By Chrissie Flint
MENTION ‘books about life in Cyprus’ and the titles to be listed will definitely include those by Sheila Hawkins – each one beautifully illustrated with detailed line drawings by her artist husband, Harry. Over the years, the couple regularly attended charity functions in the Paphos area either for book signings or for Harry to play the trumpet with his musical pals and their appearance would always attract a huge response. In recent months, the couple spent time quietly at home and then the hospice in Paphos as Sheila’s health deteriorated and sadly, last Saturday evening, (February 22) she died.
Her legacy is huge as she is so well known for her amusing trilogy of books that tell the story of how she and Harry, settled in ‘the back of beyond’ when Harry retired from the Royal Air Force. Born in Devon, the daughter of a Police detective, on leaving school, Sheila had trained as a swimming instructor, teaching swimming in schools and local sports centres. She met and married Harry, a young Flying Officer and in 1971 they had been posted to Episkopi and had fallen in love with the island.
In 1980, to their delight, they had been posted back to Cyprus and during that posting had bought some land in Neo Chorion. When they returned to the UK and Strike Command in High Wycombe they were both homesick for the island they had grown to love, so Harry took early retirement and they returned to enjoy their retirement in Cyprus.
They built their house on the outskirts of Neo Chorion near Latchi, and Sheila delighted their family and friends with amusing anecdotes about village life and the various problems they had encountered as they had designed their house with its spectacular views over the Bay of Chrysochou and worked alongside local builders and craftsmen to complete it. Everyone urged Sheila to write down her stories for others to enjoy, as she was a natural storyteller. In 1995 her first book The Back of Beyond, was published and to her surprise became a best seller. The biography proved popular with all ages, written in her relaxed style, which was full of her warm Devonshire humour and observations of village life and an accounts of the trials and tribulations that confronted her and her Harry when they swapped a busy Service life for a future in a small rural community on the fringes of the beautiful Akamas with its wealth of wildlife which she described perfectly in her books.
Sheila wrote two more books in quick succession, Beyond Our Dreams and Beyond Compare, each beautifully illustrated by Harry. For many years, she also had a regular column in The Sunday Mail and her writing had a huge impact on holidaymakers and residents alike as her tales were ones that her readers could relate to. Each week she received letters from people all over the world who had enjoyed her writing.
In 2000 she was one of ten finalists in the Woman & Home short story competition with Fragments of Dreams and this success was the ideal incentive for Sheila to finish work on her first novel Once Upon A Time, a collection of 16 fictional short stories, in which Sheila captures the quintessence of the island and the traditional life in the rural Cyprus of yesterday – before the 1974 Turkish Invasion indelibly scarred the Island. Her fifth book- Anthology from the Akamas (2002) is a collection of the articles that were published in the Sunday Mail. More recently, Sheila‘s voice proved perfect for the ‘talking book’ version of Back of Beyond and to her delight, a few years ago, the three books in her trilogy became available on Kindle.
Over the years the couple’s sitting room became a gallery for Harry’s work. As demand increased for his paintings and drawings the couple decided to build a gallery at the side of the studio which they opened to the public. As well as original works in acrylics, pen and ink and line and wash, there is a range of colourful prints as well as packs of notelets and drink coasters – all bearing Harry’s distinctive work.
The couple embraced village life wholeheartedly and some years ago were baptised into the Orthodox Church in the tiny chapel of Ayios Minas. They could often be seen wandering in nearby Latchi harbour photographing boats and fishing nets or heading off to an isolated chapel for Harry to capture on canvas and Shelia regularly headed down to the coast for an early morning swim or to sit on the rocks and draw inspiration from the beauty around her.
Last Sunday, Sheila’s funeral was held in the village, attended by Harry and their children Jeremy and Karen and many friends and local residents and one elderly fisherman remarked: ‘our village will just not be the same without Mrs Sheila’…..