Is­abel Al­lende Chilean-Amer­i­can writer, Is­abel, 75, has writ­ten 23 books, which have sold more than 65 mil­lion copies world­wide. She lives in Cal­i­for­nia with her dog Dulce

The Sunday Telegraph - Stella - - MY BOOKSHELF -

I was a lonely and sullen child in a class-ori­ented, con­ser­va­tive and Catholic fam­ily – the only girl in a Chilean house­hold of males who had free­dom and priv­i­leges that my mother did not have. No won­der I was a fem­i­nist be­fore the word had even reached Chile. When I was six I wrote to Santa Claus ask­ing for a dog. Santa brought me a box of oil paints in­stead, and left a note on my bed­room wall, ‘This wall is yours, paint what­ever you want.’ I started with the dog and went on paint­ing for years; sto­ries, dreams, de­sires. When we moved away, I had to part with my magic wall, which I re­placed with a jour­nal. I start writ­ing all my books on 8 Jan­uary

be­cause on that date, in 1981, I started writ­ing a let­ter to my grand­fa­ther that be­came my first novel, The

House of the Spir­its. It was such a lucky book that I de­cided to al­ways start my nov­els on that date. At the be­gin­ning I kept it out of su­per­sti­tion, but now it’s a mat­ter of dis­ci­pline. It al­lows me to or­gan­ise my time.

My pi­lot book, The House of

the Spir­its is loosely based on

my own fam­ily. I wrote it while in ex­ile in Venezuela [af­ter the as­sas­si­na­tion of her fa­ther’s cousin, Chilean pres­i­dent Sal­vador Al­lende, in 1973]. It was an ex­er­cise in nos­tal­gia. Some of my fam­ily felt be­trayed and didn’t speak to me for years – un­til the movie with Meryl Streep came out. Now it’s the of­fi­cial story of the fam­ily.

The first per­son to be­lieve that I could write was my

agent, Car­men Bal­cells. She treated me with in­tel­lec­tual re­spect when I was a 40-yearold liv­ing in ex­ile who no­body had heard of. In 1992, when my daugh­ter Paula [then 29] fell into a coma, Car­men gave me a yel­low pad in the hospi­tal and said, ‘ Write a let­ter to Paula. Only writ­ing will save you from mad­ness.’ She was right. Writ­ing a mem­oir, Paula, helped me to over­come the paralysing grief of her death.

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