I'm Coming Back to a Small Island .. America Lacks So Much Insight; GLOBETROTTER BILL BRYSON TELLS WHY UK IS FINAL DESTINATION
Byline: BARBARA DAVIES
HE came from Des Moines. Somebody had to. But now Bill Bryson, everyone's favourite traveller, is heading back to the place he feels most at home - Britain.
The good news for his millions of fans is that his return coincides with a new book, Bill Bryson's African Diary.
The bad news is that it may be his last. Bryson says he wants to put away his notebook and concentrate on family life.
"The more fun I have as a writer, the less fun I have as a family man." he says. "For the past 15 years I've had an awful lot of fun professionally and been away from home too much and I'd like to reverse that.
"It's a wonderful curse. I'm constantly offered opportunities to go to places that are really exciting.
"This summer I went to the World Cup. Who could say no? But at the same time it meant five weeks away from home."
Bryson also fears that if he keeps producing travel books he will start to stagnate as a writer. "I don't want to keep writing the same books. There's always a danger that you become repetitive.
"But quite how I make that change, I'm not sure. One option is just not to do it any more."
Bryson's life has been marked by journeys. Born in Iowa in 1951, he first visited Britain in 1973 on a backpacking tour, only to fall in love with the country - and a girl.
The girl became his wife, Cynthia, and he settled in the UK in 1977, working as a journalist.
But after the death of his father, Bryson returned to Des Moines and set out in search of the small-town America, a place he remembered from the films of his youth, a place his christened Amalgam.
He never found it, but his book about his journey, The Lost Continent, won him fans around the world, not simply for his gentle, hilarious observations but also for his examination of the American psyche.
In 1995, he and his wife decided to move to New Hampshire. He wanted, he explained, "to give the kids the chance of experiencing life in another country and my wife the chance to shop until 10pm seven nights a week.
"I had read that 3.7 million Americans believed that they had been abducted by aliens at one time or another, so it was clear that my people needed me."
But before he left, Bryson decided to strap on his backpack and travel, one last time, around the United Kingdom.
The account of this journey, Notes From A Small Island, sold more than two-and-a-half million copies in this country alone, and guaranteed that every new Bryson book would go straight to the top of the best-seller charts. Since then he has taken more trips, including a walk through the Appalachian mountains and a tour round Australia, and sold many more books.
But now he's determined that it's time to stop moving.
"Now we are looking for our last house," he says emphatically. "Estate agents can nibble away at me one time more.
"We want to find a place we can settle down. I'd like to lead a quieter life, not do as much dashing around."
Bryson intends to devote the whole of next year to making the transition between continents.
He and Cynthia are undecided on the exact location of their dream home. "Though I doubt very much that it will be Solihull," he observes.
"Personally, I love the Yorkshire Dales. I think there are other parts of Britain that are more beautiful and Scotland is more dramatic but, for some reason, when I go to the Dales my little heart goes flutter." In his soft, barely-there American accent, he laughs at his homesickness. "It's pathetic," he says. "When we arrive in London we rush off to Marks & Spencer and the kids want to buy things like Hula Hoops and iced buns - the most boring treat ever, a bread roll with icing on it.
"Cynthia misses a lot of the food. The first thing I always go for is a crusty loaf. …