The Big Idea: Graham Hancock

It’s probably inaccurate to call the writing of fiction “restful” (says the man currently trying to write a new novel), but can it offer a respite? From Graham Hancock, it just may. Hancock is best known as a non-fiction author of highly controversial historical books, and controversies, while sometimes invigorating, have their downside as well. So, when Hancock turned his hand to fiction with his novel Entangled, did the experience offer him a break from that controversy — and a new enthusiasm for writing? Let’s let Hancock spin the tale from here.

GRAHAM HANCOCK:

Entangled is my first novel, a work of science fiction and fantasy adventure utterly different from anything I’ve ever written before. At its heart are Ria and Leoni, two brave young women, living at opposite ends of history, who are brought together by supernatural forces to do battle with a demon who travels through time. My heroines don’t need a “time machine”. They encounter one another, and the demon, by travelling out of body in altered states of consciousness induced by the consumption of  powerful psychedelic drugs.

Before I tell you where this big, strange idea came from I need to give you some backstory.

I’ve been a non-fiction writer all my working life, starting out in mainstream journalism in the early 1970’s and finding my way into books from there. I was always heavily facts-based, even if – as I increasingly came to define my role – 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 honourable 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 more than twenty years later in the US.

So the same basic approach that I brought to Lords of Poverty I also brought to all my later non-fiction books on historical mysteries such as The Sign and the Seal, Fingerprints of the Gods and Heaven’s Mirror – 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 non-fiction, 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, open, 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 than you can never find it again).

It is a constant fact-grinding operation and after three decades of this I have reached a point where, frankly, I’m 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 larger amounts of facts, observation and data, trying to iron out every weakness in advance. The result — 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 new data, not previously published, 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 it.

As I writer I do, above all, want to be read. So what I gradually came to realise 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 within which I must work meant that I could never get back to that place again — in non-fiction 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 civilisation lost in the night of time. I began to be concerned that if I stayed totally focussed on that subject then I would end up repeating myself and doing nothing new.

It was time to move on.

The result, still non-fiction, was Supernatural. The same reference-based approach reinterpreting existing ‘facts’, and another very long book, but this time not focussed on the lost civilisation mystery.

But something amazing happened to me while I was researching and writing Supernatural. I had my first encounters with the Amazonian shamanistic brew Ayahuasca, the Vine of the Dead, and these encounters completely changed my view of just about everything. The experiences filled me up with a new and invigorating creative urge and I began to think more and more about taking a long sabbatical from non-fiction and taking my narrative gifts — such as they are — in the direction of fiction. What was there to lose, 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 over this for a long while after my first encounter with the brew in 2003. I have continued to drink Ayahuasca several times a year since then, and have now logged more than thirty 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. It was 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, 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 to conscious recollection. And I received a strong instruction from the blessed spirit of Aya and that instruction was: “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, Entangled, I now place before my readers.

Each day of writing this book (and I am writing the sequel right now) has been a wonderful adventure for me. Because I downloaded the whole thing from the visionary realm I have not worked with any kind of outline but 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 tremendous fun to do.

And I’m realising 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 to non-fiction 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 non-fiction again. I certainly hope I will. But I think I’ve earned a break and hope my readers will come with me on this new adventure.

—-

Entangled: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt of Entangled and see the trailer. Visit the book’s Web site. Follow Hancock on Twitter.

27 thoughts on “The Big Idea: Graham Hancock

  1. I think it’s a healthy thing to question the old models we have of history and offer some new possibilities.

    I haven’t read any of Mr Hancock’s work but I did see an older television program of his that I thought was well done. I actually just ordered a copy of “Supernatural” the other day and I’m looking forward to reading it when it arrives.

  2. I haven’t read Hancock’s earlier journalistic work, but his more recent “nonfiction” is Von Daniken/Hoagland style crackpottery.

    As a result, I’m reluctant to read his novel — which is odd, if you think about it. I dislike him for, in effect, making stuff up, and consequently I don’t want to read the stuff he made up.

    I guess I just don’t like to subsidize promoters of crackpottery. (I bought his crackpot books used.)

  3. Wait. Wait.

    We’re suggesting that this is the very first time that the author of “Fingerprint of the Gods” has written a fictional fantasy story?

    BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

  4. I haven’t had enough coffee and I thought his previous book was “Underpants of the Gods”. I was quite disappointed to see that I had the title wrong.

    This book must be written. Followed up by “Sunglasses of the Gods”, “T-Shirts of the Gods”, and “Cute Black Strappy Sandals of the Gods”.

  5. I have a general question about Big Idea posts. Is there somewhere an index of links to these? Every now and then, someone mentions a book to me that sounds like it might have been a Big Idea. These are far better than the various reviews anywhere, and it would be nice if there was an easy way to find them.

    Thanks either way.

  6. Look to the right of this column and you’ll see the topic “Big Idea” followed by a link to the archive of all Big Ideas.

  7. Hmmm. I’d read Fingerprints of the gods and enjoyed it. Way out enough to be entertaining while actually making me think. But Mr. Hancock lost me on the cover of Supernatural … drug-induced journeys are not my cup of tea ;)

    And then he REALLY lost me with this novel, having his main character share my rather rare name. Just too weird. Decided not to buy it for both reasons.

  8. The fiction novel pitch sounds cool. Girls, drugs and demons, make sure there are some cool gory deaths and it’s pretty much made. No one ever questioned Hancock on whether he was good at spinning a cracking yarn.

    However bitching that you are having to give up writing scientific theories because people kept insisting you do the research and present evidence to back it up. Made of Fail. That is how science works, especially when you are presenting something controversial (technically there is no reason why he couldn’t have had a paradigm shifting theory for astro-archaeology, science thrives on overturned paradigms after all), but there is always a really high burden of proof on that. Bitching because that was expected of you same as anyone else, poor form.

  9. Hilarious that anyone would refuse to read Hancock’s novel on the basis that they didn’t find his non-fiction credible. If you agree that he’s a good, entertaining writer, his writing fiction should solve your problem!

    Anyway, the novel sounds intriguing to me – on order from Amazon!

  10. I’m amused that a Ria and a Leoni have shown up in this thread so far. Really?

    Anyhoo… I am weirded out that he came up with the entire premise while on drugs. (Though also slightly amused.) I… don’t know what to make of that. I’ve had Craft mentors lecture me on how “whatever you see while on drugs is real,” but I tend to think that anything weird that I saw while sober, well, I can’t blame *that* on “oh, I was wasted,” and thus it must be more real. So… I don’t know. Or maybe I’ve just heard too many bad pot brownie stories.

  11. Re #7, #8
    I see the archive, but I was wondering about an index so it would be possible find a particular one without searching through all the pages.

    Thanks.

  12. JJS @13: There’s this, but it only covers the 2009 calendar year. Maybe Scalzi will do another index for 2010 in late December.

    Beyond that, I find that if you know the name of the author you’re interested in, you can go to the search box on the upper right of this page (underneath “Taunting the Tauntable since 1998″), and enter the phrase “Big Idea” and the last name of the author, and you should be able to find what you want.

  13. I’m with Cambias: how is this different from Graham Hancock’s earlier works? I tried to read a couple of them, and they’re so absurd that I had to go re-read Martin Gardner as a corrective.

  14. What a closeminded bunch of commenters here on the big idea..i suppose these people won’t recognise a big idea when its not programmed into their watery skull, sad. Fact is most old sciences are build on heresay (previous scientists) and bigotry, not to mention the fact that a career in science is only possible if you subscribe to its dogmas.
    These days science is all about serving self not the general public or the enhancement of knowledge. People like Hancock have trown the odd stick between those complacent licensed idiots. Still there are too many among us that refuse to think for themselves and prefer howling with the pack.

  15. I have read Fingerprints of the Gods and found it to be laughably credulous. Entertaining, but he’s too quick to accept the fantastic on little evidence.

    I might try his new fiction. He can write.

  16. Hancock’s non-fiction (term used loosely) is entertaining, challenging, and is an excellent starting point for spinning what-ifs and thinking about alternative viewpoints on historical and prehistorical events.

    It ain’t science but not everything has to be. Take it seriously, you’re asking for trouble (like making stock picks based on astrology) but used for fun (like making movie picks based on astrology) you can have a good time.

  17. I’ve only read one of Hancock’s books, “Supernatural”. While Hancock does fly off into poorly-justified conjecture sometimes, I found most of the book (and certainly the first half) to be very grounded in facts and as well-referenced as a good scientific paper. Based on some of the critiques I’d heard, that really surprised me.

    I guess, by his own admission, he’s gotten better at that with time. So all of the people mocking his non-fiction work might want to give his more recent works a chance.

  18. I’ve read some of Graham Hancock’s books and they give great food for thought. I bought Entangled just to see what it was like and I loved it. It makes you think just what were the Neanderthals like. Can’t wait for the sequel.

  19. I have read many of the works of Graham Hancock. Except perhaps the early travel brochures for Africa.
    1) Fingerprints of the Gods, provided an excellent basis for rapid continental shifts with very suggestive historical information. Only part of this wonderful book, it gives credence to the Biblical flood and great tie-ins to ancient cultures. It exudes a presence greater than mankind alone. Piri Ris map is included.
    2) Heaven’s Mirror is another fine book with terrific pictures of of Monoliths and ruins throughout the world. Photographs in the book by his wife Santha were marvelous. This book is a photograph essay of features on the earth of things such as a 400 ton “Mooring post of the Gods” in the Andes Mountains. It is double weight of the Giza capstone and the mountain terrain is rugged.
    3) Underworld- This book establishes a scientific approach to explaining a massive flood with accounts from cuneform and other sources. The evidence he brings forth is compelling.
    4) The Sign and the Seal-This book documents path of the Arc of the Covenant to its present location in the world. Great reading for me.

    My favorite feature of this author is his ability to see a list of elements and isolate a common point to drive home his conclusion. It is an ability that great writers have. Most of us have difficulty poring through data to find common points. Imagine a hundred pictures at the museum, to find the crooked one, you only need to look. Why is it crooked? Now, imagine a garden of corn stalks with ears of corn made of gold and the stalks. Where is it and why would they do that?

    I will certainly look forward to this fiction by Graham.

  20. ENTANGLED is quite a page-turner. So glad I had a chance to listen to Graham speak while here in Atlanta in October. He is a very sincere, authentic, truth seeking Soul. Questioning things and always more satisfied with a new and different perspective is fun for me. I have learned that answers show up when the questions are asked if one stays open and atuned for them, as Graham did by setting his intention. Edgar Cayce also imparts the importance of intention. It is easy to be dismissive of new ideas the first time you hear them, especially if they disturb your comfort zone. Being open leads to validation, or its opposite. Just so much better to bypass the negative knee-jerk responce. Judy

  21. Probably the fastest book I’ve ever read….in a word excellent!
    On first glance you think to yourself…”stone age?…how’s that going to work?” but the writing is genius!!, the characters are very well shaped, and the images and scenes that you imagine while reading are stunning.
    Glad to hear the sequel shouldn’t be too long…highly recommended read.

  22. ‘Skeptics’, debunkers, insecure rationalists, and others stuck in their left-brain-five sense box –take note. There is a cure for your affliction. Its called ayahuasca. But be forewarned, you must approach The Lady with respect and good intentions.

    Graham-Those who are hung up on nitpicking your work and classifying it are missing the point. Thanks for putting your passion and heart into your work, and for being brave enough to endure the predictable knee-jerk reaction of the trolls (they were not always called that, but its the best way to describe them). I for one have greatly appreciated your efforts. God bless

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