What is the appeal of freezing trackless wastes? Well, if they were trackless they wouldn't actually appeal to me. But freezing... oh yes, I love cold weather. It can't get too cold for me. It stimulates me somehow, the cold. And it's so easy to cope with - I mean, you just put more clothes on. In extreme heat there's nothing you can do except curl up and hope to die. Of the two extremes the cold is the one I go for every time.
And I just like undeveloped, thinly populated places, whichever continent they're on. It's not that I don't like people; I do, very much. But I like silence. I like to get away from people. My working routine, for instance, is to cut myself off completely from people. Completely. Friends don't drop in while I'm working on a book. And when I've finished a book, my great joy is to open the gates and have everybody in who wants to come. That is my holiday. People don't understand this. They say, when are you going to have a holiday, instead of going on a journey to write about? I say: but I have my holiday at home, when my friends come to see me.
I love the vastness of Siberia, in every way, but especially emotionally. It's impossible to comprehend how vast it is - nobody can. I mean, I covered only a tiny fraction of the territory. When you look at the globe, it is stunning the amount of the earth's surface that is taken up by it. You couldn't do it all. And I've been only to the populated bit. You couldn't travel alone in the depopulated part, not unless you were one of the local tribespeople, travelling with your tribe between tribal camps.
A very important element of my recommendation of Siberia would be the extraordinary quality of the silence. In our developed world there is no silence any more. Even at night there's always the distant rumble of traffic or the sound given off by electric pylons. There's always something, however small. So the silence was the first thing I noticed about Siberia, the completeness of the silence. An interesting thing is that a lot of younger people are frightened by complete silence. I have experienced that, travelling with a young person - she was really scared. She couldn't take it.
Another thing is the beauty and the variety of the Siberian landscape. You get the impression that Siberia is just thousands and thousands of miles of identical forest. But, of course, it isn't like that at all. There are magnificent rivers, mountain ranges, deep valleys ... well, it's superbly varied, the little area I was in - which was only 6,000 miles across. I don't know that every inch of Siberia has been mapped, but I imagine it probably has, even right up to the top.
Then there's the people. Wonderful people, wonderful hospitality. And so pleased in the areas I was - obviously I kept off the tourist track as much possible - touchingly pleased that you're there and taking an interest in their part of the world. They are quite cut off, even now, despite the internet and what have you. They're linked to the outside world but it's a different experience to sit down and talk to someone face-to-face, obviously.
Siberians are very gregarious once they've accepted you. In some places there's a residue of suspicion because they were so conditioned for so long, particularly in areas where weapons were being developed in Soviet times. You can come up against a certain residue of that, but it's very rare. And once they've accepted you into the family and you're sitting in the kitchen talking, that's when you discover how immensely gregarious Siberians are.
You'd have to read up in advance if you wanted to go into the tribal and territorial issues affecting the area. (The Siberians I met were certainly Russians rather than tribal people - you're very unlikely to meet many of them.) I did a certain amount of reading up about the area and its history before I left. I always do …