Victoria Hislop Meet the Author


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Victoria Hislop

Bestselling author Victoria Hislop talks to Jim Naughtie about her latest novel Cartes Postales from Greece.


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Victoria Hislop has been having a long love affair with Greece

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and her bestselling novels have led her army of readers

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from island to island and into the Greek experience.

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In Cartes Postales, she takes a new step: you see the pictures,

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from the mysterious postcards that begin to arrive one

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by one for Ellie from...

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She knows not by whom at the start.

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And it is the story of a journey of discovery to Greece and its past,

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its culture, its whole history that unravels the secrets of the cards.

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Welcome.

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This is a novel about postcards, or at least it begins

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with the arrival of postcards.

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And we actually see them on the page!

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Now, what made you decide to do that?

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I wanted to give my readers real, live images of Greece.

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When I'm researching I always take a lot of photographs myself,

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so when I'm back in England writing I'm surrounded by them.

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You put them on your wall?

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Desk?

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Put them on the wall!

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I print them out in a very old fashioned way.

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So you're in Greece?

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I am in Greece!

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I thought why can't I share images of Greece

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with the people who read my books?

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Why not?

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The idea for the story...

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Did it come from this notion you wanted to show pictures?

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Yes.

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In other words it was that way round, rather than the other?

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Absolutely.

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It was the starting point.

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And then the idea of postcards as a linking thing, the journey

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of this poor broken hearted man around the country...

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Sending these postcards back, that sort of grew organically out of it.

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In effect it is a mystery story in part, it's also a story

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about loss and inability to manage emotions I suppose.

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You talk about this man, wandering in a sense aimlessly?

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He is.

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And very few people ever have the opportunity

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to go on this aimless...

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In a sense it's aimless, but he needs to recover himself.

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In that case, why is he so interesting to us?

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Why do we care about him?

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I'm glad you do!

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If you didn't you wouldn't finish the book!

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For me I wanted to write about a man experiencing these emotions,

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because I think a lot of books I read written by women tend more

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to explore the woman who's been dumped and y'know...

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How she survives that.

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And I think certainly my hope is that as he moves

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through the months of this journey, we see a change in him.

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I suppose that's the cliche of writing a novel.

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It's a journey revealed to us very slowly.

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Yes.

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It's an emotional journey, a real journey, and the girl receiving

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the postcards he's sending, she begins to follow behind him.

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Piece it together.

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From a great distance.

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Yes.

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Always an alluring thing.

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I'm writing about Greece and I always if I put this man in,

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let's say, Harrogate town centre to start this journey

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to recover his sense of worth...

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Whether he eventually would.

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Maybe I should do it!

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But Greece, to me...

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The landscape that you find in Greece, the people that

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meet and befriend you, there's always something to be

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felt and be learned.

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There have been many novels over the years,

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going back to Lawrence Durrell and famous Captain

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Corelli and so on.

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It's happened before.

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But there is something that draws people in to the history

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and the culture and customs of Greece?

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Yes.

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And actually for me, the 20th century history

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of Greece is so fascinating, complex and full of drama.

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It provides me with endless ideas.

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The book I've just started to write.

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And tragedy, of course.

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Much tragedy.

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Every ten or 15 years in Greece - there's something fairly

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spectacular that happens, whether it's occupation,

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civil war or an earthquake.

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Economic collapse.

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Last but not least!

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And all of these things have a huge effect on the human

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history of a place.

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How a family manages to survive all these catastrophic things

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that take place there.

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Yes.

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It is a story about resilience, in a way?

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It is.

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The Greeks do survive.

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Right now, you think how do people really manage

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on 400, 500 Euros a month?

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What's your answer to that?

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One of the big factors is the importance of the family.

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You're very rarely living 1,000km away from your grandma, aunts.

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The old networks are still there?

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Absolutely.

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And the sadness about what's happening now in the 21st century

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is that so many young people are moving out of Greece

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to find work, find a life.

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So I hope that they will go back eventually, and most

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of the young people who I meet who are Greek, at university,

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or have careers here, actually dream about going back

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to Greece - that everything will get better.

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It's a great tribute in a way to the power of the place?

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I think so.

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It still offers so much that doesn't actually get damaged by the economy.

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What's it given you over the years?

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Great question.

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More or less all my inspiration.

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I can't really step off the plane before I'm thinking

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of an idea for a story.

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Very much inspiration.

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And why do you think that is?

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Is it the richness of the...

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The texture of the place?

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I think, yes.

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This vein of history I feel that I've never really explored,

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even in my own country.

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I think I know more about the history of Greece

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in the 20th century than Britain.

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And the pictures are yours?

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They're taken by a photographer who I travelled with.

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Taken on your own travels?

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Simultaneously with the travels.

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Which was a very exciting way to work.

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Most were images, sites, totally unexpected.

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Most were images, sites, totally unexpected.

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For example, there's a ritual that happens every year

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on the 6th of January, a race to find a cross that's been

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thrown into the sea by a priest.

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And the day that happened, I knew nothing about it.

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So we travelled to somewhere on the west coast of Greece and that

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morning the bells were chiming from 6am till 10.

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So I went down into the town to explore, saw the waterfront

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and people gathered...

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The very first week of January, about 30 young

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men in their speedos, quite a cold day!

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What is this!?

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Then learned all about this tradition, swimming out

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for the cross on the day of the epiphany.

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So all those photos were unexpected, the story was unexpected,

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the mystery I imagined was not something I'd planned.

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But when it came along it seemed perfectly natural?

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Absolutely.

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All the stories, more or less, I wrote the beginnings of them

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in the car as we travelled from one place to another.

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It just came?

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Very much so.

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A source of inspiration, to travel!

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Which is how a story should come about.

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Victoria Hislop, author of Cartes Postales,

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thank you very much.

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Thank you.

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