How does it feel to return back to Nottingham to receive an honorary degree?
It's a huge privilege to come back, it's obviously a big day for the graduating students and just a huge honour for me to be given this award.
I feel very grateful that it's been it's been offered to me and I'm very, very happy to come back. My parents are very excited!
Even just coming on to campus, the memories came flooding back. It's such a beautiful place.
Did you have any idea of what you wanted to do when you graduated?
I was somewhat torn between two directions. On the one hand my first love was travel and backpacking - I think I was a bit of a hippy, really, true to heart! But at the same time, I had my heart set on joining the Army, which were two quite different career paths.
I somehow managed to do both because I used my time after graduating to travel for the best part of a year. I decided to hitchhike to India following the old Silk Road. It started right here in Nottingham, hitchhiking down the A1. I knew I was going to join the Army eventually, but I had to try and get some of the travelling bug out of my system, although that clearly didn’t happen!
So I did have a plan and my studies gave me more of a focus. I always wanted to be an author, that was part of my dream. So it all worked together to help bring that to reality.
You talked in your graduation speech about how much you enjoy travel writing - why is that?
I really wanted to write, having read so many authors’ accounts about their own explorations and travels and journeys that inspired me.
To do that you’ve got to go and travel first, so I turned my focus to trying to see as much of the world as possible, keeping meticulous notes and journals. But I don't think I had the confidence or the temerity to actually write anything until I was about 30. I thought it was a bit cheeky to call myself a travel writer.
When I left the Army, I set up my first business, which was taking people on trips to amazing places in the world and I used that as an opportunity to try to learn to write.
While Walking the Nile was the first book that I published, it wasn’t the first one that I wrote. I'd spent a year writing a 100,000 word manuscript about my journey hitchhiking from Nottingham to India, which nobody would take. I pitched it to every publisher and every agent, and they were all like, “who are you?” So it then took another seven years of doing all those other things to finally get that published!
It took a long time, but it got there in the end. So I think that persistence pays off and whatever field you’re in, be patient, stick at it and don't ever take no for an answer. It’s not necessarily how good you are or the quality of your work. Life isn't always a meritocracy, but it's the whole piece, the bigger picture.