Since May 2013, Victoria has been an official ambassador for UK based, international charity Lepra.
They work on the ground in India, Bangladesh and Mozambique improving the lives of those affected by neglected diseases like leprosy. The organisation has over 90 years’ experience tackling the debilitating disease as well as the associated issues of poverty and prejudice.
Each year nearly 214,000 people are newly diagnosed with leprosy but experts believe there are as many as 3 million people undiagnosed with leprosy. Victoria is working alongside the charity to help raise awareness of the disease so that those missing millions can be found.
Victoria became involved with the charity after doing research on leprosy for her best-selling novel ‘The Island.’ She was able to visit some of Lepra’s overseas projects in India and see just how the ‘forgotten disease,’ as many believe it to be, affects children, women and men.
As Victoria highlights in ‘The Island,’ those who contract the disease are often cast out of society and can be sent to live in ostracised colonies. Leprosy is however curable, but the stigma around it prevents many from coming forward for treatment.
While the stigma and prejudice remains rife in many communities overseas, in the UK it is not commonly known that leprosy still exists and indeed affects the lives of many. Through ‘The Island’ Victoria was able to bring the issue of leprosy back into modern day conversation and has continued to do so by being an ambassador for Lepra.
“It’s remarkable that 600 people around the world each day are diagnosed with leprosy. Lepra is a leading authority on community health programmes in leprosy and the impact of their work is remarkable.” Victoria
Over the past three years she has lent her voice to Lepra driving home their message that leprosy is still around today affecting many and we must find the millions undiagnosed so that fewer face a life of disability and shame.
Sarah Nancollas, Lepra’s chief executive says that this support has made a big difference.
“Over the last few years Victoria has helped us immensely in letting people know that leprosy still exists. Her voice has allowed us to reach more people with our message and ultimately change the lives of many affected by the neglected disease.”
Leprosy is one of the world’s oldest diseases, yet is still a health issue today, with over 200,000 people diagnosed every year. If left untreated, it can lead to nerve damage, blindness and permanent disability. In the 1980s an effective cure became available in the form of multi-drug therapy (MDT).
There is no preventative vaccine and much is still unknown about the disease and why some people are naturally immune while others are not.
Every day 600 people are diagnosed and begin treatment for leprosy. Many of these are already disabled by the time they are diagnosed.
What this means is that today, although entirely curable, millions of people around the world are living with a leprosy-related disability. Many are also subjected to discrimination and social exclusion because they, or members of their families, have had the disease.
Lepra is an international charity fighting disease, poverty and prejudice. The charity focuses on people affected by some of the world’s oldest and most neglected diseases, including leprosy. They ensure not only that health needs are met but support people to improve their lives and livelihoods by tackling the poverty and prejudice too.
As one of the world’s leading authorities on leprosy, the charity Lepra has been at the forefront of prevention, treatment and management of leprosy since 1924.
On average it costs £25 for Lepra to change the life of someone living with the consequences of cured leprosy.
In addition to working with leprosy affected people to fight prejudice and reduce their poverty, Lepra’s past successes mean that governments are now able to deliver simple leprosy services. The charity also publishes academic research on leprosy and promotes sharing of best practice in the field.
Directly reaching more than 279,900 (2015-2016)people per year who are affected by disease, poverty and discrimination, Lepra’s work is just scratching the surface of need. With greater financial support they can do more.
Further information can be found online: www.lepra.org.uk or from Lepra, 28 Middleborough, Colchester, Essex CO1 1TG. Tel: 01206 216700
Registered Charity Number 213251 (England and Wales) SCO39715 (Scotland)
The Island, Victoria Hislop’s internationally bestselling debut novel has been chosen by readers as one of WH Smith’s Best Paperbacks of All Time, joining works as dazzlingly diverse as To Kill a Mockingbird and Pride and Prejudice. You can see a full list of the books chosen by readers here.
WHSmith says of their Best Paperbacks of All Time
Paperbacks offer us a world where we can do things we’d never imagine, meet people who are larger than life and experience events that will change our perspective on life forever. A good paperback reels you in and keeps you gripped until the last page, but a great paperback stays with you long after you’ve put that book down.
Every reader has experienced a book like that, and we like to think that every reader is searching for the next book to leave an impression like that on them. And so we took to Facebook and Twitter to ask our followers for the paperbacks that made an impact on them, the ones that they’re constantly recommending to friends – the best paperbacks of all time.
The results are in, and we received a phenomenal number of votes, including everything from books that ignited your love for reading, to controversial books that changed your view of the world, to beautifully written stories that lingered in your imagination. We’ve counted up the votes and below we have your top 100 paperbacks of all time. Take a look to see if your favourite made the top 100, and browse for the next book that could make an impact on you.
It’s 10 years since Victoria Hislop’s extraordinary debut novel, The Island, was first published. Since then it has gone on to sell millions of copies in 24 languages around the world.
To celebrate we would like to invite Victoria’s fans to join her on Wednesday 16th September for a exclusive event, which will include the only UK screening of the first episode of Το Νησί the hugely successful Greek TV adaptation of the novel.
The £25 ticket price includes a special limited edition hardback of The Island (RRP £30) and a bespoke goody bag.
6pm drinks and popcorn on arrival at Carmelite House
6.30pm only UK screening of the first episode of the smash-hit Greek TV series of THE ISLAND introduced by Victoria herself
8pm Q & A with Victoria accompanied by Greek drinks and nibbles in our stunning rooftop cafe and roof terrace overlooking the Thames with panoramic views of London
Victoria Hislop talks to James Naughtie and readers about her debut novel The Island, a fictional account of a real life leper colony, the island of Spinalonga, just off the coast of Crete. First published in 2005, The Island has now sold over a million copies.
Victoria says that when she first went to Spinalonga, as a curious tourist, she had no idea that leprosy still even existed in the 20th century. She thought it had been wiped out hundreds of years ago. Even today, around 500 new cases are diagnosed every year in India and South America.
Before writing novels Victoria was a successful travel journalist. On that first visit, her initial idea had been to write a piece for one of the Sunday newspapers, but after fifteen minutes wandering around the abandoned village on the island, she decided to tell the story in fiction instead.
The resulting novel tells the story of a family beset by two cases of leprosy in the 1930s and 50s, before the cure was found. In the 1930s, Eleni, a school teacher in the village opposite the leper colony, catches the disease, probably from a pupil. As the pair are exiled to Spinalonga, we see how her husband and two daughters cope in her absence, one of whom will also succumb to the disease some fifteen years later.
Victoria explores the shame and stigma of the disease through these characters and their lives and love affairs in a family saga stretching to present day London.
For Victoria Hislop, falling in love with the Mediterranean was not a slow burn, but something akin to standing under a hairdryer. ‘I remember the aeroplane doors opening,’ she says, ‘and this hot wind unlike anything I’d felt in Britain – this unbelievable warmth.’ She was fourteen years old, and had only known seaside holidays in Bognor Regis or Felpham in West Sussex (‘We used to rent a flat above a shop owned by a man with a glass eye who terrified me, and we’d sit on the beach, cold and wrapped up and feeling uncomfortable.’) But then a friend of the family suggested taking a holiday flat in Malta; trips to Minorca and Athens followed, and there was no looking back: ‘I was so happy – and now I can’t keep away.’
It has been a profitable passion. In the last nine years she has written three bestselling novels set in southern Europe – two of them (The Island and The Thread) about Greece, the other (The Return) about Spain. The Island alone has sold more than two million copies, as well as spawning a 26-part series on Greek television. Part of the proceeds has been spent on a house on Crete which she owns with her husband Ian, the editor of Private Eye, and another substantial portion on the Greek language lessons she has been taking for the past three and a half years.
‘I can’t yet pick up a Greek novel and read it,’ she says, ‘but I can do a live television interview at seven in the morning. For the first few visits to Greece to promote The Island I had a translator, and I hated it: I felt as if everything I said was going through a gauze. Also, there was an elderly man on Crete who was a good friend of mine – someone who’d had leprosy – and I thought, “If I don’t get on with it I’ll never be able to have a proper conversation with him.” He died last year, very sadly, but by the end I could visit him in hospital without anyone else being there, and that was a great reason to have learnt.’
As this story suggests, success has not given Hislop any airs or graces. She radiates cheerful, down-to-earth Britishness, albeit with an overlay of Continental chic. Today she looks formally elegant – simple silver jewellery, bright blue dress, knee-length boots – having come from a memorial service for another celebrated Hellenophile, Patrick Leigh Fermor.
‘There was nothing in Greek,’ she reports, ‘which made me sad. There was so much Greek poetry that he knew and would have loved. My ear was crying out for it.’
For her Spanish novel, she learnt a different kind of language – dance. ‘Granada, where I set The Return, has a very strong flamenco culture,’ she explains. ‘Every lamppost is covered in posters advertising a concert, usually in some dingy basement bar. It’s a really vibrant place: you could never be bored there. It has a huge amount of tradition, and amazing food, and there is a great sense of a city in a landscape. If someone told me I had to spend the rest of my life there, I’d be very contented.’
What draws Hislop as a novelist, however, is the sense that ‘so much is hidden’ beneath the surface of the beautiful places she writes about. In The Island it was the story of a leper colony; in The Return and The Thread, the experience of families divided by civil war. ‘The Return grew out of seeing these elderly people wandering around and thinking to myself, “They lived through all of that, yet there is no monument to the people who died fighting for the Republic. Why not?” Which was very naïve, of course, because Franco was in control for so long, and he was the one who set up the monuments and wrote the history of the Civil War.’
In Greece, when writing The Thread, she found the legacy of internal strife closer to the surface: ‘There’s a lot of talk of “betrayal”. My Greek publisher was worried that I was even alluding to it in the book, because anything to do with the Civil War is like sticking your fingers in an electric socket and standing in a bucket of water – so I wrote it very, very carefully.’
You certainly would not expect the inheritors of such dark histories to be grateful to a foreigner for putting them in the spotlight; but according to Hislop, the response in Greece has been overwhelmingly positive. ‘I get a lot of messages on my website, and they say really nice things – very emotional, because the Greeks can’t hold things back. They’re grateful because I’ve given them detail that they didn’t know, and they’re happy that their story is being delivered to them in a relatively simple form, which is what my novels are: they’re not complex.’
The emails she ignores are those from people encouraging her to use their family stories as material. ‘I think that’s a very dangerous thing to do, and a very dull one,’ she says. ‘Where’s the imagination involved? Every single one of my characters is completely out of my head.’
She feels deeply for the Greeks in their present economic predicament. ‘Owning a house there brings you closer to them: you look at your electricity bill and think, “Oh, there’s a huge great tax that’s been added on.” There are a lot of people who are struggling, and one shares their frustration.’
Might she choose a subject nearer to home for her next book? ‘It definitely won’t be set in Britain, I can tell you that. I remember very little from my English degree except “Drama is conflict” – and there are no such dramatic starting points in British twentieth-century history. Also, I’m slightly afraid of writing about British people: I’m not sure I’d do it very well. With Greece I feel I’ve built up a bank of knowledge – and I’m fascinated by it still.’
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