The Magical Café of Symi Island: Interview with Thalia Laughlin

five copies of the book laying next to each other on a big piece of rock
© Thalia Laughlin

My name is Thalia Laughlin and I have been living nomadically for the past few years. My background is in music, but I am also a published author, passionate about the intersection of art, literature and pedagogy. I arrived in Symi by chance and, like so many other people before me, fell in love. Together with my partner Mark Christou, we decided to write a children’s book to capture the magic of Symi. We specifically designed this book to ignite the creative spark in children and promote emotional intelligence through storytelling.

1. What inspired you to set your book on the island of Symi?

Arriving to Symi for the first time along my travels, I was instantly enveloped in a tight-knit community where warmth and hospitality were woven into every interaction. From friendly greetings to shared laughter, the island exuded a sense of camaraderie that made me feel instantly at home. Like so many others before me, I was immediately in awe of Symi's natural beauty and its sense of community, which became the main inspiration for “The Magical Café of Symi Island.” We have tried to recreate the magic of Symi but in a way that children can understand it.

2. Can you give us a glimpse into the world you've created within this Greek island setting? What are some of the key locations or landmarks that play a role in the story?

What really makes the island unique are the people: the warm welcome by the shop owners, the fishermen, the café owners, and the Yiayias and Papous who are always willing to lovingly share the history of their island. In Symi, coffee shops take a central place in daily social life: it is in cafés that business meetings occur, that old and new friends meet, that important events happen. It is in coffee shops that everyone sits for hours, watching the world go by. And so many of the coffee shop owners in Symi share their warmth and positivity through every cup of coffee. In “The Magical Café of Symi Island,” Maroula does exactly this with every visitor who walks through her doors and it is through these interactions that young readers are introduced to Greek culture, food, friendship, and the magic of international discovery.

3. Are there any particular challenges or joys you experienced while crafting a story set in such a unique and picturesque location?

One of our biggest joys in publishing “The Magical Café of Symi Island” was seeing it in the hands of children and adults who know Symi well—either because they are from there or because they often visit—and who found delight in trying to recognize places from the island in the book, likening some of the book’s characters to real people living in Symi. This is the first book written for children about Symi and the momentum it has created both on the island but also throughout Greece and internationally has been heartwarming and very exciting.

4. Illustrations can be a powerful way to bring a setting to life. Can you tell us about the illustrator's contributions to capturing the essence of Symi in your book?

The illustrations were particularly fun to create because they were made using Midjourney which is a software that uses artificial intelligence to create illustrations based on prompts. Visually, Symi itself is so colourful in real life that the software created very realistic and vibrant illustrations of the island.

THALIA LAUGHLIN | The Magical Café of Symi Island

view of small seaside village with fishing boats in light green waters

© Thalia Laughlin

hand holding the book in front of a nice view of a village

© Thalia Laughlin

one of the authors holidng the book proudly

© Thalia Laughlin

rocks formation in light green water, sea

© Thalia Laughlin

Small seaside village and small boats in the water

© Thalia Laughlin

the authors of the book (a man and a woman) riding a scooter with shopping bags and a small dog

© Thalia Laughlin

tree branches

© Thalia Laughlin