I usually write non-fiction, mainly exploring interests in Asia and the history of written communication. So ‘The Lion’s Share’, available only on Kindle, is something different – a new edition of a thriller written some 25 years ago when I wasn’t sure what I wanted to focus on. It’s about the ‘real’ – in quotes, i.e. fictional – fate of Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia.
Most of the time, I like to mix history, narrative and personal experience, exploring the places I write about. It brings things to life, and it’s a reaction against an enclosed, secure, rural childhood in Kent. I did German and French at Oxford, and two postgraduate courses, History and Philosophy of Science at Oxford and Mongolian at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London (to join an expedition that never happened).
After working in journalism and publishing, I turned to writing, with occasional forays into film, TV and radio. A planned trilogy on three major revolutions in writing has resulted in two books, ‘Alpha Beta’ (on the alphabet) and ‘The Gutenberg Revolution’, both republished in 2009. The third, on the origin of writing, is on hold, because it depends on researching in Iraq. (On the fourth revolution, the Internet, many others can write far better than me).
My interest in Mongolia revived in 1996 when I spent a couple of months in the Gobi. ‘Gobi: Tracking the Desert’ was the first book on the region since the 1920’s (those by the American explorer Roy Chapman Andrews). In Mongolia, everything leads back to Genghis. I followed. The result was ‘Genghis Khan: Life, Death and Resurrection’, now appearing in 20 languages. Luckily, there’s more to Mongol studies than Genghis. ‘Attila the Hun’ and ‘Kublai Khan’ came next.
Another main theme in Asian history is the ancient and modern relationship between Mongolia and China. ‘The Terracotta Army’, published to in 2007, was followed by ‘The Great Wall’, which took me from Xinjiang to the Pacific. ‘The Leadership Secrets of Genghis Khan’ (combining history, character analysis and modern leadership theory) and ‘Xanadu: Marco Polo and Europe’s Discovery of the East’ pretty much exhausted Inner Asian themes for me.
So recently I have become interested in Japan. For ‘Samurai: The Last Warrior’, I followed in the footsteps of Saigo Takamori, the real ‘Last Samurai’, published in February 2011. After that, more fiction, perhaps.
I live in north London, inspired by a strong and beautiful family – wife, children and grand-children.