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2 July 2024

Susie Alegre Q&A: “I was advised to travel the world or join the circus”

The human rights lawyer on Eleanor Roosevelt, Northern Exposure and Manx history and folklore.

By New Statesman

Susie Alegre was born in 1971 on the Isle of Man. She is an international human rights lawyer and author. Her first book Freedom to Think was shortlisted for the Royal Society of Literature Christopher Bland Prize 2023.

What’s your earliest memory?

Making dens in the bushes on the coastal path in Port Saint Mary, Isle of Man.

Who are your heroes?

Anne of Green Gables was my childhood hero. As an adult there are a lot of people I admire, but no real need for heroes.

What would be your “Mastermind” specialist subject?

Manx history and folklore.

What book last changed your thinking?

It was Black England by Gretchen Gerzina – a whole new perspective on British history and the diversity that inspired the society we live in.

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Which political figure do you look up to?

Eleanor Roosevelt. Getting consensus on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, even in the unique circumstances of the aftermath of the Second World War, was an incredible achievement.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

I spent hours in my childhood imagining myself in different times. Particular favourites were the Viking era in the Isle of Man and medieval France, but I suspect they were a lot colder and less comfortable in reality than in my daydreams. Now I am always conscious of the fact that, as a woman, in a different time or place I would not enjoy the rights and freedoms that make life so good. Sadly, that could be the same for the future as it was for the past.

Who would paint your portrait?

Leonora Carrington.

What’s your theme tune?

It depends what day it is.

What TV show could you not live without?

There was a time when life without Northern Exposure was unthinkable.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

After university, bored of temp work, I asked a recruitment consultant I’d been working with about a full-time job in the finance sector. She advised me to go away, travel the world, join the circus or do something more interesting as I would be bored within six months. I didn’t join the circus but I didn’t get a job in finance either. I have since lived and worked around the world in fascinating roles and have rarely been bored.

What’s currently bugging you?

The hole in my sofa.

When were you happiest?

My year in Besançon, France. I had no responsibilities and plenty of time to discover food, people and new ways of living, particularly as the university went on strike so there were no lectures. Living in another country was a great liberation – being foreign by default meant I didn’t need to worry about not fitting in. It was probably the closest I got to running away with the circus as Besançon was the base of Cirque Plume.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

I would have been a full-time novelist living on a smallholding by the sea. But if I had been, I would have missed a whole world of fascinating work and places that I could not have imagined. Hopefully, there is still time in this life.

Are we all doomed?

Not yet. We can still decide against doom, but we will have to make a serious effort to cooperate to build a future without it.

“Human Rights, Robot Wrongs” by Susie Alegre is published by Atlantic Books

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This article appears in the 02 Jul 2024 issue of the New Statesman, Labour’s Britain