72. Best-Selling Novelist on Salvadorean refugees in Nicaragua, the Mennonites of the Belize Jungle, Surfing Down a Volcano and Marie Claire - The Big Travel Podcast

Episode 72
July 17 , 2019

72. Best-Selling Novelist on Salvadorean refugees in Nicaragua, the Mennonites of the Belize Jungle, Surfing Down a Volcano and Marie Claire

As a foreign correspondent for Reuters, best-selling novelist Fiona Neill worked with Salvadorean refugees in Nicaragua, learnt to make jewellery in the Andean mountains of Peru and travelled all over writing reports on civil war refugees. She ‘surfed’ down the side of an active volcano, survived revolutions and serious illness and even life as features editor of Marie Claire. Her new book – Beneath the Surface – is a gripping tale of secrets and lies set against the backdrop of the fenlands in Cambridgeshire.

On this episode we cover:


Her column Slummy Mummy in the Saturday Times

Getting a book deal

Her novels becoming darker and darker

The domestic comedies in having young children

Dysfunctional families and adolescent mental health

The remote, desolation of the Fens north of Cambridge

The disturbing storyline in her new book Beneath the Surface

Moving to Latin America to ‘all the places you shouldn’t visit’

Life in Chile under the fascist dictatorship of Pinochet

Disappearances and government repression

Getting tear-gassed

Accidentally tear-gassing herself (!)

Living with El Salvadorian refuges in Nicaragua

A melting pot of left-wing ideology

The everyday reality of no electricity, little water

Working in a handicraft-painting workshop in Nicaragua

The sad sight of the migrant caravan heading for the US

The gang violence they are escaping

How the gang violence was actually a US export

Colombia and the cocaine wars

The heart-breaking image of the father and daughter washed up in the river

The adrenaline-filled job as a news journalist

Heading to Costa Rica rather than staying in the UK recession

Researching way different populations were internally displaced

Working for Reuters in Guatemala, Mexico, Colombia and more

Being lucky as international reporters rather than local journalist

Moments of fear that happened quickly

Being in a car chase during an election

Being at the centre of a fascinating period of history

Visiting isolated communities of Mennonites in the Belize jungle

The Mennonites originally coming from Northern Europe

Pig’s trotters and sauerkraut for breakfast

London not being the easiest city to live in

Moving back to London to work at Marie Claire

Taking a year to come down from the adrenaline of news reporting in south America

Going to Paris for the day to see an Alexander McQueen show

Marie Claire covering illegal abortion in Tibet

The days when we were all obsessed with magazines

Moving to work at The Thames

How writing makes her feel balanced

Returning to Nicaragua with her husband and three children

How Nicaragua has it all – beaches, mountains, biodiversity

‘Surfing’ down the side of an active volcano

How London is an exciting place to bring up kids

London being ‘ a really, dynamic, energy-giving city’

Her books being very much UK based at the moment

The punk scene in deepest Norfolk 

Lisa’s obsession with seeing Nick Cave sitting outside his Brighton beach hut (well, Hove, actually…)

Having a specific playlist for every book she writes

How music travels with us wherever we go