The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Hilary Standing

Hillary Standing

By Farah Ghuznavi

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

Have to – there are so many stories to tell! And if I go too long without writing, I can feel myself getting out of sorts with the world. It’s as if some critical dimension of my existence has gone missing.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

Most recently, I completed a longish short story, set a few decades into the future, about a Bangladeshi family of climate change migrants that migrates along the ‘New Silk Route’ and ends up camped on a suburban lawn in southern England. It’s told through the perspective of the eight year old boy who lives in the house and secretly makes friends with the girl from the family. It’s essentially a story about the often brilliantly transgressive nature of children’s friendships. Their capacity to transcend adult-imposed boundaries provides the hope for the future.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

‘More is less.’ I am always trying to pare my writing down, to say the most I can in the simplest way. I really enjoy reading dense, rich styles but I think my own strength is in economy with words. And I’m not at all keen on adverbs!

Who are your favorite authors?

Oh, how does one choose? The world is full of brilliant writers. Some current contemporary favourites: Africa – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; South Asia – Neel Mukherjee, Michael Ondaatje; America – Barbara Kingsolver; Middle East – Naguib Mahfouz, Elif Shafak; Britain – Hilary Mantel

What’s the most challenging piece of writing you’ve attempted? Tell us why.

I am currently struggling to refocus on a piece of life writing that I started last year, which is about the experience of siblingship. My much younger sister, who was born with Down’s Syndrome, has always been a major part of my life. She is funny, infuriating, and with an unfailing capacity to get into scrapes. When she fell seriously ill I spent weeks with her in hospital and came out needing to find a way to write about the intense and complex nature of these older sibling relationships. But I also want to use it to explore the existential conundrum of Down’s Syndrome, of what it means as a way of describing a person. So the biggest challenge is in trying to figure out a structure and some boundaries for this project. As usual, I find myself with too much ambition and too many themes!

What’s your idea of bliss?

It’s a solo walking trip in a beautiful place where I can clear out the clutter in my brain of everyday preoccupations and let my thoughts breathe.

What makes you angry, and I mean all-out-smash-the-china raving mad?

I’m more the quietly, furiously simmering kind, but it’s any and all forms of behaviour to others that says ‘you are a lesser human being because you don’t look like me or share my view of the world.’

What books would you take with you on a three-month retreat in the boondocks?

I would take a large selection of the contemporary novels, classics and non-fiction that I still haven’t read from African, Asian and Middle Eastern writers.

Your house is burning down. What’s the most important thing you’d want to take with you?

It would have to be my library. Everything else is easily replaceable!

Describe your life philosophy. In a sentence.

Always live at least a bit beyond your comfort zone




Hilary Standing has a doctorate in social anthropology and has spent much of her professional life working in international development. She has lived and worked for long periods in India and Bangladesh and has researched and consulted in many other countries. She is an emeritus professor and emeritus fellow at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex. She has always been a secret scribbler and first conceived of her novel ‘The Inheritance Powder’ over a decade ago. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway, University of London. She is passionate about fiction that deals with global, real life dilemmas and how they affect individuals. For more information and updates, see and her Facebook page
You can also follow her on twitter @hilary_standing