Victoria discusses “Cartes Postales from Greece” with Dan Walker and Louise Minchin on BBC Breakfast
Listen to an exclusive excerpt from Cartes Postales from Greece read by Dan Stevens
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.
“In my new book, Cartes Postales From Greece, my fictional character makes a journey around Greece and falls in love with the Peloponnese.
In order to write about him, I had to go travelling myself, heading westwards from Athens to this wonderful southernmost part of mainland Greece.
I began in autumn, with plenty of energy to sightsee (this is the perfect season, with the sea staying warm enough to swim in until mid-November) and my travels soon shaped the route that my character Anthony would take and inspired the stories he would tell.
I went where tourists throng as well as to places where they don’t tend to hang around for long.
Sometimes I found myself where they don’t go at all, occasionally because of my terrible map-reading. Mistakes sometimes led to happy discoveries.
For example, crossing mountains on a rough track because I had missed a turning led to the most spectacular views of pine forests and waterfalls I would otherwise have missed.”
(See the original at the Mail on Sunday)
There are many small churches on the island of Andros. This one is almost high enough to be a lighthouse and must be visible to boats for a long way before they come in to the harbour. It is named after Icarus, who in mythology, drowned in the sea close-by.
The mati, the eye: This is a very common symbol in Greece and throughout the Middle-East. In Greece, at baptisms, a ‘mati’ is pinned on to the baby’s clothing (and every guest is given one to wear). This protects the child from evil. Most people in Greece have an eye hanging in their house to protect the house and the family.