Author of Entangled: The Eater of Souls
Published by The Disinformation Company, New York
Graham Hancock can be seen on Sunday Oct. 10th of the festival at 5pm on the Columbia Sportswear Stage
Why Fiction? Why now?
Upon publishing my first novel, I thought it might be of interest to explore these questions.
I’ve been a nonfiction writer all my working life, starting out in journalism and working my way into books from there. My writing was always heavily facts-based, even if I was giving a different take on the facts from the mainstream. An example is my 1989 book Lords of Poverty: The Freewheeling Lifestyles, Power, Prestige and Corruption of the Multi-Billion Dollar Aid Business. It won an H.L. Menken Award honorable mention for an outstanding book of journalism. It was entirely fact-based, but it took the same facts the aid industry was using to blow its own trumpet and showed that there was a whole other story lying underneath them—a story not of “help” and “kindness,” but of corruption, waste, greed, and ego on the part of the donor organisations. Lords of Poverty was the first book really to question foreign aid. A lot of people in the aid business got very angry with me about it, but it struck a chord and is still in print twenty-one years later in the United States.
So the same basic approach that I brought to Lords of Poverty, I also brought to my later nonfiction books on historical mysteries—questioning established facts, reinterpreting them, and trying to bring new data to the table. Typically I would refer to a thousand-plus other books for each of my big books of nonfiction, which were all fundamentally works of synthesis. If there was anything truly original in them it lay in creating a novel synthesis, and in asking new questions about the data that perhaps hadn’t been given much thought before.
You should see my office any day when I’m writing non-fiction. Dozens of books relating to the chapter I am working on that day are scattered all over my desk and floor. There are little yellow tags in the pages of these books that remind me of some nugget of information hidden on page 243 or 867. As I write I am constantly inserting footnotes, and I’ve learned that if you don’t do the note—at least in abbreviated form—right away, then you can never find it again.
It is a constant fact-grinding operation and after well over twenty years of this, I have reached a point where, frankly, I am exhausted by it. Relentless academic attacks on my non-fiction, most ferocious in the UK, completely wore me out and also forced me to start writing in a more and more boring way. Anticipating every nit-picking critique, and knowing how even the slightest mistake would be spun as “fraud” and “bad faith” by the mainstream, I started bullet-proofing my arguments even as I made them, surrounding them with ever greater amounts of facts, trying to iron out every weakness in advance.
The result being Underworld. It’s a pretty good book in my opinion. I’m proud of it. Proud of the risks my wife Santha and I were prepared to take to do the dives and bring back the evidence—Santha’s photographs being crucial. Proud of the mass of previously unpublished new data that it unveils. But it is close to 800 pages long and the architecture of facts, and the defensive posture I was forced to adopt, means that many readers have found it hard to wade through.
As I writer I do, above all, want to be read. So what I gradually came to realize was that the need to respond to scholarly attacks on my work was actually making me more and more unreadable! I began to yearn to get back to the place of adventure and daring I was in when I wrote Fingerprints of the Gods and didn’t give a damn about what the academics thought or said. But it gradually became clear to me that the intellectual climate in which I must work meant that I could never get back to that place again writing nonfiction in this field.
I also came to the conclusion, after Underworld, that I had done everything I could do, as an individual, to shed light on the possibility that there might be a great forgotten episode of high civilization lost in the night of time. I began to be concerned that if I stayed totally focused on that subject then I would end up repeating myself and doing nothing new.
It was time to move on.
Something amazing happened to me while I was researching and writing Supernatural. I had my first encounters with the Amazonian shamen brew Ayahuasca, the Vine of the Dead, and these encounters completely changed my view of just about everything. The experiences filled me with a new and invigorating creative urge and I began to think more and more about taking my narrative gifts—such as they are—in the direction of fiction. What was there to loose, I asked myself, when my critics already described my factual books as fiction?! Besides, some facts are so strange that maybe the only way they can ever be explored properly is through the imagination.
So I thought this over for a long while after my first encounter with Ayahuasca in 2003. I have continued to drink Ayahuasca several times a year since then, and have now logged more than 30 journeys. In 2006 I participated in a series of five Ayahuasca sessions over a period of two weeks in Brazil. Before we began the work—and Ayahuasca is work—I set an intent: to find inspiration for a novel.
The sessions gave me the answer. In a series of intense visions I saw my two main characters, Ria in the Stone Age and Leoni today, entangled in a great cosmic battle of good against evil. Some specific scenes and plot elements presented themselves to me. Others I received—downloaded—but could not immediately bring them to conscious recollection. And I received a strong instruction from the blessed spirit of Aya: “WRITE IT. WRITE IT NOW!”
I started writing straight away. It was very slow at first. It took me a year to get eighty pages down to show to my editor. But fortunately he loved it and bought it on the spot, and the result is Entangled.
Each day of writing this book (and I am writing the sequel right now) has been a wonderful adventure. Because I downloaded the whole thing from the visionary realm, I have not worked with any kind of outline. I just sit at my desk to write every morning not knowing at all where the story is going to go. It’s all fresh and new to me, discovering events only as my characters discover them, and it is tremendous fun to do.
And I’m realizing more and more that, as a vehicle for exploring extraordinary ideas, fiction has a huge degree of latitude and license that our society simply does not allow nonfiction authors. And no footnotes! No quotations from learned sources! No angry academics waiting to accuse me of fraud! Just the challenge of the blank screen every morning and the adventure of finding out what I am going to put there today.
This is not say I will never write nonfiction again. I certainly hope to do so. But I think I have earned a break and hope my readers will join me on this new adventure.