In June this year, I was lucky enough to spend five days on Lesbos, attending the inaugural Lesvos Lesfic event, organised by Ylva Publishing. This event, which brings together writers, readers, editors, publishing staff and anyone else who has an interest in lesbian and queer fiction, was a huge success. It is already planned to be repeated in June 2017, and as soon as booking opens I’ll be reserving my spot.
But, as well as having a wonderful time meeting other Ylva authors (Gill McKnight, Jae and G Benson), and spending five days talking about writing, books, character development, POV and all that lovely book-related stuff, something else amazing happened: I fell in love.
“In only five days?” I hear you cry, your scepticism obvious.
Yep. Five days was all it took.
Five days of incredible scenery, sunshine and a storm, walks on the beach, delicious food, great beer and the most welcoming island community I have ever had the privilege to be a temporary part of.
You see, I fell in love with Lesbos.
This place is magic. There is no other word for it. Tucked away at the furthest eastern reaches of the Greek islands (you can see Turkey from the island), Lesbos is not huge. You can drive from the airport at Mytilene, on the east of the island, to Skala Eressos (where Lesvos Lesfic was held) in the south-west in under ninety minutes. But as you take that drive you will pass inland forests of pine, olive groves, and rugged hills, and stunning wetlands, beaches and coves along the coastline.
When you reach Skala Eressos you will find a small coastal town that is easily walked from one end to the other in around fifteen minutes. The beachside strip is one continuous line of amazing restaurants and bars, including two lesbian bars, the Flamingo and Belle Ville. The beach has places to just lounge, or take part in water sports, and its western end is overlooked by a traditional white-washed chapel up on a headland. Picture perfect.
But what clutched my heart the most was the people. This is an island that has been devastated, economically, by the refugee crisis and the tourists who stayed away as a result. You might expect, therefore, to meet a local population bitter about what had befallen them. The complete opposite is true. The courage and grace the local people have shown with everything that has been thrown at them can only be admired and applauded. Their warm welcome to anyone who visits, regardless of skin colour, sexual orientation or personal circumstances, is a wonder to behold.
If you haven’t already chosen your holiday destination for this year, or have a few days spare and want a recommendation for where to go, put Lesbos on your list. If you’re so inclined (as I am), go in September and enjoy the women-only festival (details here: http://www.womensfestival.eu). And if you can’t do that, make sure you book your place at Lesvos Lesfic 2017 (look for details here once they become finalised: http://lesvoslesfic.com). I’ll be there; it’d be great to see you.