Meet Author Jennifer Barclay
PhilHellene Author Jennifer Barclay grew up in the hills of Northern England. When she was a child, she traveled to Greece for family holidays. Back in 2014, during our first interview, she told me that while she enjoyed the first trip immensely, she didn’t realize the impression it left on her, until years later when she discovered an old journal.
“I was clearly already smitten with the Greek islands,” Jennifer said. Greece weaved her spell. But she was drawn to a different Greece, one some never experience. “As I grew up, I found the wild open spaces, empty hillsides, abandoned ruins, and watching the moon over the sea incredibly romantic.”
After completing university, Jennifer first moved to Greece in 1990. There, she taught English in Galatsi, a northern suburb of Athens. That summer, she worked in a hotel in Oia, Santorini. Then she left to travel and begin her career as an editor. She moved around frequently, living in Canada, France, then England again.
Jennifer always wrote, from the time she was a child, filling diaries and chronicling her holidays. “I did some journalism as a student, and when I was working hard at an office job, I used to take my birthday off and spend it writing.”
During a career break in 2000 in Asia and then the next few years while living in France, she became serious about writing, resulting in her first book, Meeting Mr. Kim (Summersdale UK; Wakefield Press ANZ, 2008).
Moving to Tilos
A milestone birthday brought a major life change.
“As a gift to myself, I’d always wanted to live on a Greek island and in my 40s, I felt ready to give it a try. I didn’t want to wait any longer.” Jennifer became a permanent resident on the island of Tilos in 2011. “I wanted to live surrounded by nature, a different kind of life less dominated by work. And to be able to swim in the sea all year, not just a couple of weeks. I wanted to learn a new way of living.”
The author is drawn to off-the-beaten-path type places, lured by the excitement of knowing nothing about them. She said that’s likely why she chose Tilos. “Show me an empty, wild beach; an empty footpath; and my heart skips a beat. I like discovery, wild beauty.” She frequently travels alone –and sometimes with her faithful dog, Lisa. She said she isn’t afraid, as the islands are safe with low crime, and “it’s a great way to meet people”. She said she doesn’t get scared since she’s doing something she loves, though she has pushed herself into some “risky situations where I could get injured or lost on a mountain”. There, she’s in her element. Unlike some everyday experiences, like driving on a fast, busy road, which terrify her.
Travel memoirs and life changes
Chucking the 9-to-5, living the simpler life she’d always dreamed changed the course of her career. While she’d always been inspired to chronicle her travels, something shifted. “I wrote a lot about traveling alone, because there’s something about the act of traveling and the fresh experiences and sights that I feel a desire to capture.”
She recounted her early days on Tilos in Falling in Honey: How a Tiny Greek Island Stole My Heart (Summersdale, UK 2013; Sourcebooks, US 2014) . She not only tells about her new life, but also her own personal journey. She realized it overdue to focus on what makes her genuinely happy. “The book is about grasping life by its goat-horns and taking action to make it better.” The inspiring tale makes you ponder your own life, and you start dreaming about moving to a tiny Greek island.
Next came An Octopus in My Ouzo: Loving Life on a Greek Island (Summersdale, 2016). Jennifer shared stories about life on Tilos. These two books highlight her love affair with the island, and all the elements that solidified her affection for this remote place and different way of life. One Amazon reviewer proclaimed it “as intoxicating as ouzo”.
Writing Wild Abandon
About 30 years ago, Jennifer had her first encounter with an abandoned village — Mikro Horio on Tilos. Since moving to the Dodecanese and seeing these places, she’s become fascinated with ruins from the last century. Five years ago, a trip to the islands of Nisyros and Kastellorizo gave her an idea.
“It occurred to me that there was something fascinating about these recent ruins. And because so many thousands of people left their islands to build a new life elsewhere we have been left with these magical havens of calm and tranquility that we love today.” This way of exploring the Dodecanese delighted her. She noted that though these islands were close to her home, but all of Greece can be explored this way.
Jennifer began visiting many islands, unveiling their former glories. “Several years back, a young woman told me I should interview the old people on the island and document their stories. It stuck with me because in this book, I do a bit of that.”
In Wild Abandon, we follow her to islands nearly deserted, some so small we may never have heard of them. “These stories might otherwise be lost. Stories of quiet heroism, or ordinary people who went to the other side of the world or who continued to live in their self-sufficient way through terrible hardship; and also stories of people who are still keeping the old ways alive, eking out a living in a place they love.”
The title, Jennifer explained, has several meanings. “It’s a catchy way of referring to the abandoned places that are going back to the wild. I like the double entendre of it and the way ‘abandon’ can be used in a negative and a positive way, the sense of giving up but also embracing freedom.” That sounds like a description of Jennifer’s life. She wants readers to take away from these stories that “there’s so much more than first meets the eye”.
Review of Wild Abandon
Wild Abandon: A Journey to the Deserted Places of the Dodecanese is part travel memoir, part history book, part ode to a lost way of living. In her poetic style, Jennifer Barclay lovingly shares the stories of these remote islands, some we’ve never heard of, unveiling their almost forgotten history, their rugged beauty. She shares the stories of some of these islands’ children, who left to find their fame and fortune in other parts of the world, and those who continue to return to these little known places forged in their DNA and in their hearts.
Her poignant prose is at once an education in the history of these islands, but also makes you reconsider how you travel. There’s much to see and do in well-known places, but there’s also something magical, sad, yet delightful, in discovering an almost forgotten, faraway place. One that rescues us—even for a little while—away from the rat race, and into a simpler, more meaningful, unrestricted life. During this time when we can’t travel, Jennifer’s stories are more profound than ever. They not only present a virtual travel opportunity but also evoke a personal exploration into our own ways of life. Wild Abandon is available now on Kindle and later this year in paperback.
Wild Abandon: A Journey to the Deserted Places of the Dodecanese
By: Jennifer Barclay
Published by Bradt Travel Guides (May 1, 2020)