My secret life: Paul Theroux, travel writer, 67


The house I grew up in ... was full of people – my parents and seven children, which instilled in me a desire to leave.

When I was a child I wanted to be ... a doctor of tropical medicine.

The moment that changed me for ever ... was the moment my first child was born. I was happy, filled with hope, and thought, "Now I understand the whole point of work, of life, of love".

My greatest inspiration ... is memory.

My real-life villain ... is anyone who says, "That murder was necessary".

My style icon ... Yvon Chouinard, surfer, mountain-climber, businessman, philanthropist and [as the founder of the Patagonia label] maker of sturdy clothing.

If I could change one thing about myself ... I would find a way of ridding myself of gout.

At night I dream of ... flying like a frigate bird, on the up-flows of wind currents, hardly moving my arms, but often soaring to considerable heights.

What I see when I look in the mirror ... is an unfamiliar face.

My favourite item of clothing ... is a Borsalino hat, splendid for all occasions, at home and abroad.

I wish I'd never worn ... bell bottoms in the 1970s.

It's not fashionable but I like ... to spit out of the window of a moving train.

You wouldn't know it but I'm very good at ... growing and propagating non-invasive types of bamboo.

You may not know it but I'm no good at ... coping with all the attention in the luxury hotels I sometimes find myself in.

All my money goes on ... supporting myself while I am trying to think of an idea that will make me some money.

If I have time to myself ... I sit on a sunny beach, eating ice-cream and pondering the narcissism of minor differences in the world.

I ride ... a Merlin titanium hybrid bike up many volcanic ridges in Hawaii.

My house is ... a place I have spent many years improving to the point where I have no desire to leave it.

My most valuable possession is ... a small leather briefcase (made by Glaser Designs in San Francisco) which is my portable office, containing a clipboard, a pad of white lined paper, a tiny radio and earphones, and a selection of pens and other items necessary to write on the road or under a palm tree.

My favourite building is ... Victoria Station (now called Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) in Bombay (Mumbai).

Movie heaven is ... The Godfather.

A book that changed me ... was The Worst Journey in the World, by Apsley Cherry-Garrard – a magnificent book about a harrowing trip, written brilliantly by a modest and obscure man.

My favourite work of art ... is the Bayon temple at the centre of Angkor Thom, in Cambodia.

The last album I bought ... was Monsters of Grace by Philip Glass.

The person who really makes me laugh ... is any politician who starts a speech, "What we really need to do now is tighten our belts ..."

The shops I can't walk past ... are those in the heart of England (Ludlow comes to mind) filled with different kinds of cheese.

The best invention ever ... is the twist-off beer bottle cap.

In 10 years' time I hope to be ... having a couple of adorable little children, sort of like Rupert Murdoch did in his seventies. Ha! Just joking. All I want is to still be here 10 years' hence.

My greatest regret ... is that I did not go to medical school when I still had an agile-enough brain to do so.

My life in seven words ... joyous, bewildering, rewarded, secretive, familial, passionate, American.

A life in brief

Paul Theroux was born on 10 April 1941 in Medford, Massachusetts, and worked as a Peace Corps teacher in Malawi before taking up writing. Among his most famous works are the novel Mosquito Coast, which was made into a Hollywood film, and the travel book The Great Railway Bazaar. He is also a professional beekeeper and lives with his second wife in Cape Cod and Hawaii. Paul Theroux's latest book is Ghost Train to the Eastern Star (published by Hamish Hamilton)

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