Written WorkSome feature articles I've written for National Geographic.
In the course of my long association with National Geographic Magazine I have contributed over twenty major features and countless shorter articles and stories, and on topics as varied as lost temples, cheetahs on the Serengetti, crocodiles in the Pantanal, 3-D Printing, a sunken 16th century treasure ship on the Skeleton Coast, the earliest Polynesian voyages, London Cabbies, Norwegian whalers and the U.S. state of Nebraska. Herewith a chocolate box sampler of a few favourites. If you care to read some of the long-read features I wrote for the National Geographic website here are two – a story about the search for the lost heart of the Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent rumoured to have been buried in a golden casket on the battlefield in Hungary where he died in 1566 – here; and a feature about an improvised news service in rural India that gave a voice to millions of India’s disenfranchised poor – here.
Five centuries ago a Portuguese carrick loaded with gold and ivory and bound for the fabled spice port of Goa vanished in a wild storm off the southern tip of Africa. Days later it foundered on a mysterious fogbound coast whose sands were strewn with millions of carats of diamonds. This whole improbable yarn would have been lost forever had it not been for a chance find on a lonely Namibian beach in what’s known as The Forbidden Zone
The Bonhomme Richard is said to be one of the last of the great historic shipwrecks that has yet to be found. Left burning and adrift after its epic battle with HMS Serapis off the Yorkshire coast in 1779 – during which John Paul Jones scorned surrender and uttered his immortal line “I have not yet begun to fight! – the ship is assumed to have been carried far out to sea by the local currents. Sophisticated computer modelling says that must have been the case. Yet an old Yorkshire fisherman swears it went down in Filey Bay, not five miles from the battle. And he’s producing some tantalising evidence.
One long ago summer, around the year 3200BC the Neolithic farmers and herdsmen on Scotland’s remote Orkney islands got together and decided to build something big. Using thousands of tonnes of fine-grained sandstone they set to work constructing a vast temple complex whose scale and magnificence was unlike anything the Neolithic world had ever seen. Now it has been found.
Think you know your city? To become a cabbie in London you’ll need to pass the world’s toughest geography exam – memorising the city’s 20,000 streets and another 40,000 landmarks and be able to recite the shortest legal route between any two addresses within a six mile radius of Charing Cross instantly and without looking at a map. It’s called The Knowledge. The pass rate is lower than the pass rate to become a Navy Seal.
The Golden Age of Pirates played out in the first two decades of the 18th century. One of the last and most successful was Captain Bartholomew Roberts a.k.a. Black Bart – a cavalier swashbuckler and the nearest thing to a real life Jack Sparrow real life has to offer.
No question about it – Vlad Tepes was a hard man even in an era of hard men. He was also a man who made plenty of powerful enemies and at a time when the printing press made it possible to create reputations – or tear them down. Was Vlad truly as monstrous as legend has it, or was he at least partly the victim of the world’s first bad press campaign?