Balham Literary Festival: Tim Marshall on how his journalism has influenced his writing

Having given up full-time work to pursue his writing, author Tim Marshall believes his former career remains crucial to informing his current work.

The former BBC and Sky News reporter will be discussing his latest book Divided: Why We’re Living In An Age Of Walls at the Balham Literary Festival this Saturday, June 9.

The book is about the barriers, both figurative and literal, that divide societies across the globe; each chapter begins zoomed in on a wall or fence which becomes a vehicle, driving ideas and discussion about identity, perceptions of ‘us’ and ‘them’, and geopolitics.

The current news cycle has been dominated by such divisions in recent years and Divided examines several of them, including Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump, but rather than focusing on the headlines Tim situates them within broader historical narratives.

On whether Divided was something he had always set out to write or whether it was a product of the current environment, Tim said: “It’s both, I’d always wanted to but never had time — I quit full-time work to write books.

“I’d always, in my reporting career, tried to inject geographic context into an international relations story and here was an opportunity to actually do it and coincidentally the timing was very good as it is such a strange time people are looking for context.”

As a journalist Tim learned how to view events objectively and he puts this into context talking about President Trump’s recent decision to relocate the US’ embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

He said: “I can see clearly that the Trump administration is trying to break the status quo which in itself clearly hasn’t worked for decades.

“I’m not arguing that I support it, or that it will even work, but if you take emotion out of it it allows you to see more clearly that he’s actually trying to break the status quo.”

He hopes that if readers are to take away anything from his books it is that you must put aside your personal views when analysing an issue to understand it and appreciate that there are two sides to most stories.

At reaching this point he said a logical person will realise ‘we need to compromise.’

Adding: “I think that compromise is one of the most beautiful words in the English language and there’s not a great deal of it around at the moment.”

While Tim’s past as a journalist has been crucial in laying the groundwork for his bestsellers and his experience and instinct still informs his output, but he’s enjoying the change of pace that comes with stepping out of the newsroom.

On the difference between reporting and book writing he said: “It’s completely different, the deadlines are months or a year ahead and you haven’t got an angry foreign editor kicking you from afar — in a nice way!

“It’s solitary which is a new thing for me because television uses such a team effort.”

The one thing that’s better are the hours because I get to choose them.

“I used to work 12 hours a day, and I don’t work 12 hours day now.”

Fans may have to wait a while for his next book though.

Tim said: “I’m percolating an idea at the moment, it often just percolates around for months and then sometimes if you can just arrive at a title everything flows from it…and I’ve not arrived at a title yet so very little is flowing from it.

“When I used to write news stories, the first line was always the hardest because it should sets up everything that’s coming but the moment I’d written that first line everything else just flowed from it.”

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