Author Graham Addison looks back at key moments on his journey to self-publishing Raiders of the Hidden Ark, with his commitment to research having proved to be of particular importance.
I first thought about writing a book one Saturday morning many years ago. I was reading the newspaper and saw that an American I’d known and worked with at Apple, Thad Carhart, had won a ‘Best Book by a New Writer’ award for The Piano Shop On The Left Bank. The book is a wonderful read (and rightly went on to be an international best-seller) but it stirred something in me beyond appreciation for the writing. When I’d known Thad, he’d actually told me some of the same stories included in the book. And this planted a seed in my head. Maybe I could do the same. I just needed the right story.
This came along when I was reading Simon Sebag Montefiore’s excellent biography of Jerusalem. The book includes a handful of pages about an expedition to Jerusalem of young Eton-educated men searching for the Ark of the Covenant. The brevity was understandable; compared with many of the events that have occurred in Jerusalem it is a relatively minor episode. However, it sounded so bizarre and captured my imagination; English aristocrats digging for the Ark of the Covenant based on secret cyphers from the Bible. A crazy combination of Downton Abbey meets Indiana Jones meets Dan Brown.
More reliable information on the expedition was hard to come by, though. Most reports of the expedition focussed on only two individuals (Juvelius and Parker) and while many accounts seemed to cover similar aspects there were also clear inaccuracies. But how to decide what’s true and what isn’t? There were thousands of newspaper reports, while several of the expedition members had written their own accounts. These latter accounts were very defensive and misleading. One claimed they had not dug in the Dome of the Rock and another that they were very close to finding the Ark of the Covenant when they had to suspend the work. So they could not be entirely relied upon.
However, big steps forward were made when I gained access to an archive of original documents from the expedition held by the Ben-Zvi Institute in Jerusalem. Suddenly I could read contracts, financial records, letters and reports from the expedition, while the archive also includes Juvelius’ original cyphers (which started the affair). Reading through these documents opened up the entire expedition before me, and fundamentally changed what I covered in Raiders of the Hidden Ark. In addition to the aristocrats, cyphers and bribery there were poets, a Swiss psychic, a fortune made in Australia, a deadly curse, gun-running, madness, bankruptcy and early death. The more research I did the more fantastic the real story became.
But while the amount of research I did enabled a fuller understanding of the expedition, figuring out what to actually use within the book became another problem. My writing process was very iterative and probably quite slow, and at one point I had written 10,000 words on the history of Europeans seeking religious relics in the Holy Land… only for early readers to say that, while interesting, it just got in the way of them getting to the actual story of the expedition. Meaning 10,000 words swiftly became a couple of paragraphs. A painful (but necessary) lesson learned, which was then backed up by an editorial assessment I then subsequently decided to invest in.
Yet one other unexpected pleasure of throwing all of my efforts into research was also about to surface. I found that I wasn’t the only one writing about this untold story. In fact, I got to know of a group of writers, archaeologists and academics who were all writing about the Parker expedition from different angles. Although initially this worried me, I quickly realised that, in fact, it was incredibly helpful to be able to speak to others and the group became a fantastic resource. I gained confidence because they said my book was historically accurate, and I also found on occasion that I could contribute to their work because I’d sometimes uncovered things even they did not know.
So what did I learn in writing my first non-fiction book? That research is hard – you need persistence and a bit of luck – and you have to be careful how much of it actually makes it into the final manuscript, but it gave me confidence and ultimately shaped my book.
Raiders of the Hidden Ark: The Story of the Parker Expedition to Jerusalem is available now
About Graham Addison
My first love is history, which is what I obtained my degree in from Leeds University. I have lived in Scotland and France and now reside in Berkshire in the south of England. I am married with two children, who are no longer children.
History may be my first love but I have spent several decades helping create the modern world. If you love the world of mobile communications, personal computing, spreadsheets, instantly being able to search for any answer in the world and online financial transactions then I played a small part in its creation. If you hate a world in which people spend all their time on their phones, can’t be bothered to remember anything because they can always look it up, you are asked to fill in yet another spreadsheet and can’t deal with an individual because you are always dealing with a computer then I am sorry, but it wasn’t all my fault!
During my career I worked for some incredible companies including Apple. My focus in these companies was people; I was in Human Resources and climbed the corporate ladder to the dizzying levels of Senior Vice President.
A few years ago I decided that wanted to do something different. I came back to my first love and have now written a book, which seeks to shed new light on an almost forgotten episode.