Victoria Hislop is more than a bestselling author, adored by readers around the world for novels that combine history and culture, and explore the dark challenges and effervescent delights of human existence. Much of her inspiration has been drawn from Greece, a country that she’s studied, intuitively understood and loved (and in her novels, so eloquently written about) in a way so evocative and authentic that it’s not surprising she became a Greek citizen.
Dividing her time between England and Greece, Hislop’s refreshing perspective on life, smiling dynamism and can-do attitude never ceases to inspire and delight her many admirers.
In this interview, we focus less on her successful writing career, which has been widely covered (and something you can keep up to date with on her official website), and more on where she’s at right now as someone who happens to be a bestselling author.
We look at how Hislop is connecting with her new home in Greece, how much she enjoyed participating in a TV dance competition, something she’d never attempted before, and how it felt while overcoming cancer. She shares her favorite Athens haunts and what she’s looking forward to this summer. Finally, we ask her about what new reading we – and soon our children – can get our hands on next.
So, how do you feel now that you are Greek?
I think I have felt Greek for a very long time – officially having citizenship was a really wonderful recognition of this and was the best “gift” I ever received apart from my two children. My passport and identity card are very new, but the strength of feeling I have for this country is something that seems to stretch back into my past. And it is definitely a feeling that grows. Sometimes this can make me feel a little alien in the UK, but that doesn’t bother me!
When you open your windows in Athens in the morning, do you feel you’re home?
Yes – I have that feeling from the moment when I get off a plane from London. It’s a lovely feeling and I am very lucky to experience this. As for when I open my windows in Athens, that’s an even stronger feeling because the sounds are very different from London sounds – not just the language of course, but the volume and the quantity of sound. Greece is much noisier than the UK – here in Greece people are more vocal and unafraid to use their car horns!
What was it like for you to compete on “Dancing With the Stars” on Greek TV?
It was a completely unique experience – a really demanding one but also a very joyful one. The only formal dancing I had done before was a salsa lesson and a flamenco lesson, around 15 years ago for research for my novel set in Spain (“O Gyrismos”), so I was really starting from zero.
I was invited to do it by the producer of the show last summer (the call came during the filming of “Cartes Postales”). I absolutely knew that I wanted to do it because I have watched the British version for more than 15 years and love it, but I had to check out the reality from a friend who had taken part (it’s called “Strictly Come Dancing” in the UK).
She told me it was the most difficult, challenging, painful thing she had ever done in her life. BUT it was the most exhilarating thing too, and she was very glad to have survived it! Everything she said was the same for me – but having challenges in life is something I find really exciting, so I threw myself in headlong.
I had a great partner – Telemachos Fatsis – who was very strict, but a brilliant dancer too and by the end, I had learned so much. One thing that surprised me is that dancing is of course a mental as well as a physical challenge – you have to remember the very precise steps of the routine – and there are hundreds of very exact patterns and routines.
Dancing is physically tough, but the excitement and the adrenaline of the “live” shows bring out the best performances in everyone. The glorious, glamorous costumes help that! It’s as if you CAN’T make mistakes when there are thousands and thousands of people out there watching you on their television at home. And that was so exciting too – to understand the nature of performance and the effect of adrenalin.
What did the experience offer me? It was a great opportunity to meet new people – there was an amazing team, both the other dancers and everyone in production and I made many new friends. It was a wonderful atmosphere behind the scenes.
Also, I learned once and for all, that you can do things that might seem beyond your capabilities if you really want to. And that neither age nor illness need defeat you (I was sixty-two when I did the programme, and also had cancer treatment that year). It felt like a triumph!
What are your favorite feel-good places in Athens for food & wine, and what Greek foods and wines do you prefer?
My favorite place at the moment is Nolan – it’s a wonderful mix: gourmet food but in a very informal atmosphere. And I love going to Athénée (I have finally got used to the fact that it’s not Zonar’s any longer…) for sushi.
My favourite foods are really traditional things like fava, and horta, and gigantes – but I love all these things if they are given a “twist” by restaurants such as Nolan.
Wines – I am a big fan of all the white wines produced by Kir-Yianni and also the Boutaris vineyards. I don’t drink red, but all the wines I taste from these two labels are crisp (and almost too drinkable!).
Where do you like to go to think, meditate or come up with ideas for your writing?
In Athens I don’t tend to do too much thinking – for me, it’s a place for constant activity and socializing – but when I do come up with ideas there it is usually on my balcony that overlooks Plateia Kalligas in Patissia. I do much more in the way of creative thinking in Crete, where I am very lucky to have a house which offers lots of peace and tranquility.
Do you go dancing in Athens at all? If so, where?
Alas, not for ages because of the pandemic.
How do you relax and/or work out in Athens and its surroundings?
I rarely relax in Athens – I find it has an energy that doesn’t let me. To take exercise when I am there, I try to walk as much as I can – usually I move faster than the slow-moving cars!
What are you working on now?
I am starting on a new novel – with a Greek background (which is probably no surprise). And also doing some publicity for my new children’s novel, “Maria’s Island,” which is a version of “The Island” for a younger audience.
This article first appeared in Greece Is (www.greece-is.com), a Kathimerini publishing initiative.