Travel writer Bill Bryson, 68, lays down his pen to enjoy retirement

No more notes from small islands: Travel writer Bill Bryson, 68, lays down his pen and vows to enjoy retirement ‘on the floor with masses of grandchildren’

  • Notes from a Small Island writer, 68, has enjoyed not working during lockdown 
  • He said: ‘I’ve decided to retire. I’ve been reading for pleasure and I’m enjoying it’
  • Bryson was anxious he would be bored if he retired but hasn’t found that  

Travel writer Bill Bryson has decided to retire and ‘indulge himself rather than explore new territory’. 

The Notes from a Small Island writer, 68, said he has been ‘treating retirement as an experiment so far this year but it has been successful’. 

Bryson, who was born in Iowa but has mostly lived in the UK since the 1970s, revealed that he hasn’t experienced any ‘twitching’ to continue writing and has enjoyed his unintended break so much he has decided to continue it indefinitely. 

In an interview with Stig Abell to be broadcast on Times Radio this morning, he said: ‘I’ve decided to retire… for the first time in decades I’ve been reading for pleasure and finding I’m really enjoying it.’ 

Travel writer Bill Bryson has decided to retire and ‘indulge himself rather than explore new territory’

The Notes from a Small Island writer, 68, said he has been ‘treating retirement as an experiment so far this year but it has been successful’

He added that he was anxious that he would feel he hadn’t got anything to do if he stopped writing but was pleasantly surprised to find this was not the case. 

The writer came to the UK while backpacking across Europe in his early 20s. He landed a job in a psychiatric hospital where he met a fellow nurse, Cynthia Billen, whom he went on to marry and have four children with. 

He and Cynthia moved back to Des Moines, Iowa, in 1975 so Bryson could finish his degree but the pair settled in the UK in 1977 and currently live in Hampshire.  


Bryson, who was born in Iowa but has mostly lived in the UK since the 1970s, revealed that he hasn’t experienced any ‘twitching’ to continue writing and has enjoyed his unintended break so much he has decided to continue it indefinitely

Bryson began his writing career in the late 1970s as a journalist on the Bournemouth Evening Echo and eventually became chief copy editor of the business section of The Times and deputy national news editor of the business section of The Independent

In 2006 the mayor of Des Moines awarded Bryson the key to the city and announced that 21 October, 2006, would be known as ‘Bill Bryson, The Thunderbolt Kid, Day.’ 

The couple also have 10 grandchildren and Bryson said: ‘I would quite like to spend the part that is left to me doing all the things I’ve not been able to do. Like enjoying my family, I have masses of grandchildren and I would love to spend more time with them just down on the floor.’

Bill Bryson’s career in numbers 

21 books, translated into 30 languages that have raked in more than £81million in sales. 

10million books sold since 1998, including 2million of A Short History of Nearly Everything.

11 honorary doctorates, including from institutions such as Durham, Leeds, St Andrews and King’s College London

2 nationalities – American and British 

7 awards for his world-famous writing

Bryson began his writing career in the late 1970s as a journalist on the Bournemouth Evening Echo and eventually became chief copy editor of the business section of The Times and deputy national news editor of the business section of The Independent. 

He wrote his first book, The Palace under the Alps and Over 200 Other Unusual, Unspoiled and Infrequently Visited Spots in 16 European Countries, in 1985. 

But the famed writer, who was awarded an OBE in 2006, holds A Short History of Nearly Everything, published in 2003, as his most treasured book. 

He said the research for the book, a guide to science written in accessible language, opened doors for him and was the book that made him the most ‘financially secure’. 

Bryson was tiring of writing funny travel books at the time and he said that writing about science allowed him to get out of a rut.  

However he added that ‘any trained scientist could have picked it to pieces’ if they looked at specific areas where he ‘didn’t quite grasp the bigger picture’. 

He had similar sentiments toward his latest, and last, book – The Body: A Guide for Occupants. 

He said that writing this book was harder because more people will be able to spot if he makes a mistake. 

‘If you make a mistake with the body all kinds of people are going to know you have made a whopping mistake,’ he said.    

The interview will air this morning on Times Radio Breakfast, 6am-10am.   

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