Bill Bryson’s bestselling travel books include The Lost Continent, Neither Here Nor There and Notes from a Small Island, which in a national poll was voted the book that best represents Britain. His acclaimed book on the history of science, A Short History of Nearly Everything, won the Royal Society’s Aventis Prize as well as the Descartes Prize, the European Union’s highest literary award.
Bryson has written books on language, on Shakespeare, and on his own childhood in the hilarious memoir The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. His last critically lauded bestsellers were on history – At Home: a Short History of Private Life, and One Summer: America 1927.
Another travel book, A Walk in the Woods, has now become a major film starring Robert Redford, Nick Nolte and Emma Thompson. Bryson’s new book, The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes from a Small Island comes out in Autumn 2015.
Bill Bryson was born in the American Mid-West, and is now living back in the UK. A former Chancellor of Durham University, he was President of Campaign to Protect Rural England for five years, and is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society.
Complete & unabridged – a Guardian Q&A with Bill
Q. When were you happiest?
A. When I had my catheter taken out, thanks for asking.
Q. What is your greatest fear?
A. Being caught in a broken lift with Piers Morgan and Janet Street-Porter.
Q. What is your earliest memory?
A. Driving to my grandparents’ house in Winfield, Iowa, when I was about three.
Q. Which living person do you most admire and why?
A. Angela Merkel. She seems wise, compassionate and curiously huggable.
Q. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
A. Falling for huggable German women.
Q. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
A. Believing that they can text and walk at the same time.
Q. What was your most embarrassing moment?
A. Being hit on the head by a car park barrier in France.
Q. What is your screensaver?
A. My daughter at the age of about four having a meltdown in a beauty spot in the Yorkshire Dales.
Q. What would your super power be?
A. The ability to fly.
Q. What do you most dislike about your appearance?
A. Its instinct to become spherical.
Q. If you could bring something extinct back to life, what would you choose?
A. The Neanderthals.
Q. Who would play you in the film of your life?
A. Claudette Colbert.
Q. What did you want to be when you were growing up?
Q. What is the worst thing anyone’s ever said to you?
A. “Reagan’s president!”
Q. What is top of your bucket list?
A. The words “Bucket List.”
Q. Is it better to give or to receive?
A. Depends on whether you are talking about Christmas or gonorrhea.
Q. What is your guiltiest pleasure?
A. Playing virtual pinball when I should be working.
Q. What do you owe your parents?
Q. What or who is the greatest love of your life?
A. My wife, obviously.
Q. What does love feel like?
A. The strangest thing just happened. I was doing a questionnaire for the Guardian and it suddenly became Hello! magazine.
Q. What was the best kiss of your life?
Q. Have you ever said “I love you” without meaning it?
Q. Which living person do you most despise and why?
A. I try not to despise anyone, but if I had to nominate one earthling to sacrifice to appease alien invaders, I would suggest James May.
Q. Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
A. William Shakespeare, Albert Einstein, George Washington and Emily Dickinson as long as I didn’t have to be the one to tell them that after dinner they would have to get back in their coffins.
Q. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
A. Fuck and For fuck sake.
Q. What is the worst job you’ve ever done?
A. Cleaning my bedroom between 1964 and 1969.
Q. If you could edit your past, what would you change?
A. Nothing. It’s too risky. What if you eliminated some small misjudged situation from your life and then it turned out that one of your children wasn’t born or you failed to meet your future partner or something? Wouldn’t that be foolish?
Q. When did you last cry, and why?
A. When the Guardian called me a scaremonger in a headline for wanting to preserve London’s green belt. Wanting to preserve countryside isn’t scaremongering. For fuck sake.
Q. How do you relax?
A. By becoming horizontal and then unconscious.
Q. How often do you have sex?
Q. What is the closest you’ve ever come to death?
A. I don’t know if this counts, but I once spent two days in Indianapolis.
Q. What single thing would improve the quality of your life?
A. A ray gun.
Q. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
A. My family.
Q. What keeps you awake at night?
A. Wondering what flying saucers were doing in season two of Fargo.
Q. What song would you like played at your funeral?
A. Bye-bye, Baby.
Q. How would you like to be remembered?
Q. What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
A. That there is no explaining the popularity of Mrs Brown’s Boys.
Q. Where would you most like to be right now?
A. Walking in the Yorkshire Dales.
Q. Tell us a secret: