Around the world in 80 years

Hugh Thomson discusses the art of travel writing with Dervla Murphy

Dervla Murphy rarely gives interviews. She is one of our most senior and prolific travel writers – more than 20 books in a half-a-century career – but she is extremely publicity-shy, from an age before blog and spin were part of a writer’s toolkit. She’s not a J D Salinger – there’s the odd public sighting or visit to an Irish bar – but this was her first interview for many years. 

We were meeting at the Royal Geographical Society, a place where “a drink” usually means a sherry in the director’s office, and to fortify herself for the ordeal Dervla sent out for some Guinness and managed two pints before lunch. In the flesh, she’s cheery, engaging and with a determined gleam to her eye. She never looks back – or rereads any of her books once dispatched to her publishers, even now when many of the early ones are being reissued to mark her approaching 80th birthday. But any worries I had about her diffidence were quickly blown away. Once she gets talking, she has the boldness, as they say in Ireland, of the very shy . . .