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Last Updated: Monday, 14 March 2005, 09:18 GMT
Bryson's fascination with science
By Caroline Westbrook
BBC News entertainment reporter

Bill Bryson
Bryson won the Aventis Prize for A Short History of Nearly Everything
Despite winning awards and critical acclaim for his science book, A Short History of Nearly Everything, author Bill Bryson has no immediate plans to write any more on the subject.

The 53-year-old, better known for his best-selling travelogues and books on the English language, won the prestigious 2004 Aventis Prize for science writing, which he described as an exploration of the topic for those who found school lessons "boring and mystifying".

"I don't plan to write another science book," says the softly-spoken writer, "but I don't plan not to. I do enjoy writing histories, and taking subjects that are generally dull and trying to make them interesting."

In the case of A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bryson made a point of focusing on the lives of the scientists he was writing about, instead of the more technical details, in order to make it more interesting to the reader.

Adorably quirky

"Most scientists are without exception adorably quirky, and one of the ways of making it more accessible was to try to get readers interested in the person," he says.

"If the reader has warmed to them then they can be more receptive to the science itself."

I enjoy taking subjects that are generally dull and trying to make them interesting
Bill Bryson
Bryson was thrilled when the book was well-received by scientists and, naturally, the prize was an added bonus.

"It was fantastic, the nicest compliment I've ever been paid," he says. "I knew nothing about science when I went into it."

Whether or not he returns to the subject, interest in A Short History shows no sign of waning.

As well as being a judge on the panel for the 2005 Aventis Prize, Bryson gave a talk at London's Royal Society last week on aspects of the book - as well as announcing the long list for this year's prize.

Natural history

He is also working on a number of other projects, including an autobiographical book about growing up in 1950s America and a biography of William Shakespeare.

"That's very enjoyable," he says. "I haven't done a biography before and it's interesting to try to understand the life of another human being."

Bryson's biggest success, however, has been as a travel writer, with a string of best-sellers including Down Under, which saw him visiting Australia, Notes From A Small Island - in which he travels across Britain - and A Walk In The Woods, in which he follows the Appalachian Trail.

Queen Elizabeth II and Bill Bryson
Bryson attended a Buckingham Palace reception in 2004
He admits he would like to return to travel writing in the future - with possible candidates including Japan and the Far East - but is in no doubt as to the best place he has visited so far on his travels.

"The most enjoyable overall I think was Australia; I really fell in love with it," he says. "I like it a lot, I think it's a terrific country; they really know how to live. The natural history of the place is endlessly fascinating."

Bryson admits, however, that his tendency to write in the first person - injecting his personality into his books and regularly introducing his wife Cynthia and their four children into the action - has been known to backfire.

"I had a letter from a man not too long ago who said he enjoyed my books and he wanted to get to know me better - so he suggested a house swap," he says. "And he was quite serious!

"You get a lot of very odd things, and if you write like I do in the first person people do sometimes misinterpret that. They think that we're friends already."

University honours travel writer
14 Dec 04 |  West Yorkshire
Bryson wins 10,000 science prize
14 Jun 04 |  Science/Nature
Bryson shortlisted for book prize
04 May 04 |  Entertainment
Bryson tops 'England' poll
06 Mar 03 |  Entertainment
Author Bryson joins heritage body
10 Sep 03 |  Entertainment

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