Michael Palin





Michael Palin, author, actor, world travel documentarian, and member of the world-famous comedy troupe, Monty Python, has been very busy recently. Not only has he just finished an hilarious new film, The Death of Stalin, he's also written a very serious book about British explorer Sir John Franklin and two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror that explored, in the mid 1800's, the Antarctic and then the Arctic in search of the Northwest Passage.
I had the pleasure of chatting with him, via phone at his home in London, about his new book and his fascinating life.





Jon:                   Thank you for speaking with me, Michael. Especially at the end of the day. You're probably looking forward to having dinner.

Michael:           Well not quite yet, no, no. This is quite a good time really because I'm usually sort of a bit relaxed, done what I have to do today and there is a prospect of dinner later, so it's all very nice. Yes, good time to talk.


Jon:                   First of all, congratulations, my gosh, on such a fine book. It's an amazing history of what I would say is heroism, dogged persistence, deep love, and in the end, so sadly, a terrible tragedy. I'd first like to ask you some questions about the book and then about Michael Palin, the person.

Michael:             Oh yes, do, please. And thank you for your nice words.

Jon:                   One thing that struck me about the book that is different from the few recent ones that have been published about the search for the Northwest Passage and Sir John (Franklin), is the deep friendship between you and the ship, Erebus. There has been a lot of press about the final expeditions, but I don't think any of them go into the same detail about the birth, life, and death of this great ship. It struck me as quite poignant when you called her 'my ship' at the end of the last chapter.

Michael:            Yes, funny that particular line. I thought about that with my editor quite a bit and he said, "my ship or just the ship?" And eventually I said, "No, I actually meant 'my'." It wasn't just written casually. I got to know that ship and, for some reason, sort of took possession of it, and so I'm glad you picked up on that, Jon. I mean that's exactly how I was drawn into it. Well, bit of back history: I was researching for a talk at a London club about a member of the club who's called Joseph Hooker.   

                        Joseph Hooker


                       
James Clark Ross

                            He was a great botanist. I discovered this little fragment of information that at 22  he had gone to the Antarctic with Officer James Clark Ross. This expedition had gone further south than anyone had been before, the sailing ship in amongst the ice pack with all the concomitant dangers. And I just thought, "I know nothing about this." It's a period of polar exploration I know nothing about, and then to find later that the ship had been chosen to go to the Northwest Passage and had been there. It was a cruel time to go in the worst week of November and it had carried Sir John Franklin in that legendary expedition, thought as the greatest disaster ever.

                          And then to find that four years ago the hull was discovered, almost complete, under the water! I just felt this is the ship important to me, and I wanted to tell the story of the ship right from the beginning. The period that people don't know about to the period we all know a bit more about.

Jon:                    Yes, and wasn't the Terror built about the same time or have I got that wrong?

Michael:            The Terror was a slightly older ship and had seen action. I think the Terror had seen action in the War of 1812 with the Americans; it had been lobbing shells then so it had more experience, but was slower and older. 

                        (Note from Jon: "Bombs bursting in air" from the Star Spangled Banner could very well have been describing the mortars shot from the HMS Terror exploding over Fort McHenry.)

Jon:                   But the two ships became friends, of sorts. They became great friends in their later life, Terror and Erebus.

Michael:            Absolutely, yes.

Jon:                   Histories are not usually your subject, are they? You write wonderful documentaries and travelogues and even children's fiction. How much do we owe Susan Sandon of Penguin Random House in the UK for pushing you to write this book?

Michael:           Well, I owe Susan an awful lot. It was my idea in the first place. I had the obsession. And I wasn't sure what to do with it, my background is in television. So, I thought well, maybe a television series and then that seemed, well, it would be very unwieldy. Also, television people were honestly only interested in the last half of the story, only interested in the successful early part of the story. Then I thought of doing it on BBC radio, which intrigued me because I think that you could have told the story very well and the BBC sound effects people would have had a field day recreating the creaks of the ship and the squeaking of the ice and all that.

                          But again it meant getting lots of people involved, pitching it. I was talking in this vein to Susan because she had published a volume of limericks that I'd written many years ago, with a few new ones in it. We were talking about that anyway and she said, "Well, look, if you're so interested, why don't you write it as a book?" I said, "Well, yeah I'd love to," and she said, "Well, we'd like to publish it and we'd give you a bit of money to do the research." So it was Susan's enthusiasm and Susan's decision that really created this book.

Jon:                  Well, we have a lot to thank Susan for.

Michael:           I do have a lot to thank Susan for, exactly. 


                            Susan Sandon replies:



                           I was so taken by Michael’s passion as he retold the story when we sat over lunch, and also intrigued to know what more he might discover if he had the time to really look into it. Ultimately it just seemed to me that this was a book begging to be written.  A book begging to be written by Michael, of course, as his vision and unique style informs every moment as he recreates the journey of this plucky little  boat.  I feel enormously lucky, privileged, and proud to have played a tiny part in bringing this wonderful project to life.


                         
Michael's editor Nigel Wilcockson with Susan Sandon celebrating the release of his previous book, A Sackful of Limericks.  


Jon:                    So Michael, tell me about your book.

Michael:           It's the story of a modest warship built after the Napoleonic Wars in the 1820s which really has, for about 15 years, no role to play in the post war British Navy. But because of the strength of the ship, because it was a bomb ship which lobbed missiles over onto the coast, it was a tough ship and strengthened already on deck and around the gunnels and the hull. That made it a perfect candidate for a polar journey, a journey into the ice. And so really with very little prior experience, it had been around the Mediterranean, keeping the British flag flying for a few years, but no experience of anything as extreme as the Antarctic, it was chosen by Sir James Clark Ross and set off to Antarctica.

                          Four years later the expedition arrived back having made three separate forays into the ice pack and having travelled the furthest south that anyone had ever achieved before. It had gone absolutely into the unknown. It achieved an awful lot of research and scientific information on regions of the world that people knew very little about. After this prolonged adventure, it came back and looked as though it was going to be retired again. 


It bobbed around on the Thames and then the admiralty decided that they were going to attempt to go through the Northwest Passage, something that the British Navy had tried many times before but now they felt they were so close to it. 


 
                HMS Erebus leaving for the Arctic.


                           People had gone, there were only about 150 to 200 miles still to be crossed, but no ships had made it. Erebus and Terror, the two ships that had been in the Antarctic and had survived buffetings and crashings of ice, all that, were the obvious candidates, so suddenly Erebus becomes the flagship of Sir John Franklin. 



Sir John Franklin


                          Off they went in great triumph and with a great deal of expectations and were, after Greenland, really never seen again, except by the native Inuit population. The rest of the book is about what might have happened, what life might have been like on the ship during those icy years, what happened with the searchers and what was the reaction back home to this great national disaster. Ringing the book at the beginning and end, of course, is the rediscovery of the hull of the Erebus, under the water, in September 2014. And the fact that there are divers and archeologists now from Canada exploring it every year and gradually unpicking the secrets it might have. 



HMS Erebus in the Queen Maud Gulf.




Jon:                    I know you traveled part of the Northwest Passage yourself. Was it this year or last?

Michael:            Last year, last August. 

Jon:                    And you described quite a bit of that trip in the book. Are you still planning on going back with scuba equipment next year?

Michael:            (laughs) I would love to, that was the sort of, if you like, the promise at the end of this whole story, was that I would be able to see the ship for myself.

Jon:                    Yes, that's the impression I got.  

Michael:           I tried very hard but was not able to get permission to go there on a small trip. In the end, I went on a [Russian] cruise in the Northwest Passage which visited all the Franklin sites, but could not get to King William Island because of the ice. So, in a strange way, we had experienced what Franklin and his men experienced all those years ago; the inaccessibility of especially those narrow channels due to the thickness of the ice.

Jon:                   You mentioned that one of the thoughts that you had in the beginning was doing a TV series about it. Are you familiar with the AMC produced TV version (based on the Dan Simmons novel)?

Michael:            I've not seen it yet. I don't know if it's been on here. I know it's been on in America but I have heard from my Franklin friends, you know there's a little group of people who really keep all the aspects of this story fresh and are always investigating, and they've given a great stamp of approval to the TV series.

                          But I don't know anything about it. Actually, I've got Dan Simmons novel, Terror with me here but I didn't want to read it until my own book was finished because I wanted to keep my own view clear and not be drawn into telling somebody else's story. I wanted to tell my own. But now that I've done it, now that my book is about to be printed, I think I'm probably all right.  


HMS Terror

Jon:                   It is obviously much fictionalized because people don't know what was done or said by a lot of the crew and it's supposedly been turned into a sort of horror film with some monster element on the ice which may or may not be keeping in the vein of what really happened.  

Michael:           That's what I've heard. As far as I can tell it must have been pretty horrific by any standards whether there was a monster there or not. Slowly running out of food and seeing the ice not melting for three winters must have been appalling.

Jon:                   I cannot even imagine. I cannot imagine being out there for three winters. You talk about John Rae. When his report was filed and the possibility of cannibalism was first brought to light when he came back to London, it was so summarily dismissed by everyone. He was vilified by the English public, especially by Jane Franklin and Charles Dickens. Do you think that the possibility of cannibalism has diminished the heroic view the expeditions hold in English history?

Michael:            I think it's probably added an element which is certainly not heroic, but seems almost certainly to have been true. Nearly all the research done recently has proved that there was cannibalism to stay alive. I was most interested in the popular reaction to the news at the time. It's rather like someone bringing you bad news about anything which is a shock; you immediately look around for someone to blame, some outside force which has created this awful situation. And the reaction of Dickens and Lady Franklin sort of blamed the Inuit people who had actually provided Rae with the only evidence that he found.

                                                                   
                                                    Lady Franklin
Charles Dickens  
                                              
                         They'd done the work which Lady Franklin wanted to be done [finding her husband] but once cannibalism was mentioned Dickens said, "This couldn't have happened to men from the British Navy." So it's got to be done by the Inuit, who are savages and all that. There was a sort of terrible thrashing out of anger when the news first came back, which surprised me when writing the book.

                          Then later, as more and more details came in, and it became clearer that they had all died, there was somehow a kind of feeling of slightly more reflection about it, as manifested by the Millais painting of the old sailor next to the window with his map and his daughter by his side. 


Northwest Passage (1874) by John Everett Millais

                            And then the third development was much later on; the monuments that appeared around London. It was seen as a great heroic failure. 





                            In the same, as I say in the book, in the same mold as Scott of theAntarctic. Scott's attempt to get to the pole was also a heroic failure.

                          So it had three different stages of development in the British psyche.

Jon:                    Yes, okay, I can certainly see that. I was curious about what you wrote about Lieutenant Hobson's report. It was never published. I find that odd because it actually included the date of Sir John's death. Why do you think it wasn't published?


Lieut. Hobson reports finding the Cairn and the Bodies (1859)


Michael:           Well, I think that the document about Sir John's death was sent to the Maritime Museum around about the time it was discovered. I'm not actually certain of this, but I think that detail was there for those to see. But as for the rest of Hobson's report, it's extraordinary that it wasn't published until Douglas Stenton found it and put it before the academic eye. It tells you, really, about the closest anyone's got to the feeling of the site of the tragedy and what happened, the bodies and the upturned boat that they used to try and get away, all these things. So I don't know, I don't want to get conspiracy theorist about it, but maybe it was just hushed up. And clearly there wasn't a great deal of information given out about Hobson's discoveries of the time at all. Which I find odd.

Jon:                   It's also terribly sad, everything about it is so sad. Do you think that in the end it was Victorian arrogance about the Inuit that delayed the world from finding out what happened? Because they seemed to have been able to have told their story if anybody was willing to listen.

                         Well, I think it was the inability or the unwillingness to engage with the Inuit throughout the voyage, despite learning a few phrases at the beginning, that was crucial. There must have been times during those three years when there were Inuit hunting parties out there. I think that what happened was, as historians, particularly Russell Potter, have said, the ship was seen as providing everything anyone needed. 


HMS Erebus
                           It had all the technology, it had the warmth, you didn't need to go anywhere else andso it wasn't until far too late that they actually engaged with the Eskimos. By that time a lot of them had scurvy, the Eskimos were clearly a little bit worried about having much to do with them and all that. I think if they had understood the way the Inuit worked and had a little bit more humility about dealing with these people from the very beginning of the voyage, that would have made a difference. As would have leaving stores of food along the way and proper cairns to indicate where they'd been.

                          But alas, they didn't. They thought the technological know-how of the British Navy was all they needed and, no, they didn't need to get out of the ship to get to know the local people.

Jon:                    Yes, so it was a certain [historic] arrogance that kept them from-

Michael:            Yes, I think so. 

Jon:                   Well, I want to thank you for bringing so much to light that I was unaware of about this. 

Michael:            I have to say a lot of it's from stories that've done all the work before. I'm very indebted to all those people I mention at the end of the book. But what I've tried to do is make the whole narrative center on the ship itself. It's as important to me what happened in the launch and what was happening at Pembroke Lock at the beginning as what's happening under the water at the end. So that was my idea really.

Jon:                   It brings the whole story to closure, right from the birth of Erebus all the way to its sad end and that's what I particularly liked about your narrative. 






Michael:           Of course, it isn't really closure. That's the thing, because the most extraordinary part is that there are now things to be found from that ship which may give a real clue as to what actually happened. There may even be bodies on board, who knows?

Jon:                    And you may be the one in your scuba diving suit that finds this.

Michael:           (laughs) I've got a terrible feeling that I'll be probably the one to dislodge the vital piece of evidence and say, 'Sorry', and Franklin's right arm would drift off and no idea. I love scuba diving but I think in this area, you've got to be an expert. They're not letting the amateurs like myself out there. I've said what I've said and I've got a feeling that next year maybe, they might invite me there, who knows?

Jon:                    Yes, you can be swimming right behind everybody and promise not to touch anything.

Michael:            Yes, exactly.

Jon:                   Oh, by the way, I loved finding out that Boothia was named after the gin. That was a real highlight for me. 






Michael:            Isn't that great? I loved that too. I mean, an enormous part of Northern Canada, really; it's a huge, huge peninsula. So it's not a little island or something like that, but Boothia after the gin is great. That's a real ultimate Trivial Pursuit question. What part of the world is named after a gin?

Jon:                    I'll put it in my next game.

Michael:             Yes, put it in.

Jon:                     Now, if I may, may I ask a few questions about you?





Michael:            Please do, yes. You sent me a very nice guidelines so I'll try and help out as best I can. 

Jon:                   Okay, well some I've kind of changed around a little bit. You are obviously envied by every armchair explorer in the world and have said, and forgive my pronunciation, Pongo de Mainique?

Michael:            Mainique. Yes, that's right.

Jon:                    You say it's your "favorite place in the world." Can you tell me why it made such a deep impression on you?

Michael:            Nowhere that I've been has had that extraordinary sense of silence and separateness from anything else in the rest of the world. A little cocoon of consciousness and awareness. It has its own little climate. It's not a very big canyon; it's approached by some very dangerous rapids, so when you do get into the calm waters of the canyon, it's like coming home, it's like a haven. And it is sensationally beautiful because the rocks slope on either side, basalt rocks, at 45 degree angles and the water is streaming out of the jungle, down these sides and into the water.

Jon:                   Yes, I saw some photographs, it looks incredibly beautiful. 


Pongo de Mainique

Michael:           Yeah, I mean it is extraordinarily beautiful and there's also the largest black butterflies I've ever seen and these yellow-necked vultures, so there's the wildlife around. But I think it's really just, I don't know, it's hard to say really. It is a cocoon of separateness, that's really it. You don't feel, there, connected to anywhere else in the world apart from this place.

                           And a lot of silence which is something I quite like because you never get that anywhere else.

Jon:                   That's so true, that's so true. Well, it sounds wonderful. I wish I could go see it. 
                           Okay, so let's see, I'm going to ask you a couple of book questions if I may?

Michael:            Indeed.

Jon:                    Is there a book that you've read that completely changed the way you look at life?

Michael:           Well, there is, funnily enough. I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance whenever it came out, in the 1980s or something like that. That totally changed the way I looked at equipment and machinery and how engines worked. 


                            




 I'm totally and completely incompetent at how things actually work and why a car moves or how a bridge is built or whatever. I read that book and I became absolutely fascinated by the interior of engines, about how they fitted together, about every single piece about them. I was aware of the metal that was used in certain places, the way you had to have three or four, five, six, seven things working in order to make the whole thing move. It shifted me from having this slightly cocky ignorance about all things scientific to realizing that I could understand it and that was extremely exciting.

                          Since then, from that time onwards, I've always been rather interested in engineering. I mean, not exactly how everything works, but how things are put together, and what can be created out of pieces of metal. And, as I say, it opened up a whole new world for me.

Jon:                    That's a great answer, thank you.


Michael:           Do you know the work of Alan Bennett? One of our cherished playwrights?
                           He had exactly the same reaction. He knew nothing at all and said it made him want                            to open the front of his car and have a look at what was inside. I agree with that.

Jon:                   Well what about a children's book? Do you have a favorite children's book that you look back on and say, "Ah, I just loved reading." 
                           Mine were all the Rupert annuals, by the way. I'm a big Rupert fan. Is there somebody or a children's book that you look back on in the same way?

Michael:           Yes, I know all the Rupert books and the various annuals and the Biggles books as well, which I loved.




                             But if there's one book, I should think it was in mid '50s and it was called The Eagle                           of the Ninth by a historical novelist called Rosemary Sutcliff




                             I think it was one of the first sort of adult books I read. I know it's a story about a son who goes looking for his father's lost legion in the North but it had so many elements to it that I felt were quite grown up. It didn't skirt the terrible disasters that happened in Roman Britain, it wasn't all about the wonderful things the Romans did. It conjured up this world of the North, Scotland, which I knew nothing about, which was wild and dangerous. It was a great story of the son trying to find this eagle and bring it back. I thought that it was, as I say, a sort of grown up book for children and I felt this is a bit of an epiphany for me, reading that book.

                          After that my taste was slightly less jokey and school-boyish, that's all, although I loved jokey schoolboy books, but this one really was a bridge on to something different.

Jon:                    And how old would you say you were when you read that?

Michael:            I was probably 12. I remember it was a hardback edition and I think it was given to me at Christmas. We had very few hardback books in the house. They were a bit expensive, and so any hardback books I was given myself became incredibly important to me. I loved the object itself and it was just, I shall worry now that my own children can get anything on Amazon or whatever but getting that particular book and one or two others when I was very young, there was something really important about the object itself.

Jon:                   I'm sure there's a good number of physical books in your home as there are in mine.

Michael:            Yes, I've got a lot of books now, an awful lot, yes. I've just got to read them sometime.

Jon:                   Ha! Me too! Okay, so here's another one; is there a song or an artist that you listen to if you're feeling a little down, a little depressed about life at the moment, that will always pick you up?

Michael:            Oh yes, there's one I take when I travel. That's the only time where sometimes I feel a bit disoriented and cut off from the world. I listen to Kate and Anna McGarrigle's album, can't remember what it's called now. I think it's just their greatest hits and they're just brilliant.






They have a liveliness and they're lovely songs and their voices are quite beautiful. That always raises my spirits. Such a lilt to the way they sing. It's so moving, really, the way they deliver the songs. It's not a man's voice, it's just these lovely clear female voices. It's a very friendly album, it's light, you know, and they laugh a bit on it, all that sort of thing. But it's like being in a room with a family who are telling their private stories, so I love that.

Jon:                   I hope you've told them that, or if not I hope they find out, I'm sure that would make them feel-

Michael:           Well, I don't know. Sadly, I think one of them is dead now, but I did meet Rufus Wainwright, who was the son, and I think I said something to him at the time but there were lots of people telling him wonderful things. But anyway, yeah, yeah, I've said it in public a few times. 

Jon:                   Oh good.  
                           Well, I should tell you Michael, personally, if I'm feeling down, often I will go to my DVD player and put in the George Harrison Memorial Concert DVD and you always start it off with your wonderful "Specialnessess" speech and then The Lumberjack Song. That always puts me in a good, very good mood, so I wanted to thank you personally for that. 




 Michael Palin, Monty Python and Tom Hanks, on far right.




Michael:           Oh, that's good, you're welcome. I mean that was an extraordinary occasion. I've never been to anything which has been so emotionally charged as that concert. Everybody was there to do their very best for George. No one said that in a very obvious way but you could just tell by the concentration in the way everybody played or sang, it was the best they could possibly do, the best performance of what they were doing. I felt that with The Lumberjack Song, it just had to be the best. And it was quite a famous Lumberjack Song because one of the Lumberjack Chorus is Tom Hanks, who happened to be there.

Jon:                    Oh yes, I know, and he did such a good job.

Michael:            He came back at the interval and said, "Can I do The Lumberjack Song with you?"  I said, "Well, Tom, you know, you've really got to have time to learn the words." He says, "I know the words." So he came on but completely in disguise but very well, singing for George, The Lumberjack Song, so I feel very touched by that.

Jon:                    Well you should and it was amazing. 

Michael:            Nice that you remember that, Jon. 

Jon:                    Oh, my gosh, yes. I probably watch that once a month; it always brings a smile to my face. 

 Okay, so may I ask you about meeting Helen [Michael's wife]?

Michael:             Yes.

Jon:                    You met Helen in Southwold?

Michael:            Yes, I did.

Jon:                   How did your first date go and do you think you made a good impression on her?

Michael:           Well, it was 1959 because I was about, I think I was 16. Yes, it was 1959. And I wasn't particularly adept at talking to girls at all. I'd been to an all boys school and all that and I was very much aware of embarrassment and awkwardness. But I asked her out. Now the thing was that I was staying in the little, very
                           old-fashioned guesthouse and she was staying with her uncle in their private house nearby so there was a very limited amount of time we could spend together. My parents just allowed me to go out after dinner and I had to be back by 9:30, you know, and she had to be back by a certain time. 



                           So on my very first date, I think, it was on a bench in the park, round the back, I took an alarm clock with me just so that there was an alarm at 25 minutes past 9 and it would go off so then we could both race back. You can imagine the scene, the awkward, tender embraces by this rousing ringing of an alarm clock. But I don't know if I took the alarm clock on subsequent dates.
                         Oh, my wife's just joined me actually.

Jon:                    Well, you obviously made a good impression on her.

Michael:            Well, did I make..... she's just come in. Helen, did I make a good impression on you?

Jon:                    On your first date.

Michael:            She's thinking about it. She didn't like my cravat, didn't like the way I dressed. But here we are, 52 years being married and still can't decide whether we really like each other. 





Jon:                   Congratulations. All right, so here's another one. And these are questions that I ask all of the authors that have been interviewed by me; is there a particularly funny or especially embarrassing story that your family tells about you?

Michael:           Well, I mean anything to do with dad dancing or else speaking in a foreign language seems to be the area of maximum embarrassment for my children. And I don't think my children were there but I do remember using very much the wrong word when I was with some French friends. I quite fancy myself for French and I thought I'd try a few words. At the end of a rather lovely meal I said, 'I'm full', and in my mind I used the word, "Je suis plein." But, they were all cracking up as I'd actually said "Je suis enceinte" which really means "I am pregnant." So I had sat back and said very proudly that I didn't want any more because I was pregnant. They really, really fell about.

Jon:                   They could use that story on you anytime and it would be hilarious. 

Okay, so I know we don't have very much time and you've been very generous with it. This question is one that my readers love to hear the answer to and I've gotten so many incredibly interesting answers. 

 So, Michael, if you could go back in time to any period, from before recorded history to yesterday, be safe from harm, be rich, or poor, or in between, whatever is appropriate to your choice, actually experience what it was like to live in that time, anywhere; meet anyone, speak with them, listen to them, be with them, when would you go, when would you go, who would you want to meet and, most importantly, why did you choose this time?

Michael:           Well I'd go back to the late 18th century because I would love to have been with Captain Cook on his voyages around the world, his first voyage. 



 Captain James Cook

                          That period must have been so exciting because there were fresh discoveries all the time. People were learning more and more about the world but there was still a lot to be known. 





                             And I thought, well, as I love traveling, that would be the ultimate journey, to be an officer probably, because that would be a lot more comfortable. To be an officer on one of those ships and follow Cook around the world and meet some of the people that were on the ship with him. There's one particular character I've always been fascinated by and that's Joseph Banks



Joseph Banks


                          He was a great traveler, map maker, botanist. He was sort of like a David Attenborough of his time and he actually devised a lot of the expedition's work in gathering information around the world. He knew everything about what he was seeing, where he was going, what the birds were like, what the animals, the fish were like. He was a great, wonderfully well-informed man. Traveling with him and learning about the world through his eyes as well as Cook's, would have been amazing. Just to sit at the table with the two of them, talking.

                            And of course Banks was the man who later encouraged a lot of the people who were involved in the Erebus expeditions, sort of very much his spirit. They created that feeling of discovery and adventure. It would have been an adventure, I would have learned a lot, I would have seen a lot, and I like being at sea so that would have been fine with me.

Jon:                   Hopefully you would not have been in Hawaii when Captain Cook was killed.

Michael:           Yes, that's right. I think that was on his second expedition but I can't absolutely remember. But you know, no I wouldn't have liked that bit so much, but it would be the first adventure. Captain Cook was a Yorkshireman and I was born in Sheffield so I'm a Yorkshireman as well and I think the Yorkshire bluff could sense the no nonsense attitude; I think I would probably have understood that quite well.

Jon:                   Well, getting back to your book, I will do everything that I can to make sure that all the booksellers, as many as read my blog in the United States, know about it and if I can get more of these advance reading copy books from Greystone we'll get them out.

Michael:            Yes, I hope so, I hope so, thanks.

Jon:                    Do you have an American tour planned, or not?

Michael:            Yes, I'm coming to America, only for about four days to the US and then I'm going on to Canada. I'm going to an event in Providence, Rhode Island; I think it's called the Mystic Seaport Festival or something because there's a wonderful man called Russell Potter who's been extraordinarily helpful to me in putting the book together. He was on the Northwest Passage with me and he lives nearby. So we're going to do a sort of talk together, and then New York, I should think, Washington and maybe one other.

Jon:                    And that is in October?

Michael:            That's in October, I'll tell you exactly, it is about mid-October. Yes, here we are, it will be 12th to the 17th of October.

Jon:                    Well it's a shame that you won't be able to spend more time here-

Michael:            It's always the way isn't it really?  But it's better to go I think and talk to people where I can. I'd love to go right across the States, but we will see, see how the book goes and just think, fingers crossed, it will awaken an interest that people didn't think they had.

Jon:                   Well it certainly did with me and I loved the way that you, as I say, pulled the whole story together, right from the day that Erebus was first built all the way until she was finally found and everything in between. It's so fascinating and you've obviously spent much time on research and travel time, my goodness.

Michael:           Well,thanks, yeah, that's great. Great to know and it's been really great talking to      you.

Jon:                   Thank you, you're very kind. If you ever find yourself in North Carolina, up near  the Smoky Mountains, that's where my wife and I live, I'll be sure to take you to  dinner. 

Michael:            Great Smoky Mountains, that's it. I've been there once before, just very briefly, it's                                           fantastic.


Jon:                   Well it's time for another visit, I think.


Michael:            Time to retrace my steps, yes.



Speaking with Michael Palin was a great pleasure. His kindness and generosity shone through. Thanks Michael, and again, congratulations on such a fine book.
Readers, be sure to pre-order Erebus at your favorite independent bookstore.

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