Famous Authors Series – Isabel Allende

‘Famous Authors Series – Isabel Allende’ is our third post profiling famous authors.

photo of Isabel Allende author

Isabel Allende, the Chilean-American writer born in 1942, wrote her first novel The House of the Spirits (1982) when she was almost 40.

As towering a literary figure as she is, physically she is tiny, just 5ft. She is a multi-award-winning author, and through the Isabel Allende Foundation, a powerful voice for the empowerment of women and girls.

‘Secret chambers of my heart’

Despite having written 24 books which have been translated into more than 42 languages, she says, ‘… the most important things about my life happened in the secret chambers of my heart and have no place in a biography. My most significant achievements are not my books, but the love I share with a few people—especially my family—and the ways in which I have tried to help others’ (isabelallende.com).

Background

Isabel was born in Perú to Chilean parents, and became a U.S. citizen in the early 1990s, where she now lives with her third husband. She has spent 13 years in Venezuela, for her own safety after the General Augusto Pinochet military coup, and has lived in Bolivia and Lebanon.

Isabel’s father was a first cousin of Salvador Allende, long-term socialist politician and president of Chile from 1970 to 1973. This was before the military coup led by Pinochet, followed by his infamous four-decade dictatorship.

She has lived through family and political upheaval, including her parents’ divorce when she was three – she never saw her father again – a military coup and dictatorship in Chile, and the death of Paula, her daughter, at just 29.

Lucky date

When Isabel begins a book, she always starts writing on 8 January. It is for her a lucky date, an important literary anniversary, as on that day in 1981, she wrote a letter to her dying grandfather. She was living in Venezuela in exile and could not go to him. This letter developed into her first novel—The House of the Spirits.

Her books are generally based on her own experiences, and are often classified as magical realism. She says that magical realism was ‘overwhelmingly present’ in The House of the Spirits. However, she finds the rest of her work being categorised that way strange, and considers her novels simply as realistic literature.

About Isabel Allende’s writing routine

She always writes fiction in her native Spanish.

She spends 10 to 12 hours a day alone in a room writing, not talking to anybody and not answering the phone.

When she develops a character, she generally bases it on someone. That way, it is easier for her to create believable characters.

She carries a notebook wherever she goes and is always taking notes. When she starts writing a book, she uses the notes as inspiration and begins to write on the computer. She uses no outline, but writes on instinct.

She feels that the stories she writes choose her, not that she chooses the stories.

The most painful novel she wrote was Paula (1995), about the daughter she lost, widely recognised as her masterpiece. After writing it, she experienced writer’s block for three years.

‘Bandido’ husband

She once hilariously described her second husband as ‘an Irish-looking North American lawyer with an aristocratic appearance and a silk tie who spoke Spanish like a Mexican bandido and had a tattoo on his left hand’.

Isabel Allende’s advice to aspiring writers

Writing is like training to be an athlete – there is a lot of training that nobody sees. The writer needs to write every day. Even if much of the writing will never be used, it is essential to do it.

Write at least one good page a day. At the end of the year, you will have at least 360 good pages. That is a book.

She doesn’t share the process of writing with anybody. Once her manuscript is finished, she shows it to very few people because she trusts her instincts and doesn’t want ‘too many hands’ in her writing.

‘The first lie of fiction is that the author gives some order to the chaos of life … Life is not that way … You are not the boss; life is the boss. So when you accept as a writer that fiction is lying, then you become free. You can do anything’ (isabelallende.com).

Isabel Allende

Acknowledgements

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ, January 2020, ‘Falling in Love Again’, https://www.magzter.com/article/Womens-Interest/Australian-Womens-Weekly-NZ/Falling-In-Love-Again Accessed 27 November 2020

Isabel Allende, http://www.isabelallende.com/en/bio Accessed 27 November 2020

Star Tribune, 28 April 2013, ‘Isabel Allende on her new book, grandchildren and loss’ by Kristin Tillotson, https://www.startribune.com/isabel-allende-on-her-new-book-grandchildren-and-loss/204852501/ Accessed 27 November 2020

The Guardian, ‘The Undefeated’, 28 April 2007, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2007/apr/28/isabelallende.fiction Accessed 27 November 2020

Image from Sounds and Colours https://soundsandcolours.com/articles/chile/chilean-writer-isabel-allende-a-personal-touch-a-beloved-author-25662/

Hope you’ve enjoyed this post Famous Authors Series – Isabel Allende.

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