Speaking at the launch of his new book Man in a Mud Hut at Warwick library, Ian casually mentioned that his four-part African Memoir series had just become five. “I’m 20,000 words into the Danakil,” he said, and judging by the murmurs and nods of approval from his audience, it was a popular announcement.
After a moment of slightly stunned surprise, his publisher concurred.
Ian’s memoirs, which include the forthcoming Supper with the President and The Man of Passage, cover a period in the 1970s when he worked in sub-Saharan Africa as a water resources engineer in the British government’s overseas aid programme. That work took him into Ethiopia and the Danakil region whose inhabitants were famously visited in the 1930s by Wilfred Thesiger.
Ian reviewed the notes of his own time in the region, prompted by recent news reports on the drought and impending famine in the Horn of Africa.
“As I sat watching the news, I remembered all too clearly the drought in 1971/2 when I was first in Ethiopia,” he said. “The camp at Bati was described then as the biggest refugee camp in the world. Eleven years later, the same thing happened again and once more Ethiopia and Somalia were headlines for the same gruesome reasons.
“And now it’s happening all over again, just as it has for hundreds of years. The cycle has been shorter this time due to a shift in the world’s weather patterns, but it was entirely predictable.”
The working title for this new book is ‘Dust in the Danakil’. It promises to be full of Ian’s now-familiar blend of observation, explanation and narration with a strong hook to current affairs. Watch this space for publication details.