Be Interested

To tag on from a previous entry: something I find immensely rewarding is doing work that’s interesting. When you write a travel book, as I have spent the last ten years or more doing, it takes about two years from the conception to publication. That’s a long time, and you have to spend hundreds of hours researching, writing, editing and proofing the text. The only way I can get through the thing is if it tantalizes me in the most enchanting and base way. For example, with my book House of the Tiger King, I still don’t know whether Pancho, our Machiguinga guide, really knew where the ruins of the lost city of Paititi were or not. I love that sense of unknown. It keeps me thinking as I toss and turn to sleep at night.This sense of mystery is so important, and when you don’t have it, things can go badly wrong. Take this example: I have a great friend, Robert Twigger, who was commissioned to write a book about a species of deer caught up in the Boxer Rebellion. It wasn’t his idea, but his agent’s, and he took it on because he needed the cash. Of course he needed the cash: he was a struggling author. But even with the solid advance, he found he had no interest in the idea and it had been dreamed up by an agent who was totally clueless about good ideas. So he agonized for months, many many months. The book that was finally created, The Extinction Club, is probably Twigger’s finest. I’d say it’s a work of genius… because he found interest in the subject by exposing his mercenary tactics.


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