What a treat - tonight I got to hear Victoria Hislop read from her new novel, The Return, which is about the Spanish Civil War and flamenco dancing. Her reading was wonderful and the Q&A afterwards was so interesting. She talked about how she used flamenco dancing, with its sadness and pain, as a metaphor for the war. One woman asked what other art forms you could use to convey the horrors of war and that led to a discussion of Picasso's Geurnica and how that painting so perfectly depicted the terror and chaos of that attack. She also discussed how Spain dealt with the civil war in the years that have followed and mused on the potential reaction Spain will have to the book as it is about to be published there. She spoke about the letters she's received from people who lived their lives in exile following the war, but never really understood why because their families didn't really speak of it. Some of these letters are reprinted in the book as well.
Hislop was also asked about how she immerses herself in the cultures that she writes about -- Greece for The Island, and Spain for The Return. While she can't go and live in the countries while writing about them, she does take several trips, each for a week or two, and spends much of her time sitting in cafes, listening and watching people. She takes hundreds of photographs -- of the landscapes, but also of the people -- and when she returns home, she puts them all up on big boards around her writing space. She'll often base a character on a snapshot she's taken of someone. She also listens to the music of the country while writing and eats the delicious foods they're known for -- her descriptions of tomato and feta lunches while writing The Island and of eating chorizo, olives and manchego cheese while writing The Return had my mouth watering.
I learned so much and really enjoyed hearing about and imagining Hislop's writing space. A thoroughly enjoyable evening.