This much I know: Isabel Allende, writer, 65, San Francisco

I was trained as a journalist. But I was lousy. I lied all the time; I invented things. I would direct questions in a way that wouldn't give interviewees a chance to say anything other than what I wanted them to say. If I didn't have a story I'd make it up. I felt OK about it because there was always a deep truth. As a fiction writer I have no problem with that. As a journalist I had no ethical problem with that kind of thing, but now I realise that I should have.

Many good things came from the death of my daughter Paula. After I wrote that book about her [Paula], 15 years have gone by and I get letters every single day from someone who read the book who has a connection with her. I learned from her death that everything in your life is temporary, that you will lose everything - youth, health, beauty, power. We lose friends, parents and sometimes we lose children. We love them desperately but we have to let them go.

I didn't forgive Pinochet, but you cannot live with a burden of hatred forever. I lived with it for 20 years, and then I realised it was harming me and it wasn't touching him, that he didn't care about how many people in the world hated him. I smiled when he died, but I did not celebrate with champagne as the right-wing celebrated with champagne when Allende [Salvador Allende, Chile's first socialist president and Isabel's first cousin once removed] died.

I like Hillary Clinton a lot. I know her. The only problem with her was that she represented the establishment - a way of doing politics in Washington - and Obama does not. I have met him a couple of times and he is smart; he has a young mind that grabs everything.

Love at first sight has happened to me - with my husband Willie and with a few lovers. I think it is a chemical reaction, something to do with lust and sex. I have a pathological imagination. I see a guy who is available, and it is like I see a Christmas tree with no ornaments on it. I then add all these ornaments and he becomes this wonderful Christmas tree. It takes me five minutes to dress him up. Every man is a project to me. Willie was a huge project. He wore snake boots! His life was a total mess, and I had to remodel the entire thing.

Writing is my job. I don't think of it as art. I am usually writing by eight and I write all day until Willie calls me for dinner. Many times what I write is useless and it goes in the trash. But the fact that I show up and I do it allows me to finish the book eventually.

I got to know Zorro well when I wrote a novel called Zorro about his early years in California and, like every other normal female, fell in lust with him. I have dreams of a handsome man who leaps on to my balcony to spend the night with me. The next day there's no guilt, I don't know who he is, he wore a mask - utterly ridiculous at my age.

The fact people think that when you sell a lot of books you are not a serious writer is a great insult to the readership. I get a little angry when people try to say such a thing. There was a review of my last book in one American paper by a professor of Latin American studies and he attacked me personally for the sole reason that I sold a lot of books. That is unforgivable.

I am an American citizen and it is my home now. I like the USA, which is not a place too many people have liked since Bush. The US has a young population, and everything can change within a year. Things happen fast, which is not possible in Europe because everything is established for 3,000 years, or in most other places because everybody is trying to survive.

· Zorro, the new Gipsy Kings musical, is previewing at the Garrick Theatre in London and opens on 15 July. For more details, go to

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