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  1. Lots going on in the first few weeks since publication of The Timbuktu School for Nomads. So here's an update.

    I wrote an article for The Guardian about travelling in the Sahara, talking about the unpredictable nature of its landscapes as well as the diversity of its cultures.

    I wrote an article for the BBC about the trial of Ahmed al-Faqi al-Mahdi, who pleaded guilty to leading the destruction of 9 mausoleums and a mosque door in Timbuktu in 2012. Al-Mahdi has been sentenced to 9 years by the International Criminal Court, but there's some controversy: the charge focused on his crimes against heritage rather than violence against people, and some are concerned that the trial obscures the impunity of more powerful jihadists.

    In the wake of the British Government's green light to the Hinkley nuclear project, I wrote an article for the Telegraph about the role of African uranium in France's electricity industry, explaining how this links up to Britain's so-called 'nuclear renaissance'. I also spoke on the BBC's World Service about this issue (my bit's about 29 minutes into the programme). I personally think Hinkley is a really bad idea, as I have argued in the article and interview - not least because it distracts investment and expertise from safer and more enduring forms of renewable energy. The potential for solar power, in Africa especially, is really exciting and due to improvements in technology is growing all the time. As I have mentioned in my book, I believe that solar power could be a key to a more prosperous future for Africa, although it depends on how it's managed. The next few years are going to be critical.

    Continuing the climate/energy theme, I wrote an article for Climate Home about the conflicts in the Sahel, especially between herders and farmers, analysing why these conflicts are growing deadlier, and how they have been affected by other patterns and events across the region. The relevance of these issues is growing in Europe, as I explain in my article. We are increasingly affected by migration, arms-smuggling and jihadism; it doesn't do us any good for our neighbours to be war-torn and impoverished. Even if we overlook ethical motivations, it is in our interests for North Africa to thrive.

    I've also recorded an interview with CNN, talking about my book, and some of the issues relating to nomadic life in North Africa. This has been presented as a combination of a written article and a video interview, which includes lots of clips from my journeys. 

  2. TSFN cover

    My new book, 'The Timbuktu School for Nomads', has been published! I'm really excited to be bringing it out – and at the same time utterly terrified. Presenting a book to the public has the same physical effect on my internal organs as being in a minivan crossing the desert between Timbuktu and Konna (a famously bandit-infested stretch of the Sahara) a couple of years ago. In the dark. When the driver's lost his way. Which is ridiculous really, because where one is fraught with physical risk, the other is only psychological (well, unless your readers hate it so much they gather en-masse to hurl their copies at you...). But I guess it says something about how these different instincts intersect.

    It's been six years since I started researching about the Sahara region and set off on my first journey to Morocco. I definitely haven't churned this one out. It has been a real labour of love, a subject that's fascinated me and driven me to some very obscure corners of the British Library, and some equally obscure corners of the desert. It's had me vomiting onto the sand of Timbuktu, falling off the back of a camel, scribbling in a hospital waiting room to get a proposal out to a publisher. The book has gone through eight separate drafts, mostly written before any publisher took it on. It's been checked by several experts (such as the wonderful Dr Jeremy Swift, whose books on the Sahara are some of the most vividly precise accounts of the desert I know – his description of the camel spider is breathtaking!) I've been very lucky in the friendships I made in Africa, especially my brilliant pal Abdramane, who hosted me at his family's home in Northern Mali and helped me when the desert was at its most lethal. I've described our friendship in the book, and I hope readers will find those passages interesting.

    I hope readers will respond to my book. This area doesn't appeal to everybody, I know. The first-person travel narrative isn't everybody's cup of tea. And I know there are some who find my writing unsatisfying. But I hope there are a few readers out there who will enjoy it and engage with the issues I'm writing about. I hope most people who read it will feel it was worth their time. I think I can say, at least, that I tried my best.

    Nick and a Tuareg friend