Ellie is miserable, but a shaft of Mediterranean sunlight enters her life when she starts receiving a series of Cartes Postales from Greece signed by an anonymous ‘A’. When they stop arriving after six months she decides to go and visit the country. As she sets off, a notebook arrives from ‘A’ telling of his journey through Greece. Ellie’s adventure unfolds alongside A’s, as recounted in the notebook; travelling leads her to discover a country, and also find a desire to live life to the full once more. Here Victoria Hislop talks about her book and her love for Greece.
The title itself drove the development of the book. Very often a title comes last but this time it was very early on. I was travelling with the photographer researching the story and asked him to take a picture of a sunset with a boat. Rather scornfully, he said ‘that’s so “carte postale”’. I realised that this was what was beginning to evolve in the research for the stories – i.e. ideal images (like postcards) – but also another reality – the one that lies behind the ‘picture postcard’. I wanted to show the picturesque as well as the darker side of Greece.
So this took me in the direction of a man’s journey. He is a man who sends a postcard from every destination, but really to taunt the woman who has not accompanied him.
Did anyone fictional or real inspire the mysterious ‘A’ who sends Ellie postcards?
Not really. But so many books are about heartbroken women, and I wanted to find a man’s voice. What does a man feel when a woman spectacularly lets him down? So nobody specific.
Your book contains some lovely photographs by Alexandros Kakolyris, why did you decide to include the pictures?
I have always taken a lot of pictures for myself when I am researching a book and surround myself with them when I am writing – but I suddenly realised that I wanted to share visual images with the reader. Greece is both beautiful and fascinating to look at – and a picture can convey so much more sometimes. However hard you try with words, sometimes a photograph can do a little bit more. I couldn’t use my own photographs in a book as they are just snapshots, so I commissioned a photographer to travel with me to take them.