Carolyn Taylor-Watts grew up in New Zealand and started out her career there as a registered nurse, but she has now established a family in downtown Toronto and pursued her dream as a writer of short stories and books. Although she has previously published several non-fiction books, last December she self-published a novel for the first time.
Helena: An Odyssey is an epic saga overflowing with Greco-Turkish history and stories that reflect the symbolism and importance of hair — in fact, the novel was inspired by Taylor-Watts’s Greek hairdresser. The story opens with the Kouvalis family in late 20th-century Toronto, but weaves back and forth between this family’s present day and the time of the Greco-Turkish war generations earlier. The author describes her book as “a story of myths, grand obsessions, and doomed, thwarted love stories. Probably the most interesting one of its many themes is the fascinating and sometimes terrible history of the power and symbolism of hair.” She spoke with Bookclub-in-a-Box about her writing process and inspiration, the years of research, and the highs and lows of self-publishing. (Buy Helena: An Odyssey in print or ebook format on Amazon.)
Can you tell me about your Greek hairdresser, and how she inspired the main themes of Helena: An Odyssey?
When I moved to Cabbagetown in Toronto, I needed a hairdresser. I was walking up Parliament Street, and I heard music coming out of this hair salon. I looked in the window and there was this woman dancing and singing with scissors in her hand. The salon was full and busy and it had an energizing atmosphere. So I thought, ooh, let’s try this.
When I sat down in her chair, it was like sitting in a psychiatrist’s chair, because the hairdresser asks you to tell her all about yourself. But I turned the tables on her because I found her so fascinating, and I wanted to know all about her. Over the years, I heard her family’s story — they were Greeks living in Turkey — and what happened to them when they came to Toronto. I had intended to write a novel about what I know, my own story about my forebears moving from England to New Zealand. But I thought, I already know that story and I don’t want to relive it — I want to know something else.