I thought – pace previous post – that I had all the ambush angles covered. But today, a conversation with one publishing insider made me think again. Apparently, by writing a book that includes crime, aircraft and the military in its rubric, I’m guaranteed to enrage three of the universally feared Big Five Families. Of nerds. “The only thing you could possibly do to attract more vitriol is to include steam trains or a cult science fiction (not ‘Sci-Fi’, the nerds hate that) into the narrative,” laughed the publisher. Gunrunners and lobbyists? Meh. Buffs puffed up with outrage about a missing engine flange widget screw serial thing? Those are enemies nobody wants.
When you’re writing an investigative book, only about a third of what you do is writing. The rest is investigating. OK, and toast. But I mean, there’s a lot of digging, a lot of gumshoe work, a lot of talking to people who don’t want to talk. Oddly, they’re the easy ones.
The really hard ones are the ones who do want to talk. They are people who are closer to a small part of your investigation than you can ever hope to get. They’ve spent years compiling their own mental archives, following their obsession. They watch their quarry’s every move.
They nurture theories, collect cuttings, draw curtains, sit in public galleries, for years on end. And, with some justification, they feel they are keepers of their particular flame. But what they also feel, quite often, is that anyone with an interest in what they know is ‘mining’ them for dark purposes; and your very interest marks you out as a henchman of the conspiratorial forces ranged against them. Am I a cop? I am not. Am I looking to misrepresent them, as some other guy did once? I am not. Am I one of… THEM? To which I can only reply, no, I am not. But just who do you mean by THEM anyway?
Never, ever ask that. It proves you are one of THEM. You can immediately feel them harden in their suspicions. Promised material is hurriedly locked away. I’m told to take a message back to “whoever sent me” that they/I fool no-one. And I sigh. Like conspiracy theories and sexual jealousy, suspicion of this kind can only ever be confirmed, never combated. Every proof is merely proof of your cunning. Every protestation shows you’re wriggling on the hook. It really is madness.
The thing is, it sometimes feels contagious. Not that I’m seeing sinister moves everywhere, or starting to buy into conspiracies; it’s just that I can see why 30 years digging into one subject could make a man jumpy.
Because some odd things have been happening to me. Apart from the blatant stuff – some anonymous caller in Africa expressing his wish that I enjoy a healthy and harm-free stay in his country, which may not be possible if I persist in bothering people with questions – there have been some strange coincidences. After I approached a firm of New York/Washington DC lobbyists about a report bearing their letterhead that sought to link one of the Arab Emirates with Russian arms-smugglers, I noticed that my social media presence was suddenly being checked out fairly regularly by someone at a US-based law firm. Sure, it could be coincidence. But this week, I’ve been notified of a possible attempt at black PR when the book hits, from at least one of the organizations named in the book. OK, so maybe, maybe not. Guess we’ll find out, right?