Q and A with Peter Moore, Travel Writer

Peter Moore
Peter Moore
Peter has been called an “iterant hobo,” as he has toured over 92 countries. He is the author of: The Full Montezuma; No Shitting In The Toilet: The Travel Guide For When You’ve Really Lost It; The Wrong Way Home; Vroom With A View: In search Of Italy’s Dolce Vita On A 61 Vespa; Swahili For The Broken-hearted; and Come Away With Me.

Peter was born in Australia and now lives in London, England.

How did you get started travelling and what made you want to pursue a career as a travel author?
Hi Norm. It wasn’t until I was about nineteen that I got hooked on travelling. My father was a plumber and a Seventh Day Adventist and had been asked to go to Vanuatu to help build a toilet/shower block at a Mission school there. He took me along as a labourer and after we’d finished the principle took us on an excursion to a nearby island called Malekula where two tribes lived the Big Nambas and the Small Nambas. The men in both tribes wore nothing except for a red cloth wrapped around their penises, the Big Nambas using a lot more red cloth and hence earning their name. I was immediately struck by how strange the world was and an urge to see as much of it as possible.

As for the career in travel writing, I guess I got to a point where I wanted to combine my two loves writing and travelling and after a lot of hard work and rejection, got to the point where I could.

I read a photo caption on a website that you said that you can’t take travel that seriously – for you, it’s an indulgence. Would you care to comment?
Travel is an indulgence. It’s a wonderful, enriching, eye-opening, prejudice-busting indulgence but an indulgence all the same. In some parts of the world it is totally beyond the locals comprehension that you have spent so much money to visit their country. They could live out the rest of their lives on the cost of the airfare alone.

As for not taking it all too seriously, I think that’s just an Australian defence mechanism. If you start to take yourself too seriously or get a little pompous people tend to knock you down a peg or two. I’d like to think some serious issues and insights are revealed in my books, but just in a light-hearted manner.

On your own website, you list London, Istanbul and Sydney as your favourite cities? Please tell our readers what and what distinguishes each one of them?
Coming from one of the old colonies, London feels a bit like the centre of the universe to me. Everything new and exciting seems to spring from it in music, fashion, writing. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. It’s also amazing how familiar it seems too after being bought up on a diet of old English TV shows. I look upon Big Ben as an old friend! And I really like the English sense of humour which permeates every thing here – even daily encounters with your newsagent.

Istanbul, on the other hand, is your classic East-meets-West melting pot. It’s colourful, noisy and exotic, just as I’d hoped it would be. I remember my first night there, sitting on the wooden benches in front of the Blue Mosque, watching the swallows darting around the minarets catching bugs attracted to the lights, and listening to the call to prayer wafting across the warm evening sky. Brilliant.

As for Sydney, well Sydney is home. I think a lot of people see travel writers as these lone wolf characters drifting around the world rootlessly. But to me an important part of every journey is coming home and reconnecting with whatever it is that makes you who you are family, friends, the culture that bore you. For me that’s Sydney taking a ride across the harbour on the Manly Ferry, buying a kilo of prawns from the fish market, having a coffee in Newtown, a beer with mates and so on.

If you had to choose the most romantic cities in the world, which ones would you suggest and why?
Romantic cities! That’s a tricky one. I think I have a different idea of romance than most in that I can find it in squalor and discomfort! Still, here goes, in no particular order.

Istanbul. Down at Sultanhmet, at sunset, as the call to prayer goes out from the mosques dotted throughout the city. It’ll make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.

Havana. Walking through the old part of the city, amongst the crumbling colonial buildings, beat up radios in every window playing songs that sound like they were in Buena Vista Social Club, finishing with a mojitos in the bar Hemingway used to frequent.

Luang Prabang, Laos. This place is so sleepy it’s almost comatose, but it has a real languid charm. The shuttered colonial mansions, the tiny cafes and the line of orange robed monks that wander through the town each morning asking for alms everyone’s idea of Indochine charm.

Rome. Preferably from the back of a Vespa. When I was doing the trip that became Vroom with A View, my girlfriend and I spent three days buzzing around the city on a little 1961 Vespa and it was impossibly romantic buzzing from café to café and past ancient ruins. Rome also has a great feeling of space that most European cities don’t have.

Do you set yourself daily, weekly, yearly goals? If so, what are some of your goals?
I guess I set myself some general goals. At the moment I’m trying to do a book a year, just to build the momentum. And I have a kind of un-stated goal of trying to get published in North America. I keep getting told that my voice is too alien, whatever that means.

Can you explain some of your research techniques, and how you found sources for your books?
You know, I have a kind of take-it-as-it-comes technique. I’ll be flicking through a newspaper or watching something on the Discovery Channel and my interest will be piqued. Then I’ll come up with an idea for a journey that is nothing more that a Point A and a Point B. The Wrong Way Home, for example, I travelled overland from London to Sydney, in Swahili for the Broken-Hearted it was from Cape Town to Cairo. Finally, I do the trip and let fate throw what it can at me.

Who are your favorite authors, and why do they inspire you?
I really like Paul Theroux. He was the first travel writer to just do a journey and write about the people and places he came across. To me that’s what travel is all about. The monuments and history add a bit of colour, but it is the people you meet that make a journey really memorable.

Bill Bryson is another favourite. He is such a funny, talented writer. The way he can sum up something so precisely and with humour is amazing. I read him with envy.

As for non-travel authors, John Irving and Tom Robbins are favourites. I like their humour and slightly skewiff way of looking at the world. And bizarrely, Thomas Hardy. A bit old skool, but man can that guy tug at your emotions.

What’s your advice to achieve success as a travel writer?
Stick with it. It took me over six years to get my lucky break but I only got it because I kept going despite the avalanche of rejection letters. Bloody-minded persistence is an under-rated virtue!

Although, you are not leaving us just yet, how do you want the world to remember Peter Moore?
As a nice bloke. I don’t think I’m going to change the world but if I can put a smile on someone’s face then I feel like I’ve done something worthwhile.

What was you most exhilarating travel experience and why?
Strangely, it was getting my Sudanese visa in Addis Ababa. It was crucial to my dream of travelling overland from Cape Town to Cairo and I’d been trying to get it ever since Cape Town. Every Sudanese Embassy on the east coast of Africa had sent me packing – even the guy in Addis had me jump through all kind of hoops but when it was finally in my passport it was one of the happiest days of my life.

Is there anything else you wish to add to our interview?
Just a quote from a hippy travel writer from the sixties called Ed Buryn. He wrote a book called Vagabonding across Europe and North Africa and in it he said The Age of Discovery is never over when you are the discover. Too often people think that they are too late going to places, that they’re not cool anymore or they should have been before it got spoiled. But when you’re seeing it through fresh eyes it’s amazing as it was for everyone else.


The above interview was conducted by: Norm Goldman, Editor of Sketchandtravel.com.