Now published in Greek, Phil Kafcaloudes’ novel Someone Else’s War, is the story of his grandmother: a brave woman, a spy, and a British war agent

Olga’s War

Olga's War

Greek women take up arms

Greek women take up arms during the war. Picture: Archive News Ltd Source: The Australian

It was in 1988, when, for the first time, Phil Kafcaloudes started writing the story of his maternal grandmother, Olga Stambolis. A busy life style and frequent trips as an ABC journalist, broadcaster and radio presenter, had stopped him, as he says, from full time writing. But, Olga waited patiently on his shoulder for her story to be told.
And she has never left. In 2002, Phil wrote the original draft of what became a successful novel, Someone Else’s War, published in Australia in August 2011. Whilst working on the book, the author approached everyone alive who knew Olga. His mum and aunties, Olga’s children, all participated in long workshops, telling him the stories they remembered.
“There were times when I was living in Blue Mountains, when I was sitting at the desk and writing, and almost felt someone slapped me across the head and said – ‘don’t put that down, it’s wrong’. And it was like Olga was there,” Phil tells Neos Kosmos.
Now, based on true events, the story of a brave woman, mother, spy and British agent in WWII, Olga Stambolis, is finally being told in Greek.
A few days before Christmas, the book Olga’s War was published in Greece, by Psichogios publications.
It was Cathy Alexopoulos, the President of the Greek-Australian Cultural League, who after the launch of the book in Australia suggested sending it to a publisher in Greece. Only one month later, Phil was notified about the publisher’s positive decision. The title has been changed to something shorter and clearer: Olga’s War.
“They changed the cover design as well, to what they thought would appeal to the Greek audience,” Phil says.
The Greek edition of the book is also richer for one photo, the wedding photo of Olga and her husband. The reason why the photo was not included in the English edition of the book, was an unexpected meeting that happened on the day the book was launched by Bob Karr, in Sydney, September, 2011.
“On the day, a man came up to me, and asked ‘Are you Phil Kafcaloudes? My wife grew up with your grandmother’. And then, from his pocket, he took out the wedding photograph that no one in the family has ever seen,” explains Phil.
One or two sequels about Olga’s life could be Phil Kafcaloudes’ next projects. The first would deal with Olga’s life in Greece after the war, when she worked for the US ambassador. The third book would bring her back home, to Sydney.
“What happens is that this book ends in 1943, when Olga had to get out of Greece. But from this point onwards, I know very little about what she did. Except that after the war, she worked for the American ambassador, and this was during the whole communist loyalist conquest, the civil war,” Phil says.
Writing a book about his maternal grandmother, involved four trips to Greece and to the war records office of the British government. Even though the English version was published almost two years ago, Phil talks about the Greek edition with enormous enthusiasm. He wants to market the book widely, believing that the more people who know about these stories that haven’t been told before – the better.
“I want the world to know what went on. I’m glad that through this book we became acquainted, Olga and I, because I didn’t know her. She died when I was a baby.
“It’s the thing about the Greek war that hasn’t been told. So many Greeks lost their lives helping the British that were there, in Crete, Athens… All these people died, but yet everyone is talking about what happened in France, Russia, Singapore… Nobody, outside of Greece, seems to talk about what happened in the Greek war. Those were amazing stories of bravery. Olga was brave, but in a way, she didn’t have that much to lose, except her life, as her family was in Australia. Her kids were on safe. Every Greek that helped Olga, and worked with her on the escape line, they had families that could be killed if they got caught. They were the really brave ones.”
The character of Olga was based on oral history, and documents of where she worked and what she owned. Important facts were woven into the narrative. Also, the author created Olga’s character on the basis of a resemblance with one of his aunties. When Olga’s daughter, and Phil’s mother Nellie, read the book, she said: “You have got it exactly the way she spoke”.
“I started with an ego thing – I want to be an author – and I wanted to tell a story about my family. But as I moved on, things moved away from that. It wasn’t about my family anymore. It’s a tribute to Olga, and not just her, but to all those who never had their story told, those Greeks who were killed by the Nazis. Those Greeks who worked hard. These stories happened 70 years ago. If they aren’t told now, the story dies and they die, and that’s just wrong,” Phil says.
“For me, it will be a joining together – the Greek population here, and there, in Greece”.
The Greek diaspora in Australia are not the only readers that are living Olga’s life through Kafcaloudes’ book. Greek Americans from Michigan, USA, contact Phil regularly – every week – to express their gratitude for sharing a story that many of their parents and grandparents went through, but was rarely told.
The book made Phil Kafcaloudes a better journalist, and a better radio and TV writer, he admits.
“What they have in common is storytelling,” he explains. “People read the story and start to see it in their eyes, and they just can’t stop reading it. It reads like a film script.”
With great faith in his Greek publisher, who saw the potential in Kafcaloudes’ book, the author expects there will be a market in Greece who want to read the novel. But most of all, he emphasizes how proud he is that there are people in Greece, like the publisher Psichogios, “who are willing to invest in an author, unknown to them, even in this difficult period that the country is going through”.

Phil’s next big plan is to get the book adapted to a film. Even though it’s still in an early development stage, a Hollywood director is already looking into it. Phil is keen on George Miller, well-known Greek Australian film director, to bring Olga’s story to the screen.
*Someone Else’s War (English) and Olga’s War (Greek) are available on eBook

Someone Else’s War

Phil Kafcaloudes

$29.95

 

With daughters Freda (top…

Olga the young bohemian (…

Olga in an acting troupe …

Olga’s husband, Michael S…

The shy teenager about to…

Olga and her Mother Hadji…

Olga the new mother with …

Olga in training (Greece …

Speaking at the launch in…

With my producer and good…

With ‘Uncle’ Bob Sessions…

During the signing at Rea…

 

  

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