Victoria discusses “Cartes Postales from Greece” with Dan Walker and Louise Minchin on BBC Breakfast
Victoria talks to Jane Garvey on Woman’s Hour (BBC Radio 4) about her new book ‘Cartes Postales from Greece‘
You can listen to the chapter featuring Victoria from the Woman’s Hour podcast using the audio player here:
Otherwise, the entire episode of Woman’s Hour is available on BBC iPlayer. Click here to listen.
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.
Victoria Hislop and One Show presenter Alex Jones talk with Harriett Gilbert about their favourite books. Alex Jones has chosen The Girls by Lisa Jewell, while Harriett’s pick is Days of Abandonment by the writer everyone’s talking about, who goes by the pseudonym Elena Ferrante. And what do three women who aren’t keen on Virginia Woolf make of Victoria’s choice, Michael Cunningham’s The Hours?
To listen on BBC iPlayer, click here.
By Emma Harris @Eve_Writer_Emma
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!”
Je vis entre la Grande-Bretagne et la Grèce, où je donne beaucoup de conférences. Aujourd’hui, je parle le grec au point d’en avoir oublié le français que j’ai appris dans ma jeunesse. Cela fait trente ans que je suis tombée amoureuse de cette terre. J’ai une maison en Crète, où je passe le plus clair de l’été. Là-bas, je nage plusieurs fois par jour. Puis je me plonge dans des recherches occasionnées par les divers voyages que je fais dans la région. Bien sûr, je lis aussi beaucoup de romans que je n’ai guère le temps d’ouvrir lorsque je suis à Londres. Prochainement, j’emmènerai avec moi le dernier William Boyd. C’était mon ancien professeur de littérature à Oxford. Nous sommes devenus amis, et j’ai l’habitude de lire chacun de ses ouvrages. Il vient de signer Solo, une nouvelle aventure de James Bond. Parfait pour mes vacances !
Le Festival de flamenco de Londres, qui se déroule chaque année sur la scène du Sadler’s Wells, est l’un de mes rendez-vous préférés. Il s’étire sur trois semaines et permet d’applaudir de grands noms de la danse et de la guitare, comme Sara Baras ou Miguel Poveda. Cet événement est si populaire à présent qu’il faut réserver ses billets bien à l’avance si l’on veut y assister. Les musiques traditionnelles me plaisent. Elles sont une façon de s’imprégner de l’atmosphère d’un pays. Pour mon dernier roman, je n’ai cessé d’en écouter. Cette danse passionnée et libre me parle bien plus que le classique.
Lorsqu’un film me plaît, je n’hésite pas à le revoir. La Grande Bellezza, de Paolo Sorrentino, n’a pas fait exception. Ce film est un vrai festin pour les yeux. D’une manière générale, j’aime le cinéma quand il n’a rien d’hollywoodien. Les happy end, très peu pour moi. Je suis plutôt du genre à aimer La Vie d’Adèle, d’Abdellatif Kechiche, ou Melancholia, de Lars von Trier. Deux chefs-d’œuvre.
J’habite en plein South Kensington, à Londres. Ce quartier regorge de musées. J’aime, par-dessus tout, les expositions d’art contemporain. À la galerie Serpentine, j’ai découvert Adriân Villar Rojas. Son travail s’intitulait Today We Reboot The Planet. Les œuvres de ce plasticien revêtent un caractère organique. Ses ambiances sont presque apocalyptiques. Son regard est celui d’un archéologue imaginant comment les civilisations futures percevront notre génération. Non seulement l’idée est brillante, mais le résultat se révèle d’une grande beauté,
Mes goûts musicaux sont assez éclectiques. Le seule genre qui ne m’attire pas est le rap, que je ne trouve pas très musical. Les paroles dominent trop les morceaux, Tous les jours j’écoute de la musique de discothèque pour faire de la gymnastique. Je n’ai pas trouvé d’autre moyen d’être assidue! Lorsque j’ai envie de chanter, je pense tout de suite à une ballade d’Elton John que je trouve d’une grande douceur : Your Song. Un jour, alors que j’étais invitée sur un plateau de la télévision grecque, on m’a demandé de la chanter. Eh bien, je l’ai fait, et du début à la fin !
La Canadienne Alice Munro me touche beaucoup. Auteure de nouvelles, essentiellement, elle possède une grande maîtrise du tragique, et son style révèle une observation scrupuleuse des comportements humains. Sans chercher à faire pleurer son lectorat, elle le projette dans des récits amorcés de façon abrupte et le rend vulnérable, d’autant qu’elle ne laisse aucune forme d’espoir à ses personnages. Dear Life est l’un de ses recueils les plus subtiles.
Je porte un regard très optimiste sur l’existence et cela rejaillit sous ma plume. L’imagination et surtout la curiosité permettent de visiter toutes les époques de l’Histoire. Cela me passionne. Mes personnages principaux, généralement aux étapes charnières de leur vie, sont sur le point de faire une découverte sur le passé de leur famille et de leurs origines. Il est impossible de trouver le bonheur sans parvenir, à un moment ou un autre, à une véritable compréhension de ce qu’ont vécu nos ancêtres.