Today is the reason that the kitchen here at Booktrail Towers is covered in sugar and flour and all kinds of cooking tools. I spent the entire day perfecting it (and eating the spoils) so now I am over the baklava hangover and am ready to start afresh with a very very very special guest.
Oh was that a car door I hear? (twitches the curtain) Yes it is! Ooh give me a minute while I welcome her in.
(Door closes, eager chatter fills the air. Tea cups can be heard clanking on the tray. Someone exclaims ‘Ohh baklava!’)
Hi Victoria. So pleased that you were able to come and have a cuppa and a cake. Very excited and honoured
Now we haven’t got tea today. I feel strong coffee is the order of the day with the baklava? Sugar? Milk? Can I serve you a slice of my finest baklava. I thought you might like some Baklava for our cuppa and a cake.
Victoria – Baklava – absolutely delicious and only a little is needed – but you should counteract the sweetness of the honey and nuts with a real strong, authentic Greek coffee! Definitely “sketo” – which means “without sugar”.
(runs into kitchen and fetches some honey and feels relieved that a bird told me that Greek coffee is the perfect drink with this dessert)
Oh I have so many questions. So tuck in and I’ll ask away. Here is your wonderful book – such an evocative cover too!
Why did you want to write the story of Famagusta?
When I saw it for the second time (with a thirty year gap since the 1970’s) – it seemed as if this empty, deserted city was a story just waiting to be written (and I am sure there have been and will be others!). And I wanted to write it as a way of writing about the division in Cyprus – and how friendships between people can sometimes over-ride such division and transcend feelings of hatred.
I understand that you have stood beside the barbed wire fence and imagined what life was like in Famagusta. What other kind of research ‘on location’ where you able to do?
I visited the municipality building which is close to the barbed wire and spent lots of time on the roof getting an aerial view – which really gave me a sense of its scale and what its streets now look like – and found as many pictures as I could of how it was in the 1970s before occupation. And of course spoke to people in London and in Cyprus (more than 40,000 people left in August 1974, so there are so many around who remember what happened). And as ever, listened to music, spent lots of time in cafes watching people and how they are.
What do you love about Greece and Cyprus?
I love both Greece and Cyprus. I would encourage people if they do go to Cyprus to go to the old part of Nicosia – it is still very atmospheric and also to travel all over the island. It’s extremely beautiful.
My favourite part of Greece…. it’s quite hard to say – but I would always suggest Crete and also on the mainland – Athens and Thessaloniki – and I tell people if they go to the cities, to walk around and go into the lesser known areas – not just the tourist places. There is so much to see off the beaten track. I think people should always discover places for themselves, though I do always give a few restaurant tips on my website. With hundreds of islands, everyone has their favourite – there are a thousand different images of Greece and a thousand different experiences according to where you go – but all of them are unified by blue skies and that translucent Greek light!
What do you admire about the people of Famagusta like Savvas Papacosta, Aphroditi and nightclub owner Markos Georgiou on one side and Emine Özhan on the other?
I admire people who survive hardship – and who overcome adversity – and this strongly applies to the real people of Famagusta. After the occupation, Cyprus made a strong economic recovery – people there are very entrepreneurial. So I admire anyone who doesn’t give up.
You tell us so much about the political situation in Cyprus without any of the detail getting in the way. Do you want people to learn a little bit of history from The Sunrise?
It’s always a challenge to put across the historical background without it intruding on the story – and I work hard to do this. In The Sunrise, I included a historical note as there were things I wanted readers to be able to refer to and it wasn’t appropriate to put them in the mouths of my characters. So yes, I hope people learn some history – but even more so, I hope they might go and read some of the actual non-fiction books about Cyprus and what took place there in the 20th century – and then make up their own minds about why such mistakes were made. My first intention is not to teach – to some extent I am learning along with my readers!
Victoria I don’t think you have any worries there – the historical background never intrudes on the human story which is what The Sunrise is all about. A remarkable achievement I think. Thank you so much for choosing to come to the booktrail and have a chat. Fascinating to get an insight from you on this. I really can’t recommend The Sunrise enough.
Now before you go, I’ve popped some Baklava in a box for when you get home. Enjoy!
As the Taxi rides off into the sunset, I think about The Sunrise, the baklava and the day I met the lovely, friendly and warm hearted Victoria Hislop. The story of Famagusta and its people could wish for no better person to show it to the world.
Visit Victoria here – http://www.victoriahislop.com/
or on twitter – @VicHislop