Paul Theroux: You ask the questions

(Such as: what's the best advice you've received while travelling? And would you let your son Louis spend a month filming you?)
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The writer Paul Theroux, 62, was born in Massachusetts, one of seven children. After graduating from university, he lectured in Africa, and was thrown out of the Peace Corps in 1964 for his involvement in an unsuccessful coup d'état in Malawi. He began contributing to Playboy and Esquire, before writing The Great Railway Bazaar, the first of his many best-selling travel books. The most recent is Dark Star Safari, for which he travelled from Cairo to Cape Town. He has also written many novels, including the Whitbread award-winning Picture Palace. He lives in Hawaii and Cape Cod with his second wife and has two sons, Louis, the TV presenter, and Marcel. He also keeps bees and produces his own brand of honey.

Where does one find the most beautiful women in the world?
Gary Moir, Gateshead

Oh, I don't know! I don't have a particular notion of feminine beauty, fortunately. But you find beautiful women in a lot of places, chief among them Western Uganda, Poland, Scotland, Argentina, India and many others.

What is the best piece of advice you've received while travelling?
Ruth Hall, Weston-super-Mare

It came from a beachcomber on the coast of Queensland, Australia. I went to his camp. He had a little doggie - a terrier with no name - and masses of junk. I said, "What's all this for?" And he said, "I'm building a raft to sail around the coast of Australia." I pointed out that it was a very dangerous thing to do. "I'm just going to do it slowly," he replied. Then came the good advice: "You can go anywhere in the world, if you go slowly." It's true. If you're not in a hurry, you can do anything. However, I've no idea if he made it around the coast of Australia.

Would you let your son Louis and his film crew spend a month with you? Would you let him into your bedroom with a camera?
Julie Kerrigan, by e-mail

The bedroom would be off limits, but as far as Louis and the film crew goes, the answer is, "Yes." I trust Louis completely. He's a wind-up artist - we know that - but he doesn't fake anything. He was always winding people up when he was growing up. To me, his films are like home movies. I'm his greatest fan, and, of course, television reaches to the corners of the earth, whereas writing doesn't. Louis gets responses that I've never got myself. When I was in Africa recently, a man asked me if I was Louis's father. "God, he's good," he said when I confirmed that I was. "And what do you do?" "I've written a few things," I replied.

Do you think that a few years of travelling the world would improve George W Bush's ability to lead the USA?
Emily Wagstaff, Birmingham

I don't think anything short of brain surgery... I shouldn't be too rude... Travel would make a difference. You notice, now that he's travelling a bit, he's actually starting to say more penetrating things, especially about the Middle East. What he should do is travel more around that region, seeing how small Israel is and how tiny the potential Palestinian state is. It's a proverbial teacup - much ado about not very much. That's the lesson. We have to put it behind us.

If you had to be marooned on a remote island with one person you had met while travelling, who would you pick?
Peter Hubert, London

I find that question impossible to answer, because I hate travelling with other people. Even being with other people is a form of hell for me, because I value my solitude so much. I'm happily married, but my wife respects my privacy, too. So, if I had to be marooned on the island, I would prefer to be alone, thank you very much. I would adore it, in fact.

Paul McCartney is to become a father at 60. Would you consider fatherhood in your sixties?
Zara Yeo, by e-mail

When I read that Paul McCartney was about to become the father of a little bambino, I smacked my palm against my head and thought, "Good God!" When he's 70, he's going to have a 10-year-old, and when he's 75, he's going to be saying, "What's that smell coming from your bedroom, sonny? Is that marijuana?" I'm not judging Paul McCartney, but men around 60 sometimes make very bad decisions. That is the subject of my new book. I wrote it as I was turning 60. Sometimes I write about things to remind myself that it's better to write about things than to do them.

What's your favourite train journey? And do you ever risk travelling on the British rail network for pleasure?
Brian Carlton, Sutton

Every country that has a railway network has a wonderful trip in it. People criticise the railways in Britain, but they go through some marvellous places. However, I haven't gone on any British trains recently. The best train ride I've taken lately is the trip from Johannesburg to Cape Town. Most trains in Africa are so awful that they look as if they are going to Auschwitz. But this trip is wonderful, comfortable and scenic. You see lots of animals - elands and ostriches, although not elephants and giraffes, as you do on Tanzanian trains. You see the Great Karoo, the winelands and the diamond mines at Kimberley. You go through stretches where there are no people - mile after mile of nothing but mountains and cliffs.

Do you know what V S Naipaul thought of Sir Vidia's Shadow, in which you charted the rise and fall of your friendship? Have you discussed the book with him?
Katie Allen, by e-mail

No. The last words that he spoke in the book, "Take it on the chin and move on", were the last words that he spoke to me. So I have no idea whether he read the book or not. When a friendship is over, it is over completely. There's nothing more.

What are the benefits of getting utterly lost while travelling?
Sam Tatlow, Angmering

The whole point of travelling is to get utterly lost - to get lost and then found. The benefits are that your imagination and resourcefulness are tested. When I was going from Cairo to Cape Town for Dark Star Safari, I was lost and really up a tree many times. On one occasion, I was trying to get from Ethiopia to Kenya. I asked a man when the bus went, and he said, "There's no bus."

But I was determined to go by road, so I asked, "What vehicles do go south?"

"Cattle trucks," he replied.

So I went by cattle truck.

You never seem to talk about being ill in your books. Do you have an iron gut? Or are you just sparing us the gruesome details?
Sylvia Newton, Bognor Regis

I get ill all the time, but no one wants to hear about that. The two most boring topics in travel writing are illness and delay. Everyone is sick. Everyone is delayed. No one wants to hear about your pathetic response to it. On the last trip to Africa, I came back with parasites. I thought I was going to die. The doctor said he had never seen anything like it before. But it wasn't so bad, and after about five months it seemed to improve.

Fifty years after Everest was conquered, the mountain is overcrowded with climbers. Do you ever wish you'd lived in an age when the world was less explored? What is left to discover?
Andy Parkins, Swansea

I would have loved to live at a time when the interior of Africa, the interior of South America and the heart of Asia were unexplored. But we are still exploring areas of human experience, and the human mind contains wonders. It sounds pompous to say so, but there are Everests within us and impenetrable swamps in our hearts - those are the places that I seek.

'The Stranger at the Palazzo d'Oro' is published this month by Hamish Hamilton, priced £14.99

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