Somehow I became a life-long academic. Almost certainly because of the inspiring teachers I had in Wales in my schoolboy and student days. There was never any doubt about what I wanted to be. But, deep down the urge to be a writer was always there. Academics do of course write or their career would end suddenly and miserably. But academic writing is so often prolix and impenetrable that it conceals as much as it reveals. I tried to combine the two parts of my life even when writing textbooks to the extent that a student once asked me “Is this the textbook for the course?” I assured him it was, and asked why he was confused. “Because I sat down last night and read the whole thing and you can’t do that with a textbook”, he replied. I was very happy to hear that.
When I was an undergraduate at the University of Wales it was the time the Beatles swept over the world. I was captivated by the appearance of so many newly independent countries, especially in Africa. This developed a fascination with that continent. At 21 I went there as a graduate student at the University of East Africa campus in Kampala, Uganda. The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths paid for my PhD, and I next secured my first lecturing position at Makerere University College. The excitement of Africa never faded but eventually after five years, just before the Amin regime came to power, I accepted a position at the University of East Anglia, in Norwich. In this post I was part of a team designing the School of Development Studies, where I became Dean at 29 and worked in many (65+) countries around the world as a consultant over the next 16 years. Chief amongst these was Saudi Arabia (1970-1974) where my fascination with Arab history led me to research and write the biography of King Husain of the Hejaz — my first book, published in 1979. This explained the origins of the ongoing chaos of the Middle East today.
In 1980 I was invited to become a cabinet advisor to Fiji in the South Pacific, where I stayed for three dream-like years. Recognizing that I was succumbing to the lotus-eater existence among the swaying palms and crashing surf, I accepted a chair at Indiana University. Thus comes the next big move as I took off for Bloomington, where I spent the next 24 years. During a sabbatical there I accepted a Fulbright scholarship to go to Bulgaria in 1992. This was to change my life totally. I had been approached by a Bulgarian lady on a bridge in Bath who asked me to go there. It seems a team of notable academics and politicians were creating the first “Democratic University” after the fall of Communism in 1989. I had developed an interest in building universities and departments, and had done so in the UK, Spain, Bolivia, Azerbaijan and several other places. But I was rather surprised to find that the Bulgarian University consisted of two rooms over a grocery store. However, such was the motivation and energy of the Bulgarians committed to this project that, today, it serves 14,000 students on a modern and expanding campus.
I kept up my involvement in Bulgaria, building a circle of friends and former students. I visited the country to teach a course almost every year and accepted a second Fulbright scholarship to go there. Eventually, when the time came to retire from Indiana at 65, I came to live in Bulgaria where, by now, I had written several books on the country in English and Bulgarian. And here I remain, having been made a Distinguished Professor. Though no longer still a teacher, I give more and more attention to writing for the sheer pleasure of what people say when they read my books. The world has changed mightily during my lifetime. For instance, I wrote my PhD with an ink-pen, bottles of ink and screeds of paper — much in the way Shakespeare gave us his masterpieces. Now people barely write anything by hand and the letter has all-but disappeared after thousands of years. Books are increasingly something you download rather than buy off the shelf. I don’t much care how the message is delivered; my satisfaction comes from being read and—I hope—enjoyed.