Victoria Hislop joined us on 4 July 2012 to talk about her latest novel, The Thread. Gransnetters asked her about her research for the book and her thoughts on the current political situation in Greece, where the novel is set.
Q: Great that you're coming onto Gransnet today. Did you always know you wanted to be a novelist? scribblegranny
A: No, it came very late to me. The last piece of creative writing I did before writing my first novel was my English Language O level - so that was a gap of 30 years... it took the inspiration of going to Spinalonga to make me want to write a novel..
Q: Loved The Thread read it in two days makes you want to be there. c2556
A: That's great - do, do go! Thessaloniki is an amazing city and Greece needs us to visit at the moment. So I hope you will be tempted!
Q: What as it about Greece that made you want to write about it so much? I think the history is amazing. You definitely captured something very special about it in the book, I think. effblinder
A: I find Greece very inspiring generally. And the 20th century history is so full of drama - fire, earthquake, occupation, civil war, dictatorship - and of course the tragic story of what happened to almost the entire Jewish population - for a novelist, trying to imagine how it "felt" to be in such situations, Greece is never short of inspiration. It is an extraordinary country - as are its people - and it won't be the last book that I write about it. Thanks for your comment too.
Q: I enjoyed your novel, Victoria and think it's your best so far. I have also read Louis de Bernières' "Birds without Wings" which is set in Turkey at the same time, when the Greek population was expelled. Were you at all influenced by his writing? Annobel
A: Thanks so much! I absolutely love Louis de Bernière's books - I have met him a few times too and we have a lot to talk about - he thinks, by the way, that Birds without Wings is his best novel and so do I (I always recommend this one to people). I am not influenced by him particularly as I think his style of writing is very different from mine (I think, more complex, more literary) but we definitely share a real passion for Greece. For people reading this, Birds without Wings is set around a village in Turkey - highly recommended.
Q: I wanted to ask why you have a modern character at the beginnings and ends of your novels? In The Thread it meant we always knew that Dmitri and Katarina married in the end. Wouldn't there have been more suspense if we hadn't known? - I loved the book, but I wondered if it would have been more exciting not to know? sneetch
A: Quite a few people have commented on this! And to be honest, there would have been more suspense - but I very much wanted to tell the story through their eyes, and therefore was obliged to reveal that they were still alive. Storytelling through the voice of a "grandparent" seems very natural to me - the stories told by people who were born in the early part of the 20th century seem very precious to me. And I always encourage younger people to sit their grandparents down and ask them to describe their early lives. My experience is that people in their 80s are very modest about what they have lived through - and to listen to their stories is the most fascinating way to learn history. Grandparents are a very precious "resource".
Q: I would like to thank you for my copy of The Thread, which arrived Friday morning. The timing was perfect as 'The Football' started Friday afternoon! I can see that a combination of my book and my knitting are going to get me through a very trying time this month. Greendorrie
A: Thank you! The only match I watched was Greece - Germany - as it was more than just about the "football" - it was about politics too. I hope you enjoy. You will discover that all the women in the novel survive through weaving and sewing, so knitting will be a very appropriate activity in between chapters!
Q: I was intrigued by why you referred to the city as Thessaloniki throughout when presumably it was called Salonika for some of the period you were writing about? I was in Greece not so long ago and I am sure I heard some people referring to it as Salonika. Whatever, you captured its essence, I suspect! getmehrt
A: Hello - Both tend to be used - the Greeks mostly used "Thessaloniki" - so I followed their lead. Hope that's not confusing! The French (many of them used to live there) would generally used "Salonique", but I think Thessaloniki would probably be the most used these days.
Q: Confession time now, I`m afraid. I couldn`t find the place to ask for a copy of The Thread, but did request a copy of the childrens book, The Queen`s Knickers. The latter hasn't arrived, but The Thread did, for which I'm extremely grateful, but I hope that I haven't "nicked" someone else`s copy, or that someone else doesn`t get The Queen's Knickers instead! numberplease
A: I am intrigued! I have been neck and neck on Amazon with the Queen's Knickers for a few weeks - so I might need to get a copy and find out what it's all about. It's a great title isn't it...
Q: Bought The Thread on publication - brilliant as are her other two books - The Island and The Return. Such a good way to learn about history - wrapping brilliant stories into historical fact. Bellesnan
A: Thanks for your nice comment. Although I have to read a huge amount of history for my research, I probably would not do so just for pleasure... Especially with Greek 20th century history, most of it is about the action of politicians and soldiers - all men - and what interests me is "how did their behaviour and decisions affect the women in that society" - so thanks for being so appreciative!
Q: I did want to know what happened to the Muslim family who returned to Turkey. Victoria, is this a new book do you think? And what about the drapery shop and the man who was so kind to Katerina?? nanaej
A: Ah... sometimes I think there have to be loose ends in novels. I think this makes them more like life, where we do not always see the resolution to a story. I think it could be another novel - but I will leave someone else to tell it - someone who has a connection with Turkey and who can speak the language too - that's an open invitation to anyone out there - to adopt the Ekrem family!
Similarly, that lovely man in the drapery shop - I would say he is one of my favourite characters - and maybe I will pick him up again. He is named after one of my best friends in Greece.
Q: I have really enjoyed reading so much about Greece - and wondered what is your view on all the current events that have happened there since the book was published? louella
A: Hi - when I was writing the book, I realised that there was a pattern in 20th century Greece - every fifteen years or so there was some kind of catastrophe or monumental change (an influx of refugees, occupation, civil war, dictatorship etc. etc) - there literally is never a dull moment in Greece. So what is happening now in Greece is very much following this pattern. There is literally never more than a decade of peace and quiet there - as if this is not their destiny somehow. So current events do not surprise me as they seem to be consistent with what has gone before. They make me extremely sad, however, as I know that many people there are suffering very much indeed - but on the other hand, I am fairly optimistic that they will survive this current situation, even if times ahead are going to be tough.
Q: Any reason for setting your novels in warm climates and what is your inspiration for them? Do you set yourself a limit for the number of pages to write per day and do you have the plot worked out before you start? And does Ian read your work first? DavidH22
A: Warm climates are certainly wonderful when it comes to doing research! It might sound superficial, but I don't see myself writing a novel set in Iceland - I absolutely HATE the cold. Even in England I wear thermal underwear in June... so that's an excuse on a frivolous level for writing about the mediterranean!
But mostly - the history of southern Europe is dramatic and the people are exciting and I think one couldn't transfer their reactions and behaviour to Northern Europe. My inspiration is usually some historical fact that is perhaps not broadly known - and I think to myself "this is extraordinary that so many people come on holiday to this place, but may not know what has taken place here". I don't write a set number of pages a day - I just sit down and write - and sometimes most of it gets deleted if it's not good enough. I generally work out the plot - but this might change as I go along. And Ian only reads my novels at proof stage - so usually at the end of the three years I take to write them. Thanks for your question!
Q: Aristotle Onassis, as well as being a very rich and successful businessman, liked his trophy wives and mistresses. He was quoted as saying, "All Greek men beat their women, no question." Did you base some of your character, Konsantinos Komninos on Onnassis and have you always had a passion for textiles and the history of fashion? merlotgran
A: That's a great question! I think there are some common characteristics between Onassis and my protagonist - I read a biography of Maria Callas and much of it was about Onassis so I think his cruelty must have lodged itself in my mind. I don't think all Greek men beat their wives, but I think there are plenty who bully their wives (and of course some who hit them, I am certain of it). Though Greek women are powerful in their way, there is still a very "macho" culture in Greece and I think men like to appear to be in charge.
Yes, I love sewing myself - used to make all my own clothes - so that part of the story did not need to much research!
Q: Have really enjoyed all her books, including The Thread. Obviously she has a great love for and knowledge of Greece and of European history too. I have learnt a lot from her books even tho' they are novels. biggran
A: Thanks so much - I am glad you learned something - as well as enjoyed reading them.
Q: When Konstantinos writes the letter to Dimitri, although knowing his deep feelings of anger I had to take an intake of breath when I read that he "hoped every day to read news of your death........" The whole book is written with such a passion. I know that characters can appear real to the author and that they sometimes can take on a persona beyond that which the author intended. Did those feelings sometimes take you by surprise? Or do you deliberately "think" out the conversations and incidences that take place? redamanthas
A: Yes, sometimes it does take me by surprise. I have to test out a reaction or emotion on myself - and the characters have to become "real" enough so that I can decide whether or not what they feel or say is convincing. Characters definitely have to take on some kind of life of their own, in order to live on on the page.
Q: You obviously have a very passionate relationship with Greece. I wondered if you knew it when you were a child and how your relationship with the place has changed - and if recent events have made a big difference? granIT
A: I went there for the first time when I was 17 - and loved it from the very first moment. I have been there every year since - and now have a house in Crete. And nowadays I visit Greece probably every month - so I suppose my relationship has changed - and continues to change. And I am now learning the language which deepens the link as well.
The more I learn about Greece, the more I realise there is more to learn! It is a complex country and full of contradictions but one I find endlessly fascinating.
I watch what is going on there - and realise there is a link between the present and the past, so I hope my study of Greece helps me to understand it a little.
Q: Are the wounds still raw from the occupation in Greece? I have felt very strongly in Crete that they were. And recently I was in Northern Greece and I saw graffiti saying something like "resist the Fourth Reich". We had another novel on Gransnet this year, The House on Paradise Street, which suggested the divisions of the civil war had still not been resolved. Did this make it difficult for you to write the novel? Were you aware that you were dealing with a sensitive subject? bigknitter
A: Yes, feelings are definitely still raw. Many elderly people have strong memories of what happened, and are very anti-communist or very anti-right wing. They remember massacres in their villages. Civil war leaves very deep scars indeed - just as it did in Spain - where people might still be living side by side with those they fought against.
And there are definitely many people in Greece who feel that Germany is still in debt to their country - during the occupation, the Germans stripped Greece bare of fuel, food, oil, and shipped all the money out of their banks to Germany... hundreds of thousands of people starved to death as a result. I think that must add to the feelings of bitterness against Germany in the present day. Many people there feel that Germany is taking their country over once again.
Q: I gave The Thread to my daughter in law at Christmas, hoping to borrow it when she had finished it but couldn't wait any longer so got my husband to get it from the library - had to wait a while as it was so popular. It is even better than Victoria's first two superlative offerings - The Island and The Return. It is very rarely that a book makes me emotional but many times in The Thread I had a lump in my throat, especially Katrina's search for her mother. How exceptionally thorough is the research done for these books - must take months and months. Has Victoria got another one in the pipeline because I am like an addict waiting for my next fix ?!! Hattiehelga
A: Thank you!!!!!!! Feeling very proud - thanks to your comments. I am just finishing a collection of short stories - and then will be writing another novel (but they take three years, so wait for me!).
Q: You cover nearly a century of history in The Thread. Is it intimidating to work on such a huge canvas? firenze
A: Well.... when I began I intended to finish the story after the departure of the Jews in 1943, but I realised that the end of the German occupation was merely another beginning (of the civil war) - and it was impossible to cut the story off. There did literally seem to be a "thread" that pulled right through to the present day and I wanted to draw the reader's attention to that.
Q: Have you still got the cocktail dress?! flopsybunny
A: Yes! Absolutely. I wore it last week to give a talk and it's still my favourite dress - it has so much sentimental value - as well as being the only truly tailored item of clothing I own. I adore it.
It's been great - thanks to GNHQ and to everyone who has written in.
Two things: if you have grandchildren - tell them about life as you have lived it, especially memories of childhood - it's what my own kids already call "the black and white days", but we have all seen such immense change. It's essentially what my books do, but in an imaginary way.
And secondly: don't hesitate to go to Greece this summer - the sun is shining there, the sky is azure - and you will have a wonderful welcome. Greek hospitality, "filoxenia", awaits you. Bye and thanks so much. VictoriaHislop