After reading Hidden tiger, I really felt I wanted to know more about Jo Carroll and her intrepid wanderings. I'd already asked if she would join me here for a web interview and I was so glad when she said yes. I had a lot of questions to ask! I was intrigued by what prompted and inspired her to go travelling on her own to such remote places. Her answers are all so interesting, I didn't want to edit a thing, so here they are - unadulterated, unabridged, untouched and in full!
1.Jo, I positively gobbled ‘Hidden Tiger’. It simply carried me along, and I loved the fact you wrote it all in the present tense. It felt as if I was there with you and it really was all happening as I read it. Was this a deliberate choice, or do you always write in the present time?
It was a choice – though an easy one to make, as all the diaries are written in the present tense – often in cafés and bus stations along the way. So taming them in the present was much easier than putting it all in the past. I hope, also, that it is more fun for the reader – being swept along, as it were, rather than simply looking back.
2. Have you always been a traveller? I’ve been to your website, and there are some great trips described there, but how far back does your travel bug go?
I’ve wanted to travel since my teens, but it was much harder for women to take off then. And then I was taken up with work and children – so the travel dreams went on the back burner for a long time. But once my daughters were launched and I realised that independent travel might be possible – well, there was nothing stopping me then (apart from nerves – I still sit in the airport before I fly and wonder what I really think I’m doing!).
3. I loved the way you described all your feelings and reactions in Hidden Tiger – the fear of being so close to the tiger and the trepidation you felt on the Siddhartha highway after the cyclone. It all seemed very intense. Was any of this just a tiny bit embellished for the sake of the story, or was it all for real?
I have never been as scared in my life as I was coming down the Siddhartha highway after the cyclone. There was no need to embellish that at all. The tiger – well, that was surreal. I couldn’t quite believe I was being led closer and closer to it – so I have played with that a bit.
But you raise an interesting point – the role of ‘truth’ and ‘untruth’ in memoir. I never make incidents up – so everything in Hidden Tiger and in Over the Hill and Far Away actually happened, but as a writer I make judgements about what will make an interesting story, and so leave out days of sitting on buses or pottering about on beaches, even though this may give the reader the idea that it is one adventure after another.
4. You always seemed to make friends easily in the book. Is this normal for the Nepalese? Are they generally friendly and hospitable?
I love the Nepalese – yes, they are generally friendly and wonderfully generous. And I am permanently curious, and so ask questions from anyone who looks willing to talk. I am also willing to tell them about me, and about my life at home – which feels fair exchange for the stories they tell me, but that bit of the conversation doesn’t make it into the books. But it does make it easier to make reciprocal relationships.
5. As a woman travelling alone, do you feel this is a disadvantage, or do you find that you make more friends as a lone traveller than you would if you were with someone else?
I love travelling alone. Although I have to think about safety in a way that I might not have to if I had company, I find it easier to meet local people, many of whom find the concept of a woman travelling alone very strange and begin with the ‘where is your husband’ question. I generally tell the truth (he died), which somehow opens up the conversation making confidences possible and suddenly I’m invited home to tea. (I don’t always go! Sometimes a polite refusal is necessary.)
6. I read that you sing in a choir at home. Would you tell me something about that? What kind of music do your perform and do you sing in concerts?
It’s a Choral Society – and we do proper concerts at Christmas and Easter. I’ve sung Mozart’s Requiem and Jenkins’ The Armed Man – so it’s serious singing, but we have a lot of fun. And I love what it does to my head – I always come home from rehearsals humming. I think it’s impossible to sing and think about anything else, which is probably why I love it.
7. I noticed that most of your travelling has been to the east. Do you have any plans to go west at all?
I’ve done a couple of road trips in America, but not written about it. I found it hard to meet people there, and the scenery – while wonderful – is known to many from watching films. But you never know, I might go again.
And I really want to go to Africa – even wondered about Madagascar in January. But it’s the cyclone season (need I say more?)
8. When do you think you will be off on your next trip, and where will it be?
I’m off just after Christmas. I booked a flight to Bangkok on a wet Friday, when I was fed up with the weather! I’d like to head north into Laos, if I can find an easy land border (I think there’s a train) – so I’m at the Lonely Planet studying stage. But I’m definitely going.
9. You mentioned that you write a diary when you are away. How does this help you when it comes to writing your books afterwards? How do you decide what to use and what to keep just as memories?
I worked with a mentor when polishing Over the Hill and he said to cut anything that people could see on the telly and make this about me. It was a tough lesson, and involved masses of rewriting, but I think the books are better for it. So I try to think what will work for the reader – a good measure is people’s reactions when I talk about a trip: if their eyes glaze over I know that bit is tedious, but if I can make people laugh then I know I’m onto something.
10. Is there anything that you always take with you on your journeys? You know, that special thing that you won’t leave home without?
I have a ‘kit’ with all the usual emergency stuff – penknife, silk sleeping bag, elastic washing line, sewing kit, plasters etc.
My one extra, which most people don’t carry, is a small fleece blanket – probably designed for a dog basket. It’s light, squashes in the top of my rucksack – and I’ve used it on almost every trip. It’s great for places where the air conditioning is stuck on high and the room is too cold. It’s great for hostels where you might not get enough blankets. It’s great for throwing round your shoulders in the morning when you sit up in bed writing.
11. One last thing, as a writer, do you think of your travels as potential books before you start or have your books evolved from the travelling?
I’ve always written – and when I was working I wrote about work. But the instinct to keep thorough records was easy to transpose into writing a diary.
But the initial drive was to travel. It was when I came home and someone said, ‘You should write a book,’ that I began Over the Hill. Now – I don’t think it’s so easy to separate the two. In fact, I think the only thing that kept me almost sane coming down the Siddhartha highway was thinking how to write it – organising words in my head was the only think I could think of to distract me from the reality that we might fall off the mountain!
Thank you for a great opportunity to visit your blog, Val – what wonderful questions!
It's been a great pleasure, Jo. I was fascinated by the book and intrigued by all these different aspects of your life, so thank you so much for answering so frankly and candidly, particularly questions 3 and 11. These are aspects of writing that I think all of us who do it can relate to.
Thank you again, Jo, and good luck with both the book and your future travels!
Thank you again, Jo, and good luck with both the book and your future travels!