Finding a co-author who can write is difficult. Finding an archaeologist with a fluent pen, a broad knowledge of the subject and not just a tiny corner of, say, Missouri, to work with is even harder. You’re looking at a long-term relationship that allows completely frank critique, a commitment to deliver on time, and impressive professional creds as well. It took me ten years to find Nadia Duranni, who has a PhD in the archaeology of Southwest Arabia, a background in archaeological journalism, and a lively sense of humor—something that is often lacking among today’s archaeologists. Now, after more than decade of working together on articles, textbooks and more recently trade books, it’s time for me to introduce my good friend and much esteemed colleague to our readers in more depth than a fleeting author’s biography.
Believe it or not, Nadia decided to become an archaeologist at age 7 (I decided to do so when 23!). She went on her first international dig in Italy, on a Mesolithic site on the banks of the beautiful Lake Garda, with a Cambridge contemporary of mine, Lawrence Barfield, and then continued excavating in Britain and beyond throughout her teenage years. She went off to Cambridge to study archaeology and anthropology and ended up specializing in social anthropology, which has given her an unusual perspective on the past. After graduating in the mid-1990s, she returned to archaeology, completing a PhD at University College, London. Her research focused on the pre-Islamic Red Sea coast of Yemen and connections between Yemen and Ethiopia. This seemingly esoteric specialty was one of the reasons she seemed ideal as a co-author. Throughout her doctoral years, she had planned to go into journalism or film making. Her first job was on the well-known Time Out guides of London and beyond, which she loved. Then TV called and she spent two years working on archaeology documentaries for people including the BBC and (inevitably!) Time Team. By chance, she met a school contemporary of mine, Andrew Selkirk, at a Society of Antiquaries meeting (she is a Fellow), where she learned of his plans to launch a world archaeology magazine, Current World Archaeology, commonly known as CWA. As she told me: “With the chutzpah of youth, I said I’ll do it!” She helped launch the first issue and became the editor after a year. A wealth of international travel and reporting from all over the place gave her additional qualifications as a generalist and impressive breadth, this apart from growing skills at popular writing. Even better, she had total autonomy over the content, editing, and writing, something most unusual in this day and age. CWA was where we met, for I was persuaded to write a column for the magazine at a time when my textbook publishers were urging me to bring a co-author on board. In a rare moment of genius, I asked Nadia to assume the role in 2010. It’s been a decision I’ve never regretted.
Not that she was ignoring her own research. She published her Yemen PhD dissertation in British Archaeology Reports in 2005 and remains active in Arabian archaeology and its publications. In Britain, she partnered with the talented British archaeologist Neil Faulkner as a founder member of the Great War Archaeology Group in 2004. They subsequently worked together on a book about their research into World War I zeppelin crash sites.
Nadia and I first worked in revisions of my textbooks, always a thankless task, for one deals with humorless, occasionally clueless ,reviewers and have to cope with the enormous task of illustrations, which drives us both crazy. Having two archaeologists on board with different broad perspectives, field experience, and expertise, makes the task much easier and the books better. For instance, she follows the latest research on human evolution, while I know North America better than she does. Our writing styles merge nicely and she has often revised passages of mine which were too academic and boring. Santa Barbara, California, and London are a long way from each other, but a steady stream of e-mails works surprisingly well. And when we do, all too rarely, meet, the gossip flows and we explore thorny issues—always great fun. Nadia’s editorial skills are always to the fore and she has a wonderful mind for detail that I don’it possess. We also spend a significant amount of time batting around ideas for books and other projects, which almost invariably come to nothing. But there are occasionally memorable ah-ha moments…
In the last couple of years, we extended our partnership to trade books with What We did in Bed: A Horizontal History. This was very challenging, largely because we knew almost nothing about the subject or potential sources. While writing this, I learned a huge amount about sleep, childbirth, and death from my co-author, who is also far more adept about pop-culture than I am. Both of us ended up thoroughly enjoying the writing of what was a very tough assignment, published by, of all publishers, Yale University Press.
Nadia and I are very lucky in that our interests dovetail. We also both have a passionate belief in the importance of reaching out to the wider audience. And, above all, we’ve become both personal and professional friends in the process, which has brought our families close to one another. Add my Maine coon cat, Atticus Catticus Moose, to the equation and the combination is pretty powerful. Our co-authoring has proved to be a major watershed in my writing life. Long may it continue!
Thanks to Jacob Hillier for the portrait