Maria Hadjivasili has the easy, relaxed glamour of a successful professional woman in her 50s. Divorced with a grown-up daughter, she runs her own law practice in Nicosia. Our paths first crossed earlier this year when I was on a research trip to Cyprus and I was captivated by her story of an idyllic childhood cut short. Her life followed a completely different path than the one she had imagined in 1974 at the age of 17, before conflict divided her island.
‘I thought I was going to become an artist, get married, have children and have a calm, easy life, going to the beach every day,’ she reflects. ‘But what happened in 1974 totally altered the course of my family’s life.’
Maria grew up in 1960s Famagusta, then one of the most glamorous and sophisticated seaside resorts in the Mediterranean. The beach, with its famously pale sand and turquoise sea, was lined with luxury hotels that attracted millionaires and celebrities such as Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Brigitte Bardot and Paul Newman. Nearly half of the island’s hotel rooms were in the town, which was also home to Cyprus’s main port.
Today, however, glamour and wealth have given way to decay and the main tourist area – a quarter known as Varosha – is an uninhabited ghost town, its port a Turkish military zone, a no-go area fiercely guarded by the Turkish army.
Forty years ago Maria’s home was abandoned when the family fled the invading Turkish forces – sewing was left half-finished on the kitchen table, food abandoned to rot in cupboards, jewellery to languish in drawers and clothes in wardrobes, gardens to overgrow. It was a state of affairs repeated thousands of times over in Famagusta as 40,000 Greek Cypriot residents were forced to flee with only the clothes on their backs. (read the full story at the Mail Online)
40 years ago, the Cypriot town of Famagusta was occupied by Turkish forces. Today it’s capturing media attention once again, as the subject of Victoria Hislop’s new novel, “The Sunrise,” which will be released in Greece on October 22.
“As I was writing my book I felt as if my fingers were wet and I was putting them in the power socket. I felt like the subject was as fresh as it was 40 years ago, like not a day has gone past,” she said in a recent interview with the Greek newspaper “Ὁ Φιλελεύθερος.”
Hislop’s literary inspiration came from the town’s empty buildings. “The Sunrise” marks the first time she has written about a city that she could not even explore, she told “Fileleftheros.” “I traveled to Cyprus many times, I visited Famagusta, stood near the wire and watched the city. I spent some time on the roof of the Turkish-Cypriot mayor’s office in Famagusta and tried to gather as many images as I could.” Ankara denied her request to enter the city’s cordoned off sections.
The author first visited Famagusta in 1978 at the age of 18. “I was travelling by bus. I started from London, went through several former socialist countries and ended up in Turkey. There we took a boat and went to Kyrenia, if I’m not mistaken. For three weeks I was camping. Although it was a carefree trip, it was also very strange. I was looking at a hotel in Famagusta, which looked like a resort, surrounded by beautiful beaches, yet I could not go near it. I could not understand this.” (read more at Greek Reporter)
Her husband may be a very well-known face on TV, but bestselling novelist Victoria Hislop, who visits Woodstock on Monday, is big in Greece. Jaine Blackman reports
The Hislop family is undoubtedly a super-bright one.
Bestselling novelist Victoria and Private Eye editor Ian met at Oxford University, their daughter Emily graduated from the same esteemed establishment and their son William is currently studying history there.
“Ian is much cleverer than I am,” insists Victoria, whose debut 2005 novel The Island has to date sold more than three million copies worldwide, been translated into 31 languages and was made into a hit 26-part Greek TV series, in which both Victoria and Ian had walk-on parts.
The 55-year-old author, who has written four novels and one book of short stories, always gets her husband’s feedback before sending her manuscript to the publisher.
“It takes him about two days to go through it, and at the end of the two days he gives me a tutorial. It’s not problematic. We were at the same university doing the same degree [English] at the same time,” she says.
“Ian is much more intellectual than I am. At university, he used to lend people his essays so they could copy them. He should have rented them out at 50p a go because it would have paid his bar bill.
“I know for a fact that people marking that paper in our finals must have wondered why we were all saying the same thing.
“So I am anxious when I give my manuscript to him, as to what he’s going to find,” she continues. “It’s not very comfortable, because I want serious comment. He doesn’t do a lot of detail, but he gives me feedback which I take in and absorb.”
Thankfully, he didn’t have anything drastic to say about her latest novel, The Sunrise, set in the sunshine resort of Famagusta in Cyprus in 1972, where Greek and Turkish Cypriots live in harmony. It centres on an ambitious couple who open the most glitzy hotel there – The Sunrise – only for prosperity and happiness to be scuppered by the conflict between Turkey and Greece, with devastating effects on both Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities.
Victoria first visited the city on a gap year in 1978, when the war had split the north from the south of the island, only to find that Famagusta – once a thriving city and tourist haven with a myriad of beachfront hotels – was now a ghost town surrounded by barbed wire netting, fencing off the hotels, manned by Turkish armed guards. “We weren’t allowed to go anywhere near the beach, which is the main focal point of the book,” she explains. When she returned years later, nothing had changed.
“It’s the first book I’ve written about a place where you can’t go. The buildings have remained derelict or ransacked. I assume that the rats and the mice don’t bother to go in there, because there can’t be any food left.” (read the full interview here)
Last time best-selling author Victoria Hislop came to Lytham, she really enjoyed it. So the Oxford-educated novelist is looking forward to returning again in less than two weeks’ time, for a meet- and-greet session at Lowther Pavilion, to coincide with the publication of her latest work, The Sunrise.
“It was two or three years ago when I was last in Lytham. “I stayed in a really nice B&B, I can’t remember the name – a boutique style B&B and it was beautiful. Lytham is lovely and I had a great evening, so I’m very much looking forward to coming back.”
She is also looking forward to meeting and talking to fans. “I am hoping there could be a few people come along who will remember the 70s because that was their time and perhaps be able to share some living memories. “The question and answer bit is nice, it’s dynamic, I love to hear from readers and I love them to ask questions. I enjoy that interaction. I like to listen to other people. I’d love to hear from anyone there who has lived in Cyprus, especially during the period in question. Anyone who has memories of the events, that would be really exciting for me.”
The Lowther visit is Victoria’s only northern tour date, so it’s a rare chance to hear her speak about her new book, The Sunrise.
Set in Cyprus in the summer of 1972, it follows the story of an ambitious couple about to open the island’s most spectacular hotel, where Greek and Turkish Cypriots work in harmony. Two neighbouring families, the Georgious and the Ozkansm, are among many who move to Famagusta to escape the years of unrest and ethnic violence elsewhere on the island.
But beneath the city’s facade of glamour and success, tension is building. When a Greek coup plunges the island into chaos, Cyprus faces a disastrous conflict. Turkey invades to protect the Turkish Cypriot minority and Famagusta is shelled. Forty thousand people seize their most precious possessions and flee from the advancing soldiers.
In the deserted city, just two families remain.
Victoria said: “It’s a fictional story, but built on a part of history. Readers of my books hopefully find themselves exploring a piece of history they maybe knew very little about, or perhaps they knew something about but can’t remember or didn’t know in detail. This story is based on the events of the 70s. My other works were set further back in time, in the 40s and 50s.”
Part of the Cypriot city of Famagusta was fenced off by the Turkish army after being captured, in the invasion of 1974. And it still remains in that state today.
The Greek Cypriots who had fled from Varosha were not allowed to return, and journalists are banned. It has been frozen in time with houses, department stores and hotels empty and looted, even tiles on bathroom walls. “This piece of history is still there, just living like this. “There is still a ghost town there in Cyprus. I found it so extraordinary.
“It’s been like that for 40 years and it’s something which is still not resolved. And I think it has relevance at the moment.”
And what about the writing process itself, is it something she enjoyed?
“It would be wrong to say I enjoyed reading about all these terrible things that people have done to each other.
“I had to of course research parts of history and I can’t say I enjoyed reading about those painful events.
“At the end of the work, there’s a little bit of hope and optimism that results. So it was a mixture of pleasure and pain, like a lot of jobs.”
The story of conflict and its consequences of course has great relevance today, with the current troubles in Gaza, Iraq and Ukraine.
“My approach to it, both myself and things that happen in my books, is that these are decision that were made by men.
“But the consequences are not just for men, they are also for women and children.
“I’m not anti-men at all.
“But a lot of people suffered in Cyprus and it wasn’t the fault of women. If women could take charge and rule the world just for a month, it would be interesting to see. Just to see what happens. In the troubled areas of the world, you don’t usually find women in charge. Mrs Thatcher led us into war in the Falklands, but she is the exception. In Cyprus in the 70s, the military was not led by women.”
Victoria, who speaks fluent Greek after having lessons for several years, says foreign climes prove an irresistible draw – and they are where she gets her inspiration.
She said: “I feel very comfortable being a foreigner. I don’t find languages that difficult, I speak Greek, French and bits of Spanish and German.
“I’m starting to write a few things in Greek, one day I may write a novel in Greek and have it translated into English! The first year of learning Greek I spent learning the different alphabet and the grammar is quite complex – each noun has three cases, masculine, feminine or neutral. And sometimes it can quite illogical. But I can now speak pretty fluent Greek. It’s always been travelling which has given me inspiration. But we should always be prepared for surprises.
“One day I might be sitting in London and just have an idea.”
She says the success of her best-selling first book, the 2005 novel The Island, took her by surprise. Not least because of the subject matter.
“Leprosy has always had a stigma attached to it as a disease. There are the awful deformities if it’s left untreated, the physical appearance of people who’ve lost limbs and it’s a condition thought of as having largely gone away – but it still is prevalent today in some parts of the world.”
Victoria became an ambassador for LEPRA, the international leprosy charity, which enabled her to travel to India and see the work it carries out.
And her final words to Fylde coast readers: “People are welcome to come along to Lytham, whether or not they have read my books.
“Hopefully they will come along, have a chat, ask some questions, share any memories. I’d be interested to hear what people think would happen if women ruled the world for a month!”
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