The Way I Work... Isabel Allende
In our series where we look at the things, places and people that inspire a creative’s working life, Marie-Claire Chappet meets writer Isabel Allende
Isabel Allende is about to release her 26th book. The Wind Knows My Name is a moving tale intertwining the narratives of a young Jewish boy fleeing Nazi-occupied Vienna and a young girl trapped in a refugee camp on the American border in 2019. Since her 1982 debut, The House Of The Spirits, the award-winning novelist has become as known for her humanitarian efforts as her relentless and admired creative output, establishing her eponymous foundation in 1996 to support the empowerment of women across the world. She lives in an old Victorian house in Sausalito, California with her husband and her dogs, where she sat down with Service95 to talk about her unbridled passion for coffee, the countries that inspire her and her daily practice of gratitude.
On Working Rituals… I am incredibly disciplined. I start every book I ever write on 8 January, so by 7 January, everybody knows that I will start the next day and therefore I need a lot of space and silence.
On The Working Day… I get up very early. I wake up around 5am, make a cup of coffee and sit in my bed for at least half an hour to just gather my thoughts and be grateful. And I am grateful, because I wake up in a bed with two dogs and a husband and my window looks out onto the lagoon, so I see the sun coming up over it, which is incredible. I then exercise, which I do every day and I also listen to Mozart, on the classic station. Then I work in silence for many hours – except when I meet my team for lunch, and we eat sushi or Thai food. I used to work for eight hours without interruption, but now I feel I need to see people!
On Inspiring Places… Apart from my native Chile, Guatemala and India have left an indelible mark on me. They are so vibrant and full of colour and noise. I will also never forget being in Africa and seeing the migration of the wildebeest. These are all magical places that will never leave me.
On Reading… I listen to audiobooks in my car. The last one was Lessons In Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus, which I absolutely loved. But I have writers I read no matter what – the great writers of the boom of Latin American literature, like Mario Vargas Llosa. No matter what they write, I read it, because it’s part of my background. I also always look out for new Latin American writers, especially women.
On Work Uniforms… I am never in my pyjamas at my desk! I get dressed as if I am going to the opera, so that there is a separation between my leisure time and my work. Then I get to my office and everybody’s in yoga pants. I am the only one who makes an effort! I like brands like Etro, and recently a photoshoot convinced me to start wearing structured things. Now, for the first time in my life, I’m shopping at Carolina Herrera and Gucci, and I feel so elegant and so chic. What will never change is my signature scent; I make it myself. It is a mix of Goutal’s Eau d’Hadrien and Eau [de Cologne] Impériale by Guerlain. I love it because it means no one else smells like me.
On Recharging… I just need coffee. Always coffee. My husband is horrified because even after all the coffee I drink in the day, I sleep like a baby.
On Finding Inspiration Everywhere… My husband and I watch TV together every night and I find so much inspiration from shows. We recently watched the BBC’s Marie Antoinette and I found the aesthetics and the craziness of that period very inspiring. Yesterday, we watched a Norwegian miniseries called War Sailor about Norwegian ships in World War II, and I found what happened so tragic and beautiful. Then we watched the film Emily The Criminal and the lines in that script were amazing. They may end up in one of my books in some other form!
On What Motivates Her… Certain things are constant. I watch every Almodóvar movie. I read any Kazuo Ishiguro book.
On Career Advice… Something I heard from the writer Elizabeth Gilbert: don’t expect your writing to give you fame, or money, or even publication. Write because you love the process, because it’s a wonderful, wonderful thing.
The Wind Knows My Name is out now
Marie-Claire Chappet is a London-based arts and culture journalist and contributing editor at Harper’s Bazaar