Writing “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Diplomacy” was fascinating and demanding. The book was published in 2023 by the lovely Czernin Verlag, a Viennese publisher. How did this happen?
An invitation from a publisher
In October 2021, top Austrian publisher Benedikt Föger, of Czernin Verlag, invited me for coffee at his office in Vienna. I had retired a month earlier after 42 years as a diplomat and civil servant.
Benedikt said he liked my writing style: wry, humorous, but making some serious points. Would I consider writing a book about diplomatic life, and what people could learn from it? He would get it translated, and publish it in German. Later, an English or other editions might follow.
He suggested the title: “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Diplomacy“. I thought it was brilliant.
Signing the contract
In January 2022, we signed the contract for the new book. As any author will tell you, this is both a thrilling and a scary moment. We took a picture: Benedikt is on the right.
By this time I had begun writing the book. You can see the plan on the table in the picture – the sections I had completed are in green. I promised to deliver a first draft in June 2022.
Writing “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Diplomacy”: first draft
Writing the book involved much research. I had a mass of material: for decades, I have either kept a diary or written weekly to my parents. Any diplomatic career is full of experience; deciding what to include was tough. I wanted a book that looked at broad issues – from counter-terrorism and the EU (two separate subjects), through diplomatic immunity and espionage to why “western” powers intervene in some conflicts but not others. But I also wanted to write about countries where I’d been posted, such as Russia, Ukraine, Germany, Austria and Turkey, and about issues I’d dealt with, such as the Overseas Territories and Hong Kong. I was keen to explore Russia’s war against Ukraine and its origins.
In serving up a rich diplomatic feast from which people could pick the tastiest bits, I also wanted to explore what lessons diplomats – and others – could draw. How should you respond to, and prepare for, a crisis? Can you solve terrorism? What went wrong with Brexit, and who was responsible? How should you deal with authoritarian leaders? Do principles help to forge a career? What makes a good politician? What can we learn from diplomatic tradecraft? And so on. I concluded with chapters on how to be an ambassador; and on how diplomacy is struggling to adapt to the modern world.
Writing all this was immensely enjoyable; and hard work.
I sent the manuscript to Czernin Verlag on 8 June.
Writing “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Diplomacy”: the translation
During the summer of 2022, we revised the book a bit. We made clear it was in German by giving it a subtitle: “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Diplomacy – Wie Diplomatie die Welt erklärt” (“how diplomacy explains the world”). By October, it was ready for translation. Lisa Strausz, a talented young Austrian translator, took on the job.
This was the first time I’d had a book translated. Lisa was super professional, and we had a string of meetings and lengthy telephone calls to hammer out exactly what I’d meant when I wrote X or Y. She spotted several mistakes I’d made in the English version. At other times I made references which were at first unclear to her. Why, she asked, had I said “yes, we have no gasoline” about petrol stations without petrol in 1992 Moscow, rather than “no, we have no gasoline”? It was surprisingly difficult to explain.
Most of all, I liked the way Lisa translated the wry, ironic tone of the book into German – a delicate and subtle task – as well as her sensitive choice of words. Translating a book is about much, much more than moving words from one language to another – it’s more like writing a whole new book in the new language. I thought she did an awesome job.
Advantages and disadvantages of speaking German
By December, Lisa had sent me a translation of the whole book to peruse. German is my best language; I took several weeks to read through the text, in detail. Had the translation been into Chinese, or most other languages, this stage would have been impossible. In translation, my words seemed somehow more weighty, and elegant, than the original English text. Our discussions lasted until the end of January 2023, at which point the book went to top editor Joe Rabl for a final polish.
At the end of February, Hannah Wustinger at Czernin, who had been shepherding my book expertly through the process, sent me the galley proofs of the book (“Fahnen” in German). This was another thrilling moment, closely followed by receiving the photos from inside the book, together with the cover. The full cover (front and back) is a thing of beauty. I won’t upload it here – wait until you see the book itself.
Writing “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Diplomacy” – how was it?
Overall, I was lucky to have a cool publisher and an excellent translator. The process of writing was challenging; the editing sensitive; and the finished product – which I have not, at the time of writing, yet held in my hand – looks likely to be beautiful. It has been 18 months of hard work. But I hope many readers will find it a gripping and instructive book.
What happens next?
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Diplomacy – Wie Diplomatie die Welt erklärt was published in German on 12 April 2023. You can buy it direct from Czernin Verlag, or from good bookshops, particularly in Austria, Germany or Switzerland. Or you can buy it from Amazon. Do have a look. If you like it, reviews are welcome!
In April I shall visit Austria to speak about The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Diplomacy – Wie Diplomatie die Welt erklärt at: The Salzburg Global Seminar (18.4); Vinothek de Gustibus, Salzburg (19.4); The Paris Lodron University Salzburg (20.4); the Diplomatic Academy, Vienna (21.4 – the official launch of the book); “Agenda Austria” in Vienna (24.4); the University of Vienna (25.4); and the University of Innsbruck (26.4 and possibly 27.4). If you’re in any of these cities and would like to come, let me know.
For more about the book and an extract in English, see Books: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Diplomacy. For more about the book and an extract in German, see: Books: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Diplomacy (Deutsch).