Introducing UK Cypriot Polis Loizou a award-winning writer and performer,

1. Growing up, did you always want to be a writer? And what has kept you writing, beyond the first book?
My dream was actually to be a writer-director for film. I studied film at university, made some shorts, and worked on the art departments of a couple of features. But these were long days with either too little or no pay, and I simply couldn’t afford to pursue that dream. I’d always written stories, and even wrote a “novel” when I was 15 that I’ve been trying to rework ever since, but I don’t think I ever believed, or envisioned, that I’d become a novelist! Writing books and fringe theatre shows (that I could stage myself) were, to be frank, the best ways to channel my creativity with almost no funds, on my own steam and in my own time, around work that pays the bills.

2. Who is your favourite Cypriot writer, and why?
To my shame, I was unaware of many Cypriot writers while growing up in the motherland! But I’ve since developed an admiration for poets like Kyriakos Charalambides and Michalis Pieris, and prose writers like Nora Nadjarian (I feel a bit biased here, as she taught me French, but she’s exceptional). My favourite might be Anthony Anaxagorou, whose poems explore colonialism and the diaspora experience through inventive language and a contemporary lens. I love his style.

3. What has inspired you, and carried on inspiring you, to write about Cyprus?
Funnily enough, I never thought I would write about Cyprus. But as I grew up, I started looking back. The Brexit referendum was a catalyst in my exploration of my heritage. I’ve been living in the UK for 22 years now, and been able to form a new relationship with my motherland from a distance. Cyprus is a fascinating place with such a rich heritage that mostly gets overlooked. Its history has many lessons to teach us, and the more I dig into its culture, the more precious material I unearth.

4. How has your identity as a Greek Cypriot influenced the stories you have written?
Being an immigrant lends a person a whole other perspective, not only on the society they’ve become part of, but the one they left behind. Couple that with being bi, I feel destined to be a “betwixt and between” writing about marginalised characters. As a Cypriot growing up with a hard border between North and South, with half my family being refugees, I feel I also inherited some of that feeling of instability; the knowledge that things might change in an instant. My characters tend to be people who do what they can while being at the mercy of “fate” — be it luck, circumstance or bigger powers.

5. Your novel, A Good Year, deals with themes of queerness in Cyprus. How did the writing/research of the novel differ from your debut, Disbanded Kingdom, in this regard, as the latter deals with similar themes but in the UK?
I wrote A Good Year during the first lockdown in 2020 — as you can imagine, research into Cypriot history of the 1920s was near-impossible, let alone the history of queerness! But I knew from my lived experience how hard it must have been for any non-heteronormative identities back then. In my lifetime, gay and bi men were being prescribed testosterone or exorcised by priests, so I could draw on real fear and anxiety to colour in my protagonist. This book’s writing differed greatly from Disbanded Kingdom in that the latter was easier; I could write about contemporary life and queer experience without needing to look them up. Again, I could draw on my own feelings. It’s not as if being queer in the UK is a walk in the park. Our rights are going backwards. In fact, we still have conversion therapy here whereas Cyprus has banned it.

6. Cyprus has changed dramatically throughout its history. As a writer, how have you interpreted this in your work?
I was aware of Aphroditus and their cult, so I liked the idea of ancient queer history resurfacing quite literally in A Good Year, with references to archaeological digs. Where I most explore the changes in my country is in my second novel, The Way It Breaks. Through my cast of characters, I tried to invoke the island’s history, myriad facets and contemporary psyche. I’ve just finished writing my fourth book, which delves deeper into Cyprus’ changing history through a decade-spanning narrative dealing with occult beliefs. As I said, Cyprus is rich and offers a lot of material!

7. There is a great tradition of storytelling in Cypriot culture. Are there any stories you heard growing up that have particularly stuck with you?
Tales of the kalikantzari have stayed with me, and I can’t look at Pentadaktylos without thinking of Akritas grabbing hold of it, or the Ayia Mavri church in Kilani without seeing that rock opening up. I also love the tale of Hilarion, who came from Palestine to defeat the devils in the mountains. I reference that one quite a bit.

8. What advice, writing or otherwise, would you give to young Cypriots today?
Don’t diminish yourself or your motherland. You are more than just one thing or the other. You’re full of riches.

Nicole Mousicos

Picture of Michael Yiakoumi

Michael Yiakoumi

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