My literary journey.

The bestselling award-winning author Victoria Hislop – a special guest on Queen Mary 2’s Literature Festival at Sea 2019 – shares her travel tales.

My fascination with Greece began in 1976 when, aged 17, I visited Athens and Paros with my mother and sister. It wasn’t the perfect trip – in Athens, we stayed in an airport hotel near the runway, and I can still almost smell the diesel fumes from the ferry crossing to Paros – but I immediately loved the country. It seemed to have it all: beautiful land- and seascapes, a warm ambience, amazing cities and sensational food, not to mention its rich history and culture. 

Now, I spend a couple of months a year in Crete and I travel throughout the country. It’s an endless source of inspiration for my historical novels. My first book, The Island, was based on the old leper colony of Spinalonga.

I don’t think you can fully immerse yourself in a country unless you engross yourself in the language. I’ve discovered so much about Greek culture by talking to older generations, and I wouldn’t be able to do this if I hadn’t spent the last eight years learning the language.  

Despite being lucky enough to travel a lot, I’ve made some bad choices. On one vacation to Sri Lanka when our two children were small, my husband [Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye] and I decided to go on a banana boat ride. To this day, I have no idea why we chose to sit on a large yellow inflatable and be pulled along by a zigzagging speedboat. The story didn’t end well: I was thrown in the air and Ian found me floating face down in the water, unconscious. I spent most of the remaining holiday in hospital, watching ants walk across the ceiling and muttering, ‘What was I thinking?’!

One of my most memorable travelling experiences was a trip to the Galapagos Islands. Before I went, I read up on the indigenous species on the islands, but when you actually see those birds with blue feet, and the sharks… Gosh, you feel like David Attenborough! On the whole, I think of myself as a traveler who always wants to see human culture and history, and what mankind has created – but this reminded me that nature is just as incredible.

I’m always surrounded by books. At the moment, I’m engrossed in The Hours by Michael Cunningham, which is inspired by the life and work of Virginia Woolf. I’m also forever dipping into the work of Constantine P Cavafy, who wrote the most thought-provoking poetry. Much of it is on the Greek and Roman past, but it’s so wonderfully personal and moving.   

Victoria Hislop shares a few secrets.

Have you been on Queen Mary 2 before?

No, and I’m hugely excited. Crossing the Atlantic by luxury liner will certainly be very different from a Greek ferry, that’s for sure!

What are you looking forward to?

I like to exercise daily, so I’m looking forward to seeing what activities they have on board.  

Who are you looking forward to seeing at the Literature Festival? 

So many of my heroes are on board. I love spending time with Louis de Bernières, while James Naughtie is endlessly fascinating.

‘Greece is an endless source of inspiration for my historical novels.' - Victoria Hislop.

Victoria Hislop joined Queen Mary 2’s Literature Festival at Sea in association with the Cheltenham Literature Festival, The Times and The Sunday Times. Eastbound Transatlantic Crossing (M936) from November 10-17, 2019.

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