What is the greatest life lesson you’ve learnt from writing about Spinalonga?
That mankind is capable of great courage and strength in the face of adversity.
What was the hardest thing about developing the novel?
Learning about the science of leprosy – but I had expert help from the top leprosy doctor in the UK, Professor Diana Lockwood, who was incredibly kind.
How do you think readers will experience the book now, in light of the isolation, community and hope experienced during Covid?
I think they will find many resonances and similarities – the parallels are quite close – enforced isolation, the loss of loved ones that we couldn’t be with, the fear of an incurable disease – though happily we now have a vaccination for Covid and successful treatment for leprosy.
The role of silence and secrecy is prominent in the novel. Do you think we could all benefit from learning more about our family history?
I think we can learn so much from talking to the older members of our family – they have so many memories that will simply disappear when they leave us, and unless they have kept diaries those memories will be lost forever.
Fate is also a prominent idea. Could you give us a quote on your thoughts about fate? And the unexpected joys we can find after a bad hand has been dealt us?
I think of Fate like a game of cards – the value of the cards dealt to us is random, but it is how we play out those cards that gives us control over our lives – and I think destiny is part luck, part attitude. In a more Greek context, I would always describe this as a game of backgammon – you roll the dice and then it’s how you play them that demonstrates your skill and determines who wins!
In light of the heroes who created vaccines against Covid, how do you now reflect on the work of the doctors who worked tirelessly to find a cure for leprosy?
The quest to find a cure for leprosy was an international effort and before successful treatment was found, doctors risked their own health in treating patients – so this is uncannily similar to the medical teams who fought to save the lives of those with Covid. So many of them lost their own lives in this struggle and I don’t think they should ever be forgotten. The first person who identified the leprosy bacteria, Armauer Hansen, a Norwegian doctor, took great risks but he made those first vital steps in understanding that leprosy was a bacterial disease – and from that moment, the journey towards the cure could begin. I think such people are almost superhuman in what they achieve. I have immeasurable respect for doctors and scientists.