“If I’ve learned one thing it’s that when things go wrong, your trip starts getting interesting!”
Peter Moore, travel writer
We’re off to a flying start with a new addition to In the Hot Spot: inspirational interviews. I’ll be running a series of interviews with travel writers because most people dream of travel, and writers often have inspiring tales of success against the odds.
Thanks to my experimental Twitter tactics, I’ve managed to line up a highly inspiring interview with acclaimed travel writer, Peter Moore. His books include The Wrong Way Home, in which he travels overland from London to Sydney, Swahili for the Broken-hearted, a trip from Cape Town to Cairo, and Vroom with a View, where he tours Italy on a Vespa. At last count, Peter Moore had visited 99 countries and written six books. His latest book, Blighty! is due for publication soon.
So What Makes Peter Moore Inspirational?
- He takes risks
- He persevered after being rejected ~ it took him six years to be published.
- He’s funny, positive and not afraid to be himself.
- He’s good at what he does for a reason; he stuck at it and got better and better.
- He’s happy to help others: He even has some tips for budding travel writers on his website
Introducing Peter Moore
Like me, Peter Moore financed his early travels by becoming an english teacher. What better way could there be to bum your way round the world? Then he decided to combine his two loves, travel and writing, and become a travel writer. But his first book was “rejected by every publisher on the planet”. Happily, he didn’t let that stop him achieving his dream, and has since carved out a niche for himself as ‘the Jim Carey of travel writing’, with a loyal readership who appreciate his witty and adventurous spirit.
Peter is from Sydney, Australia, but now lives in the UK with the lovely Sally and their four year old daughter, Daisy. The interview has lots of brilliant insights, not just on travel and writing but also on living your dream, motivation, perseverance, tolerance and being a parent. Unbelievably, Peter covers all the deep stuff and manages to slip in some funny bits too.
Interview with Peter Moore, Travel Writer
I’d love your thoughts on what people should do to live their dream. Can you give me a pithy quote with the words live and dream in it?
To dream is to live. Sounds corny. And it’s probably been said before by someone more authoritative than me. But I’ve found it’s the ‘dreams’ that get me out of bed in the morning and keep me genuinely excited. It’s very easy for us humans to fall into a mundane routine and let our lives slip away. But having dreams – and at least thinking about pursuing them – keeps your mind active and alert and positive. Kind of like Suduko but more fun.
So true. What advice do you have for people who want to live their dream?
Just to follow their dreams. Again, it sounds corny. But the nugget of wisdom my dad gave me was that you only regret the things you didn’t do. And it’s true.
I agree. I read that you credit the Internet with launching your writing career. Please tell us more.
When I was first starting out the thing I kept hearing was that I wasn’t ‘famous’ enough. No one knew me. I hadn’t had anything published. The classic Catch-22 situation that all writers find themselves in. Luckily, it was also about the time the internet was just starting out, so I used the 1MB (!) of web space that came with my dial-up (!) account to create my own travel web page. I called it No Shitting in the Toilet after a sign I’d seen in China. The sign summed up my experiences with travelling – i.e. it’s perverse and weird and nothing goes as you plan – and I figured people would be compelled to click a link to see what it was about. Everything else about travel on the web then was very po-faced and serious so my site with it’s scurrilous advice and light-hearted tone became quite well known and won a few awards. (Of course it helped that there was only a million or so web site back then, not the gazillions there are now.)
The idea also worked as a book so I was able to go back to publishers and say, ‘Hey, I know I’m not famous but this has been doing OK on the web.’ Basically I’d market-tested the idea for them. Of course I still got rejected by half a dozen or so publishers but eventually Transworld took a chance on me and, the rest, as they say, is history.
How much of your success do you attribute to luck, skill, brains and perseverance?
I think you’ve got to be able to string a few words together, but the most important attribute I’ve found is perseverance. As you noted above, it took me six years of knocking on doors and changing tack before I got published. But eventually I got lucky. I sent the proposal for No Shitting in the Toilet to Transworld just as Shona Martyn took over with a brief to shake things up a bit. And a book with the word ‘shitting’ in the title fitted that perfectly. (The first two books she published was mine and Hot Sex by Tracy Cox!) If I’d sent it in 6 weeks before a very conservative woman was in charge and it would have gone straight in the bin. I didn’t know that. I’d just kept plugging away and my little piece of dumb luck came along. If I’d given up at the first hurdle I’d probably still be working in advertising. (God forbid!)
So the winning combination is skill, luck and lots of perseverance, but brains aren’t necessary! Excellent news. How do you stay motivated?
Funnily enough it’s through interacting with my readers via email and through things like Facebook and Twitter. It’s amazing what a fillip it is to get an email from someone saying they enjoyed one of your books and wanting to know when the next one is out. The writer’s block drifts away and I’m immediately tapping away on the keyboard again.
How do you deal with rejection and bad reviews?
Rejection: I just take it on the chin, reassess the situation and then try from a different angle. Bad reviews? I don’t read them. My books are selling, my readers and publishers are happy. I don’t need to bring myself down by reading the bitter views of someone who probably just wishes they were doing what I’m doing and don’t have the balls to do it.
I hear you struggled with writing after you became a dad. Please share how fatherhood has impacted on your life and work.
A friend told me that having a kid was like a bomb going off in your life. I must have looked horrified because he quickly scrambled to say that it was a ‘good’ kind of bomb.
I know exactly what he means. Since my daughter Daisy has come along my life has been turned on its head. I’d basically been living my life like I was still at uni, with my books replacing essays but still being left to the last moment. When a child comes along you just can’t live your life like that any more. You need to be more disciplined, something I’ve never been very good at. And work through the fog. My mind always seems foggy now and I don’t know where the clarity went!
Having said that, being a father is the most amazing experience. And I’ve been lucky to have been able to spend a lot of quality time with Daisy. She’s funny and smart and a lot of fun just to hang out with. I’m just glad I established myself before I became a father because I don’t know that I would have been able to in my current circumstances. Getting published needs a bloody-mindedness that’s not really conducive to a happy family life! As it is I’m being constantly torn by my itchy feet wanting to head off on some crazy adventure and my heart wanting to stay at home and be with Daisy.
You’ll have to take her with you on some not too crazy trip. Please tell us something stupid or embarrassing you once did. We want to know that even successful people have made mistakes in their past!
When I was at uni, the Australian Film Institute conducted their judging sessions in one of the buildings there. They thought it would be a good idea to get some students to participate and I was drafted in as a ‘judge’ in the music video category. The real judges decided that Need You Tonight by INXS should be the winner. I though Temple of the Lord by The Saints was infinitely better. Worse, I told them so in that snotty, arrogant manner that 20 year old students think marks them out free-thinking individuals. Richard Lowenstein, the guy who directed the INXS video, was there and listened to my rant with the good grace and humour. (People who are good at what they do and confident of their talent are often like that).
I still cringe when I think about it and wish I’d shown him the respect he deserved. When you’re first starting out you think you know better than everyone else. And sometimes you do. But the people you come across have learned to deal in the real world and it’s important to understand that.
On a lighter note, I also cringe when I remember the outfit I wore the first time I arrived at Bangkok airport. I’d read in Singapore that the immigration officials in Thailand didn’t look kindly upon travellers who arrived looking scruffy. So I bought cheap white jeans and a white shirt from a market there to travel in. The Thai officials could barely keep the smirks off their faces.
I also cut quite the figure on Khao Sahn Road. Unfortunately not as the weary world traveller as I had dreamed.
Classic stories. Now, I feel better about some of the stupid things I’ve done! You mention that your career as a travel writer has been ‘tough on relationships’. Any advice for creative types hoping to follow their dream as well as find love and have babies?
I think it’s the travelling bit that’s tough on relationships, rather than the creative aspect. You’re on the road for months on end, and you kind of get sucked into that high of being beholden to no-one. Like I mentioned before, the thing I’m finding tough is juggling this burning desire to hit the road and the contrary impulse to stay at home with Daisy and avoid her getting any abandonment issues.
If I were being brutally honest, if I were starting out now, in my current circumstances, I don’t think that I’d get very far. But again, that’s as a travel writer, rather than someone following a creative path per se. So I guess my advice is to tailor your creative aspirations around your circumstances and understand that they’ll both impact on each other.
Yes, tailoring sounds better than juggling and compromising. Who inspires you and why?
I often drop by John Birmingham’s blog, Cheeseburger Gothic, to shame myself into working. They guy is an absolute word machine and still manages to lead the full family life as well.
Doug Lansky, the guy who compiled the Signspotting books is like that as well.
Paul Theroux, because his writing is so effortlessly elegant.
Flight of the Conchords because they make me laugh.
Jens Lekman, because his songs are melancholic, optimistic and funny.
Marco Quaretta because he restores Vespas so beautifully and keeps his workshops so immaculately clean.
Fatty from Bam in Iran for being funny and witty in a country where that really isn’t expected or tolerated.
And basically everyone who has shown me kindness and hospitality in my travels and reaffirmed my belief that the default setting for human beings is ‘good.’
So diverse. Tell Us A Few Of Your Favourite Books
The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux. Elegant writing and a travel book about the people and places he encounters rather than some gimmick. Also contains my favourite ever line about Australian travellers: ‘At my lowest point, when things were at their most desperate and uncomfortable, I always found myself in the company of Australians, who were like a reminder that I’d touched bottom.’
Jude the Obscure and Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. Don’t know why, but I’m a sucker for Hardy’s Victorian melodramas. Not the sort of thing your readers should be flicking through, what with both protagonists being cruelly robbed of their dreams!
Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe, by Bill Bryson. Effortlessly funny stuff with a great turn of phrase. Love it when he writes that Italians park like they’ve just had hydrochloric acid thrown on their laps. Early John Irving before he felt his books had to be 800 pages plus. The World According to Garp and The Water-Method Man for starters. And Tom Robbins, but I’ve got to be in the mood to wade through the hippy gibberish. And early Carl Hiaasen. Again, he gets a bit sanctimonious in his later books.
That’s funny about the Thomas Hardy books! So what’s your favourite Peter Moore book, for when people want to steer clear of melodrama?
The Wrong Way Home, where I travelled overland from London to Sydney. It took me through Europe, the Middle East, the Sub Continent, South East Asia and Australia so it was a real mix of cultures and experience. I had £2,000 (about US$3000) to get from London to Sydney without going on a plane.
It was also the first book where I was able to do exactly what I wanted to be doing – ie go on grand journeys and writing about them. My first book, No Shitting in the Toilet: The Travel Guide for When You’Ve Really Lost It, was a collection of travel anecdotes and scurrilous advice. It was a lot of fun and got my foot in the door. But I had grander plans. I wanted to be Australia’s answer to Paul Theroux! Not sure I’ve achieved that goal, but hey, you’ve got to aim high.
Definitely. I love this quote of yours: “Prejudices turned on their head.” Please explain it further?
I think people have this natural tendency towards prejudice and it’s something that is very easy to feed. People from somewhere else are different, weird, trouble. But when you travel that all gets turned on its head. Sure, people live differently, eat differently, behave differently. But when you travel you get an insight into why. (A basic example, curry was developed because of lack of refrigeration.)
More importantly, it doesn’t take long to realise that people the world over are motivated by the same things – they want food, a roof over their heads and a better life for their kids. I’m certainly a lot more tolerant now that I’ve wandered the world a bit.
That’s why I wish everyone would travel more. Which country would you most like to revisit and where would you like to go next?
I’m loathe to revisit any while I’ve got so many more to visit. But if I were pushed I’d like to go back to Laos. It was just so laid back and easy going. As to where I’d like to go next, probably the former Soviet Union. I spent a week in Moscow and loved it. Such a weird, troubled, chaotic place.
I have a soft spot for Laos too. What could everyone do to make the world a better place?
I don’t mean to get all biblical here, but I think it’s as simple as everyone treating other people how they’d like to be treated themselves. It covers pretty much everything really.
Finally, what are your current dreams or goals?
I guess my current goal is to try and figure out how I can keep doing what I do and be a good father at the same time. And my dream is to go off on another ‘Old Skool’ Peter Moore adventure – maybe through the former Soviet Union. Or down the west coast of Africa.
Many thanks to Peter Moore for being interviewed and for sharing his wisdom with us. There’s some great advice and plenty of inspiration there. Check out Peter Moore’s website for his latest comical episodes, follow him on Twitter or find out more about his books on Amazon:
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