defenceless, the wafer-thin structures that we cower within: I can live without you. Fucking asteroid, granting no wishes except your own, crashing into our lives and gouging holes into the nice, neat path that we’ve chiselled for ourselves so we can walk in a straight line and not stumble. The ancients were right: the sky does fall down on you sometimes, and the earth is flat, without love.

Fucking wonderful, fucking terrifying, to meet a soul that’s made like yours. When you hear them click, those two separate souls, above the noise, above the rumble. What a bastard you are, for granting us this without guarantees, what a bastard for putting us through this ordeal without promises. Fucking gypsy, preying on our hopes despite, our dreams regardless, tracing the lines in our palms and hinting at destiny, pulling the stars down from the sky and putting them in our hands and asking nothing in return except faith, all of our faith in impossible, wonderful, terrifying things like meeting a soul that’s made like yours. What a bastard.

Those who love know nothing

Note for the non- Greek speakers: Agoni grammi (άγονη γραμμή), literally barren line, sometimes translated as “non profit line” or “unprofitable shipping line”, is a shipping route that shows little commercial interest and therefore brings in very little profit for the ferry companies. It usually serves smaller or “lesser” islands, with limited tourism; Sifnos, in the West Cyclades, is one of them.


There’s a lot being written about Sifnos recently. There’s a lot being said. I go into facebook each day and see more articles urging those who know to get to know her, to discover this hidden secret of the Cyclades, treasure buried all this time along the barrenness of the agoni grammi. Magical, they call it, unspoilt, aristocratic, as if they’ve suddenly found a vein of gold and we’re all about to get rich.

And I remember when I was in school and we spent the summers here, and the other kids said to me, early June when the holidays began, “Sifnos? What is that?” and laughed. The other kids that went to Mykonos and Santorini, Spetses and Hydra, places known and accepted, of value, and they laughed at me for spending my summers here, in exile, on this barren place, on the barren line to nowhere. What Sifnos?

That Sifnos where they come to get married now, in Chrysopigi, with catering imported from Athens and local, traditional violins. The Sifnos of magazines, shiny like their pages, glittering somewhere between Serifos and Milos, on the οnce-barren line that’s become fruitful now that we have five ferries calling at her port each day. They discovered it, with private yachts and the SeaJet that takes a mere two hours from Piraeus, those who know.

And I remember when the monastery of Fyrogia was nothing but ruins and you took a boat to Vathy because there was no road and we washed with water drawn straight from the well, ice cold, and got our drinking water from the spring at Panagia tis Vryssis. I remember the campsite in Plati Yialos and when Botzi played rock and we emerged croaky at dawn to get sandwiches from Plaza in the square and the sunrise glittered off the whitewash walls and made us blind.

All that glitters isn’t gold. There was gold in Sifnos, once, but now there are other things. Not what they write about: more secret than that. And, at the same time, not at all. A mountaintop, a walk along a trail with a friend in November, a view you hadn’t seen before but had always been there, the nights when you can hear nothing but the wind. An empty beach and the restaurants that stay open through the winter. Soaking your chickpeas on a Friday and taking them to the wood oven on Saturday, and hearing people say hello as if they know you, those people that you thought you knew. Walking down the street and no longer being asked why you are still around.

When you love, you know nothing: Sifnos taught me that. There was a time when I knew, because I spent my summers here and we had a house of our own and I played on the streets with the other kids and because I remember, because I can tell you what Sifnos was like back then and how it’s changed. But Sifnos isn’t there, after all. It’s not where we look for it, but where we find ourselves. Not in how much it’s changed but in how much it’s changed you. If you forget all that you know and start to learn. How much treasure can be found in a vein of gold that ran dry. That magic is in what you love, and to love is not knowing. You know nothing, and that’s how you get rich: when you learn.

And I remember when I knew and didn’t love her. When I used to whisper it, that I’m going to Sifnos, and I was drawn to other places, full of light, shiny. And they made me blind. Until, one day, I found myself here and two winters had gone by and no one asked when I was leaving anymore and I understood suddenly what it means to love a place for what it is, not for how you imagined it. Not for what is said and the value other people give it and for what you tell other people that you remember. And to say it, that you live here, and if anyone asks what Sifnos? My own.

They know something, those who know. They’re right to come here. For weddings and christenings, for the weekend on the SeaJet, for the whole summer in overflowing cars. For the bars and the restaurants, for aristocratic Artemonas and cosmopolitan Plati Yialos and the quaint fishing village of Herronissos. For the ceramics and the exhibitions and the photographs they post on facebook, with Chrysopigi in the background. For all that everybody knows, by now, and all that’s secret and all that’s hidden and all that’s always been there but you hadn’t noticed it before. For all that you might learn. For those who know and those are searching and those who are looking for a place to stand, and those, like me, who found themselves here and are learning everything from scratch. There is Sifnos enough for everyone, it won’t run dry. There are riches enough for everyone, if you love her. And to love her without knowing: that’s where the magic is.


Daphne Kapsali lives in Sifnos. She knows nothing.


This post was originally written in Greek. Click here to read it.

In the meantime

In the meantime, I have to live my life. Isn’t that what you always tell me? Isn’t that what you say, to live for now, in the present moment? But there’s that word: present. Where are you?

I went away, but I took you with me. I thought you wanted to come. I thought I knew about you and me and now, the insignificance of time and places, the perfect continuum of our unbreakable bond. But I didn’t know there was a meantime. I thought now was a constant thing, stretching endlessly from moment to moment, seamless. But nothing is unbreakable, and something broke. And maybe there will come a day when we’ll put it back together, with seams of gold to remind us of our history and everything we’ve overcome, like the Japanese repair their broken things, and it will be beautiful. But now is the meantime, and I’m slipping through the cracks.

How long did I think my imported love would keep? How long did I think it would translate, in this land of foreign words? It’s a different alphabet here: some of the letters do not correspond. Some of the letters are orphaned; they don’t make it across the transition, the divide. There are too many gaps where the words used to be; there is no shoulder to rest my head on. I’m falling through the cracks, and you’re letting me. You’re letting me slip away, but you won’t let me go.

You are my phantom limb and you cripple me with the ghost of your presence. I’m always there, you say, and I know you are but I can’t see you and there’s a twitch where you should, you ought to be. And when I reach out to touch you: nothing – just the echo of our untranslatable words. Love is a blessing, in all of its forms, but my fingers need skin to slide across, my head needs a shoulder to rest on. My body needs a body to click into. Is that too commonplace for our extraordinary love? Is that too physical, too tangible for our higher concepts? Higher up, our bond is unbreakable, but down here, where I place my feet, I am made of flesh and dirt and desire. There is no common place for you and me; not here, in the meantime of now. But this is where I need to be.

There are twitches of pleasure, here. There is reaching out and touching someone; there is skin against skin. There are words that are said simply, words that correspond to common places and times. There is common ground, and dirt and soil and sand: things tangible, unbroken, well kept. You cannot keep me with higher concepts alone; you cannot leave me alone to see where I fit in the cracks. But no bond is freedom, if it binds.

You are my phantom limb, and I must learn to stand without you. You are my sunrise and the colours that make postcards of the sky at the end of my day, but it is June now, and the days are long. There is a lot of meantime.

Nothing is unbreakable, and broken things can be repaired, with gold and history and time. But in the meantime I stand here, without you, flesh and feelings in a language you do not understand. I do not care to translate them; I am slipping away and I don’t want to be stopped. I don’t want to be kept with higher concepts and ghosts and the beautiful golden seams of a love repaired; I don’t want to be bound to that. I am too alive, and the days are long. I don’t want to wait for postcards; I don’t want to wait for nothing. I want to reach out and touch someone; I want the common ground and the dirt on my feet and the twist in my stomach and the words that correspond to how I feel. I want a tangible love, this time. And you, my love, my higher, extraordinary love: you’re always there, but you’re not here. Where are you? It’s only the echo of your words that reaches me, and I won’t bind you to promises imported from the past. Now, this time, it’s me that’s letting you go, as I slip through the cracks that have yet to be sealed with gold.

Actually, I do care.

Writers are a very strange species. Observe: stooped creatures, often nocturnal, that dwell in small rooms or corners of rooms, hunched over keyboards, muttering to themselves. Gnarled fingers and slit-like eyes as dark symbols appear on glowing screens. If you approach them during this process, if you violate its sanctity, this may elicit a grunt, a growl or a passive-aggressive rebuke. They may tolerate a hand on their shoulder, in passing, but rarely being spoken to. Words don’t mix with words, and they are busy creating spells to summon worlds into existence. They live in their heads, where the words are kept and sown and harvested, and as the words tumble out, as the dark symbols line up on the glowing screens, these creatures, these creators, are all-powerful. The outside world, the one that you inhabit, is merely a distraction, an inconvenience. And yet, it exists. Stubbornly, relentlessly, it exists.

In the outside world, we are as powerful or as powerless as the rest of you. In the outside world, we are exposed. Writers are, in their majority, introverts; it is no accident that we choose an occupation that demands isolation. An occupation that means, for all the support we might have, for all those gentle hands resting, briefly, on our shoulders, we are alone. And it is something to think about, it is almost schizophrenic, that the work we do, if we do it right, results in exposure. Over-exposure. That, by putting our work out there, we are practically inviting dozens of people, hundreds, thousands, into our small rooms and into our heads. To admire our neat stacks of words, to pick them up carefully and examine them, or to trample all over them, as they choose. We are inviting the outside world in, and leaving ourselves no place to hide. The outside world where we are as insecure as the rest of you, as vulnerable, powerless now to control the words that come our way.

And they come. Relentlessly, they come. It is no accident, because by putting your work out there, by saying “here, look, this is a thing I made”, you’re inviting judgement. You’re asking to be judged. Yet none of us, writers and humans, like to be judged. Unless we’re judged worthy; unless we’re judged good. It’s schizophrenic, but there is no way around it: once a thing is out there, it’s fair game. Except it’s not a game. Not to us. Once you cross over from writer into author, you’re no longer playing.

Until I published my first book, I’d never given much thought to reviews. I hadn’t given much thought to anything beyond clicking “publish” and watching my book appear on Amazon, as if by magic. Beyond “look at this thing I made”. But reviews are the words that come our way; reviews are the judgement we invited. And it’s all fun and games until you get a negative one, and the world you carefully constructed in your quiet room comes crashing down, and strangers that you invited in yourself trample all over the ruins. Relentlessly and sometimes – even worse – casually, as if it means nothing. And writers, strange creatures though we may be, are just as vulnerable as the rest of you. There is a person behind the thing, and you can hurt them. And you would think, as writers, that we’d know of the power of words, how they can create or destroy, cut or heal, but no: paradoxically, we step into the outside world unprepared. To be lifted up high by praise or be casually shredded to pieces. Sticks and stones will break your bones? Words are much more lethal. And ratings, like ninja stars aimed at the soft, fleshy parts of our souls.

You’d think we’d know. But we cross over from writer into author, unprepared, and then we have to learn. That the thing we put out there is a target, not a shield; that it’s fair game and people will play by their own rules. That we cannot control the words that come our way. We have to learn not to care. But what inconsistent, schizophrenic creatures would we be, putting ourselves out there to be judged, if we didn’t care? Let me be the first to tell you, if you haven’t heard it before: actually, I do care. I may get better, with time, at picking up the pieces, I may get quicker at smiling and shrugging it off, but I will never not care. Good or bad, the judgement that I invited will always mean something. Just now, I cried at a lovely review that thanked me at the end. I care. This is not a game to me.

This is no sob story. We reap what we sow, and if we don’t like our harvest, perhaps we should choose another field. But if we insist on growing these crops, if we insist on peddling them to the world, we must do it with as much care as we can muster. As much vulnerability. We must tend to them, relentlessly. We must nurture the soil and tease out the weeds. We must stack up our words as neat as we can, so that they may withstand the judgement, even if we can’t. We must inhabit our worlds fully before we invite other people in. So that when we step out of our little rooms, stooped and slit-eyed, and say “look at this thing I made”, we can be sure that it’s the best thing we could have made. This is the best that we can do: as writers, as humans.

We can’t blame the seeds or the soil or the weather for the fact that not everyone likes tomatoes. Of course, there is something to be said for not going out of your way to trample all over someone else’s vegetable patch, but that’s judging other people by our own standards, which is exactly what reviewers are invited to do. We can’t blame them for the place where they started, or how high or how low we appear through their eyes. We must learn how to come down from the heights where praise lifts us, and how to stand up again when we’re tripped up, or fall. And we must care. Even when it hurts, we must care. Otherwise, we might as well stay in our rooms, playing at being a writer, and growling every time we are approached, and shrugging off every gentle, supportive hand that’s placed on our shoulders.


The above image was created in response to an Amazon review which compared reading my book 100 days of solitude to watching paint dry. I ran it as an advert for the book, with the headline “Cheaper than a tin of paint”. I don’t know if it sold any copies, but it kept me amused for a while. It was my way of shrugging it off.


You are invited to judge me on Amazon, or on facebook.

What does solitude mean to you?

As many of you know, the first book I published, 100 days of solitude, is an account of how I gave up my life in London to spend a few months living alone on a Greek island called Sifnos. It was initially only meant as an exercise in writing full-time, but it ended up being so much more than that, and it opened my eyes to infinite, previously unimagined possibilities for a different, more fulfilling way of life. One that has solitude – the time and space to be with yourself – at its core.

Many people equate solitude with loneliness, and it frightens them. I went to my hairdresser here on Sifnos for a haircut the other day, and she asked me again, as she always does:
    ‘Don’t you get lonely?’ (I have a reputation on the island: that girl who lives alone and walks around a lot – isn’t she writing a book or something?)
    ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Sometimes.’ But don’t we all? Loneliness isn’t dependant on where you live or how many people there are around you; you can be just as lonely in a crowd as you can be on a quiet mountain trail; you can be just as lonely in London as in Sifnos. And the same, in reverse, goes for solitude: no matter what your circumstances, you can get it, the kind of solitude you need. An hour to yourself, to read, or think, or do nothing; a walk in the park or along an empty beach. You don’t have to seek it in extremes.

But there are other people who only respond to extremes, and my version of solitude offends them. They equate it with isolation and hardship, and I have far too good a social life to qualify as a proper recluse. And that’s fine; it’s a fair judgement: I am that girl who lives alone and walks around a lot, but I talk to everyone. These critics and I have a very different understanding of solitude and its purpose. To me, it’s about being more connected, not less. But to be able to forge meaningful connections with other people, you must first be connected with yourself. And that’s what we lose when we make our lives so overcrowded. That’s why I live alone. That’s why I walk. That’s why I write.

I came across an interesting article entitled The Benefits of Solitude last night. It’s an excerpt from a book called Solitude: In pursuit of a singular life in a crowded world by Michael Harris and it echoes, in a much more eloquent way, the thoughts expressed above. According to the book’s blurb: “The capacity to be alone–properly alone–is one of life’s subtlest skills. Real solitude is a contented and productive state that garners tangible rewards: it allows us to reflect and recharge, improving our relationships with ourselves and, paradoxically, with others.” Thank you, Michael.

You can read the article here.

It seems Michael Harris and I have very similar definitions of solitude, but the point is, not everyone does. We all have a different understanding of solitude and loneliness, happiness and fulfilment, and we are all free to seek the latter two in the way that makes sense to us. Not everyone will associate them with solitude but I, for one, will forever advocate the solitary walk as a means for being the person I want to be.

Before I go, I’d like to introduce you to the King of the Solitary Walk, and a man whom I’m tentatively beginning to consider a friend: writer and long-distance hiker Keith Foskett. As he describes in The Last Englishman, Keith has walked the entire length of the US, from the borders of Mexico to Canada (the Pacific Crest Trail), and though there was hardship and isolation and loneliness, he never really experienced them in a negative way. His is an extreme version of taking yourself away from everything to become more connected. His latest book, Travelled Far, is free on Kindle at the moment, and you can also get a free copy of his first book, The Journey in Between, by signing up to his mailing list. I don’t often recommend books, but I’ve read Keith’s work and I do so without any hesitation.

And if you’re curious about my own version of debatable solitude and you’ve yet to read 100 days of solitude, you can now get a free preview of the first 15 days by clicking here.

What does solitude mean to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Comment below or email me.

(This went out as a newsletter to my mailing list this morning. Click here if you’d like to join.)

Faith and water and love conquers all

I wanted to start this story past The End of the one before; I wanted a happy ending to push off from. It was to be a story about how love, indeed, conquers all; I started writing it last night, in my head. I gave it shape, a happy ending shaped like love; I squeezed it into that mould, but I didn’t sleep easy because it wasn’t an easy fit, and the bits that stuck out bit into me and put bad thoughts in my head.

I’m writing this to chase away the fear; to bring about the ending that I want, to call it down here where I think, rightly, that it belongs.

My little cat, my Little One, is sick. It’s been four days now that he won’t eat, won’t drink, won’t look me in the eye. He isn’t tempted by special cat food or chopped-up steak; he isn’t tempted by toys or almonds rolled across the floor or those rustly bits of balled-up paper that he loves. I cannot tempt him off his chair, where he lies rolled up tight but awkwardly, uneasy, hiding his face from the world and from me. He doesn’t lift his head when I call him, he doesn’t respond when I tell him, softly, that he’s gonna be OK, not when I plead with him to be OK, not when I bury my face in his fur and cry and pray to anything with power to make him OK. He doesn’t purr or bump me with his head or nibble my fingers or lick my face; he doesn’t try to climb on me or follow me around or scream at me when I open the fridge. When I touch him, he pulls away, slowly but definitely; he is saying – I can almost hear it – leave me alone.

And here comes the love bit, because I won’t leave him alone. I left him alone for long enough, save when I raised him up and held his head back and trickled water into his mouth through a syringe. I left him alone; I respected his privacy, I gave him space to get better in his own cat way, but I won’t leave him alone any longer, because he isn’t getting better. And I’ve got nothing to give him except water and love. So: love.

I picked him up last night, peeled him off his chair and put him on my lap as I sat at my desk. This is what we do, normally; this is how we spend our days, my cat and I, when he isn’t curled up tight and listless, and I’m not pacing around, restless with fear. He wouldn’t settle at first; he shifted this way and that, weary and worried, and I thought he would jump off and head straight back to his chair. But he stayed, and he settled, with his head on my belly and his body on my lap. And he purred. For the first time in days, he purred, and when I stroked him, tentatively, he lifted his head up to meet my hand, and he turned to look at me and his eyes met mine.

When it was time for bed, I took him with me, lifted him up gingerly, curled up as he was, and placed him on my bed. I got under the covers next to him. “We’ll keep each other company, you and I,” I told him, and he stood up and climbed onto my chest, and brought his face close to mine and pushed his nose, his hot, dry nose, into the palm of my hand. And he purred.

And I thought, this is it, this is proof that love conquers all. That all you need, all we need to survive, is water and love – that’s all we need to get us through. And I thought about the story I’d write, triumphant, on this theme: about water and love and my little one’s miraculous recovery. But I didn’t sleep easy: the curled up cat was a weight on my chest, and my mind was restless with fear. The story didn’t quite fit the mould, and it stuck out, and it kept us both awake, my cat and I, as we tried to fit ourselves around it and each other.

In the morning, he was as listless as ever. Curled up on his chair, as if he’d never left it. He didn’t purr; he didn’t lift his head to say hello. I called a vet in Athens, a kind lady who didn’t remember having met me, once, several months ago, but listened regardless. She said “drip” and “blood tests”, and I said if not those, what? She said the names of drugs and when and how much and good luck, and the girl at the chemist said the same, but it isn’t luck we need, my cat and I: it’s faith, and water and love.

Faith, in the story that will come after the one before, after the fear, past the fear, in the happy ending shaped by love. The story of my little one’s miraculous recovery; the story of how love conquers all. Because it must, because it has to. Because I’m writing this to bring it down, right here, where it belongs, in faith, in love, in prayer to anything with power; because love has made a mould out of me and the shape that fits my lap is a purring cat.


Please send us some love.

100 days / 2 years: a review

Today marks two years since I published my first book, 100 days of solitude. And if writing (and living) those 100 days took me to places I’d never imagined I’d go, the time since then has been a journey in itself, an adventure through unfamiliar (and often hostile) terrain, complete with fairy godmothers, unicorns and mythical, snarling beasts, wrong turns and scraped knees and unexpected helping hands, and storms, and rainbows that are very pretty to look at, but don’t lead to pots of gold (yet).

A brief review of the last two years (facts and stats):

– In its two years in this world, 2,775 readers have bought 100 days on Kindle, 868 have downloaded it for free, and another approximately 400 have read it on Kindle Unlimited. It has also sold about 700 copies in paperback.

– I signed up to two paid courses on book marketing, promotion and advertising, and how to be a better author-type-person overall. I’ve read countless articles, watched hundreds of videos, and exchanged advice, support and the good and terrible moments of this writing life with dozens of other independent authors.

– I met hundreds of lovely, kind, supportive, like-minded people, people who have read 100 days or who want to, or who recognised something of themselves in my story and just wanted to chat; people with amazing stories of their own, that they’ve been generous enough to share. I’m lucky to count many of them, now, as friends.

100 days has earned a bestseller badge on Amazon and some awesome reviews (which have often made me cry); it has also made a few enemies, who’ve taken against it quite passionately. No book is for everyone!

– I found out what online “trolling” means, first hand. It isn’t fun.

– It’s been exhausting. It’s been terrifying. It’s been incredible. It’s been hugely rewarding. It’s been the best and the worst time of my life. I wouldn’t change a single thing.

It’s been two years, but the journey isn’t over; in many ways, it’s only just begun. My book and I are still travelling, still stumbling along our path the best way we know how, still trying to find our way. And I don’t know how I’m doing in the author-type-person stakes, but it’s been two years of learning how to be a better human-type-person, and that’s more than enough.

Thank you all for travelling with me.

And if you haven’t read it yet, enter your email below for a chance to win a Kindle copy of 100 days of solitude. Or check it out on Amazon: it’s discounted to 99p for the whole of March.

We are all of us magicians in our realms

My dad called me this morning, 9 am. This is unusual. I was on coffee number one and still a bit groggy.
    ‘Did I wake you up?’ he asked.
    ‘No. I’m having my coffee.’
    ‘Me too,’ he said – then: ‘I need your help. Will you help me?’
    ‘Of course,’ I said. ‘If I can.’
    ‘You can.’
    What my dad wanted – needed – help with was an essay entitled “On Translating Shakespeare” that he was about to send to King’s College, London, for publication. And he wanted me to edit it.
    I said: ‘Um,’ with all the eloquence this poet-father has passed on. I gathered my thoughts. ‘Sure,’ I added. ‘But do you really need me to edit your English?’ The emphasis of incredulity in this sentence being you need me?
    ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘If you have time.’
    ‘I have time.’ I was about to sit down with my book-in-progress and agonise over unfinished chapters but, for this, I had time.
    ‘Send it,’ I said. ‘But I’m sure there’ll be nothing.’

My dad: the poet, the editor, the literature scholar, the man who translates Shakespeare into Greek and then casually whips up a 12 page essay on the topic, in perfect English; this man needs me? I was flattered, yes, and eager to be helpful, to prove that I was worthy of this compliment, this trust. But nervous as hell. Because, seriously: me? Who the fuck am I to mess with this man’s words, this man who gave me all the words I have, who, as far as I’m concerned, is the keeper of all the words? This magician with his pen, reaching into a hatful of words and pulling out entire worlds. How am I even qualified to comment, let alone edit what he writes?

I loaded the document onto my computer, determined to find nothing. Out of respect. Out of fear of disturbing the subtle balance of things, the hierarchy that keeps my understanding of this world and my place in it the right way up. Out of a reverse kind of pride: my humble skills and how proud I am of this poet-dad who far outskills me. It would be hubris to put red marks on his work. I’d do my duty, and find nothing. But we are all of us magicians in our realms.

When your web designer makes images appear at the top of your page like you asked him, that’s magic. When your massage therapist puts her hands on exactly the right spot along your back and eases the pain; when the plumber bends over your toilet and mutters and it no longer overflows when you flush it; when the gardener knows that your soil is too acidic and how deep to dig to sow tomato seeds: those are all magic tricks. When M, my boyfriend, the electrician, fearlessly reaches into a snake’s nest of live wires and makes the lights shine again, he is performing magic. When my sister stands up in a roomful of stressed out Londoners and gets them, with just her voice, to lie down on yoga mats and close their eyes and relax, she’s putting them under a spell. When my dad takes the poetry of Shakespeare – the metre, the meaning, the rhymes – and coaxes it into another language: how the fuck? And when I write, yes, that’s a kind of magic too.

The fact that something has been granted – a talent, an ability, knowledge, a healthy beating heart – doesn’t mean it should be taken that way. Our humble skills, the things we know, are someone else’s magic. Our nothing can be everything if it’s the thing that someone needs. Once we have learnt it, we forget, the time, to toil it took to get there; we forget that we’ve earned this qualification. Once we’ve mastered it, the glamour fades, and we just shrug it off as nothing, as unremarkable as having toes, or making a cup of tea. But we’re magicians in those things that we can do, the wands we wave so casually to make magic happen, like functioning toilets and thriving tomato plants and making words rhyme and finding small errors in a poet-father’s work.

It wasn’t nothing. It wasn’t a lot, but there were little things here and there, a word that jarred, a letter forgotten, an extra space between sentences, a z where an s should be. That’s all: ten marks, maybe, over twelve pages, ten tentative comments in red, the little things my dad had missed. And I had found them: me. The writer-daughter, hierarchically confused but qualified to comment after all. My dad was right. He may be the keeper of the words, but something of his magic has trickled down to me, and I – without noticing – have made it my own. And it’s another kind of magic now, a different trick altogether. I cannot translate Shakespeare but I can help to make an almost perfect essay a tiny bit better. Not casually: I agonised over those marks, just like I agonise over every single word I pull out of my hat to make a sentence, a paragraph, a story you might want to read. Just like my dad agonised over writing this essay that conveys the agony of translating Shakespeare. It may look casual, the way we perform the magic that we own, but it took time and toil to own it, and that’s what makes us qualified. That’s what makes us magicians, all of us, in the things that we know.
    ‘Thank you,’ my dad wrote when I sent him my suggestions.
    ‘It was nothing,’ I replied. But we both know it was a lot more than that. Nothing and everything; as remarkable as having toes.


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I am the storm.


Ever since I self-published my first book, 100 days of solitude, I’ve been standing at a precipice, high over the world, scuffing at the edge with the toes of my shoes, and watching dust rise up and stones tumble down the slope. One, maybe two at a time. I watch them roll down, gaining momentum sometimes, sometimes dislodging a small rock on the way and taking it down with them. I watch them hit the bottom, the impact they make: another cloud of dust rising and settling again. Again, I nudge, pulling another stone from the soil; I get down on my knees, freeing one more with my hands and setting it loose down the mountainside. I watch. I wait. I start again.

I want an avalanche. I want a landslide. I want that magical, inexplicable something that brings my book crashing into the world with a great, rumbling roar. I don’t want it to be a wave, gently lapping at the shore and pulling back again, to disappear into the ocean. I want it to be a tsunami, a great sweeping mass of words and thoughts and joy, rushing into the lives of thousands. Millions. I’m done being waves and pebbles. I’m done being quiet and small. I want the magic. I want that something, that moment when my book goes from selling a thousand copies to selling a million. Because that’s all it is: a moment. A click that sets it all in motion. That’s all it takes: some magic, and a click.

Perhaps literary agents and publishers have the big, industrial machines that tear chunks out of mountainsides and cause landslides that bury the villages below. Perhaps they have massive ships that cut through the ocean, dislodging the seas, turning waves into tsunamis and drowning coastal towns in their authors’ words. Perhaps they do, and it’s not sinister; it’s just the way it is. But I have no such equipment. I am just a girl chiselling away with my hands, but my words are just as big as theirs, and there’s another way.

The world is changing, and we can make our own magic. We can make our own destiny. We always could, but perhaps we have turned a corner and we can see it, now. Perhaps the dust from their big, industrial works is beginning to settle, and we can see it. Perhaps we’re done being told what we can’t do. Perhaps we’re done waiting. Perhaps we’re done being lodged in the ground, calling out for someone to come along and kick us free. Perhaps we’re done being rolling stones in other people’s landslides. There are mountains enough for all of us, infinite oceans of possibility. We can be our own landslides. We can make our own waves.

These thoughts had been building up for a while, but it was my friend Leo who gave me the word that brought them all together. We were having coffee, and I was trying to explain the magic moment, the click. “Avalanche,” he said, and I saw it. I’d known it from before when, in another magical moment, I suddenly understood, on a level entirely separate from intellect and real-world odds, that this book would go far. I’d known it, but I had no visual, and then Leo said that word, and it all came together and I saw it: the avalanche, the landslide, the tsunami. Sweeping into the world, graceful and magnificent; a natural phenomenon, but not a disaster, because it’s words I’m sending into people’s lives, stories to make them better. Because, as pretentious as it may sound, I really do believe that books can change our lives. And this is a book that’s all about changing, and finding your own path, and finding joy. This particular book has already changed my life. And it deserves its own landslide.

In real-world terms: the landslide, for a writer, translates into lots of sales. Money. But it’s not about that. It’s about having the means to carry on doing what you love, and, for me, this book is the way. Because another thing I believe – another one of my pretensions, if you like – is that we all have a purpose in this life, a gift, a thing we are uniquely qualified to do. And this is mine: writing. It’s what I do, and I do it well. And I deserve the chance to carry on doing it; to try. We all do – whatever our thing might be. And the real-world odds can go fuck themselves. There is another world, where anything is possible. And it is just as real as we make it.

There is nothing noble in stoically accepting the odds, nothing admirable in admitting defeat before you’ve even begun. This gift, this purpose: it shouldn’t be taken for granted. It needs to be defended. Suffering for the sake of suffering is such a wasteful way to live. But if the thing that you love doing can fund doing what you love, isn’t that the perfect way for the world to go around?

I am done with odds. I am done being pebbles and waves. I am done being the tortured artist selling drinks and dreaming of words. I have written a book, and I’m standing up for it. And for anyone who’s ever done a thing that meant something to them, for anyone who wants to, for all the pebbles and the waves, the quiet and the small, slowly gathering their strength against the odds to crash into the world. We can be the avalanche; we can be the tsunami. All it takes is some magic, and a click.

Fate whispers to the warrior
“you cannot withstand the storm”
and the warrior whispers back
“I AM THE STORM”.


You can click here to view 100 days of solitude on Amazon and perhaps add another rolling stone to my avalanche, if you like.