I sometimes envy writers of fiction. All they need is a sufficiently good imagination, a laptop, a room with good lighting, and enough patience to craft a document that will attract legions of followers. I am told that a working knowledge of vampires also helps. Writers in this genre don’t have to fight off biting ants in the jungles of the Philippines, dodge crocodile in Jamaica, evade rifle-toting teenagers in Ethiopia, or risk vomiting out their lungs in aircraft high above the Atlantic.
Fiction writers imagine the world as it might be. Writers of narrative non-fiction describe the world as it is. This latter group tries to add a sense of place while telling the reader how the world seems to them. I want my readers to feel that they are standing beside me, smelling what I smell, tasting what I taste, and suffering when I suffer.
And to me, this sort of writing requires travel and visceral experiences. I have visited twenty-one percent of all the countries in the world in the last ten years. At this rate I will have visited them all if I live to be 103. Exotic locales are fine, but without the additional experiential flavour, I would be creating nothing more than greatly-abbreviated Lonely Planet guides. Go somewhere, do something, and don’t necessarily duck when something comes flying at your head.
I don’t always duck. As a result, I have fought off biting ants in a Philippine jungle while hoping to see bare-backed fruit-bats, been bitten by a crocodile on the most remote stretch of beach in Jamaica, evaded rifle-toting youth in corners of Ethiopia where I probably shouldn’t have been, and vomited furiously in an airplane toilet on a flight between Barbados and Belgium. I survived all of those experiences, and wouldn’t have missed out on any of them. Each has added to my life, and, as long as my editors don’t ask me to cut them out, I believe that they add to my books.
My editors do, on occasion, ask me to delete content that they feel could make a sensitive reader squeamish. On one overseas trip, my companion was incredibly mean to me, and terribly culturally insensitive. The description of my experiences made one of my editors feel so uncomfortable that I was asked to expunge him or her from the narrative. And so, there is a chapter in one of my books in which I appeared to be travelling alone, when in fact I was trying desperately not to wind up in a foreign prison awaiting trial for homicide. Trust me – it would have been justified.
The vast majority of my travel companions have been full of camaraderie and wide-eyed enthusiasm. We have shared food and drinks, illness and medication, and endless laughs. Importantly, by sharing with me their impressions of the landscape, they have made my books far richer.
Regrettably, when I stop typing, each manuscript has been far longer than my publishers would allow. Some content has to be deleted. In case you have a hankering for more of my ramblings, or wish to introduce yourself to my style before investing in a book, I offer up some deleted content below. I hope that you will enjoy.