About The Author
Victoria Hislop read English at Oxford and worked in publishing, PR and as a journalist before becoming a novelist. She is married to Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye, with whom she has two children. The Hislop family now owns a home on Crete, where Victoria retreats to write.
Her first novel, The Island, depicted a woman's holiday to Crete, where she was born, her discovery of of the former leper colony of Spinalonga and the tragic secrets of her family.
The book was stayed at number one on the Sunday Times paperback charts for eight weeks and has now sold over 2m copies worldwide. Victoria was voted Newcomer of the Year at the Galaxy British Book Awards and a 26-part Greek television production of the novel is the most popular Greek television programme ever.
Her second novel, The Return, is set amidst the brutality of Franco's fascist regime, focusing on the divided loyalties that tear one family apart. The book was also a Sunday Times number one bestseller.
In 2011 she released an ebook of five previously published short stories, One Cretan Evening; this also features the opening of her new novel, The Thread.
The Thread is set in Thessaloniki and follows the slow-burning romance between Katerina and Dimitri, the former a poor refugee from Asia Minor, the latter the son of a wealthy textile merchant. While Katerina supports her family as an expert seamstress, Dimitri angers his father by siding with the resistance against the occupying German forces in World War II, as the city, once devatsted by fire, is torn apart by the Nazi's persecution of its thriving Jewish community.
In this exclusive interview for Foyles, Victoria talks about how learning to speak Greek helped her to develop her characters, the morality of greed and why her Greek readers don't think of her as a 'beach read'.
Below the interview is a list of titles by Victoria Hislop currently in print in the UK. You may find other editions in our 'New and Used' section by typing the author's name into the Search field at the top of this page and selecting the 'Author Exact' filter to the far right of the Search field.
Questions & Answers
In the prologue to the book, young Dimitri assists a blind man who explains that he still retains a very clear image of Thessaloniki harbour. Does this mirror your role as a novelist of creating images in the mind of the reader?
Would you believe I haven't considered this before - but it's a really perceptive question! And yes, I would like to think that's what a novelist's role is. I thought of the blind man as someone who could sense the atmospheric traces of past events, but more broadly I hope, as a novelist, I could do the same.
Dmitri is appalled that his father, a prosperous businessman, is a willing collaborator with Greece's Nazi occupiers. Do you feel that Konstantinos is fundamentally an immoral man or a man misled by his business instincts?
I think he is probably an immoral man - or perhaps even ammoral. Yes, he is led by his desire for money, but ultimately he does not enjoy the fruits of his success or the things that his money buys. He is one of those people (and I think there are many) for whom the competition, the hunt, the challenge is the enjoyable part. I think if we said he is "misled" then that would be too sympathetic a description. I think his fundamental misanthropy makes him a very dangerous individual and yes, definitely immoral.
Katerina's loveless marriage to a wealthy and unscrupulous businessman stands in the way of her love for Dimitri, so she hastens his end in an unconventional way. How can we judge Katerina's actions in the context of the widespread cruelty she witnessed during World War II and Greece's subsequent civil conflict?
I think it's up to the reader how they interpret Katerina's actions. I think they will know my own view of how she behaves from the context. What she is doing is simply allowing him to pursue his greed, so he hastens his own destiny. Gourgouris' greed for food is the same greed that has made him behave as he has against the Jews - I think he was probably less anti-semitic than purely greedy for a bigger shop. So his demise is really of his own making....
As you depict it, Thessaloniki's Jewish population was almost wiped out by the Nazis. Do many traces of their society remain in the city?
Very few, I am afraid. Many people I meet are surprised to find out that there was ever a Jewish population there at all. There is one synagogue, the superb and incredibly sad but beautifully assembled museum (in Agia Mina street), a monument to the Jews who perished (in Eleftheria Square) and I think perhaps some of the tailors still have Jewish origins.
All three of your novels juxtapose very personal stories with explorations of the history of places. Does this wider narrative tend to shape your storylines or does it simply provide a context for the reader to understand your characters?
The history very much comes first. This is my starting point - and with all three novels it has taken me about two years to explore the background before writing the story itself. Once I think I have a grasp of what happened (and I am not a historian by any means, so I am usually starting from scratch) I ask the questions that then begin to shape the story "How would that have felt?" "What would it have been like to experience that?" "How did people survive such things?" "What were the implications for women? For families?"
Since you wrote The Island, you've become fluent in Greek. Did this have an impact on the way you researched the background for this book?
With many Greek friends now, and the chance to observe the Greeks at close quarters I think this has had an effect on my portrayal of characters but speaking Greek did not comprise a formal part of my research. As with the other books, I have deliberately not based any of the characters on real figures - and alas my Greek is still not good enough to read Greek histories or archives. All my reading was done in the British Library and the London Library.
You were principally a travel writer before you started writing novels. Was the impulse to turn to fiction driven by a need to say more about the places you've visited? And are there other places you've visited that appeal as places in which to set future books?
Yes - I think it was - I felt there was so much to say about places that could not be contained in 1200-word pieces. And never having studied history, I selfishly thought it was time to find more out about the past for myself, and perhaps to explore some slightly lost or less well known aspects of those events. I am sure there will be other places - but I don't know where they are yet! With all three novels to date, the trigger for my interest has been unexpected, a surprise. So I don't yet know where or if there will be another unexpected moment of inspiration... I hope there will be one.
Your first novel, The Island, was success a in many countries aside from the UK, but most particularly in Greece. Have you noticed a difference in the way the British and Greek readers responded to the book?
The Greeks find it very strange that in the UK I am described as a beach read. They regard that as rather belittling - but as they would ever in a million summers bother to read a book on a beach so that might explain why. But they respond similarly - in a very emotional way. I have met people in Greece who have read it three or four times, they are quite fanatical about it... which is very nice but sometimes a bit disconcerting.
You turned down bids for the film rights of The Island in favour of a proposal for a 26-part Greek television series. Could you ever envisage a Hollywood version of any of your books?
I hope one day that The Island will be made into a film. Possibly not a Hollywood film. I still get film offers - I had a couple only last week - but it will have to be the right one and I will need to feel that the story of those people effectively imprisoned through no fault of their own will be treated sensitively. Potentially it could be sensationalised, and I suppose that's not what I want. But yes, in my dreams, it will happen.
And The Return and The Thread are possibly "filmic" - but that's not why I write novels - I write novels because the imagination is the most powerful force perhaps in the universe. A book is a thing in itself. It stands alone. Even though I would quite like to meet George Clooney, the red carpet fantasy is not really one that I have!
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