1 Why did you quit nursing?
NURSING IS NOT REALLY WHAT ONE MIGHT CALL A HAPPY PROFESSION. YOU ARE DEALING WITH SICK PEOPLE. AND I DID NOT LIKE THE DISCIPLINE. OBVIOUSLY IT WAS ESSENTIAL, BUT THERE WAS CONSIDERABLE BULLYING BY SOME SISTERS. IN THOSE DAYS IT WAS ALSO A LIVE-IN SITUATION. YOU LIVED IN ONE TINY ROOM. IN 1958, WE EVEN HAD 3 PIECE HORSE-HAIR MATTRESS WHICH WE HAD TO TURN EACH DAY UNDER SUPERVISION.
2 Why did you choose the Middle East, what was the main attraction?
AS A TEENAGER, I WAS FASCINATED BY THE POETRY AND WRITINGS ABOUT THE EAST—SCHEHERAZADE AND THE TALES OF 1001 NIGHTS, THESIGER’S ACCOUNT OF CROSSING THE EMPTY QUARTER, THE GREAT TRIBAL MIGRATIONS ACROSS WESTERN ASIA. I HAD READ VINCENT CRONIN’S THE LAST MIGRATION WHEN I WAS FIFTEEN. EVERYTHING SEEMED SO EXOTIC WHEN COMPARED TO A DULL LIFE IN THE SHEEP AND WHEAT BELT OF A COUNTRY TOWN IN NEW SOUTH WALES. WE WERE STILL EATING UNDRESSED SALADS WHEN I GREW UP. AND THERE WAS A JUG OF WATER ON THE DINNER TABLE WHEN THE PERSIANS HAD BEEN GROWING GRAPES FOR MORE THAN 2000 YEARS.
3 What has most impressed you about the Arab world?
THE TALENTED CRAFTSMEN. THE AMAZING ARTEFACTS PRODUCED BY CENTURIES OF ARTISANS FROM IZNIK TILES TO BERBER CARPETS, THE INTRICATELY WORKED COPPERWARE, THE JEWELLERY, AND BY NO MEANS LEAST, THE TRADITIONAL ARAB ARCHITECTURE. THE HOSPITALITY OFFERED BY THE POOREST OF PEASANTS WAS ALSO HUMBLING. BEDOUIN WHO OFFER THEIR LAST DATE, OR REMAINING DROP OF CAMEL MILK.
4 Where would you have happily lived, if you had got married for example?
IN HER BOOK, “DREAMING OF EAST” BARBARA HODGSON QUOTES LADY ISOBEL BURTON AS BELIEVING THAT A WOMAN, ONCE SMITTEN BY THE EAST, IS UNLIKELY TO SETTLE BACK INTO HER FORMER LIFE. I IDENTIFY WITH THIS SINCE AFTER A LIFETIME ON THE ROAD, I AM NOW AT HOME IN AN EASTERN SOCIETY. I BELIEVE IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN IN INDIA. OR PAKISTAN. I WAS PROBABLY HAPPIEST WORKING IN PAKISTAN DURING THE 1980s.
5. What was the worst aspect of being a single woman in such macho countries?
BEING HUMILIATED BY OFFICIALS– NOTABLY IN THE DEVELOPING ARAB OIL STATES – WAS HARD TO TAKE. LONELINESS, ALTHOUGH THIS DOES NOT RELATE TO BEING A SINGLE WOMAN, RATHER THAN HAVING “GONE IT” ALONE. THERE WERE NO PR COMPANIES, TOURIST OFFICES OR EDITORS TO PAVE THE WAY. BUT THE FREEDOM OF BEING A FREELANCE MEANT I COULD DO AS I PLEASED AND I TIRELESSLY SOUGHT OUT INTERESTING STORIES AND PICTURES. I NEVER ENCOUNTERED ANOTHER DOING SOMETHING SIMILAR ON A SHOE-STRING. EXCEPT FOR AN AMERICAN WOMAN RESEARCHING AN ENCYCLOPAEDIA WHO SAID “WE ARE MAD SLOGGING OUR HEARTS OUT WHEN A QUICKIE WILL NET US ALL THE RICHES FROM ALADDIN’S CAVE”… YOU COULD TELL WHO WAS SLEEPING WITH THE SHEIKHS BY HER WRISTWATCH. THERE WERE A LOT OF GULF AIR HOSTESSES FLASHING FABULOUS DIAMOND WATCHES DURING THE 1970s.
6 Did you constantly have to fend men off who considered you might be an easy fling?
I THINK MOST MEN SAW THAT I WAS DEDICATED TO MY WORK. I HAD A COUPLE OF RUN-INS IN DUBAI AND THE BRITISH OFFICER IN CHARGE OF THE SULTAN OF OMAN’S ARMED FORCES – TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME WHEN WE WERE LOOKING AT WAR MAPS DURING DHOFARI UPRISING IN 1975.
7 Has being a travel photographer been satisfying from both personal and financial viewpoints?
BEING A TRAVEL WRITER WAS WONDERFULLY SATISFYING BUT IT WAS ONLY WHEN I BRANCHED INTO RELIGION — I RUN A WORLD RELIGIONS PHOTOLIBRARY – THAT I ENJOYED FINANCIAL SUCCESS FROM PHOTOGRAPHY.
8 Why did you want to write your adventures, are they not too personal to share, or did you leave those things out?
I HAVE LEFT OUT THE REALLY PERSONAL THINGS. I AM A VERY PRIVATE PERSON AND WHILE READERS SAY THE BOOK IS GREAT, AND MY ADVENTURES ARE AMAZING, I STILL FEEL A CERTAIN LACK OF SELF ESTEEM IN PONDERING WHETHER ANYONE IS REALLY INTERESTED IN MY LIFE. THOUGH TODAY, WHILE EVERYONE TRAVELS, MY EXPERIENCES ARE CERTAINLY UNIQUE.
9 How long did it take you to write Travels with My Hat?
WELL, AROUND FOUR YEARS BECAUSE I MOVED BACK TO AUSTRALIA AFTER LIVING 37 YEARS IN LONDON. AND THAT TOOK SEVERAL ATTEMPTS. MY EDITOR QUERIED HOW COULD I REMEMBER CONVERSATION FROM SO LONG AGO. BUT I MADE NOTES EVERY NIGHT. I HAVE A RECORD OF EVERYTHING FROM THE START OF MY TRAVELS IN MOROCCO IN THE SUMMER OF 1964.
10 Why have you gone the self-publishing route?
I AM A PUBLISHED AUTHOR, BUT WHILE COSTLY, IT’S VERY SATISFYING TO BE IN CONTROL. ABLE TO DECIDE WHICH PHOTOS TO USE IN THE BOOK WAS A HUGE PLEASURE. ANOTHER REASON IS BECAUSE A WRITER IS ANYWAY EXPECTED TO MARKET THE BOOK BY WAY OF PERSONAL APPEARANCES, OR WHATEVER. ALL THE INFORMATION ONE NEEDS TO SELF PUBLISH IS NOW AVAILABLE ON THE WEB. I FOUND SEVERAL EXTREMELY USEFUL CONTACTS INCLUDING A DESIGNER VIA TWITTER FOR EXAMPLE. AS A PROFESSIONAL WRITER, THE COST OF SELF-PUBLISHING IS TAX DEDUCTABLE BUT THIS NOT WITHSTANDING, IT TOOK ME SEVERAL YEARS TO SAVE UP FOR THE PROJECT.
Jeremy Hoare is a former TV cameraman and author of “Through the Viewfinder”.