INTERVIEWS
Victoria’s Hislop Novels Fly Off The Shelves

Interview by Vassilios Nicolaos Vitsilogiannis
(IG: @vassiliosvitsilogiannis)

Victoria Hislop is a British author known for her novels set in Greece. She has a deep love for Greece and often incorporates the country’s rich history and culture into her stories. Hislop’s books have gained international acclaim and have been bestsellers in multiple countries.
One of her most popular novels is “The Island”  published in 2005. It tells the story of a family’s connection to the island of Spinalonga, which was a leper colony in the early 20th century. Hislop’s vivid descriptions of the island and its inhabitants have captivated readers and made the book a favorite among those who enjoy historical fiction.
Another well-known novel by Hislop is "The Return," published in 2008. This book follows the story of a woman named Sonia, who discovers a family secret while on a trip to her ancestral homeland in Greece. The narrative explores the repercussions of the Greek Civil War and the impact it had on families and communities.
Hislop has continued to write novels set in Greece, such as “The Thread” (2011), “The Sunrise”
(2014), and “Cartes Postales from Greece” (2016). These books showcase different aspects of Greek history and culture, ranging from the tumultuous events of World War II to the present- day lives of people in Greece.

Victoria Hislop’s novels often highlight the beauty of Greece, its rich mythology, and the resilience of its people. Her works appeal to readers who have an interest in Greece or enjoy engaging with historical fiction that immerses them in a particular time and place.

How far back do you remember of your childhood? Do you have good memories?

I have very clear memories of childhood – my earliest memory is from when I was in a “cot” – the bed with bars that babies used to sleep in until around two years old. I recall standing up and trying to move the curtain – and I knew it was still light outside. I think I can recall feelings and emotions very easily – and it has always been a joke in my family that I connect memories with what I was wearing at that moment. I do distinctly remember the sense of innocence that I had as a child and how beautiful that was. Generally, I recall my childhood with very positive memories – even though the family’s circumstances were not easy or luxurious there was a lot of love.

What was the life-changing experience that made you decide to pursue a writing career?

I always loved writing, from a very early age. Writing and reading were my favourite activities. I inherited my grandfather’s typewriter (I still have it) and used to play on it. He and all my uncles were journalists so I thought that it was a nice job – and I eventually became a journalist after university.
But my transition to writing fiction came at a very specific moment – it was when I visited the island of Spinalonga in 2001. It had a very powerful effect on me. I wanted to describe it and the lives of the people who lived there but not in a purely historical/factual way. I wanted to describe feelings and atmospheres – and this led me to write with my imagination and to write my first novel, The Island.

Which of your novels is the closest to your heart?

The Island was the first, but all the novels I have written subsequently are equally close to my heart. With all of them, I immerse myself totally in the subject matter and do two years of research even before writing them. Then in developing the characters, I get even closer to the emotional heart of the subject – so every book I write plays a significant role in my life and I think of them like my children – I love them totally equally!

When was the first time you fell in love with Greece? What are your feelings about the country and how often do you visit?

I visited for the first time when I was 17, in 1977. It was love at first sight. I remember the heat, the shimmering blue sky, the generally chaotic nature of Greece back then. I spent a week in Athens with my mother and sister and then went to Paros – where we swam in the Aegean and ate watermelon. Everything was beautiful and exotic for me.
I still love Greece after all that time – if anything even more as time goes on. I come to Greece every month – so I have seen it in all its seasons, through its trials and tribulations – and every landscape – from mountains to the sea, from mainland to islands – and I have never had a dull day in Greece. It’s always interesting, challenging, stimulating – both the people, the politics and the places.

In 2020, you were granted honorary Greek citizenship for promoting modern Greek history and culture. How do you feel about that?

It was one of the greatest gifts I have ever received. I am thrilled to be a Greek citizen – and it feels a huge privilege. My identity card is one of my most precious possessions. And whatever I do to promote Greece is still done very freely and voluntarily – and with huge pleasure!

What is the hardest thing about developing a novel?

For me, one of the hardest things is all the time I have to spend alone and in solitude. If you aren’t prepared to do that, then you can’t write a novel. It requires days and days of sitting in a room in silence (or with music). Sometimes at the end of it, I look round and I have to find my friends again. So yes, being alone is fine – I am happy in my own company – but I love being with people. My favourite environment (apart from the sea) is a party!

What’s your next destination you want to travel to as a priority and write about it?

Right now, I am at the end of writing my new novel and summer is just beginning, so I can’t think of anywhere I want to go apart from Crete! But there are three islands I am very keen to visit afterwards (I have counted – I have visited 50 so far) and the ones I still want to see for the first time are Karpathos, Amorgos and Astypalia islands.

How important is family and how important a role do they play when you are writing new novels?

Family is very important to me and they are very supportive of my work. My husband has made me a million cups of tea while I have written this novel! My daughter (32 years old) is the first person to read a draft when I finish a book and to make her comments. She is a brilliant editor and critic – and I always respect what she tells me.

What’s your perspective in supporting the campaign for the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece?

This is a campaign that has been running for a few decades now, and everyone who supports it knows that it requires patience. Without constant raising of our voices to make ourselves heard, then the British Museum will never do the right thing. Public opinion is gradually changing in Britain – and this is all part of the continuing repetition of the message – that Elgin did not legally acquire these sculptures. It was a crime.
I am confident that they will return to Athens eventually – because the tide of pressure to do so will be irresistible. Almost every big museum is recognising that cultural artefacts that were seized during times of colonial rule should be returned. The British Museum will eventually do the right thing.

What two words would you use to describe Victoria?

Curious and optimistic.

How seriously do you take all the things occurring around us in the world today?

What a brilliant question. I think the world is in the worst mess it has ever been – certainly during my lifetime. Politically and environmentally, it seems right on the edge and on a path to self-destruction. I remain aware of that, and try to do my small part where I can and within reason (though in some respects, I know I compromise). I believe that occasionally, you have to distance yourself from the horrors going on in the world, otherwise, you go mad/have nightmares. The only way I can manage it – is to enjoy all the small things happening close to me. An example, my friend has just had a baby. I say how wonderful, how miraculous new life is, let’s celebrate.

The alternative reaction could be: “How awful, why did you bring a child into this terrible world?

By the time he is fifty, there will be no water on the planet, and even one new child means more pressure on the world’s resources!”

So that’s what I mean, we have to stay sane, stay balanced, stay healthy in our minds. I will never be one of those people who reacts negatively to a new child. You have to balance the emotional with the rational in my view and try and remain positive.

What is your wish for the new generations to come?

Everyone on this planet is equal. Treat them that way. Be kind. Be balanced. Be well.

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