Maria Stefanidis lives in rural New South Wales with her husband and adorable, blind dog. Her retirement from hairdressing allowed her more time for writing and gave her the opportunity to fill that part of herself that she felt missing.
“I discovered writing. Or it discovered me. Writing for me is therapeutic. However, even to write one well-constructed chapter requires enormous discipline. Fortunately, I have a library of books and opt to write and research in my humble office at home”.
Stefanidis was raised in Albury. She wrote ideas for her first book while living in Cyprus in 1980. The island’s beauty and culture were captivating, and she found herself gathering snippets of information from stories she was told by villagers. Over the years she has written a series of books, but has only published two. Her first published book “The sunny side of the street” was an epic comedy-drama about friendship, love, loyalty, betrayal, family secrets and personal tragedies, stretching across three countries and half a century. The book portrays the life of post-war immigrants from Cyprus settling into their new Australian life.
According to a review written by Dr Nina Terret (PhD Adjunct Associate Professor, Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, University of Canberra),
“The Sunny side of the street” is a delightful and engaging read set in 1950’s Australia tracing the tales of a Cyprian migrant. This book will appeal to lovers of romantic drama fiction set in a historical period and where there is no sense of right or wrong but people making lives from the cards that they have been dealt.
Stefanidis had planned in writing a sequel, but after a long break she decided to write a historical/fictional novel, “The Invisible Thread”, which takes place in the heavily Turkish populated village of Rizokarpaso, in the north of Cyprus. The novel runs at 385 pages and explores Cypriot culture and social behaviour through the inter-communal conflict between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots.
“The catalyst for writing my second book, The Invisible Thread, is or should say was, a real person. ‘Bebek,’ the woman that lived in a niche under the sinister character Spyros’s house. I met her some thirty years ago whilst holidaying in Cyprus. She lived in a niche-as described in my novel-under the family’s house we were visiting. I was immediately struck by both horror and curious speculation. I never bothered to ask why or how she got the way she was but felt an indescribable sadness for this woman just the same.
The more she appeared, and the more strange her behavior became the more incited I was to probe deeper into what might have been the real cause behind her terrible affliction. So, I guess my imagination did the rest. The Invisible Thread connects those who are destined to be together…
Maria Stefanidis’ writing journey was carved by her immigration story. Her Cypriot heritage has been an integral part of her writing journey. Maria writes with the ink that drops from her heart and describes herself as a compulsive thinker, who processes her thoughts deeply, and is invariably in search for new ways to be inventive. Maria speaks of the difficulties she went through as a child of Cypriot immigrants in the sixties…
“I voyaged to Australia from Cyprus with my parents as a child. It was usually the male, (father of the household) who made the decision to migrate in search of freedom and a better way of life. Children were just what I’d describe as ‘innocent victims’ as they had no say in the actions of their elders.
My father worked on the roads shoveling potholes for a weekly income of one shilling before the second war. Then during the Hitler regime, and when Hitler began his war on Europe, my father joined forced with the British army, as many other Cypriot men did at the time. He was trained in the British army to become a pilot. Others were trained as paratroopers to parachute from airplanes to attack on land in combat areas, whilst others were trained to use sophisticated firearms for if the time came. All of which were important martial skills (perhaps for the British) however most unpractical and unprofitable for an untutored Cypriot national whose existence relied on essentially manual work to support his family. Then came the great depression, when like most of European population endured extreme hardship. People had to survive on dandelions, an edible weed commonly known as (blowballs). Other root plants such as potato’s, turnips, beetroots. Amongst other things olives and bread which were the most reliable source of food during the second war.
My mother inherently adhered to the ancient Cypriot customs of her ancestors. Her daily routine consisted of very early morning rises ( and she worked alongside of my paternal grandmother) to knead and bake as many as fifteen loaves of bread which would last the family the entire week. And there was the daily cleaning, cooking and tending to the livestock, such as taking them to the foothills to graze, early morning and evening. The goats provided milk to make Haloumi and Rachana for soups in the chilly winters.
Along with hardship came the constant unrest between the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots. Then during 1955- 1959, the historical revolution between EOKA, (andantes) and the anti-EOKA members whom were against Enosis, with Greece.
All of which were fair enough reasons for my father to want to flee his native homeland and migrate to Australia.
And just as it was difficult for my parents to leave their homeland it was also extremely difficult for the children. Discrimination was something my parents didn’t have to deal with in Cyprus. Theirs was a ‘culture shock,’ of a different kind, in the sense of pining to make a Greek friend, speak their own language, or listen to a Greek song on the radio, or the traditional cracking of the red eggs during Easter and to celebrate Christmas with family members.
Ironically, their family and parents back in their native homeland were enjoying all these vital celebrations jointly and while my parents’ life had become a monotonous, and friendless routine of working seven days a week in their milk bar.
I had to adapt to an existence of being friendless at school because of my Mediterranean looks. All kinds of insults were hurled at me. I was even too afraid to enter the toilet block in fear of having my head flushed down the toilet. I was so distressed by the slander that I’d cry and at the same time wondering why on earth my parents brought me to such a hellish place. Wondering about this ‘better life,’ they spoke of.
Though in all fairness, my parents weren’t impervious to the unfairness. It wasn’t due to their looks but had more to do with their gibberish accent, their broken English, that provoked the racial defamation.
As an adolescent I had no choice but to be my own best friend! I had to find ways to amuse myself -even if it be jotting down the number plates of the vehicle’s passing through our street- whilst my parents worked seven days a week.
A Greek girl was expected to be meek and self-effacing. She was expected to be raised in the same manner as her mother was back in her native homeland. A domesticated slave. However, people back home lived in a sightless world where hardship, religion, politics, and ancient traditions got in the way of realism. These last things initiated notorious and neurotic misbehaviour in society, thus made it difficult for children to interact with their Australian contemporaries. Parents were discontent if a teenage son or daughter’s behaviour pattern was leading to the Western world and not in accordance with the customs of their Greek heritage.
I returned to Cyprus in the 80’s. Whilst visiting there I became inspired to write about my experience. I valued the simplicity of village life and the way in which people could be happy by making the most of what little they had. Gossiping was a favourite pastime for the village women and men back home. It seemed that either praying for the dead, making koliva or reviving legendary tales punctuated the habitual and monotonous routine of their daily lives amidst a stone and grey wilderness.
I was inspired by stories my father told me when I was young. He spoke about his time working on the Hydro-electric Scheme in the Snowy Mountains. My father had an incredibly witty sense of humour, which I opt to use as a subtle diversion to the melancholic parts of my narratives.
Maria holds a diploma of journalism from the Australian College of Journalism in 2002. She has completed a course of studies in the theory and practice of writing Best Seller novels which gave her the opportunity to “learn the knack of plotting, pacing and suspense, and character structure”.