Writing Retreat in Crete

Journey to the Seaside

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I was shortlisted in a writing competition, and my prize was a subsidised writing retreat in a Cretan seaside villa. I decided I would use the time to finish a novel about people who get stuck in an airport.

Naturally, my flight was delayed, and I got stuck in the airport.

I arrived at Heraklion very late at night, and the next day I set off across Crete to reach the villa. It took four hours and two buses to reach a little village called Spili, deep in the Cretan countryside.

The villa for the retreat was too remote to be on any bus routes, so I had been told to get to Spili and find a man called Herakles, who would drive me the rest of the way for a 25€ fee.

Herakles has a much younger wife, a tiny child, and a very lush garden. Before he drove me from Spili to Triopetra Beach, for some reason we had to wait for Herakles’s wife to feed their son a banana. The boy wandered happily around the garden, and every now again his mother would ambush him with the banana and make him eat another mouthful. Herakles watched and smiled. This ceremony took quite a long time.

Writing and Watermelons

From Spili, it was a forty-minute drive to the villa. I discovered that if I wanted shops or buses, the only way to get there was to phone Herakles and ask for a lift to Spili. Without a car, Triopetra Beach is spectacularly isolated. I realised it was just me, a couple of holiday homes, and a few tavernas on the beachfront. There is nothing else within walking distance. I was more or less trapped.

It’s extremely hot here. Also, for seven days and seven nights, it was incredibly windy. And when I say “incredibly windy,” I mean: I didn’t like to leave my laptop unattended on the veranda for even a minute in case it blew away. My first couple of excursions to the beach were very painful because the wind whipped up the sand and scoured my body like a proper sandstorm. Then, on the eighth day, the wind went away. There have been two phases to my life here: during the wind, and after the wind.

It’s very calm and very beautiful here, and I’ve been getting lots and lots of writing done. I have half the villa to myself. For the first few days, an Athenian lady was staying with her twin daughters in the other half. Then they left, and I’ve been entirely on my own. There is nobody to talk to except the staff at my nearest taverna. Listening to the taverna staff recite the daily specials menu in a familiar, affectionate way is the closest I get to having a conversation here.

It turns out, watermelons are a massive thing here. When I arrived, I didn’t like watermelon. But at the end of every taverna meal – which is twice a day, because there is nowhere to buy food that I can prepare for myself  – one of the staff produces a very large plate of free watermelon and says “This is from my boss.” The only polite thing to do is eat the industrial quantities of watermelon and look grateful.

I have learned to love watermelon. It’s the only fruit here, and I’ve become a bit addicted to my mounds of the stuff. After the Athenian lady left, the owner of the villa popped in while I was down at the beach. I didn’t meet him, but he left me a whole watermelon as a gift, in case I didn’t have enough of it already.

I’ve started to think mad watermelon thoughts and draw mad watermelon drawings.

It’s now Day Fourteen. I AM STILL HERE.

Next up: The Russian Penthouse

One Reply to “Writing Retreat in Crete”

  1. Ollie, loved this but a bit concerned you may have slightly lost the plot. Hope you recover. We now know what to give you for lunch when we next see you. Simon.

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