Nadia Marks has turned her early childhood years in the Mediterranean into a fulltime career as a novelist, writing stories of facing heart break and finding new life and love in sunny climes – like Crete, Greece and Spain…
Hi I’m your host Jenny Wheeler and in Binge Reading today Nadia talks about how she made the transition from working with top models and photographers on London magazines to her new career as a novelist talking about the restorative powers of sea and sunshine.
We’ve got three copies of Nadia’s latest book, One Summer in Crete, to giveaway to three lucky readers. Enter the draw at The Joys of Binge Reading.com and get lost in an island paradise….
And, just a reminder, Binge Reading is now on Patreon. For as little as a cup of coffee a month you can support the show and get exclusive bonus content – like hearing Nadia answer Getting To Know You – Five Quickfire Questions – as well as the latest gossip from Behind The Scenes on the show. Check out Binge Reading on Patreon.
Six things you’ll learn from this Joys of Binge Reading episode:
- Reinventing your life half way through can be exhilarating
- Our childhood life is never far away
- How the sunny Mediterranean represents an escape.
- Her other life – working with big names in magazines
- The writers she admires most
- The magic of ‘Zorba’ and why she keeps re-reading Kazantakis.
Where to find Nadia Marks:
What follows is a “near as” transcript of our conversation, not word for word but pretty close to it, with links to important mentions.
Jenny: But now, here’s Nadia. . Hello there Nadia and welcome to the show, it’s great to have you with us.
Introducing women’s fiction author Nadia Marks
Nadia Marks has turned her early childhood years in the Mediterranean into a full-time career as a novelist with stories of facing heartbreak and finding new life and love in sunny places like Crete, Greece, and Spain.
Jenny Wheeler: Hello Nadia and welcome to the show. It’s great to have you with us.
Nadia Marks: Thank you Jenny. Thank you for asking me to join you.
Jenny Wheeler: You have had a top career in magazine journalism, and we’ll talk a little bit about that later. First I would like to talk about the transition between being a magazine journalist to becoming a novelist. How did you make that transition?
Nadia Marks: My transition was even more surprising than that because although I worked in magazines all my working career from the age of 20, I wasn’t so much a journalist. I was a creative director. I made the transition from being an art director, a creative director to writing, although I did it slowly.
I worked full time in magazines with top photographers like David Bailey and Mario Testino and all the top people and models. I travelled the world doing fashion shoots and everything. I did that for 20 years and once I left, I decided I wanted to write.
I left that side of magazines and started doing freelance journalism and celebrity interviews and emotional features, that kind of thing. Then I started writing novels, so my journey was quite an unusual one.
Jenny Wheeler: That magazine experience would have given you a huge amount of material you could have written contemporary novels from. They would have been fascinating because of all the inside information you had, but instead of that you’ve chosen to go back to your roots and write in the niche of Mediterranean stories – stories set in Greece, Cyprus and Spain, stories about the village culture and how it interfaces with family life today. What drew you to that particular area?
A childhood in Cyprus before English education for author Nadia Marks
Nadia Marks: I grew up and lived in Cyprus until I was 12, so I was young when I came to England with my family, but those formative years really stayed with me. They revisit me in terms of how I feel, and every time I go to a hot country, a Mediterranean country, it all comes tumbling back.
I’m also very interested in families and human interactions and family secrets especially, because I believe every family has some kind of secret and the more you delve into people’s lives, the more you realize nothing is simple. There is always something surprising that you find. For some reason, that’s how it manifested itself, in my writing and my novels. They took that turn.
You’re quite right. I could have written about the world of magazines. I guess the world of contemporary London life always comes into my writing because I usually start my books in London and then I move back and forth in time and culture.
That was the main reason I was drawn to that. I didn’t choose it. I think it chose me more than I chose it. When I started writing, that’s what attracted me.
My first two books were teen fiction, the genre of 12-15, and they were very much autobiographical. I wrote about a young girl coming to England from a different culture because when I came to England, I didn’t speak any English. I was 12, I had just finished elementary school, but I had to learn the language here. There was a lot of alienation and having to assimilate myself into the culture.
A Mediterranean heritage that was never left behind
I used that experience but then I moved on to the adult picture and again, used my own experiences and thoughts of the Mediterranean.
Jenny Wheeler: It must have been a bit of a double whammy. You were just entering teen years when being identified with the crowd is so important. You’re switching almost from being in a family to being in a teen group, an age group, aren’t you? To be a little bit out of touch because of the language must have been quite a difficult experience to ride the waves of.
Nadia Marks: It was. It was very difficult. I described it in my first book called Making Sense. I was trying to make sense of everything when I arrived there. I drew from my experiences but of course, it was a novel. It wasn’t an autobiography. I made the girl a little older, so she was more of a teenager. She was 14 which is even harder really than a 12-year-old.
I described the way I felt then like being deaf and dumb. I couldn’t hear and I couldn’t speak because you couldn’t understand anything anyone was saying to you and you couldn’t speak to them because you have no words.
It was very difficult but interesting, and something that’s so topical now. How many children and how many people are going through that all over the world, with immigration and refugees and so on?
Jenny Wheeler: The most recent book you’ve got out is called One Summer in Crete, and it is very much a story of love, betrayal and revenge. As you mention, it’s a dual timeline. Calli goes back to the Mediterranean first as a journalist and then to visit family. She has had a disappointment in life and she’s having a bit of recuperation, R and R so to speak, as well as working.
Romantic stories of love, betrayal and revenge in the sunshine
She comes across some family secrets, exactly what you’ve been referring to. The Mediterranean seems to be a place of health and restoration. In several of your books people go back there seeking peace or to lick their wounds and recover from a disappointment. Would that be a fair observation?
Nadia Marks: Yes, definitely. I suppose that’s a thing I draw from my life because when I go back there, I do feel healed. The sun and the sea is a sanctuary for quite a lot. Let’s face it, we live in England. We live in a country where we don’t see the sun so often and when we do, we rejoice. People enjoy and feel healed when they’re in the sun.
I think that’s what my books do. They bring in a cultural knowledge. I suppose I’m trying to instill some kind of learning. You learn about the culture, you learn about a different people, a way of life, a different type of living. I try to give an escape to the reader. There are times when my books are dark, but they always go to the light. I like the light. I don’t want to keep it to the darkness.
Jenny Wheeler: As well as the secret of happiness though, as you mentioned, they have a darker side. That often comes from the conflict between the benefits of a stable culture and sometimes the way it doesn’t like to face up to things and it hides away secrets, or it refuses to change. That’s the way the darker side seem to come through.
Between the Orange Groves uncovers a previous generation’s scandal
In the book before this one, Between the Orange Groves, Stella goes back home and uncovers the scandal from an earlier generation that is still being hidden away and causing heartache today. You are acknowledging too that there are some aspects of the culture that don’t work so well for human happiness.
Nadia Marks: Absolutely, especially in the past. There was a lot of sexism and oppression for women in the past and I think that comes across. I try and show that. I also write about Greece, the Mediterranean on the whole, I incorporate Italy and Spain. But Cyprus is a country that is very torn because it’s a divided country and it has a lot of issues to talk about.
First of all, it is not in a happy place in terms of politics because the capital of the island is the last city in the world that is still divided. It’s divided into two. It has the two communities, the Turkish community and the Greek community.
That lends itself to so many stories and sadness and possibly also hope. I tried to show that in my last book, Between the Orange Groves, talking about the two communities. As you say, there is the sadness and darkness in quite a lot of the stories that I tell, but I try and be optimistic and give hope that things will improve.
Jenny Wheeler: It seems to me that you’re asking the question of how can we preserve the best of what culture offers, while also acknowledging the pitfalls. There are traditions that make families strong but also that can allow wrongs to fester. That’s the territory you are very much working in, isn’t it?
Rule number one in the Mediterranean: family is paramount
Nadia Marks: Absolutely. There are many good things – the friendship and companionship and looking after the old. The family is always paramount. It’s in the center of most of the Mediterranean countries. It’s waning a little bit. The West has definitely had an effect on everything, the values of the grandparents and children, but the family is very much a central point of the Mediterranean lifestyle, and also of my books.
Jenny Wheeler: There is also a very strong appreciation of food that comes through. I noticed that you have been putting some traditional Cypriot recipes online. Talk a bit about the food.
Nadia Marks: If you know any Greek people or Italians or Spaniards, you know that food is incredibly important. The Greeks absolutely – that is how you show love, by cooking. I bring it into my books because apart from loving and living and being in the sunshine, everybody loves to eat.
During the lockdown we were in London. We were locked down for quite a long period of time, and it was a very hot summer last year. That’s when I thought, I will bring some of my mother’s recipes and share them with my readers and with people because I do use recipes and talk about food in my books. It gave me something to do actually because we weren’t doing anything. We were just locked at home and lucky if you have a garden, which I did. Food is important, I think. It’s one of the joys of life.
Jenny Wheeler: A lot of scenes in the books are centered around tables because meeting around the table is such a strong family activity, isn’t it?
Food is the language of love – author Nadia Marks
Nadia Marks: Of course it is. It’s the way you show love, by feeding. I know I’m like that with my sons. The minute they walk into the house I have to find out what they want to eat and can I cook them something immediately? It’s a maternal thing. It’s a family thing. It’s a Greek thing.
Jenny Wheeler: Has the COVID pandemic affected your writing very much? I’m wondering if you like to research individual books and whether that’s been interfered with.
Nadia Marks: Yes, because I have always travelled for researching my books. I went to the two islands I wrote about – Crete and Icaria – for my last book, One Summer in Crete. The previous one was also set partly in Istanbul, so I went to Istanbul and walked the streets. I think it’s very important to research it in that way.
I also read a lot. The lockdown has the effect that I felt there was less stimulation. To write you need to be stimulated. You need to talk to people, you need to go out and meet with other people and communicate and travel, so there has been a little bit of stasis. I’m in the middle of writing another novel but I’m taking my time over it. It feels that it’s taking more time, but that’s okay. That’s actually quite pleasurable in itself.
Jenny Wheeler: The very first book, Among the Lemon Trees, had a very strong historic element to it. It is probably a bit more historical than some of the others. It began in Crete at the beginning of the 20th century and went through to Naples at the end of the Second World War. How did you research that one?
Among The Lemon Trees – a strong historical aspect to Nadia’s first novel
Nadia Marks: I researched it by reading a lot of books. That one took the longest to write. I don’t know anything about the Second World War but I read many, many books about it and spoke to people who lived through it – friends of my father’s, and also just discussions. Obviously I’ve been to Italy. I write about Italy. I’ve been to Naples. I wasn’t there during the Second World War but countries don’t change, places still retain their identity – Greek islands, cities that have been through a lot.
My second book, Secrets Under the Sun, also is historic, but it more about Cypress. The first book had more, but Secrets Under the Sun also talks about the Spanish Civil War. I always bring some kind of historical element into the book, but through people and through their lives and their strifes.
Jenny Wheeler: You mentioned how some books take longer to write than others. Have you noticed, as you’ve developed as a writer of fiction, that your process of writing has changed very much, or do you still approach it in much the same way?
Nadia Marks: I approach it much the same way. Some are faster than others because of deadlines. You have a very short deadline if you’ve taken too long to write the one before. But my process is pretty much the same. The one I’m writing at the moment I’m taking slower, and that’s intentional. I want to take it slower because I want to savor it, as it were.
Jenny Wheeler: When you say it’s much the same, tell us a little bit about your process.
The process of writing – ‘different for everybody’
Nadia Marks: I come up with an idea, a plot line. As I said before, ideas come by talking to people, by meeting people by being out and about. That’s how they come to me. I might hear a word by somebody.
For One Summer in Crete, I was in Cyprus at the time and meeting lots of young women in their thirties, who were in relationships, who were thinking about starting a family and being kind of conflicted. One of the partners wanted one, the other one, not. I thought, okay, this is a subject. This is something that’s happening at the moment. That gave me some idea. You start with a little thought and then it grows.
Then once I start writing, because it’s fiction, although I have ideas and I have characters, I don’t plan them to such an extent that it’s written in stone. Sometimes it changes. What you think is going to be a minor character becomes a major character. It visits you and it won’t let you go, and you need to expand on that.
It’s quite organic in a way. It’s linear in one way, that I do have a story to tell, but it’s organic in another way that the story can change as I’m writing it. I don’t know if that makes sense to you. I mean, you’re a writer.
Jenny Wheeler: Oh, definitely. It’s interesting the different ways in which people approach things. Sometimes you might start out being a slightly more planning it out sort of person. Then, as you develop a little bit of confidence, you become more confident about letting the story tell itself. I think it is more enjoyable to let the story tell itself than to try and be the one that bosses everybody around, isn’t it?
Every day an adventure – the best way to live – Nadia Marks
Nadia Marks: I think so. My ex-husband was a writer. He wrote children’s books, but he planned it all out. He even had everything written up on boards. He was very formulaic.
I met a very brilliant Greek writer called Panos Karnezis. He writes brilliant books and I was interviewing him. It was when I was writing my very first book, Making Sense, and I asked him questions like you’re asking me. He said, to me every day is an adventure. I don’t know what’s going to happen. It really excited me. That is how I was starting to write my first book and I thought perhaps it was wrong that I wasn’t so rigid because that’s what I thought writers do. They plan everything out and they follow it to the last word.
But he said, I don’t. Every day is an adventure. I thought, I’m going to follow that. That is a wonderful way of doing it. It talked to me.
Jenny Wheeler: It’s probably time to move on from talking about the specific books to your wider career, and it’s interesting that you mentioned meeting that writer. In terms of your wider career, you mentioned some great names at the beginning, like David Bailey. Tell us one or two of the highlights of all those years in magazines. Who were the people who were most memorable that you either worked with or interviewed?
Nadia Marks: There were so many, but David Bailey definitely. He still is a friend, somebody I’ve kept in touch with over the years. I left art school and I was a young designer on a magazine.
In magazines working with the great photographer David Bailey
Then I was promoted and suddenly I was this young art director, in my early twenties. I was commissioning the great David Bailey, who I was learning about at art school.
I couldn’t believe it. He was wonderful. I got to know him and I got to know one of his wives, the beautiful Marie Helvin. He had many beautiful wives, didn’t he? His wife that he’s been with for the last 35 years was a top model who I met modeling, as I was working as creative director. Her name is Catherine Dyer, Catherine Bailey, and she has stayed one of my dearest friends. We’re very close. That was one definite highlight.
Also, Mario Testino, who your listeners probably know. He photographed Princess Diana and Madonna. He is a brilliant fashion photographer. He was right at the beginning of his career. We worked together. Because I was very young when I started working in magazines, I worked with some of the contemporaries. David Bailey was a great photographer when I met him, but there were people like Mario Testino who was more of a contemporary and we worked together at the beginning.
There were many models. I interviewed Naomi Campbell. I photographed her and worked with her. The 90’s was a great time to work in magazines. I think the industry has changed now. I don’t know what it’s like in New Zealand, but in England definitely it’s not quite as it was when we were doing it.
Jenny Wheeler: Is there one thing you’ve done in your writing career, more than any other, that you would see as the secret of your success?
Re-inventing herself – and learning to focus on the words, not pictures
Nadia Marks: What I did was reinvent myself. I didn’t do it intentionally. I didn’t go out there to reinvent myself. People say, it’s never too late to start something new and I guess that’s what I did. I went from one career to another and at an older age. I wasn’t a kid. I spent 20 years working in magazines and then suddenly I’m doing something completely different.
We used to say – you probably know this from being an editor – it was always the pictures and the words and the dichotomy between the two. The designer, the artist, the visual person and then the writers – they were always fighting about who is more important. I was a crazy director and I used to always say the pictures are more important because nobody’s going to read any of the words if the pictures are no good – in magazines I’m talking about.
Basically, I jumped that threshold. I went from pictures to words. I’m delighted, and I made my father very proud because he always believed that I was a good writer when I was young. He was very pleased when I wrote my first book, so that was a very nice thing to have done.
Jenny Wheeler: We are starting to come to the end of our time together and I always like to ask the people we talk to about their reading tastes. This is The Joys of Binge Reading, so tell us a little bit about the books you like to read for pleasure and are you a binge reader?
Getting a lot of reading done in lockdown…
Nadia Marks: While I’m writing I find it difficult to read for pleasure because I do a lot of reading for research. I have loads of books and I read and I stop and then I read something else. But since COVID we have been on these lockdowns for quite a few months on and off, and I’ve read more than I’ve read in years and absolutely loved it.
I’ve read just for pleasure, not thinking, this is research, this is what I have to learn, I have to learn about this subject and this subject.
I am very keen on Naguib Mahfouz, the Egyptian author who wrote The Cairo Trilogy. I love his writing. At the moment I am reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun. That is his latest book. It’s sort of science fiction, kind of dystopia, but beautifully and simply written. I read everything and anything that comes my way.
Having said that, if it grabs me, I will not put it down. If it doesn’t, I have learned to stop. When I was younger, I would never put a book down. Even if I wasn’t enjoying it, I would have to read it till the end. Now I don’t. I think, this is not doing it for me and I will stop. Does that answer your question?
Jenny Wheeler: It does. I’ve got another question which had never occurred to me until you were speaking.
I’m not familiar with either of those authors you’ve mentioned, I’ll have to look them up, but do you read now in English as your first language or do you still enjoy reading – was it Greek you spoke when you were a child?
Zorba The Greek another treasured story for Nadia Marks
Nadia Marks: Greek, yes. Another author is Nikos Kazantakis, who wrote Zorba the Greek. I don’t know if you’ve ever read it. That book is a masterpiece. It is one of those books that I will read over and over. There are a few books that I would read over and over actually, but I do read in Greek. I don’t write in Greek though, not creatively. I can write a letter but I couldn’t write creatively in Greek, which is strange. Well, I suppose it’s not strange. I stopped learning it when I was 12 and started learning English. I wasn’t mature. But I do read Greek literature.
Jenny Wheeler: What is next for Nadia the writer? You’ve mentioned that you have a new project. Can you talk a little bit about that and how do you see the next 12 months unfolding for you?
Nadia Marks: I’m hoping to finish the book that I’m writing. It’s another in the same genre, but it is set in Greece at a time when I feel Greek history was quite dark, in the late 60’s, early 70’s until 1974 when Greece became a republic. It is a time I don’t think many people know about.
There was a military coup and they overthrew the government. For something like eight years, Greece was in the grip of a dictatorship. It was a fascist regime, a bit like Franco. It was an interesting time because a lot of artists were being exiled and imprisoned. They were not allowed to talk and to bring your position to the regime and so on. But it’s not about politics. My books are always about people and relationships. That’s what I’m doing at the moment, back and forth, like I always do.
What Nadia is working on now
I like doing other projects as well. A project I did over four years was with a photographer I used to work with years ago on the magazines called Simon Brown. He’s an interior photographer and we traveled to Cyprus and went to the very primitive, remote villages up in the mountains, and photographed very old people and how they live today. The project was the vanishing face of Cyprus.
These people, the Cypriots, live a long time. They were all their eighties and nineties and there were couples living as they were living 60, 70, 80 years ago, maybe turn of the century. Nothing had changed very much.
I thought that we needed to document these people because once they die, their children are going to knock the houses down or at least renovate them and buy Ikea furniture and turn them into their holiday homes up in the mountains. But at the moment they’re still living as they always did. We had an exhibition at the Cyprus Embassy in London, a body of really beautiful photographs worthy of putting in art galleries and museums.
That was a project I did with Simon. We traveled to Cyprus a couple of weeks at a time, and I did the research and the art directing and wrote the copy and it was really lovely. More things like that I can see I could do in the future, along with the writing.
Jenny Wheeler: That sounds gorgeous. How recently was that exhibition?
Nadia Marks: It was before COVID, so about three years ago.
A new project may have been conceived….
Jenny Wheeler: Have you managed to publish that as a book?
A new project may have just been born
Nadia Marks: No, we haven’t done it as a book. Do you know World of Interiors in London, the magazine? They did four or five pages of it. We haven’t done it as a book, but we should really.
Jenny Wheeler: You could indie publish that. You could do it. You are ideally set up as the art director. I’m already getting enthusiastic about this idea.
Nadia Marks: Well, yes. Also the photographer, Simon Brown, is a very, very well-known interiors photographer. The pictures at the exhibition were sold to people, so that could be something. We should do a book. We talked about doing a book.
Jenny Wheeler: A record like that, particularly with wonderful photographs – it’s a pity it isn’t going to be more accessible to a lot of other people. I would love to see those pictures.
Nadia Marks: I agree with you. Well, there you go. I’ll put my mind to that.
Jenny Wheeler: Do you enjoy hearing from your readers and where can they communicate with you online or offline?
Nadia Marks: I absolutely love it. That is what makes everything worthwhile, when you have messages from your readers. I have Instagram and also my Facebook author’s page, which I think is how you got in touch with me.
Jenny Wheeler: Yes. We will make sure all those links are in the show notes that we publish with this, but people would be able to find you by searching for you as Nadia Marks, author wouldn’t they?
Where to find Nadia Marks online
Nadia Marks: Yes, and my Instagram is @nadia_marks_. Instagram is really lovely because lots of people who do reviews post things and they message me. It’s lovely to connect with readers. It makes the whole act of writing such a pleasure and worth doing.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s wonderful. Nadia, thank you so much.
If you enjoyed hearing about Nadia’s Mediterranean stories of love and loss you might also enjoy Fiona Valpy’s French For Love series which have a similar vibe.
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