Embarking on the Odyssey of Creativity: Karen Martin’s Tale of Artistry in Crete

PHOTO: Embracing Crete’s Mysteries, Crafting Artistic Revelations.

Karen Martin’s narrative reads like a symphony composed in the heart of Crete, echoing the harmonies of culinary revelations, historical epiphanies, and a writer’s odyssey. Her journey, chronicled in “Dancing the Labyrinth,” reveals the genesis of an artist’s muse amidst the cradle of a matriarchal civilization.

From an Australian childhood nourished by literary beacons to a chance encounter in a rural Victorian town, her pact to live on a Greek isle manifested in an unexpected revelation—Loutro, Crete. Yet, fate redirected her to Agia Roumeli, where a humble studio birthed the sanctuary for her creative outpourings.

Amidst goat choruses and seaside meditations, Martin honed her discipline, yielding a narrative interlaced with the rhythms of Cretan life. Her explorations, ranging from literary tangents to traversing 2000 kilometers on foot, intertwined seamlessly with her protagonist’s escapades.

While Cressida embodies fragments of Martin’s experiences, their divergence in life’s paths remains evident. As an Australian indie author, Martin’s artistic evolution—from the Women’s Circus to crafting narratives amid Irish prisons—culminated in weaving tales enriched by Greek mythology and historical tapestries.

Her story resonates—a testament to the communion between life’s adventures and the artist’s canvas. Karen Martin‘s journey, enshrined in her novels and echoed in her ventures, encapsulates the essence of listening to the muses’ whispers—a guiding beacon for all aspiring creators.

Cretan inspiration aka follows your dreams

I did not know the real flavour of a tomato until I had my first bite in Crete. I did not know warm goat’s milk, fresh and steaming in a tin bucket, tasted sublime, nor the best Galaktoboureko[1] were made in Kandanos. There was a litany of things unknown beyond the culinary, and the most significant was learning about the Minoans. This Cretan matriarchal society were the most advanced civilization in the Bronze Age, and provided the perfect context for my dual time novel Dancing the Labyrinth.

When I was fourteen years old, I read a book – My Brother Jack by George Johnstone. It was either this book, or the sequel, Clean Straw for Nothing that proved life-changing. My high school education was conservative, and as their guidance pointed in the direction of a career in nursing or teaching, these two books exposed the lie. Life existed outside the narrow framework on offer. I could go and live on a Greek Island. Inspired by George and his wife Charmian Clift, I made a pact: I would live on a Greek island.

I was on a bike ride, three children and many years later, when I learned which island would become my second home. Cycling through a small Victorian rural town in Australia, I stopped to dine at a Greek Taverna. The owner was generous with his raki, and when I mentioned my dream, he said, “I know where you have to go.” He called over a waiter. “If you could go and live on a Greek island,” he asked, “where would you go?” Without any hesitation the waiter replied, “Loutro, Crete.”

As a fan of synchronicity, I researched his advice. At the time I was ignorant Crete was an island of Greece. It was not on my radar. The island was bigger than I imagined, stretching for 260 kms east to west. It took another twelve years for a gap in my itinerary to appear.  It was a ‘now or never’ moment and I grabbed it.

In May 2016, I arrived in Chania, Crete to commence my ‘live on a Greek Island and write a novel’ idealistic dream. Except it wasn’t a dream. No pinch could alter my reality.

Destination Loutro was thwarted when I learned there were no houses to rent and hotels offered rooms without kitchenettes. I researched the possibility of staying further west in the small seaside village of Agia Roumeli.

Perfection came via a studio with a small kitchenette, living area, a mezzanine bedroom, a view of the sea to die for, and plenty of space to write. It was home for three and half months during the summer season, until I moved to the foothills of the White mountains for my winter retreat.

At Agia Roumeli I set up a routine to ensure I maintained the discipline to write. I woke when the goats came down from the mountain to be fed. The hustle and bustle of their bells, and the indiscriminate shouting of the man who fed them, was chorused with jealous bleating of other goats, who I am guessing were free-loaders, hoping not to be identified as such and watching from a distance, fo a distraction to enable them to sneak in with the rest of the herd. Herd? Is that what a motley gang of goats are called?[2]

Rising to their cacophony, I headed to the beach to sit and meditate. This was followed with stream of conscious writing. I never allocated a specific time or number of words, I just wrote. Late in the afternoon I typed up my notes, or researched ideas evoked from the morning’s writing. Such tangents introduced me to books like Erich Neuman, The Origins and History of Consciousness, and Merlin Stone’s When God was a Woman.

I wrote, hiked (over 2000 kms in the year) and took road trips. A favourite place was Kato Zakros, also known as the end of the earth. I included the journey in my novel:

Cressida swerved the car away from the tree that had jumped out at her. It was a tricky drive. First, she was on the wrong side of the road – the right, not the left – like she was used to. She was driving a manual, the gear stick requiring operation with her right hand, not her left, like she was used to. And then, the roads were engineered to climb mountains and weave around precipices in a series of switchbacks, hairpins and all manner of swerves, curves and inclines. All this manoeuvring before the scenery – the utterly, gobsmacking, jaw-dropping scenery – seduced and enticed her. Landscape siren calling her name. Every corner held a new delight. It was hard to concentrate when the mountains, rocks, boulders, valleys, eagles, vultures and contours of the land herself, connived to distract her through sheer splendour. Not to forget the goats and weird looking sheep either; those white ones with splashes of black, those of stocky frame on spindly legs. Cressida exhaled and shifted down into second to navigate around another hairpin bend, unprotected by any guardrail.

My protagonist Cressida is not an alter ego, even though we both read Greek myths in our childhood, and I share many of my adventures with her. The authenticity of lived experience adds depth to expression, and are delightful to write and read, and relive. But I am not a 23-year-old English woman fleeing a background of domestic violence.

I am an Australian indie author, currently with two novels; the third to be released in February 2024. I am known to have run away with the Women’s Circus, created plays in Irish prisons (Dorchas centre/Mountjoy), and written theatre that strived for transformation. I have transitioned to writing books, preferably in-situ, and blend my love of Greek mythology and historical research with imagination in telling (almost true) stories. My best lesson learned? To listen carefully to the muses whispering in my ear.

[1] Galaktoboureko is a traditional Greek dessert made with layers of golden-brown crispy phyllo, sprinkled with melted butter, filled with the creamiest custard, and bathed in scented syrup.

[2] Fact check. The collective term for goats is herd., but also tribe, trip, and flock. A female goat is a doe—unless she is a mother, in which case she is a nanny. Unaltered, intact male goats are known as bucks or billies. Once castrated, they are known as wethers.

I don’t think Cretans alter their male goats. I can verify bucks spray themselves with their urine, supposedly as a mating cologne. It stinks as bad as it sounds and when Pilaf is cooked as a special treat with goat, it tastes as bad as it smells.

PHOTO: Beyond Fiction. Cressida’s Adventures and Karen’s Realities in Crete”

What they said about Dancing the Labyrinth

“Dancing the Labyrinth is a powerful and profound celebration of women’s resilience, courage and indomitability.” 
-Neos Kosmos

“Dancing the Labyrinth is strange, beautiful, and riddled with pain and growth. The blending of past and present, myth and reality, feeling and concrete experience, makes for a highly unique read.”
-Publisher Weekly

“Martin’s dreamy, esoteric book of female empowerment, maternal love, and overcoming abuse is dark, breathtaking, painful, and lovely, all at once.”

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