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I move on to his prose style, full of metaphors and similes. In his journeys stupas sit ‘like nipples’ on hills; horns ‘bray like an old god clearing his throat’; mountains are visible on the horizon ‘like stencils hung in nothing’. Where do the images come from? “Of course writing is terrifically hard,” he says. “You have to work at your style. It’s pretty much a self-developed process, though if any travel writers influenced me they were Patrick Leigh Fermour and Freya Stark, two very different sorts of writer. The images, however, just come to me. I guess they come naturally.”

He takes copious notes. “My memory is not good enough for me to remember all the details I need, so I have to write things down to be a reliable witness. The texture of a rock, for example, or the exact expression of a face when someone is talking to me.” I wonder if he has developed a special way of writing. There must be so many notes. “I have very small horrid writing,” he says. “One editor says it is like some ants have been dipped into a matchbox of ink and have run all over the page.” I know from what he’s told me that Colin has been having a terribly difficult day, so I tell him I’m ending the conversation with one last question. His advice to would-be travel writers? “Give it a go,” he says. “There’s nothing worse when you’re at the wrong end of life than realising that you’ve never tried to do what you wanted to. Trying and failing is fair enough. Failing to try is quite another thing.” AL

Shadow of the Silk Road: a detail from Thubron’s latest book jacket
Pelham House, St Andrews Lane, Lewes
When? 7.30pm
How Much? £6