Rossendale Free Press
It took me a long time to accept it but you’ve got to love yourself
Author Victoria Hislop opens up about the recent death of her mother, her thoughts on ageing, and facing up to being in her ‘final quarter’
VICTORIA HISLOP is thoughtful, erudite and exudes a poise and kindness that’s quite lovely. This charm runs through her books too, including her latest, One August Night. The sequel to her 2005 bestseller The Island – which focussed on Spinalonga off Crete, home to a Greek leper colony – it picks up after the colony has closed, amidst a celebration disrupted by violence.
We caught up with Victoria, 61, to discuss lockdown, grief, and the value of taking care of yourself...
You wrote your new book during the first lockdown. Did it feel like a kind of therapy?
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.
What made you want to write it?
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 the 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’. It was sanity saving.
You weren’t able to be with your mum at the end. That must have been incredibly difficult.
I ALWAYS imagined I’d be with mum [when she passed]. That was never a question. I would be holding her hand. And it was a shock. I couldn’t feel guilty because I’d been given no choice, but I did over the next few weeks, of course, when that whole Dominic Cummings thing came out, him going off on his unnecessary journeys. I’d been so law-abiding, like most of us have, and hadn’t gone further than the end of the road. I wish I’d gone to see her – if I’d known she was about to leave us.
How do you feel about ageing and time passing?
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%!”
Do you worry about being in your ‘final quarter’?
ENJOY life, because you’ve only got one. There’s no point in lamenting each day going by, and that’s why I don’t really like Advent calendars or Advent candles. You burn them down; I find that really depressing. You end up with this horrid little stub and you watch the month disappearing, and I think, ‘ I’m glad we don’t do this every month’.
You and Ian Hislop have been married 32 years – what’s the secret to a happy marriage?
WE met at university and haven’t really been apart since. But we both really enjoy what we do and support each other.
We have independence, because I’m not involved in his work and he’s not involved in mine, but we know that work is important to the other one in the same way.
How do you take care of your own wellbeing?
LOOKING after your wellbeing means something that took me a long time to accept; you’ve got to love yourself, feel that you’re worth it, like the L’Oreal shampoo ad. But I think, definitely in your final quarter – it sounds so depressing, ha! – it’s a priority, it really is. Physically, mentally as well.
I do a lot of Pilates. I just find it really suits me. I do it four or five times a week now for an hour, and I walk a lot. When I was younger, I wouldn’t take the time to do something that made me feel that much better, I’d always think there was something more important to do. But I actually think, if you make yourself feel good, you’ve got more energy and mental space then to look after other people as well.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
LOVE yourself – it sounds so fridge magnety, but it is true. And you know when you’re overdoing it, and that’s key, to have a bit of selfcriticism, so you know if you’re being boastful or braggy. But you can pat yourself on the back, hold your head up – and don’t look in the mirror and just see the faults.
What gets you through the tough times?
SOMETIMES it’s as simple as a chilled glass of white wine. And I don’t deny myself that, because I know I’m not going to drink the whole bottle. I don’t reach for the herbal tea when I’ve had a bad day!
What does happiness mean to you?
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. Happiness isn’t felt 24 hours a day, but it shouldn’t be something you only occasionally feel. It’s really central to a life.
If you make yourself feel good, you’ve got more energy and mental space then to look after other people as well...
■ One August Night by Victoria Hislop, is published by Headline, priced £14.99 in hardback.