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Literature

Author Polly Samson Speaks to TNH about ‘Α Theatre for Dreamers’

November 12, 2022

ATHENS – It is difficult for a Hellene to fend off attraction to a novel written by an author of international renown talking about Greece – indeed, a book singing the praises of one its mainland locales or islands.

There is more, however, to ‘Α Theater For Dreamers’ by Polly Samson than its touching references to Hydra, the small and beloved island of the Argosaronic.

Fiction and reality blend harmoniously with writing that captivates you and transports you to the Hydra of the 1960s, a magical period where the book’s heroes – writers, painters, and musicians – live adventurously far from the stifling conventions of urban life before that decade’s sweeping social transformations.

The dreamers onstage in this theater are the iconic bohemian couple of the time George Johnson and Charmian Clift, the poet Gregory Corso, the writer Alex Jensen and his wife Marianne Ilene, the actor and writer Gordon Merrick, and the (then unknown ) Leonard Cohen.

Polly Samson with her husband, David Gilmour. (Photo by Sarah Lee)

The narrator is 18-year-old Erika, who arrived on the island wanting to escape from her authoritarian father – but also to come to terms with the death of her mother.

The book is also accompanied by a CD ‘Yes, I Have Ghosts’, which features wonderful performances by Samson’s husband and partner, David Gilmour, legendary guitarist and singer for Pink Floyd, and Romany Gilmour, the couple’s daughter.

The book was released about two years ago, and on the occasion of its recent translation into Greek and its release by Pataki publications under the title ‘Θέατρο για Ονειροπόλους’, Polly Samson gave TNH the honor and pleasure of an interview for its ‘Periodiko’ magazine.

The National Herald: 16 years ago it was David Gilmour’s album ‘On an Island’ and now it’s your book ‘A Theatre for Dreamers’. It seems like Polly Samson and David Gilmour love Greece. Is that true?

Polly Samson: We absolutely love Greece. You probably know that David had a house on Rhodes in the 70s and together we always travel both to Rhodes and to lots of other islands, for a long time Kastellorizo was an absolute favourite place to go, and then in 2014 we went to Hydra and we fell in love with the new way of life there.

TNH: Tell me about the idea of writing the book. I know that you found copy of Charmian Clift’s memoir in the house that you rented in Hydra. But was that the only inspiration?

PS: Not the only inspiration, but the number one inspiration. When I read Charmian’s book, which was published in 1959, I felt like I knew her. And then I started to research her. In the beginning It was going to be a novel about her and then I came across those now very famous photographs that James Burke took and the reason those photographs exist is because Leonard Cohen is in them and in them is the whole Hydra community in the 60s. And I became so intrigued by all the people in the photographs that I spent over a year trying to find out who they were, reading about them, books, letters, diaries. And then that novel emerged as I started thinking how these people related to each other. It was very interesting moment in history, in the history of young people, particularly in the history of young women – in Charmian and in Marianne and in Erika, the character that narrates the novel. So it started about Charmian but it ended about the entire community.

(Photo by Romany Gilmour)

ΤΝΗ: Was that book an opportunity to discover Hydra in general?

PS: The book was a fantastic opportunity to spend a lot of time on the island. It was a great driving force for both of us, for me and David, because we love to spend time in Greece. The book gave us an excuse, a reason for being there. So instead of just being on Hydra to enjoy to swimming and the beautiful Greek food, we had a mission. And David, because we work together so closely, was as intrigued and interested as I was. So we did research for years. We stayed there for long stretches of time because I needed to experience all the seasons, I needed to be there in winter, I needed to be there in spring, and over those years that I was researching and writing we went every month of the year so we feel that we know Hydra quite intimately now. It has been a real gift actually, writing this book – the gift is Hydra.

ΤΝΗ: Have you spent a lot of time in Greece writing that book?

PS: Since 2014 we spent a lot of time in Hydra. It was during the pandemic that we didn’t go. This year we only went in March and June.

ΤΝΗ: Do you have any plans about coming to Greece to promote the book, because I know COVID spoiled your plans at the time the book was published.

P.S.: It’s out now, but I always want to find the Greek readers. Patakis is such a good publisher. But I don’t know quite what I would do two years later. I mean, had it not been for the pandemic we would have definitely done an event, a publishing party. Now two years later, I think that boat has sailed on – it just has to find its way by word of mouth because I don’t think people would be interested in a publishing party three years later.

(Photo by Gavin Elder)

ΤΝΗ: How difficult or easy is it to collaborate with your husband? Do you use each other as an inspiration, or do you argue about what should be done?

P.S.: [laughs] We are not like George Johnston and Charmian Clift. I am very happy to say that David and I don’t argue and the reason we don’t argue is that he does the music and I do the lyrics. We work very well together – we have been doing this for nearly 30 years. Any arguments we may have had are a very long time in the past. I mean we talk about things, but in the end the music, the albums, and the songs are his business, so I would not argue. If he does not want the lyric I would not argue – because he is the person who has to sing it. It’s a very different thing to put words in the mouth of a real person rather than an imaginary person. My job is to interpret what he would like to sing.

ΤΝΗ: You ’ve been asked before whether you would consider including David in one of your books as a character, and you said, “he is in all my books.” Ι liked that answer. In what sense is David in all of your books?

P.S.: He is the person that I talk to. He influences all the thoughts of the male characters in my books. There are stories he has told me. In all parts of my books there are things that he said or remembers about when he was a little boy. Those things become part of the patchwork that makes up an imaginary character.

ΤΝΗ: ‘Yes, I Have Ghosts’ came out of the book. Did it come easy?

P.S.: Yes, it came out incredibly easy. It started on Hydra. It started just as I finished the book. We had gone for a walk to the cemetery and I was standing looking at a grave and I heard Charmian’s voice in my ears saying, “I have ghosts, not all of them dead,” And then it became the song. As I put it into the book, It gave me a shiver because occasionally she felt so real to me and that was one of those moments. And I wrote it on a post-it note next to my desk where I was working and the day the book was done I wrote the lyric.

TNH: Are there any Greek writers that you admire?

P.S.: Margarita Lyberaki and Margarita Karapanou, mother and daughter, are my favourite Greek writers. I wrote the introduction to Margarita Lyberaki’s Τhree Summers, which came out this year by Penguin Books – I loved it so much. My favorite book by Karapanou is Τhe Sleepwalker.

ΤΝΗ: Do you think that Polly Samson and David Gilmour could have been part of that company in Hydra in the 60s?

P.S.: Well, I was not born then yet [laughs]. I think we would have so much enjoyed it if we could have avoided drinking as much as they did.

ΤΝΗ: I want you to tell me your favourite song by Leonard Cohen, and your favourite Pink Floyd song.

P.S.: My favourite song by Leonard Cohen changes every day. If I am going to say my favourite for today I would say ‘Τhe Smokey Life’ and ‘The Window’. Ι consider him the best songwriter that has ever lived. I think he should have been given the Nobel Prize. We listen to him even now. When I was writing this book for all those years I was always listening to him and even now. And my favourite Pink Floyd’s song is ‘Εchoes’ – I think that musical conversation between Richard Wright and David Gilmour is absolutely superb.

ΤΝΗ: Finally, what’s up next for you?

P.S.: At the moment I am writing songs for David, and when they are finished then I start a new novel, which at the moment I am researching, and at this time I cannot tell you what it is.

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