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Travel writer Matthew Brace author of Hotel Heaven

Travel writer Matthew Brace, author of Hotel Heaven, lists some favorite books.

READERSVOICE.COM: How many days a year would you spend travelling for your articles and books? Which countries haven’t you been to?

MATTHEW BRACE: I worked this out the other day because I am doing a carbon offset (my debt to the environment is terrifying). It’s about 170 days travelling and another 50 writing up the stories here in Australia. The rest of the year I am doing my day jobs. I spent three months on the road just researching Hotel Heaven, and that was almost all just revisiting hotels for 24 or 48 hours to check they were still fabulous. Sri Lanka, Venezuela, Colombia and Denmark are all on the hit list for the next 12 months.

RV: Are there many luxurious hotels in China, and are there likely to be a lot more luxurious hotels in China in the coming years, what with the Olympics and the apparently strong economy of China?

MB: China has been fairly unknown territory for me since I worked in Hong Kong as a journalist in 1992, but my spies tell me Shanghai is the city to watch for new luxe hotels. In Hong Kong, the InterContinental HK and the Mandarin Oriental are my two faves.

RV: Some of the staff at better hotels are really inspiring: they seem worldly and discrete, like they’ve seen it all and know how people and the world works. But what do you think it would be like working at a hotel, as a career? Pretty hard going? Are they paid well, or treated well by employers, say in Sydney for example.

MB: Very hard going! Many are worth their weight in gold yet paid at out-of-favour base metal prices. Australia’s great dilemma is that so much talent gets trained here and then goes overseas leaving a major labour shortage.

If you want to get an idea of how well staff are trained and treated check in to The Goring Hotel in London – possibly the last bastion of true excellence and decency in a hotel anywhere on the planet.

RV: You mentioned in Hotel Heaven that you used to read Ray Bradbury a lot, but can you mention some of your favourite books of all time, whether fiction or non-fiction, and say why you liked them?

MB: Robin Hanbury-Tenison’s Worlds Apart (an autobiography which focused on the explorer’s adventures with tribes in the Amazon), and Wilfred Thesiger’s The Marsh Arabs (about the ancient water dwellers of Iraq) both inspired me to travel to the more remote parts of the world and report from them. And the famous Moomin books by Finnish author Tove Jansson will forever conjure up thrilling images of magical Scandinavian forests.

RV: At what paper, and when, did you start your career as a Fleet Street journalist, and how old were you?

MB: I freelanced for the national UK national papers while I was working on local papers from 1992, but I got my big Fleet Street break on the Daily Express in January 1994 when I was 26.

RV: What were the positive and negative aspects of being a Fleet Street journalist?

MB: Positive: lots of fun and mischief, the thrill of being first to know and report some of the century’s biggest stories, and knowing you are working at the very peak of global journalism. Negative: long, long hours and immense stress.

Writing from scratch, on deadline and in under 15 minutes, 600 accurate, interesting and intelligent words on the storming of the Japanese embassy in Peru can make your hair fall out.

RV: Where did your work as a foreign correspondent take you?

MB: I have reported from more than 40 countries including Australia, New Zealand, US, Canada, Fiji, Samoa, throughout Central America and the Caribbean, South and South East Asia, and the Middle East.

RV: How has the experience of being a foreign correspondent changed you, and have you noticed any changes in other foreign correspondents over the years?

MB: Over the years I have become immune to the pain and suffering I witness and far more sensitive to the good that people do for each other. It is those stories of humanity, of courage under fire, that move me deeply. I shall never forget the four tiny Balinese teenage boys who arrived at the hospital in Denpasar the night of the Sari Club bombing carrying a dying Australian woman on a piece of corrugated iron. (I was the first journalist on the scene that night, having been just a few streets away when it happened). They had run more than a mile through the flames, the panic and the crowded desperate streets to save that stranger’s life, and their hands were cut and bleeding. I wept as I interviewed them.

RV: What are some of your plans?

MB: Random House Australia has commissioned a second book from me which I am already working on. I am jetting off to Europe, the US, Brazil, and the Caribbean over the next few months, and hoping to get a few minutes in that Scandinavian forest to say hi to the Moomins.

-copyright Simon Sandall.