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'In Bulgaria, my novel's main character turned up to meet me'

Malcolm Bradbury acquired the first stamp in his British passport in 1990 in Bulgaria, when he attended a conference on English Studies. "One of the subjects was my novel Rates of Exchange which came out in 1983. In 1990 the Cold War had just ended, and part of the drama of the conference was that Blaga Dimitrova, a dissident writer who was the central character of my book, actually came along to meet me. An amazing woman, she had just been made deputy president of the newly non-communist Bulgaria," he says.

A 1993 stamp for Sweden reminds Bradbury of a conference on Diderot, the French philosopher. "It inspired me to write a novel about him which I haven't finished yet ... I simply want to get it done before the millennium." Yet another conference springs to mind when Bradbury sees a 1994 stamp for Turkey. William Golding had just died and Bradbury gave a speech about him in Ankara. "I go to a lot of conferences. Some are amazingly boring, but providing there are bright people and some good papers, I enjoy them. It is a good way to see the world, and it's the only world I enjoy seeing. I'm not keen on being gawping tourist, I'd much rather be in a community of academics and historians, often journalists," he adds.

When Bradbury isn't at conferences he attends literary festivals where, he says: "I read from my work and listen to other people reading from theirs." In 1994 he attended the Harbour Front literary festival in Canada, and last year he went to the Adelaide Festival in Australia. His one disappointment is that his wife, Elizabeth, who adapts novels for radio, doesn't accompany him. He explains: "She won't come. Mostly because she doesn't like flying, but also because she probably has enough writers in her own life."

His most recent trip was to the US. "I was returning to Indiana after 40 years - I was a graduate student at the university there. I went back with a BBC radio crew who charted my reactions, but the strongest shock is the fact that southern Indiana has scarcely changed. It is a more liberal place - it was partly segregated in the days when I was there so there was a lot of racism, and that seems to have gone entirely - but in appearance it's changed very little."


Writer and broadcaster Professor Malcolm Bradbury has adapted two episodes of 'Dalziel and Pascoe', currently being screened on BBC1 on Saturdays.