Meet Eleni Kyriacou Author of She Came To Stay

Imagine travelling alone to begin a new life in a foreign country - that's what Dina does, the protagonist of the Eleni Kyriacou's historical thriller She Came To Stay. Eleni kindly spoke to us about how her Greek Cypriot heritage influenced the novel, trying to write during Covid-19 lockdown and the foggy, dangerous streets of 1950s Soho ...

She Came To Stay (Hodder & Stoughton) is published in paperback on 25th February. Download the ebook from Amazon or buy the paperback from Thriller Women's list at Bookshop.orgNB: if you buy books through this link we may earn a commission from, whose fees support independent bookshops.

Book cover of She Came To Stay By Eleni Kyriacou

TW: You’ve had a very successful career in magazine journalism. Why did you want to make the move to writing fiction and how different are the two skills?

EK: For years I thought, ‘Oh I’d love to write a book’ but then did nothing about it. (Although, in my twenties, I tried writing a Mills & Boon with a friend but gave up very quickly when we realised it was too difficult and we perhaps weren’t the best people to write romantic fiction as we rarely read it.)

Then I had children and wanted to have something that was just for me, rather than about the boys or being a mum, so I took an Open University course in creative writing. That’s when I realised how much I loved writing fiction.

I’ve really enjoyed being a journalist and editor, but had been doing it for years and got a bit bored. Having those skills certainly helps with research, grammar, deadlines and so on but writing fiction is so different. It’s not a given that if you’re good at one thing you’ll be good at the other.

TW: You entered She Came To Stay into Hachette’s Future Bookshelf open submission contest. What happened next in your journey to becoming a published author?

EK:There was soooo much waiting! I just continued redrafting, trying to make it better in the early mornings and weekends. I was also doing shifts in magazine offices and writing freelance features. Then Hachette asked to see the completed book (they’d only had three chapters). So I sent it and waited again. About a year after first entering, I heard that an editor at Hodder had read it all, loved it, pitched it to her team and they wanted to publish it. It was so unexpected I just stared at the email and carried on as normal for a few hours before it really hit home.

I was then advised by Hachette that I might want to get an agent on board. I had already submitted to the Good Literary Agency, so contacted them, told them what had happened and within a few days had met and been offered representation.

TW: How did your Greek Cypriot heritage inspire the novel? 

EK: It’s everything really. For years I didn’t know what to write about, but all the stories/ passages I wrote came back to one thing – being an outsider. I’ve always been interested in my parents’ history and started to wonder what it might have been like to come here as a 25-year-old woman, alone, and try and make a life. Then I thought…but what if you fell in with the wrong people?

TW: She Came To Stay is set in the early 1950s in London, where Dina moves to from Cyprus. What research did you do for the period - the London fog is almost a character in itself – and what did you find hardest about setting the scene?

EK: The first-hand stories that my parents and auntie told me are the basis for the feel of the book, and helped create the atmosphere. I also read everything I could find on Soho, London in the 1950s (fiction and non-fiction), watched films, YouTube videos of the fog in ’52, listened to the music, read the newspapers – anything really that would mean I didn’t have to start writing the damn thing!

I decided to include the fog by chance. Whilst researching I read about this five-day period when London came to a standstill because of the toxic smog. Everything shut down and crime soared. What a great setting for the climax of a thriller.

The most difficult thing was making sure the dialogue felt real for both the 50s and for my immigrant characters who don’t have much English.

TW: The novel crosses genres, being part crime, part thriller, part examination of identity and relationships as well as of course being historical fiction. How did you manage to pack in all these themes and strands and which was the most fun part for you to write?

EK: It started as a story about female friendship, but my reading/ viewing tastes are quite dark so it wasn’t long before it became a mystery. Then I realised I needed to up the stakes so it became a thriller. I don’t know how I got all those strands into the story to be honest – the fact I wrote it over a number of years probably helped. As far as which part I enjoyed the most, probably the scenes in the cocktail bars when Dina and Bebba’s friendship is a shiny new thing. They’re so glamorous and full of hope and poor Dina doesn’t have a clue what’s about to happen. That said, I also loved the scenes when the two women, along with Dina’s brother, Peter, are holed up in the flat and it all turns nasty.

TW: What’s your writing routine?

EK: Pre-Covid, I’d get up, jump on the tube and write in the British Library most days, sometimes by myself, occasionally with a writing friend. Or in a local café. I like to have people around me when I work. Now of course I’m at home so I’m doing everything from my living room with my husband at the other end of the table working too. I just plug into music when he’s on calls. I usually plan the next day’s work the night before as it helps me get started without distractions. I don’t always stick to it, but a plan stops me feeling panicky. It helps me kid myself that I’m in control.

TW: What’s your next book about and have you suffered from 'second book syndrome'?

EK: Yes to second book syndrome – it feels daunting to have to do it all again, though it’s also heartening to think that it’s achievable. I have a cup that a friend had made for me with the cover of She Came To Stay on it. I use it every day to remind myself that I can and have done this before and will do it again. My next book is also set in the 1950s and inspired by a true crime. It’s quite a lot darker but I can’t say any more just yet. But there’s also a bit of glamour (one of the settings is the Café de Paris).

TW: What have you most loved about your change of career and seeing your novel in print?

EK: I love the idea that someone I don’t know is reading Dina’s story and trying to decide who she should trust and who to believe. I’ve really enjoyed creating this other world of glamour and grit and transporting people there. We all need a bit of escapism – even if it is to the foggy, dangerous streets of Soho.

Quick fire questions:

TW: London or Larnaca?

EK: London always. I love Cyprus but I was born in the UK and feel more at home here.

TW: Early to rise or late to bed?

EK: Can’t I do both? When I’m on deadline I have been known to get up stupidly early because I can’t sleep, and start working. Of course I crash and burn by 3pm.

TW: Favourite novel of 2020?

EK: The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. But last year I also loved The Silence by Susan Allott and The Cat and The City by Nick Bradley.

TW: The book you wish you’d written?

TW: The Ripley books by Patricia Highsmith or Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. For a contemporary choice, anything by Sarah Waters (but especially The Night Watch and Fingersmith). 

Thanks Eleni!

Photo of Eleni Kyriacou Author of She Came To Stay

FB, Insta, Twitter: @elenikwriter

More about She Came To Stay:

In a city of strangers, who can you trust?

London, 1952. Dina Demetriou has travelled from Cyprus for a better life. She's certain that excitement, adventure and opportunity are out there, waiting - if only she knew where to look.

Her passion for clothes and flair for sewing land her a job repairing the glittering costumes at the notorious Pelican Revue. It's here that she befriends the mysterious and beautiful Bebba.

With her bleached-blonde hair and an appetite for mischief, Bebba is like no Greek Dina has ever met before. She guides Dina around the fashionable shops, bars and clubs of Soho, and Dina finally feels life has begun.

But Bebba has a secret. And as thick smog brings the city to a standstill, the truth emerges with devastating results. Dina's new life now hangs by a thread. What will be left when the fog finally clears? And will Dina be willing to risk everything to protect her future?


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