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Victoria Hislop: Books that changed my life

Victoria Hislop: Books that changed my life

Author Victoria Hislop is best known for her much-loved 2005 novel, The Island. Her latest book, Maria’s Island, illustrated by Gill Smith, adapts it for children

I Am David by Anne Holm

Book cover for I Am David by Anne Holm

This was read to me at school. It’s an incredibly powerful story of a child who escapes a concentration camp and makes his way across Europe alone to find his home.

Every experience he has is new and strange, from using soap to eating an orange. It’s intensely moving, and when I re-read it to my own children 30 years on, I cried all over again.

It made me realise that stories for children can be profound and sad and thought-provoking, which spurred me to write my own, Maria’s Island, an adaptation of my first novel, The Island. I knew it was OK to make children cry.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Book cover for Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights with illustration of Cathy and Heathcliffe

This was the first truly “adult” novel I ever read. I was 13 years old and it was revelatory.

Apart from I Am David, I had never been drawn into any story at that point. So suddenly reading a fantastic work of literature like Wuthering Heights was transformative. It switched me on to reading!

Many things about Brontë’s novel have been a big influence on me in my own writing, not least the use of “place” as character.

The two houses in the book, Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange, are as influential to the plot as any of the people. And I always have this in mind in my own writing.

Oxford Greek-English and English-Greek Dictionary

Book cover for Oxford English Greek Learner's Dictionary

This is the most well-thumbed book on my shelf, probably the only book that I use every day!

I have been learning modern Greek for ten years and there’s something incredibly exciting about using a printed dictionary (rather than an online one) because you can’t help letting your eye stray to the words before and after. In that way I’ve extended my vocabulary exponentially. 

I have found learning a new language exciting and rewarding in every way. It’s thrilling to be able to look at a page full of letters that were once alien, and to know what they mean.  For me it is one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done.

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