Whatever happened to Shirley Valentine?
‘I Married the Waiter’ star author returns to the Greek island that inspired an award-winning book series.
Award-winning author Anne Zouroudi was a real-life Shirley Valentine.
Following a whirlwind holiday romance on the beautiful Greek island of Symi in the 1990s, Anne ditched a successful career to marry a fisherman and start a new life as a Greek housewife.
Twenty-five-years later, and following her divorce and life back in England as a single mum, she’s back. This time with a film crew in tow.
I Married the Waiter (Tuesday 23rd September, ITV1 at 9pm) will tell the stories of five women – including Anne – whose lives changed dramatically following affairs with foreign men. Some of the stories ended happily, some are more poignant. But none are as extraordinary as Anne’s, whose Greek island sojourn led to a successful literary career.
When her marriage came to an end, Anne left Greece with huge regret.
“I had a small child in tow and the daunting prospect of life as a single parent,” she says. “It was an unwanted fresh start, but having always had ambitions to write, it seemed as good a time as any – in between working part-time jobs to keep my son and I fed and clothed – to knuckle down and try and produce something publishable. Inspired by my Greek island life, I wrote The Messenger of Athens, a dark mystery with a sprinkling of myth and magic that has a fictionalised Symi as it’s setting. The Messenger of the title was the enigmatic Hermes Diaktoros, a mysterious and shadowy figure who arrives in Symi – renamed Thiminos – to investigate the death of a young housewife.”
Anne got her lucky break when she was taken on by literary agent Christopher Little, the man responsible for JK Rowling’s amazing success. With Christopher behind it, the book was picked up by Bloomsbury, and following publication was shortlisted for two national prizes, the Desmond Elliott Prize for Sparkling New Fiction and ITV3’s Crime Thriller Awards. Anne quickly built a fan-base of readers who loved Hermes’s quirkiness, his white tennis shoes and his gourmet tastes, and Bloomsbury bought a further six novels, one for each of the Seven Deadly Sins, all featuring Hermes in the starring role.
Much of what Anne writes is drawn from first-hand experience as during her time in Symi she immersed herself in island life, learning to speak Greek and becoming a proficient fisherwoman. Always a keen cook, Anne also learned to prepare the wonderful Mediterranean produce, most of it grown in the family’s garden.
“I’m a zealous advocate for Greek food,” she admits. “Its flavours are unique, and so many people who holiday in Greece come home wanting to re-create the dishes they’ve eaten in the waterside tavernas. So this autumn I’m going to share what I know in a cookery class cooking Greek dishes featured in the books – aptly called Cooking the Books – to teach people how to prepare the dishes that make Greek island food so deliciously memorable.”
“It was great to be back in Symi to see family and old friends,” Anne continues. “George and I still have great affection for each other, and my one-time next-door-neighbour, Jean, features in the documentary. So do some of the places I used in the book. Symi’s a very beautiful island, and I know seeing it on screen will make me want to jump straight on a plane.”