The Wow Factor

John Julius Norwich has an infectious enthusiasm in his writing that makes his books hugely popular. Here he explains why certain subjects have allured him, such as the exotic world of medieval Sicily and his adored Venice, while others leave him cold.

Cappella Palatina, Palermo, Sicily.

My first excursion into historical writing – if it can be so described – was an attempt at the age of eight to tell the story of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The manuscript has not survived – fortunately, since its stylistic model was my then favourite reading, Film Fun – and I mention it here only because it seems to indicate an early impulse to narrate. Since I have never had the imagination to concoct a tale of my own, reportage has been my only hope; and this clearly means either journalism or history. My mother always wanted me to be a journalist, which I probably would have been if I had not to my astonishment been accepted into the Foreign Service; and for the next twelve years I was employed happily enough in London, Belgrade and Beirut.

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