‘Cartes Postales from Greece’ by Victoria Hislop takes readers across the modern-day mainland with heartening romance.
By: Alexia Amvrazi
Victoria Hislop finds fame
Victoria Hislop catapulted to world fame with her first book The Island, which centered upon a community inhabiting a tiny Cretan village across Spinalonga island during the tragic outbreak of leprosy in the early 1900s. In her second successful novel, The Return, her readers traveled to 1930s Granada during the devastating Spanish Civil War. Next came The Thread, set in the northern Greek capital of Thessaloniki, followed by One Cretan Evening And Other Stories, and The Sunrise, the latter which was set in Cyprus. Victoria’s most recent book, Cartes Postales From Greece, are a series of stories wrapped within an odyssey experienced by a heartbroken Englishman, as he travels around the mainland in search of himself. The book was illustrated by photographs that were shot during trips Victoria made with the photographer. They poignantly reflects the ageless beauty, inspired individuals, and untouchable traditions of Greece, as much as the gritty social consequences of the painstaking realities faced in a crisis-slammed nation.
‘Cartes Postales’ provided an excellent opportunity for the author to discover even more of the country she loves so much, with stories set in Athens, Andros, Ikaria, Preveza, Meteora and Delphi. Her close cooperation with photographer Alexandros Kakolyris was very much a create-as-you-go experience, which probably explains the unique style and fresh perspective one gains from reading the various stories, tales that constantly move one between fiction and reality.
“For the first time with Cartes Postales – I did a lot of writing while I was actually on the move. The journeys I made for research took me all round the country and the inspiration for different parts of the book came very easily. I couldn’t wait to write all my ideas down, so I was continually with a pencil in my hand.”
Love At First Sight
Victoria’s love affair with Greece is by now well-known. Ever since first visiting the country with her mother and sister as a teenager, she has been enamored by the country and has never stopped feeling like she belongs there. She evocatively wrote about this experience in The Sunday Times in 2015.
“In spite of the dust, chaos, traffic and signs in a language and alphabet I didn’t understand, I was immediately enchanted. Perhaps it was the brilliance of the blue sky and the dazzling pale stones of the Acropolis, or simply the sight of swallows dipping and diving in the all-embracing warmth of our first evening there. The charm that held me in its spell intensified when we sailed to one of the Cycladic islands. Paros, with its narrow streets of whitewashed buildings and bright splashes of bougainvillea, seemed a paradise…Since then, I have travelled to Greece a hundred times or more.”
Indeed, the author visits her adopted country many times throughout the year, renting an apartment in the capital, or staying at the beautiful house she bought in northern Crete, where she does a lot of her writing.
Meeting Victoria Hislop
Victoria recently spoke about Greek people on BBC radio’s ‘Woman’s Hour’.
“Greeks have a tradition of hospitality that’s based on the idea that any stranger might be a god.”
So when I met the extremely charming and down to earth author at the Athens Plaza, I couldn’t resist but start our chat by asking her whether she has actually considered applying for Greek citizenship. She beamed as she replied.
“Having Greek identity would be fantastic!“There’s a new fear I have that being British means that we won’t be in Europe anymore, so that’s a big additional factor. Just the idea that I won’t be able to travel to Greece, and that I would have to get a Visa or that there would be a limit on how much time I could spend in Greece, would be horrific.”
Meanwhile she also notes that she doesn’t feel particularly British.
“Let’s say I’m more spontaneous. Nobody ever rings you in London saying, ‘Can you meet for a coffee tomorrow?’ it just never happens. People plan ahead two or three months, which I find deeply tedious, and I just won’t do it. Now if someone asks me, ‘Can you come for dinner in February 2017?’ I’ll say’ ‘Well, I don’t know, I might be able to.’ Because I don’t want to plan my life that far ahead. Now in England I will ring someone and say, ‘Can you meet for a drink tomorrow?’ And sometimes they are so taken aback, and it may turn out they don’t have something in their diary.”
Love Is… accepting the faults
Victoria described her latest novel.
“It’s a love letter to Greece, complete with some elements of criticism.”
We spoke about the changes she has perceived in Greece since first arriving here some 30 years ago.
“I think Athens has definitely changed — you can see it. I know there wasn’t as much graffiti — it’s really intense, isn’t it? You kind of get used to it — it’s like how Athens is decorated — it’s like a paint color -and I think that’s a real demonstration of anger, protest, and because I come and go so much from Athens to London, when I’m there I’m like ‘Wow! the walls are plain!’ At night when you are walking around you feel the despair from the graffiti — a whole wall of graffiti. It’s quite threatening, cause you think of someone actually doing it — the physical process of doing it, and what they were feeling.”
Throughout so many years of coming and going (as well as several years of working with the cast and crew of ‘To Nisi’, a successful MEGA TV dramatic series based on The Island), the author has made many friends here. This has helped her see well beneath the surface of local life.
“All my friends in Greece are very frustrated. There’s nobody I know who says, ‘Life is great, I’m really enjoying every minute of my day,’ cause every day they seem to be fighting with something — like understanding what they’ve now got to pay in their tax, or queuing for something.”
These are a few of my favorite things
We discussed how she spends her free time in Athens. Victoria laughed.
“This makes me sound like a tourist, but one of my favorite things to do is to go to the museums. I find that there’s no reason to not go to the Acropolis Museum a thousand times — it’s always exciting. I just love the building, and being in there, even if only to look at one thing. And I love going to the Cycladic Museum and the Benaki. It’s where I go for some peace, in a sense. I also meet friends. I’m lucky cause I know quite a lot of actors. There’s always a new play to go to. If I immerse myself in the play and concentrate really hard, then I just about know what’s going on. It’s really good for language to try and follow. My Greek is getting better,though it’s never going to be 100%!”
Meanwhile, when she’s in Crete, the author gets active exploring the lush local landscapes, hiking gorges, and swimming in the sea, as well as, of course, writing.
“I do a lot of writing in Crete in my house. It is very peaceful but also a place that gives me plenty of energy, both physical and mental. The view from my house in Crete is my favorite view in the whole world. It is of the Bay of Mirabello in North Crete. It’s spectacular, and it changes every day. I didn’t know that blue came in a thousand different shades until I lived with that view.”
More to come
Victoria Hislop’s love affair with Greece continues. Surely the tiny country will continue to figure prominently in her writing — and we’re looking forward to it.
Connect with Victoria Hislop on her website
Alexia Amvrazi is a Greek-American who was born and raised in Rome and lives in Athens. She has worked as a writer and editor for English language publications and websites in Greece and abroad for over 20 years, hosting her own daily live radio interview show for a decade at the municipal Athens International Radio and travelling far and wide around Greece and its islands for travel guides such as Fodor’s and her own pleasure. Her favorite assignments involve travel, gastronomy, holistic wellness, culture and lifestyle, and she is always in search of the next big thing. In her personal time she enjoys cooking, creative writing, photography and video-making, songwriting and studying holistic practices. Connect with Alexia on Twitter.