Harvesting Memories With The Muse
By Sophia Kouidou-Giles
The other day, my neighbor spotted me out in the backyard watering and asked me, “I see you sitting in your kitchen by the hour and writing. Where do you get your ideas?”
I blurted out, “Serendipity,” and laughed. The question lingered in my mind. However, my response did not feel entirely satisfactory. Unraveling the origins of ideas seemed like a perplexing task.
To begin with, I have to admit that the creative writing process has a mind of its own. It defies logic and expectations, and I never know what is going to manifest on the page. According to the dictionary, serendipity is an occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way. The definition sounded vague, and I hoped to get a clearer idea about the process.
Sometimes, it appears as though random moments conspire and find their way onto the page. It can be in simple ways, like the time I was writing about the olive harvest, scenes that appeared in some chapters of a novel steeped in Greek mythology. Servants and local crews join Perse, Clymene and Circe in olive harvest ceremonies in the House of Helios. One association that unexpectedly emerged for me came from a childhood memory about a quaint village, its people harvesting olives the old-fashioned way. Picture this: they would use switches to strike the trees to bring the olives down, to fall on nets spread out on the ground. The recollection evoked a sense of old tradition and simplicity, making it a suitable component for a story set in the olden days of ancient Greece.
Within my novel, I describe Circe’s reaction to her father, Helios, the sun-god, riding over olive groves and mortals wielding switches. Her mother was telling a story to an aunt and here is an excerpt of that segment: “Upset that the gnarled and twisted trunks and leafy branches were receiving such harsh punishment, she asked her father, ‘What have the trees done to these mortals to get this treatment?’ Circe’s mother watched, a smile rising on Clymene’s [her aunt’s] lips and broke out in laughter. “Her father explained to her,” the queen continued, “they are gathering liquid gold, little one. It’s worth the toil.”
It feels natural that I would also remember my stepmother in our kitchen, working meticulously on a pile of olives, handling each one with care. She would score them one at a time, creating delicate slits before dropping them into a glass jar filled with brine to cure. My father and I loved these treats; tangy and slightly bitter, they added a unique zest to our meals.
This recollection found its way into my novel, undoubtedly influenced by that memory: “On most days, though, the kitchen help answered her while washing and scoring each olive with a sharp knife and then curing the olives in brine and vinegar, adding spices to make special, delectable treats just as Helios liked them. Tangy and a little bitter, the olives were served year-round on a platter for evening meals, next to slices of cheese drizzled with olive oil.”
And then there was a time when I toured the remarkable preserved Roman site, Volubilis, in Morocco. This city was founded in the 3rd century AD. and was well known for the wealth it generated from the local olive production. During the tour, we came across an olive-press, referred to as a trarpetum; the visit coincided with my composition of another scene depicting another olive harvest. The remains of the olive press were remarkably well preserved, and I immediately recognized that a description of it belonged in my story. That evening, back at the hotel, I jotted down notes about that unforgettable experience.
Here is an excerpt from my novel, encompassing that episode: “One day, Circe and Clymene accidentally found their way to a room that served as an oil press. Certainly no place for royal visitors, it was dark and noisy. When they heard grinding sounds and the braying of animals, they were intrigued and followed men carrying baskets of olives. Inside the room, in the center, a huge round granite stone, resting in a bowl, was crushing green olives into pulp to make virgin oil. The stone rolled over the fruit that had been tossed in, powered by a harnessed donkey walking in circles around the granite bowl. Clymene tracked the pulp being channeled into a pit below, half filled with water, and rested her eyes on the golden liquid floating over the water.”
The reference to the excavated Roman sight, coinciding with my work on a scene about the olive harvest, highlights the serendipitous nature of such an occurrence. In a way it was on site research, and it suggests that these synchronicities can be interpreted as signs or connections that fuel the creative process.
The answer to the question of where ideas come from is a bit-elusive, yet serendipity, my one-word answer seems to make sense. A creative endeavor still defies neat packaging. Instead, it feels like an organic process driven by the cross-pollination of a lot of elements from everyday life that includes memories, research, and personal experiences.
The beauty of this cross-pollination process is its unpredictability. Ideas may spring forth when I least expect them, like the colors of wildflowers or the texture of fabric. It’s an intricate interplay of the familiar and the new, the subtle and the striking.
While the answer to where ideas come from may not be crystal clear, what is certain is that it is a product of the ever-changing mosaic in a writer’s life. It is reflections of the world around us, the stories we absorb, and the emotions that stir within, an ongoing journey of exploration and discovery that takes flight into horizons unknown.
First published in Women Writers Women Books
AN UNEXPECTED ALLY: A GREEK TALE OF LOVE, REVENGE, AND REDEMPTION
Powerful Circe, daughter of the sun-god Helios, is sad to see Odysseus, King of Ithaca, depart from her island, Aeaea—but her heartbreak is eased after dolphins take her to Delos, where she explores a new love relationship.
Circe has a strained relationship with her mother, Perse, but when she finally listens to Perse’s encouragement to seek out the amphibian god Glaucus, she’s glad she’s heeded her advice. Together, the two embark on underwater adventures, and Circe shares with Glaucus her knowledge about the healing and harmful power of herbs. While in Delos, she also meets and befriends Skylla, a local beauty with whom Glaucus is enthralled, although the girl is indifferent.
Circe eventually returns to Aeaea, but one day she learns, upon consulting her scrying mirror, that there is trouble in Delos that requires her immediate action. In the turbulent world of gods mingling with mortals, our heroine shifts shapes, flies, and uses her superpowers to reverse the course of evil.
In a tangle of love, hate, vengeance, and the final righting of wrongs, a cast of irresistible characters weaves an adventure laced with beauty and terror in An Unexpected Ally—a newly woven set of tales that brings to life ancient Greek myths and revives issues familiar to contemporary readers.
Sophia Kouidou-Giles was born in Thessaloniki, Greece, and university educated in the USA. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and masters in social work. In her over-30-year child welfare career, she served as a practitioner, educator, researcher, and administrator and published articles in Greek and English professional journals. In recent years, her focus has shifted to writing nonfiction, fiction, poetry, and translation. She has published in Voices, Persimmon Tree, Assay, The Raven’s Perch, The Time Collection, and The Blue Nib. Her poetry chapbook is Transitions and Passages. Her work has appeared in anthologies, including The Time Collection, Visual Verse, and Art in the Time of Unbearable Crisis.
Her memoir, Επιστροφή Στη Θεσσαλονίκη/Return to Thessaloniki, was published in Greek by Tyfri Press. The book in English: Sophia’s Return: Uncovering My Mother’s Past, was published by She Writes Press. Sophia lives in Seattle, Washington, near her son, her daughter-in-law, and two grandsons. Find out more about her at her website. Perse is a sequel to An Unexpected Ally. Look for it in November 2025.