Isabel Hilton OBE is a Scottish journalist and broadcaster based in London. She has worked as Latin American affairs editor at The Sunday Times and The Independent, and as a columnist for the Guardian. She is a past editor-in-chief of the digital commons openDemocracy and the current editor of Chinadialogue, a bilingual (English and Mandarin) website on global environmental issues, with a special focus on China.
She is author of The Search for the Panchen Lama (2001).
Why I write
Because in a complicated way, I enjoy it and because I don’t really know what I think until I sit down and write it. It is partly a dialogue with myself and partly how I order my sense of the world, people and events.
Do you write every day? If so, how many hours?
Yes, but it depends on what else is going on. If I am on a book or a big project, I will write for up to six hours and revise for the rest. But a lot of the time I am doing other things – researching, running chinadialogue, giving talks and other distractions.
Worst source of distraction?
Earning a living.
Best source of inspiration?
The steady stream of strange and remarkable events that happen in the world.
How often do you get writers’ block/doubt your own ability?
About eight times a day.
Contemporary writer in any medium who you never miss?
Too many to mention. It also depends on what I happen to be chasing. You discover new writers all the time.
Favorite Chinese writer?
Best book about China?
Hong Lou Meng, though I am sure that’s not what you meant.
No fixed favorite. How could there be while life and books still continue? But I recently enjoyed Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel, a recent Booker winner.
The book you should have read but haven’t?
Anything by Alexander Herzen.
You look back at the first thing you had published and think…
That’s not bad. I wonder who wrote it?
How did you get started writing?
At school, for the love of it.
Does writing change anything?