Book Review: An Octopus in my Ouzo by Jennifer Barclay


I am Greek and always interested in the way my country and its culture are perceived by foreign visitors. As a result, over the years, I’ve read many memoirs by British writers about the Greek experience. Octopus in my Ouzo is now one of my favorites. I’ve never read anything set on Tilos before, or on any other among the remote islands of Greece for that matter. The insights I’ve gained from this book are precious to me. I’ve been hearing all my life about the difficulties the native islanders face in places like Tilos but never had I imagined the magnitude of the hardship involved in all facets of their life – be it, when someone needs medical attention, or their car needs servicing or even when they crave, like we all do, a specific kind of food or delicacy. At some point in the book, the author’s partner picks up a chocolate bar from town to treat her – things that are trivial for the rest of us, but for them they must make a significant difference in their every day lives. I was particularly impressed to read that – a precious detail in the book. Reading this memoir made me sympathize with the adorable Greek people portrayed in the book, and especially with the author who, being an outsider, kept experiencing one culture shock after another. I am married to a Brit and I know a thing or two about culture shock. I sympathized throughout with the author and her partner for this reason. The one element in the story-telling that resonated with me the most, was the upset the author experienced over and over again on a certain aspect of her life there. I won’t say more on that as I hate spoilers as much as the next person, but I’ll say I’ve also experienced this kind of upset. Reading about it meant I could feel the author’s pain. It was the most palpable feeling conveyed among all the ones rising in me as I read this book, and that’s saying a lot because the descriptions by this author are phenomenal, and the intense feelings just kept coming! Her accounts of the scary, adverse weather during winter were chilling, and the beauty that surrounded her became real in my heart, causing it to swell from time to time. Jennifer Barclay has a unique gift in experiencing love and beauty and sharing it with the world. She certainly touched me through the pages. An unforgettable read! I also think she’s a bit of a superwoman, living fearlessly all alone in the wilderness – something I could never do, although I fully understand the merits of such a monastic, solitary existence. The delicious recipes she shares in the book by combining fresh, wholesome local ingredients were an extra bonus!


My rating:


An unforgettable read full of love and beauty



Are you a Greek lover? Do you enjoy memoirs set in Greece? Look no further. This one is among the very best I’ve ever read and I highly recommend it!

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Check out my interview with Jennifer Barclay on this blog!


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Interview with Jennifer Barclay

Today I’m thrilled to welcome Jennifer Barclay, a fabulous British author who’s just launched a book set in Greece with the delightful title, “An Octopus in my Ouzo”. I adore the cover – makes me want to dig right in! Check this out:



Escape to the sunlight and colour of a wild island in the south Aegean.

When Jennifer moves alone into the Honey Factory on a tiny Greek island, bringing a laptop, her hiking boots and plans for a peaceful life, she has no idea what surprises are in store. Diving into an exciting new life with a fisherman, she learns something every day. Joining the dancing at local festivals and helping at a café on the beach, surviving winter storms and finding a canine companion, she is faced with both challenges and rewards, and discovers that to become an island woman she must live small and think big.

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“I came here looking for some kind of happiness. I think it might be the cleverest thing I have ever done.”

One heartbroken winter, Jennifer decides to act on her dream of moving to a tiny Greek island – because life is too short not to reach out for what makes us happy. Funny, romantic and full of surprising twists, Falling in Honey is a story about relationships, tzatziki, adventures, swimming, Greek dancing, starfish… and a bumpy but beautiful journey into Mediterranean sunshine.

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Hello Jennifer and welcome to my blog!

Hi Effrosyni, very excited to be here.

What has inspired you to write AN OCTOPUS IN MY OUZO?

I moved to the tiny Greek island of Tilos in the South Aegean five years ago. Pretty much every day inspired me to write – my life was suddenly full of fresh experience. A couple of years after I arrived here, I published a book called FALLING IN HONEY, which told the story of how I had first fallen in love with Greece in general and Tilos in particular, and the somewhat unusual story of how I came to live here alone. AN OCTOPUS IN MY OUZO now tells the story of how those first few years went – what it was like to live my dream and to reach out for everything I wanted.

In some ways it’s about how I began to live a different kind of life, but it’s also about the very different life of a small island, and I hope readers will come away feeling they’ve had an intimate glimpse of this little corner of the world through its seasons.

I’m sure that intimate glimpse will be delightful to your readers, Jennifer. What other writing have you done? Anything else published?

As well as these two books about Greece, I previously published a book about three months travelling around South Korea, called MEETING MR KIM. South Korea was a country I’d never expected to go to; once I began travelling around on my own, I was welcomed by the people with the kind of unstinting warmth that in Greece is called filoxenia. Oddly enough, I find lots of similarities in the two countries: an ancient culture, strong family bonds, a small country mostly surrounded by sea with a sea-going history, peaceful, often subjected to the aggression of bigger nations.

I work with books and occasionally a publisher comes to me with a book idea and asks me to write it; so although they weren’t my idea, I wrote A LITERARY FEAST and THE WALKER’S FRIEND and THE TRAVELLER’S FRIEND, among others.

What are you working on at the moment? Tell us a little about your current project(s).

At the moment I’m working hard on other people’s books – I’m a freelance editor and literary agent – but trying to get to a stage where I can take time off to write. I find this the most productive way of writing for me, to take off a month or so and focus completely. There’s one particular project I want to finish, which involves animals… I also try to reserve some weekend time regularly to write my blog, also called An Octopus in my Ouzo. I noticed recently that my life here has developed further and I wonder if there may be a book three about Tilos.

Tell us about your website/blog. What will readers find there?

An Octopus in my Ouzo is a strange mix – as you’d expect from the title. I post stories and photos from daily life on the island that I found interesting or amusing; also from travels in Greece; sometimes food; often photographs of blue skies here will cheer up my readers who are living somewhere colder or gloomier. I sometimes write about books I’ve come across, if I think they might be of interest to my readers. The last one I wrote about was called Raki and Fish, by a Turkish writer from Istanbul and a Greek photographer from Chios; it takes you on a journey around the Mediterranean to places where seafood is part of the culture.

Sounds like a fantastic blog for lovers of Greece. What genres do you read mostly, and what are you reading now?

I read a lot for my work as a freelance editor and literary agent, and that is often very inspiring. This week I happen to have been working with John Carter, a travel journalist with half a century of experience, on a collection of stories for Bradt; I’ve also been working with new author Caspar Craven, who has spent the last eighteen months circumnavigating the globe in a yacht with his wife and three small children, and who is developing a book about how to live your own dream; and I’m reading the new manuscript by Samantha Verant, author of SEVEN LETTERS FROM PARIS, about how she integrated into a French family – which had a lot to do with making delicious food… I do try to read published books too, and I’ve been slowly making my way through a very detailed book called SEA ROOM, about a group of wild Scottish islands; but I really love to be immersed in a good novel, something I can’t put down. I’m just starting to re-read Brad Smith’s ROUGH JUSTICE.

It all sounds delightful, I must say. Do you have any advice for other indie authors?

I think, for all authors, whether independently published or not (I’ve been published by traditional publishers so far), it’s important to engage online with readers and with other authors and find ways to spread the word about your work subtly but widely. Everyone has specific tastes and they may simply not be interested, but if people don’t know about you they won’t read you. Having worked in book publishing for over two decades, when people ask, ‘So, do you work with anyone I’ve heard of?’, I find most people are familiar with very few, very established authors. The internet is a wonderful resource which levels the playing field a bit and allows you to let people know what you’re doing, and it costs nothing except time. Having said that, I found that getting my story into certain print magazines was more effective than everything else combined; and Amazon offers help enormously too.

Being an author involves a lot of sitting around. What do you do for exercise?

Walking and swimming – hugely important part of most days for me! I have a dog, and she knows our routine and is very sulky if we don’t keep to it. One of the reasons I love living where I do is that I’m surrounded by countryside, by mountain paths, and there are several beaches within easy walking distance, deserted for much of the year. Walking in remote places is great for allowing thoughts to process too; I always try to have a notebook with me. I also get up from my desk to make bread and cakes, which in some ways cancels out the walking and swimming, of course…

Hey, I’ve got the exact same problem! (*chuckles*) Is there anything you like to do to get the creative juices flowing when you write?

Until now, I’ve always written non-fiction, although I like to distill the true experiences into stories that read almost like fiction sometimes. So I’m inspired by life, by things I see and hear, and therefore it’s very important to have a notebook and pen with me wherever possible (I’ve even written notes as texts to myself on my old-fashioned phone). I find being on the move, travelling, is very good for inspiration. When I’m sitting at my desk shaping notes into stories and seeing how they can be crafted together to convey something that seems of value, I need endless hot drinks and snacks until I finally get into the zone and am immersed in it.

What are the things in your life that you’re most grateful for?


All the things I mentioned earlier… Reading, writing, walking with my dog and swimming are endless sources of pleasure and satisfaction, and I’m grateful that living on Tilos affords me more time for creativity.

Who is your favorite poet? Quote a couple of lines from your favorite poem.

I’ve never thought of myself as a big poetry fan, but I ended up learning about the poet Gwendolyn MacEwen during the writing of AN OCTOPUS IN MY OUZO. She wrote a poem called ‘Sunlight at Sherbourne and Bloor’ which is taped to my wall. I can’t quote from it as it’s still in copyright but it’s worth looking up – or you can read about it in the book!

Thank you for taking the time to be here with us today, Jennifer!

Thank you too, Effrosyni. It’s been a pleasure.


Jennifer Barclay grew up in the north of England in a village on the edge of the Pennines; after studying at Oxford University she left for Greece, then lived in Canada and France and near the south coast of England before moving to a Greek island. She works from home – often barefoot, to the sound of crickets or goats – as an editor and literary agent and maintains a work blog, Her passion is writing and in addition to books she writes occasionally for newspapers and magazines, and her personal blog:

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Follow the blog (see right sidebar) to get notified of all future posts. Sign up to Effrosyni’s newsletter to receive her news and special offers (very sparse emails). Head over to Effrosyni’s Blog, where you’ll find delicious Greek recipes!