Best-selling author Victoria Hislop admits she wrote her latest book as therapy.
Hislop, 61, who for 32 years has been married to Ian Hislop, editor of satirical magazine Private Eye and team captain on political panel show Have I Got News For You – lost her cherished mum Mary in March.
The author – who regularly tops book charts – tells P.S: “My mum was in a care home and she died the second week of March. It was really unexpected, so I was already totally discombobulated by that, and then we went into lockdown and there was this idea of an incurable disease swirling around us.
“I just thought: ‘I need a distraction, I need a routine, I need to start writing again’. I was still mulling about what to do next and I came up with this idea and I thought, ‘Well that’s something I can do’. If it doesn’t work, it won’t matter, but I’m going to sit at my desk every morning and get on with something. It was sanity saving.
“At the moment, we all feel just completely out of control in a very different way from anything we’ve felt before. And we just have to accept the fact we’re out of control. Writing something, or creating something, definitely, I’d call it a kind of therapy. Writing always is a therapy for me, but somehow this year more so.”
One August Night is the sequel to her 2005 award-winner The Island, set on a leper colony off Crete. Her latest offering picks up after the colony Spinalonga has closed, amidst a celebration disrupted by violence.
The fifties set action follows the characters from the original blockbuster where beautiful but charmless Anna is having an adulterous fling with handsome Manolis whose first love, Anna’s sister Maria, was sent to the leper colony.
With a cure now found, she is returning to Crete. Anna is riddled with jealousy with disastrous results. In the aftermath, the question of how to build a life – and happiness – come to the fore in the novel that is as much a love letter to Greece as it is a family saga.
Making the most of life, and finding happiness against a backdrop of grief and pain is something Hislop knows all about. She says: “I realised a few months ago that I’m probably in my last quarter. A friend of mine was about to be 40 and she was going, ‘Oh god, I’m going to be 40, isn’t it awful’, and I just lost it a little bit. I said, ‘You’re talking to somebody of 61! You’re halfway through, you’ve still got half – you’re talking to somebody who’s got a quarter left!’ It ended the conversation. I thought, ‘You’re complaining, but you’ve got 50% left of your life! I’m one who theoretically might only have 25%! Enjoy life, because I think you’ve only got one.”
She adds: “Looking after your wellbeing means something that took me a long time to accept; you’ve got to love yourself… definitely in your final quarter. It sounds so depressing, but it’s a priority. Physically, mentally as well.
“A psychiatrist friend once told me: ‘Happiness isn’t a human right’, and I profoundly disagreed with her. Happiness is really important, it makes you stronger, it really does.
“Occasionally you meet someone who has a martyrship about them, they feel they’re not meant to be happy, that life isn’t meant to be easy, they take a difficult path. I think happiness is really crucial. If you’re not happy, you need to find the reason, root it out and resolve that, and life will feel much more worth living.”
Victoria Hislop One August Night, Headline Review, £14.99
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