Her husband may be a very well-known face on TV, but bestselling novelist Victoria Hislop, who visits Woodstock on Monday, is big in Greece. Jaine Blackman reports

The Hislop family is undoubtedly a super-bright one.

Bestselling novelist Victoria and Private Eye editor Ian met at Oxford University, their daughter Emily graduated from the same esteemed establishment and their son William is currently studying history there.

“Ian is much cleverer than I am,” insists Victoria, whose debut 2005 novel The Island has to date sold more than three million copies worldwide, been translated into 31 languages and was made into a hit 26-part Greek TV series, in which both Victoria and Ian had walk-on parts.

The 55-year-old author, who has written four novels and one book of short stories, always gets her husband’s feedback before sending her manuscript to the publisher.

“It takes him about two days to go through it, and at the end of the two days he gives me a tutorial. It’s not problematic. We were at the same university doing the same degree [English] at the same time,” she says.

“Ian is much more intellectual than I am. At university, he used to lend people his essays so they could copy them. He should have rented them out at 50p a go because it would have paid his bar bill.

“I know for a fact that people marking that paper in our finals must have wondered why we were all saying the same thing.

“So I am anxious when I give my manuscript to him, as to what he’s going to find," she continues. “It’s not very comfortable, because I want serious comment. He doesn’t do a lot of detail, but he gives me feedback which I take in and absorb.”

Thankfully, he didn’t have anything drastic to say about her latest novel, The Sunrise, set in the sunshine resort of Famagusta in Cyprus in 1972, where Greek and Turkish Cypriots live in harmony. It centres on an ambitious couple who open the most glitzy hotel there - The Sunrise - only for prosperity and happiness to be scuppered by the conflict between Turkey and Greece, with devastating effects on both Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities.

Victoria first visited the city on a gap year in 1978, when the war had split the north from the south of the island, only to find that Famagusta – once a thriving city and tourist haven with a myriad of beachfront hotels – was now a ghost town surrounded by barbed wire netting, fencing off the hotels, manned by Turkish armed guards. “We weren’t allowed to go anywhere near the beach, which is the main focal point of the book,” she explains. When she returned years later, nothing had changed.

“It’s the first book I’ve written about a place where you can’t go. The buildings have remained derelict or ransacked. I assume that the rats and the mice don’t bother to go in there, because there can’t be any food left.”

The daughter of a journalist, Victoria grew up in Kent and after graduating from Oxford, went into book publishing, public relations and then journalism. She recalls meeting Ian in the English library at Oxford University.

“He was already quite well known, because he edited the Oxford version of Private Eye,” she says. They married seven years later, and when Emily was born, Victoria decided to work from home. Later, on holiday in Crete, she was inspired by a visit to Spinalonga, the abandoned Greek leprosy colony, to write The Island. Today, she still finds inspiration in Greece and spends a lot of time at her and Ian’s house in Crete, where she can to soak up the atmosphere and write.

She is recognised more in Greece than she is in the UK, and deliberately omits her picture from the paperback editions.

“I simply don’t want to be recognised. I’m never recognised in England unless I’m out with Ian and people might work out the link, but if I’m in a cafe in Greece, nine times out of 10, somebody comes up to me.”

Victoria Hislop is making a fleeting visit to The Woodstock Bookshop, Oxford Street, Woodstock, around noon on Monday to sign copies of her new book The Sunrise. 
If you would like a signed copy (even a dedicated signed copy) the shop is happy to arrange it. 
Email your request to info@woodstockbookshop.co.uk or call 01993 812760. The book normally costs £19.99 but the shop is offering a discount price of £15.

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