It was the beginning of a storybook romance... Quite literally.
High-flying career woman Anne Williams had headed for Greece on a much-needed break from her stressful job in I.T.
But on the tiny Dodecanese isle of Symi, she found so much more than sun and relaxation.
The single thirtysomething Sheffielder found love. There he was, the man of her dreams, all blue-eyed, tanned and smiling, at the end of a jetty, waiting to transport her in his tiny fishing boat across the glittering Aegean to the nearby beach - and her destiny.
She fell head over heels, chucked her power suits and towering stilettos and ran barefoot into a life of island bliss with her man, the rugged, macho antithesis of the suited city slickers who had been her life thus far.
“I was head of global information technology for the Thomas Cook Group. Work was my life. I’d never had time for romance,” says the former Sheffield Girls’ High pupil from Bradway. “I was jaded, burnt out by corporate life when my sister had suggested we took off for a holiday in Greece.”
She fell for the island and the handsome fisherman who, just three days in, was saying he had met the woman he wanted to marry. “Yiorgos Zouroudis was so different, so charming and so manly,” she says. “He was a hunter-gatherer who could catch a fish and skin a rabbit; I loved all that. It sounds so Shirley Valentine, but I went back to the UK to give in my notice and head back to Symi to become a fisherman’s wife.”
She and gorgeous Yiorgos, who made his living from fishing and his beach water-taxi, got married.
“We had the big fat Greek wedding - chanting priests, wafting incense, gallons of wine and the whole island dancing.”
They settled down in the archetypal fisherman’s cottage, all bright blue doors and windows. Anne learned how to re-whitewash its walls with gusto. “It was such a different world for me, but I had no qualms about down-sizing for a simple life, relying on the land and the sea,” she admits.
“Yiorgos’s huge extended family welcomed me with open arms; his mother taught me how to cook Greek food. I got pregnant very quickly and life seemed perfect. I didn’t even mind the fact that I was the first woman on the island to get an automatic washing machine, having hand-washed everything right up to the eighth month of my pregnancy.”
It sounds like the plot line for some corny Mills & Boon. But sadly, chick-lit happy ending there wasn’t.
After having her son, Anne found herself pigeon-holed into traditional Greek island life - and the stereotypical role of wife and mother carried out by generations of dutiful Greek women before her.
“The men were at work or in the cafes, the women were supposed to be at home, barefoot and pregnant,” she reflects. What had seemed so hugely attractive - the simple life with clearly defined male-female roles, proved too restrictive for a woman who had known huge independence and earned many a luxury and home comfort.
She tried again and again to make things work before returning to Bradway with her five-year-old son Vassilis - and “my tail between my legs.”
“I’d gone off with a big fanfare to live this romantic life, where love mattered more than anything. And I’d come back a penniless single parent,” she says ruefully.
“But my parents were incredibly supportive. My dad, former MD of Stanley Tools, had always been mystified as to how I could give up the lifestyle and the black BMW to live on next to nothing.”
But if her marriage had failed, the experience had taught her one hugely important thing; to follow her heart. During her time on Symi, Anne had re-ignited another passion - for creative writing. She had penned several short stories and was determined to write a successful novel.
Back in Sheffield, Anne dismissed thoughts of returning to her I.T. career and took any part-time she could get to bring the money in.
“I knew if I went back to my career I would never become a novelist. I just wouldn’t have had the time or the energy,” she says.
She went delivering the Yellow Pages door to door, worked in an antiques shop in Bakewell and on the sausage and pork pie counter at Chatsworth Farm Shop.
All the while, she was writing. After doing the day’s chores she would head to bed and set her alarm for 2am. On waking she would write until four, then sleep until it was time to wake Vassilis for school at 7am. “People say: I don’t have time to write, but you have to make time. I was absolutely determined to have a book published.”
Her first novel found an agent, though not a publishing deal. But Anne persevered and wrote another, this time using her experience of life on a tiny Greek island as a backdrop for a crime story with a mysterious detective, Hermes Diaktoros, part man, part mythological god. “The island had a dark underbelly; as in any small society, there were people rubbing each other up the wrong way. There was a lot for me to work with,” she says.
The novel, The Messenger of Athens, also proved a kind of therapy: “Getting things down on paper helped me come to terms with why I had left. I realised I had been so unprepared for the realities of life on that tiny island. The isolation and the loss of my independence were hard – and so were the winters; you don’t imagine sun-soaked Greece can be so cold and miserable,” she reflects.
But also, it proved to be the book that changed her life just as surely as that chance encounter with a handsome fisherman waiting at the end of a jetty had done. In 2002 she got a publishing deal and a lowly advance - “budding authors who expect to get huge sums, dream on,” she laughs.
The book got short-listed for the ITV3 Crime Thriller Award for break-through authors and Anne went on to pen six more novels on the Greek detective, each with a strong moral undertone and a theme from the seven deadly sins.
Anne has loved the crime genre since her teens and has recently been compared to one of her favourite murder mystery writers; Agatha Christie. “It’s immensely flattering,” she says. “My Hermes has even been compared to Hercule Poirot.” Though her son Vassilis, now 19 and on National Service in Rhodes, says he believes Hermes is based on Anne herself; “I do fight for the underdog just as Hermes does,” concedes Anne, who for a number of years worked for Victims Support at Sheffield Crown Court.
Anne now lives in Stanton In Peak near Bakewell, has a new man in her life and is a full-time author. “Only eight per cent of writers manage to live off their work,” she says proudly.
She is working on her seventh novel, to be published by Bloomsbury next June. To her surprise and delight, given she is often candid and less than flattering in her descriptions of Greek life, the Greeks buy her books in their thousands.
British holiday-makers do, too, and she hopes that, in some small way, she can help drive tourism to the country that changed the course of her life. “Readers say my books make them want to go on holiday there and that really pleases me; The poor, beautiful, beleaguered country is on its knees and I like to think I’m playing a tiny part to help.”