Hilary Sunman

Hilary SunmanAbout

I am a writer of history, an economist, a traveller and a restorer of furniture – and write to reflect on the past and the people who lived there.

I think travel was in my blood, born as I was in Nairobi to a colonial officer who spent over twenty years of his life working in Kenya. But I grew up in a rural vicarage in the south east of England, (is it true what they say about Vicars' daughters?). After school I did a then unfashionable gap year in Paris and Biarritz where I learned many things not part of life of the Vicarage – the lovely French language, the food, the sex, the French boys… But then life became serious when I was one of the pioneering students of the New Universities; I went to East Anglia, living in Dennis Lasdun's beautiful Ziggurat buildings set in rolling Earlham Park, and read Social Studies. UEA was one of the first universities to look at Development Studies, and I studied development economics for a Masters Degree.

Life before writing

There has always been writing, but mainly technical and journalistic writing in various posts around the world. My first overseas post was in Egypt, the most junior economist on a Overseas Development Agency (ODA) planning project to help to rebuild the three Canal cities which had been severely damaged during the 1973 October War, when the Egyptians managed to cross the Suez Canal into Sinai. This was where I saw real poverty for the first time, people living such hard lives without basics such as enough food, water and sanitation. Since then I have worked in many sectors and in many countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East – where I loved working and about which I now feel great sorrow at the turmoil in the area.

Over 30 years as a development economist I travelled to 60 countries and worked in 50 of them – writing articles and reports and occasional books. I discovered much about people's lives – rural villagers in the Sahel and the competition for water between men and women; Syria, then a peaceful country, but with great tensions between tribal and social groupings; China in the early days when she first opened her doors to international experts, the Chinese passion for food and the great desire to learn; the countries of the Great Lakes in Africa recovering from terrible wars of the 1990s, the music of the Congo, the great crocodile of Burundi; the desert and nomadic lives of Somalia.

Now I have retired from that life, and write, garden, restore furniture, run, and still travel.