Cartes Postales from Greece is your fifth novel… and they’ve all been set in Greece. What is it that pulls you back time after time?
I’ve tried to explain this before, but I’m not sure I can. It’s definitely got something to do with the light; colours that you just don’t see anywhere else. All the archaeology and the history? Yes, I appreciate that, but what I feel is much more emotional. Something took hold of me the first time I went there, as a teenager in the late 1970s, and it won’t let go!
You and Ian [husband Ian Hislop] have a second home on Crete. Is that where you spend every holiday?
We don’t really go on ‘holiday’ to Greece, but I’m over there at least once a month, either for research or a TV interview. When you’re there all year round, you get a totally different perspective on the country and its people. You see Greece without tourists and you grow to love it for different reasons.
Have you managed to master the language?
Yes – and when I’m being interviewed on TV in Greece I can just about say everything I need to say. In everyday life I can even swear in Greek if the need arises! People there don’t feel the need to casually drop rude words into every sentence as we sometimes do here. They save them up for special occasions, such as when another driver cuts them up at a roundabout.
Tempted by a holiday to Greece and her islands? Find out more here
And then you’ll let fly?
Definitely! Sometimes you can see people thinking… ‘Was that Victoria Hislop who just called me a so-and-so?’
You are married to a man who is regarded as one of TV’s Premier League Grumps. Is he anything like that in real life?
The person you see on Have I Got News for You is him; it’s not an act. Yes, he gets annoyed at some of the things he sees in life and in politics. But even if he’s really angry, he’ll often deliver it with humour… I wouldn’t call that grumpy. He’s just being honest.
Do you watch the show? Do you read Private Eye?
Yes and yes, but we’re both pretty good at giving each other space to get on with whatever we’re doing. When Ian and Paul get together for the show, they’re buried in newspapers… buried in news. Not to mention post-truth news and fake news.
Ian and Private Eye have unearthed countless cover-ups and scandals over the 30-odd years he’s been in charge. Any scoops that have made you particularly proud?
I’m proud of every one, but I suppose Robert Maxwell stands out. They were on to him for so many years and… well, it was a case of ‘I told you so’. All those poor people who lost out. Their pensions misused.
You two met as students at Oxford. What can you remember of that young whippersnapper?
You might not believe this, but he was more or less doing the same thing that he does now. He used to edit the Oxford University equivalent of Private Eye; it was called Passing Wind. And he was very funny.
Ian’s been on TV since Have I Got News for You started in 1990, but your success came relatively late. Your debut, The Island (more than five million copies worldwide!), was only published in 2005…
Are you going to ask me if I was jealous of Ian’s success? God, no! I was never looking for literary success at all; it just kind of happened. And, frankly, if ‘being as successful as your partner’ is your only motivation for writing a book – or doing anything – you’re probably doomed to fail.
I know the Beckhams are in a completely different league, but if you look at the way they are as a couple, I think they’re fantastic. They’re both hugely successful, but they’ve each been able to achieve that on their own terms. They’ve not ‘used’ each other. They’ve even managed to retain a certain normality, which I really admire. I honestly think they’re good role models.
You were out in rural Kent for years; now you’re back in town, does Paul Merton pop round for dinner every night?
Ha ha! I love that! Yes, we do see him and his wonderful wife a lot and I don’t mind cooking.
Of course! Lots of olive oil, lemon and honey. I’d probably go for my signature dish: spanakopita, a spinach and feta cheese pie. Let me know next time you’re in London – I’ll bring one round.
Victoria Hislop is at the Hay Festival on May 27; www.hayfestival.com.
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