Michael Palin travels into ReadingBy Caroline Cook
June 29, 2012
Monty Python star Michael Palin will be signing his new novel in Reading next month.
Caroline Cook caught up with the legendary actor and writer
Michael Palin has gone in search of many things throughout his career.
He has trekked through heat-soaked sand dunes to find the world’s largest desert, spent six months climbing the Himalayas to find the highest mountain in the world, and found out if it is possible to travel around the world in 80 days (it is).
But for his latest project the actor, writer and presenter stayed a little closer to home, and went in pursuit of something rather different – the truth.
“The idea for my novel came to me in the summer of 2009,” explained Michael, who is doing his only Waterstones book signing of the summer in Broad Street, Reading.
“There were so many voices in public life claiming to be right about things that were diametrically opposed, so many people claiming that their opponents were liars, that the concept of the truth was becoming increasingly meaningless.
“I wanted my thoughts on the subject to be entertaining, wrapped in a good tale, and the novel seemed the best way to examine them.”
In his novel, called The Truth, Michael tells the story of down-on-his-luck idealist Keith Mabbut.
Finding himself at a crossroads in his life Keith is offered the opportunity of a lifetime to write the biography of the elusive humanitarian Hamish Melville.
“I wanted the starting point of my story to be the uncontroversial assumption that truth is immutable,” said Michael.
“This is how I came up with the character of Keith Mabbut, a fully paid-up 1970s idealist, who believed right and wrong to be clearly definable.
“In fact, the real world of Keith Mabbut, as for most of us, is one of compromise and trade-off, of doing the best in the circumstances.”
Keith travels to North East India on one of Melville’s operations and returns inspired by the experience to write a book that will make the world a better place.
But when the publisher, who provided an advance for the work, says it reads “like a note to a new lover”, Keith’s world becomes turbulent once again.
While Michael is well-known today for his own travels, most recently venturing to Brazil for a series which will be broadcast later this year, his career began with Monty Python.
The 69-year-old met fellow Python Terry Jones while studying at Oxford University and shortly after the pair teamed up with Graham Champan, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam and Eric Idle to form the Flying Circus.
After the series ended in 1974 Michael went on to appear in various films, including a Fish Called Wanda for which he won a BAFTA.
He then turned his hand to travel documentaries and writing, publishing a number of children’s stories and the novel Hemingway’s Chair. His latest novel touches on the lush landscapes and environmental hot spots of foreign places but its real subject is much less tangible.
“The idea behind the book was to tell a good story by having my characters play around with whatever it is that we define as the truth,” he said. “As Mabbut discovers, the truth is not something standing out there on a pure white charger.
“It is hydra-headed, devious and elusive. Mabbut reaches out for it but it melts away, only to reappear in quite a different shape.”
Michael will be signing copies of The Truth at Waterstones in Broad Street, Reading, on Saturday, July 7, at noon.
The event is free entry and not ticketed so early arrival is encouraged. For more information call (0118) 958 1270.