Friday, October 25, 2013

Evi Routoula and London Tube

Today, my guest is Evi Routoula, author of London Tube. If you like what you read, leave a comment below and check out her book.

Tell us a little about yourself?  
I was born in Athens on 1968. Ever since I could remember myself, I wanted to become a lawyer. I managed to do that and I have been working as a barrister since 1997. Besides law, l love literature, theatre, cinema and travelling.

What made you want to become a writer?
 I have always been writing, journals, thoughts, short stories. Writing has always been for me the best way to express myself.

Could you tell us a bit about your collection?
It is a collection of short stories, each one of them having to do with one London tube station. In some stories the station plays a significant part, in others its importance in the plot is indirect. The stories have to do with different passengers and how their use of the London Tube may or may not affect their lives.

Why the London underground? Why intrigues you about it?
Ever since I visited London for the first time in my adult life, I got fascinated by London Tube, not only because it is the oldest underground rail network in the world but also because of its spidery construction, of its stations, of the little dark tunnels. Toying with the idea of how many people use it daily and how it might affect their lives was always an appealing thought of mine. That is why I decided to write this book.

Since you’re from Greece, what is your connection to London?
My very first trip to London was with my parents at the age of 10. I deeply fell in love with this city, and I kept coming back especially when I grew up. I ended up coming to London at least three times per year, watching theatrical plays, meeting friends and touring around this city that I like so much. The past year I have been living in London permanently.

What gave you the inspiration for your collection?
The London Tube and its passengers. The fact that so many different people with their own stories, troubles, worries commute everyday by using the narrow dark tunnels underneath London’s magnificent buildings.

Are your characters based off real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?
Of course, my characters have elements from people I know, but they are all fictional. None of them is based on a certain real person. They just all have tidbits from people I know. The only real character is Elisabeth I in the Cutty Sark story together with the rest of the historic personalities that are mentioned there. And the ghost of Black Nun who is mentioned in the story of Bank. These of course are not my characters I just use them in my stories.

Of all the characters you have created, which is your favorite and why?
I cannot really distinguish any, but I must say I like Elisabeth I a lot, simply because of her ability to maintain the fragile political games of her time intact and do her will at the same time. A truly remarkable historic personality.

Who are your favorite authors? What do you admire about them?
I admire many authors, and I am sure that I will forget names but I am trying here to mention just a few of them. Jack London, Jack Kerouac, Charles Dickens, Isabelle Allende, Jennifer Lash, Jonathan Coe, Jeffrey Eugenides. Among Greeks I like Karagatsis, Costas Tahtsis, Costas Kyriazis, Maria Lambaridou Pothou. And of course Nikos Kazantzakis. Each one of them has given me a lot of things to think about and all of them are wonderful writers.

What is your favorite writing tip or quote?
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”
Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Tell us a little about your plans for the future.  Do you have any other stories or books in the works?
I am planning to write a historic novel about the Byzantine era. It needs a lot of work and research, but I am enjoying it a lot. I also plan to write more London Tube stories. There are still too many London Tube stations for me to explore!

Where can we find you online? (please cut and paste links):

London Tube:

Seven different stations take part into seven different stories. Seven stations that play a significant role to the lives of different passengers. A trip from the beginning of London tube till nowadays.



Mary Chapman rummaged  nervously  the pockets of her camel-haired coat, looking for her small leather purse. She took out a twenty pound bank note and gave it to the tall thin girl. Mary gave her a shy, sideway look. The girl was trying to count Mary’s change while at the same time she was giving Mary the flower bouquet she had chosen. It was a small bouquet of yellow and pink flowers. Mary was not sure how the flowers were called; gardening had never been her strong point. For her, flowers were  just tokens. Tokens of friendship, love, passion, mourning. They were reminders of anniversaries, celebrations and premiers. This bouquet was beautiful, small and modest. She held it with one hand while she received the two pound coin from the flower-girl. She stuffed the coin hastily into her purse and she gave another quick look at the flower-girl. She was not British. This was obvious from her pronunciation and her general appearance. Another immigrant searching for a better life in a foreign country. There were so many of them nowadays. They were coming from all over the world, chased by poverty, by political situations far beyond their fault. They were constantly arriving in search of a better future. They were staying in rooms in north and west London with monthly or weekly rent. They were sharing the kitchen and bathroom with three or more tenants: students, provincials, other immigrants. They were undertaking any job that they could find: waiting, cooking, shop assisting. If they did not cause any trouble and if they were lucky enough they could remain  for the rest of their lives here in this foreign part of the world, they would marry, have children and always keep on sending money to those unlucky ones that remained behind.  Mary looked at the girl again, she smiled, thanked her and she left. In her mind she wished her “good luck” with the life she chose.

Charring Cross tube station was full of people who were hastily walking in all directions. Mary kept holding the bouquet tenderly in her arms, she got out of the station and started walking along Strand. It was early afternoon and the traffic was heavy. At the opposite side of the street some tourists were posing for photographs in their effort to gather memories.  Mary glared at them absent - mindly and a thought crossed her mind; maybe this was the most important thing in this life, to gather memories. Time is passing so fast, nothing is left behind. Time has a magic way of killing everything. Besides, this was the reason for her being here this afternoon. Because of her memories. Mary was not a London resident anymore. She abounded the capital thirty years ago. She had chosen the provincial tranquility of Luton. She was married to a peaceful man. Together they had chosen a small two-store house near the Luton airport. It was a convenient nice house with a small back yard. For Mary and her husband that was the best solution.  The cost of living was cheaper in the countryside and the quality of life much better. They did not have any children, but  they lived in harmony together, the years were passing by peacefully, a rather calm happiness. Mary had two dogs, two beautiful labradors and every afternoon just before dusk she was enjoying staying in her garden in the company of her dogs. Mary and her husband rarely visited London, just a couple of times per year. They only went there to see a theatrical play or to buy something that they could not find in Luton.

Mary kept on walking along Strand while thinking that this day trip was more of a pilgrimage to her childhood. A pilgrimage to honor her long deceased mother . A pilgrimage to a tube station that did not exist anymore.

She was sitting comfortably at her living room in her little house in Luton and she was watching the news on T.V. She couldn’t even remember which channel, channel 4 or BBC, it didn’t really matter! It was then that she heard for the first time that the Aldwich tube station of Piccadilly line was going to close down for good. She froze in her seat, looking aimlessly at the T.V. screen without really listening. It was much later that she realized that she was actually crying. When her husband got home, he found her sitting there with an empty look on her face, holding a glass of whiskey.  Then, that evening in that living room, with the light of the  t.v. screen barely visible in the darkness, Mary let herself travel back fifty years, when she was a little girl and she told her husband the whole story.

Months passed since that night, but Mary kept feeling restless, she could not find again her usual calm monotony. She was doing her house work, she was feeding and playing with her dogs, she was making love to her husband, she was going to shop the things she always used to, but something had changed. Something had marked her.

And suddenly, without any previous thought or planning, while she was squashing an orange, or was it while she was filling the dogs’ bowls with water, the idea to visit London just popped into her mind, to go there again. The tube station had been closed for four months, since 3rd October 1994. It was a date she would never forget.  She had it marked with a fountain pen on the calendar that hang on her kitchen wall. But the place was still there, Strand was still there, Surrey street was still there. This could not change. And she could go there and see the area. It would be a homage to her childhood memories.

So, one cold day of March, she found herself at Charring Cross station, picking a bouquet of flowers and now, her feet were getting her closer and closer to the place where once Aldwich station used to be.

Mary had never shown any interest in history, events, both local and international  were happening without having any meaning for her. She had a simple way of thinking, it was very difficult for her to combine causes and results in her mind. She could never understand how or why a simple parliamentary rule had the power to cause hundreds of deaths in a far away unknown land! But she knew one thing well and that was the history of Aldwich station.

At the point where Surrey street intersects with Strand, Mary turned right. She was at the centre of the biggest European capital, the streets were swarming with people and still no one even thought just for a second, to leave a bouquet of flowers on the cold pavement slabs, in front of the building that once hosted the Aldwich tube station, that afternoon.

She stood there looking at the emptiness, because she could not see anything. In this impressive red bricked building, once, many years before Mary’s birth, many years before Mary’s mother’s birth, there used to be the Royal Theatre of Strand. How many performances much have been held in there. How many actors must have been tested, how many of them must have experienced triumphs and agonies. How many dazzling and successful premiers must have taken place. How many Kings and princess must have enjoyed, comfortably seated in their royal box, lines by Shakespeare and Moliere.