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Biography – Adrian Levy, writer, film-maker working in Asia


Adrian Levy

Since I was able to hold a pencil, I wrote continually (and spelled erratically). But I never thought of myself as a writer. After I graduated from university in the ‘me’ epoch of the 80s, I spent several years doing voluntary work, working in alienated estates, where people dived from door knocks.

An organised friend was heading to do a post-grad journalism course and I traipsed after her, getting a late interview. Suddenly all of my previous lives came into play. The courts. The duty inspector’s office. Door knocks and chaotic lives.

But nothing prepares you for your first days on a real newspaper. How could anyone contemplate filing an accurate court report, by the time the judge delivers sentence? Or a council planning story, improvised on a minute, grey screen, with its blinking brick cursor.

I landed a job on the Burton Daily Mail, a brewery paper that punched above its weight. Then came the Bolton Evening News where I spent weekends shifting on the Liverpool Post, then a grand provincial daily. Finally, I settled down on the Yorkshire Post, a regional broadsheet where a great writer who had worked on The Sunday Times persuaded me to go for an interview. I got shifts, and then a contract that became a staff job and eventually I became deputy editor in the paper’s Insight investigative unit, leaving to become a foreign correspondent, reporting from South Asia for The Sunday Times magazine and newspaper, racking up stories from the Jaffna peninsula, before it fell to the LTTE, and to the Khyber Pass, before it was vacated by the Taliban. I left again in 1999 to specialise in foreign reportage, contributing regularly to The Sunday Times magazine, before joining the Guardian and then going freelance.

For us, it has always been a privilege to be let into people’s lives and we have relished the journey. There have been some nice words along the way. In 2002, El Mundo, in Spain, and Courier International, in France, described as among ‘the best of courageous European journalism’. In 2004, we won the One World award for foreign reporting, and in 2009 were made One World Media’s Press Journalists of the Year.

Television: In 2000 we presented a 50-minute film on C4 and the History Channel, The Search For Kurtz, on the hunt for the maverick US marine and CIA agent whose career aped that of the notorious Brando character in Apocalypse Now. In 2002, we co-produced a one-hour film on Asia’s war against drugs for BBC 1 as part of the MacIntyre Investigates series. Working with True Vision, in 2010, we produced City of Fear, following the police and citizens of Islamabad during the capital’s bloodiest year. The film was nominated for an award at the Edinburgh International Television Festival. In 2012, we produced for C4 Kashmir’s Torture Trail, which won the 2013 Amnesty International award for best documentary. It was short listed for the Grierson award, and is a finalist in the Rory Peck awards. Chinese Murder Mystery, an investigation into the death of Neil Heywood, was long-listed for a BAFTA and nominated for the Monte Carlo Television Awards 2013. Since 2013, we have been working for Vice’s HBO series, producing in India, Pakistan and Thailand. Currently we are filming new projects in South Asia, Southeast Asia and North Africa.

Radio: we have broadcast regularly for BBC Radio and BBC World Service and in 2001 made Stone of Heaven, a series for BBC Radio 4 on the history of jade.

Books: The Stone of Heaven, 2001 (finalist in Borders New Voices competition). The Amber Room, 2004 (New York Times Notable Book). Deception, 2008 (Washington Post Book of the Year, finalist in the Royal United Services Institute, Duke of Westminster’s medal for Military History), The Meadow, published by Penguin in 2012, triggered a government inquiry in India, as did The Siege, an account of the 26/11 assaults on Mumbai. Published by Penguin, in October 2013 it won the CWA Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction and in 2014 was awarded the Ramnath Goenka Award for Excellence in Journalism as India’s best non-fiction book.

We are currently working on our sixth book, The Exile.