We were just finishing dinner when we heard the music. It was half past six, a time when, pre children we would have been showering off the sand and pouring a drink before wandering out to sample one of the Ionian Islands’ many gorgeous tavernas. But this year we were a family of four, and our pre-schoolers were not inclined to wait for sunset for their bowl of spaghetti and complimentary ice-cream. As the beat got louder we wiped bolognaise off freckled faces and decided to see where it was coming from.
The stage was down near the beach. By day we had noticed fitness classes taking place there but now the structure had been transformed with disco lights and a full sound system. Small children gathered in front while minders from the hotel’s Kids Club hopped up on stage and began to lead them in complicated looking dances.
And then the strangest thing happened. Our own junior holidaymakers began to sway, and then hop around and dance themselves, their eyes glued to the jolly entertainers. We looked at each other and then at the area just back from the stage which was packed with tables and couples enjoying drinks and adult company. Could we? Would we?
We ordered drinks, all the while ready for one of our children to declare themselves ‘bored’ but the more the entertainers danced the more entranced our two became until soon they had joined the eager bunch at the front of the stage, copying dance moves I had last seen when Top of the Pops was compulsory viewing. We, meanwhile were able to take a seat, close enough to the children so we could see them at all times but removed enough to have an actual adult conversation.
We spent every night at the kids’ disco that year. The boys danced and played with friends and we brought them home afterwards, exhausted, and happy to fall into bed leaving us just enough time to watch something that wasn’t produced by Disney. It was magic and by far the best holiday we had had since become parents almost six years before. Our kids are older now and we watch sunsets together while playing cards in waterside tavernas but I’ve never forgotten that two week break, those amazing entertainers and the couple of hours every evening that reminded us that we, the parents, were entitled to some downtime too.
I was also fascinated by the entertainers themselves. What had led them to that Greek island, where did their energy come from, what did they do in the winter months? And then my mind conjured up a character, a woman in her late twenties who loved her summertime job but was now starting to think about settling down. What if one of the families in the crowd offered her a full time position as a nanny? What if she travelled back to Ireland with them, but then found out they hadn’t been telling her the full truth about their family? What if their house was haunted?
The Belladonna Maze was born.
Sinéad Crowley’s latest novel, The Belladonna Maze (Aria, £18.99), is out on 5 May 2022