A Blagger's Guide To: Dervla Murphy

'Most people in the world are helpful and trustworthy': All you need to know about the hottest literary topic of the week

A Month by the Sea is the latest book by the veteran travel writer Dervla Murphy. It is the result of a month spent in Gaza in June 2011 – her 80th year. Her trip was originally intended to form part of a longer book about Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank, and to include accounts of the eight months she spent there between 2008 and 2010; but her "month by the sea" spiralled into a whole book. She intends to follow it with another about the West Bank.

Murphy was born in Lismore, County Waterford, in 1931, and educated at the Ursuline Convent in Waterford until she was 14. Her father had spent three years in Wormwood Scrubs prison and seven years at the Sorbonne, and was Waterford County Librarian when Dervla was born. She cared for her parents from the age of 14 until she was 30, and then, "like an elastic stretched to breaking point", she pinged off to India, taking only a stripped down bicycle and a .25 automatic pistol (which came in handy for shooting wolves in Bulgaria, and for firing a warning shot when she was attacked in Azerbaijan). The entire trip cost her £64.7s.10d. "You never want your travelling to be too easy," she explained, later.

Her first book, Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle, was published in 1965. Since then, she has published a further 23 books, travelling in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas, trekking in mountains and living in refugee camps. Dervla still lives in Lismore, with a cat and three dogs, but travels frequently, with her new hip and (when possible) her daughter and three granddaughters. She says she "remains passionate about politics, conservation, and beer",

In 1968, Murphy had her daughter Rachel, though she was not married to Rachel's father – a bit of a shocker in 1960s Ireland. When Rachel was very small, Murphy put travelling on hold to write book reviews, as well as making notes about her own life. They were published in 1979 as her autobiography, Wheels Within Wheels. After Rachel was five, she often travelled with her mother around the world.

Following her 1982 book, Race to the Finish? The Nuclear Stakes, left, Murphy realised that her writing and thinking had become more politicised. "My view is that I have these things I want to say and I don't really care if it spoils a pure travel book," she said. Murphy visited Rwanda two years after the genocide there, and Romania two weeks after the fall of Nicolae Ceausescu.

What have six decades of travelling taught her? "Most people in the world are helpful and trustworthy," she told this newspaper a year ago.

On Desert Island Discs, in 1993, she chose Beethoven's Triple Concerto in C Major as her favourite track and The Diary of Samuel Pepys as her book. As a luxury, she asked for a still, to turn foraged berries and fruits into alcohol.

In the 2010 documentary, Who Is Dervla Murphy?, she said: "People say I'm courageous. It doesn't come into it. You're only courageous if you do something that you're afraid of doing. I am fearless … and that is a totally different thing. Courage is a virtue, you're overcoming fear. If you're fearless, there's nothing to overcome."

A Month by the Sea, by Dervla Murphy, is published by Eland Publishing (£16.99).

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