In early 1990 the author travelled by train from Paris to Beijing, stopping off along the way and taking three weeks to make the journey. This was during the final days of the break-up of the Soviet Union and just as China was opening up to the rest of the world. It was a fascinating time to travel through these regions. However, having written a number of travel books, and because there's a plethora of non-fiction about the Trans-Siberian Railway, the author decided instead to do Paris to Beijing as a surreal novel.
Some of what's recounted in Mr Jolly's Journey is based on events that did really happen, such as the fight in a Moscow restaurant, or the Red Army soldier pulling a knife on the Trans-Siberian Railway. Likewise, the author was quite seriously ill in Mongolia, but survived to write this book, which runs to approx. 40,000 words.