Bestselling author Victoria Hislop answers the Random 19 questions


Even if you’ve not read one of her books, you’ve no doubt come across Victoria Hislop’s name on a bookshelf or heard it in a chat about good reads. Victoria wrote The Island in 2005, inspired by a visit to Spinalonga, the abandoned Greek leprosy colony – and was named Newcomer of the Year at the British Book Awards. The novel became an international bestseller, with more than five million copies sold worldwide.
She is renowned for drawing the reader into the rich and diverse worlds of the Mediterranean. In her second book, The Return, she wrote about the painful secrets of Spain’s civil war. And in her third novel, The Thread, Victoria returned to Greece to tell the extraordinary and turbulent tale of Thessaloniki and its people across the 20th century.
The Sunrise, set in Cyprus, and Those Who Are Loved, which tells the story of Greece’s traumatic period of occupation and civil war during the 20th century, were both number one bestsellers in the UK and Greece.
Victoria is now an honorary Greek citizen, her books have been translated into more than 35 languages and have been bestsellers in China, Greece, France, Israel and Norway as well as in the UK.
This month Victoria headlines at the Dorchester Literary Festival with The Figurine, her latest book, inspired by the story of the Elgin marbles.

The dancing storyteller
Born in Bromley, Kent, Victoria studied English Literature at Oxford, going on to work in publishing and journalism after graduation. As a journalist, she wrote on education and travel for national newspapers and magazines.
As well as studying the Greek language (it is her ultimate ambition to read everything and anything without the presence of a dictionary by her side), Victoria spends her spare time reading, swimming, dancing – and boxing.
While recovering from breast cancer surgery in 2021, Victoria agreed to be a contestant on Dancing with the Stars, Greece’s version of Strictly. She gained celebrity status in Greece following the success of The Island, when the book was made into a hugely popular television series To Nisi by Greek TV channel MEGA.
This month she told the Daily Mail that the rigorous demands of the intense schedule helped enormously in her recovery:
‘It made me regain the sense of self I’d lost in those months after diagnosis. Today, I’m a show-off at any party where there’s a chance to dance, and I’ve embraced a new fitness regime which includes boxing. It demands the greater level of fitness I managed to achieve and the footwork is reminiscent of dancing.’
Victoria is known not just as a writer but as a storyteller, allowing her readers to dive into rich history from a very personal perspective, making the past feel incredibly present.
And so to the 19 random questions…

1. What’s your relationship with Dorset?For a decade we (Victoria and her husband Ian Hislop) had a cottage near Sherborne and went there every weekend until our children were around four and six. The landscape was beautiful and we used to go for long walks with them in their small wellies – and we went to the Tutankhamun Museum in Dorchester so many times! They were magical years.

2. The last film you watched? Oppenheimer. I went to the cinema last Sunday with two friends – we were the only ones there! I thought it was spectacular – brilliant script and acting. And so many people thought it was too long – I thought it was too short! It was totally enthralling from beginning to end.

3. What would you like to tell 15 year-old you?Don’t worry. One day your hair will be less frizzy than it is now – a nice man called John Frieda will come to the rescue.

4. Tell us about a sound or a smell that makes you happy?The smell of oregano – either fresh on a Cretan mountainside, or just from a packet when I bring it back to London.

5. What was the last song you sang out loud in the car?I sang along with Lady Gaga to Always Remember Us This Way from A Star is Born. I have decided it will be my next karaoke choice, so I am learning all the words too.

6. What book did you read last year that stayed with you? What made you love it? My name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout. It was so original, with such a clear voice – so true and so real. I absolutely loved it and wept at the end because the relationship it describes is such a painful one. I haven’t stopped reading Elizabeth Strout since.

7. What’s your secret superpower?Skipping for ages without a break. My skipping rope always travels with me.

8. Your favourite quote?“Books give a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” – PlatoI really don’t think it needs any explanation … does it? It’s simply true!

9. It’s Friday night – you have the house to yourself, and no work is allowed. What are you going to do?I watch Gogglebox – and if there are some repeats, then I watch those too!I think it is a piece of genius – to watch people watching television and listen to their conversations. It’s funny and heart-warming. If I run out of Gogglebox, then I try and find some Celebrity Gogglebox!

10. What in life is frankly a mystery to you?Junk food. It’s expensive, unhealthy, doesn’t fill – so it creates litter and mountains of rubbish, encourages obesity and diabetes. Why are people allowed to abuse their bodies like this? Everyone pays a price in the end.

  1. Chip Shop Chips or Home Baked Cake?
    Home baked cake, any day – especially if it is still warm. It’s a massive treat.
  2. What would you most like to be remembered for?
    Revealing some of the dark reality of modern Greek history.
  3. What was the last gift you either gave someone, or received?
    I was given a bracelet with a “mati”, the evil eye, by my publisher on publication of The Figurine.
  4. Tell us about one of the best evenings you’ve had?
    My 60th birthday – myself, Ian, our two children and four very close friends all went to Crete for a few days. On the evening of my birthday we were in my favourite taverna in Plaka (opposite Spinalonga) and I sang with some local musicians.
  5. What is your comfort meal?
    Beans on toast, with lots of Marmite under the beans, and HP sauce squirted on the beans.
  6. Cats or dogs?
    Cats, all my life. I have never had a dog.
  7. What shop can you not pass by?
    Boots – there is always something I need.
  8. What’s your most annoying trait?
    Insisting on ridiculously early arrival for a flight (it’s fine when I am alone, but very annoying for a travel companion!).
  9. You have the power to pass one law, uncontested. What will you do with it?
    I would ban smoking – everywhere, all the time, for everyone.

Victoria Hislop at Dorchester Literary Festival 14th October, 2pm to 3pm

with Lulu Taylor at the Dorford Centre
Tickets £12.00/£6.00 (students)

In her new novel, bestselling author Victoria Hislop shines a light on the questionable acquisition of cultural treasures and the price that people – and countries – will pay to cling on to them.
Of all the ancient art that captures the imagination, none is more appealing than the Cycladic figurine. An air of mystery swirls around these statuettes from the Bronze Age and they are highly sought after by collectors and looters alike.
When Helena inherits her grandparents’ apartment in Athens, she is overwhelmed with memories of the summers she spent there as a child. As she sifts through the dusty rooms, Helena discovers an array of valuable objects and antiquities.
How did her grandfather amass such a trove? What human price was paid for them?
Helena’s desire to find answers about her heritage dovetails with a growing curiosity for archaeology, ignited by a summer spent with volunteers on a dig on an Aegean island.
Their finds fuel her determination to protect the precious fragments recovered – and to understand the origins of her grandfather’s collection.
The Figurine was published in hardback September 2023, and available online here as well as from your favourite bookshop.


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