Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Something to Make You Choke on Your Corn Chips; Bestselling Author Graham Hancock Tells DAVID WHETSTONE about Ritual Sacrifice and the Horrors of His Durham Schooldays

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Something to Make You Choke on Your Corn Chips; Bestselling Author Graham Hancock Tells DAVID WHETSTONE about Ritual Sacrifice and the Horrors of His Durham Schooldays

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID WHETSTONE

IF it's a cosy read you want to while away a quiet hour, don't reach for a novel by Graham Hancock. It will have you hyperventilating within minutes.

An author who meets all the "thriller" criteria with gusto has set his second novel, War God: Nights of the Witch, in a place (Mexico) and at a time (early 16th century) when mass human sacrifice was an unremarkable fact of life, like breakfast TV or texting.

You can imagine the frisson that must have existed in a society where, as regularly as the morning commute, queues of people trudged to a bloody death at the top of a pyramid - there to lose their hearts (literally) to the Aztec gods.

But in War God, an external threat faces a society seemingly hell-bent on killing its own. Landing with a small fleet in 1519 - and coinciding with the prophesied return of an Aztec god of peace - is adventurer Hernan Cortes, heralding the Spanish conquest of Mexico. Over the three years that follow, Cortes and his army of some 490 men will overthrow the Aztec empire.

Hancock, who used to write for broadsheet newspapers, takes as one of his main characters a girl called Tozi, whom we encounter in the "fattening pen" with other women being prepared for death. Despite their predicament, girls will be girls. They bicker and Tozi is accused of being a witch. Since she can make herself disappear, it's not a groundless accusation.

But while Tozi and the Aztec gods may seem worlds - aeons - away from your average North East bookworm, Graham Hancock was recently back on what used to be home soil, 40 years after graduating from Durham University.

"I lived in Sunderland from the age of 12," explains the author. "My father was a medical doctor working in India in the early 1950s and I spent a few years there before the family moved back to the UK in 1958. We came to Sunderland when my father became a consultant at Sunderland General Hospital, so I lived there from 1962.

"I went to Durham University in 1970 to read sociology."

Previous to that he had been a pupil at Durham School in the days when corporal punishment was an unwritten part of the national curriculum. "It was like something out of a Dickensian nightmare," says the author with a perceptible shudder.

"It was a really brutal environment and I felt a tremendous outsider there. I didn't feel I belonged at all."

You can't help but wonder if this was the making of the man or an innate feature of his personality, although he cites his four years in India, "growing up in a completely different culture", as the source of many of his adult interests.

As a writer, controversy has swirled around much of his work, to the extent that even the publicists of War God refer to him as "notorious", "infamous" and a "wild card non-fiction author". …

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