Jeff Glor talks to author Jay Bahadur about "The Pirates of Somalia," an account of his harrowing trip into the pirate havens of Africa. Bahadur spent months trying to infiltrate the ranks of these daring, often vicious criminals. This is what he saw.
Jeff Glor: What inspired you to write the book?
Jay Bahadur: The terrifying spectre of the agonizingly dull life that awaited me if I didn't do something with myself. At the time (late 2008), I was working out of my parents' house on a contract basis for a Chicago-based market research firm and trying semi-desperately to break into journalism. Every established journalist I spoke to advised me to skip journalism school and make my bones by writing freelance in crazy places. Somalia was a great candidate, and when piracy exploded in September 2008 I quit my job and bought a ticket. I was immediately shocked by how few Western journalists were in the country; during my first six-week trip, the only other foreigners I encountered were a team of Australian cameramen on my final day in Somalia. The one advantage I had over seasoned reporters is that I wasn't constrained by the insurance costs and tight deadlines that come with working for a major news agency; as a result, I was able to spend three months in the fray, and gain a perspective on piracy (and Somalia in general) that no other outsider was granted.
JG: What surprised you the most during the writing process?
JB: How long it took. My original book pitch promised editors a finished manuscript by the end of 2009; as it turned out, I was only just embarking on my third trip to the Horn of Africa when November rolled along. Some writers are disciplined enough to spend an hour at the computer every day, and I soon discovered I wasn't one of them. I had never written anything remotely as long as a book, and I burned out easily. Sometimes I couldn't string together a sentence for weeks at a time.
In hindsight, I'm also surprised by how crappy a journalist I was, at least at the beginning: I asked stupid questions, I didn't write down people's names. I didn't even have my own cell phone during my first trip to Somalia. Luckily, I stuck with the subject long enough to learn my job as I went along.
JG: What would you be doing if you weren't a writer?
JB: Probably still writing research reports on the Canadian premium napkin market and wistfully sending cold pitches to magazine editors.
JG: What else are you reading right now?
JB: At the moment I'm reading Amy Chua's astute treatise on global politics and development, World on Fire, while simultaneously struggling (slowly) through Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy.
JG: What's next for you?
JB: Sticking with the mantra of "learning on the job," I'm working with several colleagues on launching a citizen journalism website, Journalist Nation (journalist-nation.com). In a sentence, our aim is to become a home for the myriad newsworthy cell phone videos ones sees floating around YouTube. My hope is to use the publicity surrounding the book to cross-promote Journalist Nation... sort of like I'm doing right now.
For more on "Pirates of Somalia," visit the Random House website.