on June 1, 2008 by in Uncategorized, Comments (0)

Allende doesn’t panic about writing

LONDON (Reuters) – After selling 51 million copies of her books and 26 years after her first novel, “The House of the Spirits,” Isabel Allende finally feels confident about her writing and knows that hard work will get her through the end of a novel.

A niece of former Chilean president Salvador Allende, she lived in exile in Venezuela and the United States after General Augusto Pinochet’s coup forced her family out of the country.

She talked to Reuters in a central London hotel, while in town to launch her latest book, “The Sum of Our Days,” a memoir.

Q: How often do you come to Europe?

A: A couple of times a year, always for work. When I go on holiday, I try to take my family to an unexpected place, such as the Amazon, or a safari in Africa.

Q: Why write a memoir now?

A: I already wrote one in 1993, after my daughter Paula died. After that, many things happened in the family. But this book wasn’t my idea, it was my agent’s, Carmen Balcells (in Barcelona.) She called me on January 8, when I always start my novels, and she asked me to read her the first sentence of my new book. I said “It’s 8 a.m., I don’t have a first sentence yet!” So she suggested writing a memoir, telling Paula what has happened since she left us.

Q: How did you get the family consent to write about their lives?

A: It has to be done with love. There was one person, though, that I couldn’t agree with. So I had to take him out of the book, and I had to rewrite it entirely.

Q: Which has been your most important book?

A: “The House of the Spirits,” because it opened the door to the others. It got me the publishers, and I’ve mostly had the same ones all along.

I lived in Caracas at the time (1982), I sent the book to a few publishers and nobody answered me. A writer suggested I contact Carmen Balcells in Barcelona. I sent her the book and she got me Plaza & Janes, who’ve published most of my books.

Q: You wrote “The House of Spirits” at 39, being a first novel, you must have written substantially before.

A: Not really, only through my journalism jobs. I worked in Chile, at a ladies’ magazine, called “Paula.”

It was really theatre that helped me as a writer as it teaches you to create characters that aren’t flat; characters that have many dimensions and contradictions -the same as all human beings. I want to avoid stereotypes.

Q: Was there anybody in your childhood that taught you how to read, write stories?

A: We told stories in our family, those were times without TV, and people had long chats after lunch, the winter afternoons were very long. We had the kitchen stories, my grandfather’s stories. The House of the Spirits started as a letter to my grandfather.

Q: When did you know you’d be a writer?

A: In my third book. Carmen Balcells told me “The House of Spirits” was a good book, but that everybody can write a good first book because it’s one’s story. She said that writers prove themselves in the second novel. So I started immediately.

Q: You’ve said writers need to come from “weird” families, why?

A: The fact that I had a conflictive childhood, a strange life and a weird family helps me because it gives me material. But I am mostly a writer because I see life in terms of stories. Every person is a tale for me.

Q: Do you know your plots before you start writing?

A: Not at all. Sometimes I don’t even know the characters. When I start, what I have is a time and a place, which I’ve researched well, but I don’t know anything after that.

Q: What’s your new project?

A: It’s set in the times of slavery, in the 1800s, in several islands in the Caribbean, such as Haiti.

Q: How have you evolved as a novelist?

A: I guess my language is clearer. When I started 20 years ago, Latin American writing was more baroque, now it has changed. But also because I live in the U.S., I think my writing has got tighter.

I am also more confident. Before, I thought books fell from heaven, now I think it’s a matter of work, I feel that if I sit and work hard, it will come out, I don’t panic any more.

When I panicked, my husband always insists: “Just tell the story, just tell the story.”

Reuters/Nielsen