Keynote interview with Bill Bryson #MRSlive @TweetMRS #MRX 

Live blogged at MRS in London. Any errors or bad jokes are my own.

  • Where did sense of curiousity happen, some is innate
  • He grew up in Iowa and moved to England when he was 20, started work at a psychiatric ward, met his wife there who was a student nurse, he married into the country
  • He dropped out of university to stay in England, returned to states for two years to complete university,worked in newspapers, went back to England to work at newspapers there
  • British journalism is so different from US journalism, stealing a car and taking a car is very different legally, got in trouble on his second day for that mistake, legalities of what you can say is very different
  • Often surprised or delighted even thought he’s lived here for 40 years
  • How did he transition into writing books, he always worked on production side of newspapers, started freelancing on travel articles for Sunday newspapers, realized he liked it, liked writing with a comical twist, he seemed to be able to do it
  • Nurtured dream of quitting job and moving to country to make a living as a writer, he was too cowardly to do it, his wife was brave enough to to do it, she just put their house on the market and they moved, best thing that ever happened
  • He loves being self-employed
  • He’s never written anything that he didn’t expect to be paid for [as I sit here writing notes and letting people read them for free 🙂 ]
  • He just wrote a book about traveling around England, having experiences, and relating them amusingly
  • He also tries to understand science and the universe, half of his books are these kind now [i think I ought to check out his books!]
  • He talks to academics, researchers, experts, he enjoys meeting people who really know something, e.g, snails or lichens [like how Oliver sacks did a whole book on ferns 🙂 ]
  • Goes to libraries and reads a lot, his favourite thing in the whole world
  • You have to cut out everything that isn’t necessary to do the job, he gathers infinite amount of information and then focus on just the interesting and necessary parts to make the book cohesive
  • You’ll never remember the number, but you will remember it’s the number of popcorn kernels needed to cover the US in 9 miles of kernels, chemistry students amuse themselves with these kinds of calculations 
  • Naturally interested in science but it needs to be accessible, don’t want to go through formulas and equations to access it, want words
  • Science is amazing, the numbers are so vast
  • Be on the hunt for analogies to bring raw data to life, that’s the moment of enlightenment
  • Always looking for a fact that is interesting to him, works hard to come up with these images to make passages fresh and vivid, it’s rewarding
  • Every book has a voice, need to find it each time, struggles for days and weeks to get the beginning to each book – the first sentence, paragraph, page, then it’s okay, wants conversational relaxed voice, tries to be engaging, but once he gets it the rest falls into place
  • Publishers don’t do market research, would be interesting to see how his book test marketed, that the language was fruitier and he let himself go more
  • Being a foreigner is an advantage when you’re a writer, wife has one take on things and he was two takes as an American and a Brit, even with weather in Britain which seems to him to be the same all year round even though where he was raised you could die due to the weather, his wife sees every day as different
  • He’s not an expert, he’s a reporter repeating what hes’ been told, his books are about his incompetence with the world
  • He admits he does exaggerate things for comical effect
  • [Bill just dissed Canada as no one would want to read a book about us. I”m so deeply offended, crying, need a tissue.]


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