Victoria Hislop, the British author whose love for Greece has inspired nearly all of her work, praised the generosity of the Greek people this week, saying their help made the television series adapted from her novel “Cartes Postales from Greece” possible.
Giving her thanks to the people of Greece, and especially Crete, by way of an opinion piece in the online British news source inews, Hislop, who was granted Greek citizenship last year by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, said that the making of the television movie for the Greek channel ERT was even more difficult than it normally would have been because of the pandemic.
The writer worked with a team of four scriptwriters as well as a large crew for the four-month long shoot, which ended up being a bittersweet experience for the acclaimed novelist.
Victoria Hislop says entire process of making series “bittersweet”
Calling the entire process “something between a sprint and a marathon,” she says she had struggled with the concept of others changing her ideas and adding in new details and dramas into her own work.
However, by the time the effort came to an end recently, she said, she understood why it all had to happen the way it did.
She relates “One day last week, as the sun rose over the sea, I heard the words “cut” and “wrap”. They sound like they might be used in a butcher or a sandwich shop… In fact, they resounded over the Cretan beach where a TV shoot that lasted more than four months finally came to an end.”
It was less than one year since she had begun her collaboration with Greek national broadcaster ERT on Cartes Postales from Greece. Taking on such a gargantuan project during a pandemic was, the admits, “no mean feat.”
She points out that “That final moment when a film shoot finishes is bittersweet. It was sad the project had come to an end but also a relief that we had created 12 episodes of beautiful, original television. Getting to the end without any interruptions from Covid was no mean feat when a cast and crew of 50-plus had to be kept safe.”
Noting that in such situations, as would be natural with any author, the control freak part of her personality began to take over and it was “challenging” to work with the four other scriptwriters on the project.
“At the beginning it felt as if someone was snatching my baby and I experienced a visceral resistance to it. But gradually, I accepted that new details, dramas, even characters sometimes have to be added to keep a TV audience with you,” Hislop says.
As she explains, “Adapting a novel into a screenplay presents obstacles. Some of these are technical, some are practical (often financial) and some are creative. The essence of the original remains but needs something else – something that scriptwriters call ‘dramaturgy.’”
Television series relocates to Crete
Victoria Hislop’s novel Cartes Postales from Greece is about an Englishman named Anthony who is in the Greek city of Kalamata, waiting at the airport for his girlfriend to arrive. Meanwhile, there is an engagement ring in his pocket just for her.
Suddenly receiving a message that she is not indeed coming to Kalamata, Anthony’s life is put into a tailspin. The British man decides to travel around Greece trying to understand what his life is all about now.
However, Hislop’s character had to be transformed into a Greek man, according to the producers. Somehow, the author had to deal with her main character changing completely.
In the end, she explains, Anthony ended up becoming a Greek man who had spent most of his life in Britain and who wanted to “reconnect with his Greek roots.” On the way, he visits many of the places of his early years in Greece.
“Perhaps the biggest and most obvious change was the location,” Hislop states in her story. “The original stories take place in a very wide range of places, reflecting my own journeys in Greece. I travelled from Kalamata to Meteora, from Messolonghi to Ikaria. Using all the same places in a television production (and moving the crew and actors) would probably bankrupt even a US television company, so we had to find a solution.
“It was a relatively simple one: to retell the stories in Crete,” she states.
“Crete is an island, of course, but in my own mind it is more like a small country with villages, towns, lakes, mountains, caves, archaeological sites, numerous different styles and periods of buildings and contrasting atmospheres.
“We based ourselves in Agios Nikolaos and found every location we needed within a 40-minute drive. The tight budget we worked within spurred some extraordinarily creative and inventive solutions for which the artistic and technical team can be incredibly proud,” Hislop notes.
“They turned a shack into a gas station, created a life-size statue of Aphrodite (who now stands guard over my desk), and simulated an earthquake with tons of dust. Every day the production team performed some kind of miracle,” she recalls.
“Fiction and reality sometimes felt so closely intertwined.”
The author then says that the production was very dependent on the goodwill and incredible generosity of the local Cretan people. This involved “giving and lending houses, cars, locations, props, costumes – even animals!” she said.
“Having a film crew moving into a village, even for a few days, creates excitement but disruption too, but everywhere we went, there were smiles and open doors. Cretan philoxenia (“generosity” is not a worthy translation) played a huge role,” the British-Greek author admits.
“One of the later episodes, “Je Reviens”, largely takes place during the period of Nazi occupation. The streets had to be covered with tons of earth (in those days, they were not tarmacked) and the main set was a kafeneion (coffee house) which had been shut for many years.
“I stood side by side with the owner, and could sense her nostalgia at seeing her family business briefly reopened, repainted and “working” after so many years. A photograph of her grandfather hung inside. Fiction and reality sometimes felt so closely intertwined,” Hislop says, before adding “The filming has come to an end, but the memories will linger for a long, long time.”
Hislop’s novel “The Island,” published in 2005, was a number-one bestseller in Britain, “To Nisi” was filmed as a television series by the Greek TV channel MEGA.
In 2009, she donated the short story Aflame in Athens to Oxfam’s “Ox-Tales” project, four collections of British stories written by 38 authors. Hislop has a particular affection for Greece, visits the country often for research and other reasons, and has a second home on the island of Crete. She was made a Greek citizen in 2020.
Victoria Hislop is the author of several other books on Greece, including “One August Night,” the sequel to “The Island,” which is now out in paperback.