Author of leper bestseller shuns Hollywood

THE bestselling author Victoria Hislop has rejected an offer of about £300,000 from Hollywood to turn her debut novel about a leper colony off Crete into a blockbuster film.

Keen to preserve the integrity of the book and to give something back to the Mediterranean island on which it is based, Hislop has instead allowed one of Greece’s main television channels to dramatise her story for a fraction of the fee.

Since its publication in 2005, The Island has sold more than 1m copies in Britain alone, won several awards and been translated into more than a dozen languages, including Greek. The popularity of the novel in America led to Hislop, 50, being courted by several film studios.

“Some were offering me high six-figure dollar sums for the rights,” said Hislop, whose follow-up novel, The Return, set in Spain, has also been a success.

After spurning Hollywood, the author settled for “far less” from Mega, the Greek broadcaster, which is turning The Island into a 26-part drama that has just started filming.

“I really don’t mind,” said Hislop. “What I wanted, and will now get, is a chance to have a say in the TV series.

“Of course it is the writer’s script, but I feel much happier with some of my input and knowing that the Greeks, who took the book to their heart, will care about making the series and keep loyally to the plot.

“I was simply not happy with the approaches from America. I was worried what might happen to my story and my characters.”

Hislop is no doubt mindful of the fate of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres, a wartime novel set on the Greek island of Cephalonia, which was filmed in 2001 by John Madden, the British director.

In the hands of Universal, the US studio, Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz were considered miscast as a captain in the Italian army and his Greek girlfriend.

De Bernieres later remarked: “It would be impossible for a parent to be happy about its baby’s ears being put on backwards.”

The Island tells the tale of Alexis Fielding, who goes in search of her Greek mother’s past, uncovering tragedy and passion. The TV adaptation will employ about 300 local actors and is expected to cost £3.5m — despite the country’s economic meltdown.

The writer, who owns a house on Crete with her husband, Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye magazine, will even have a small speaking part in the drama. “I’ve been learning Greek for the past couple of years,” she said. “I’m fairly fluent now.”

She also said the deal did not preclude secondary rights being sold to a British film or TV company at a later date.

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