Christina Lamb is a bestselling author and one of Britain’s leading foreign correspondents. Lamb started out in Peshawar, where her dispatches describing the Afghan mujaheddin fighting the Soviets saw her named Young Journalist of the Year in 1998’s British Press Awards.
She has won Foreign Correspondent of the Year five times, as well as the Prix Bayeux, Europe’s most prestigious award for war correspondents, and was awarded an OBE by the Queen in 2013. She is currently Foreign Affairs Correspondent for the Sunday Times and a Global Fellow for the Wilson Centre for International Affairs in Washington DC.
Lamb has written seven books, including I Am Malala with Malala Yousafzai, which won the British National Book Award’s non-fiction prize. Her latest book is Farewell Kabul: From Afghanistan to a More Dangerous World. An inspirational speaker who has given talks all over the world, the women’s magazine Grazia named her one of its Icons of the Decade. She is on the boards of the Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) and Afghan Connection.
What first attracted you to covering conflict?
I didn’t set out to cover conflict. Really I wanted to be a novelist and I thought it would be fun to be a foreign correspondent and have some adventures to write about. I spent the summer after leaving university as an intern at the Financial Times and got to interview Benazir Bhutto, who was living in exile in London. It was the day she announced her engagement. A few months later she invited me to her wedding in Karachi which was an amazing introduction to Pakistan. I fell in love with the country and decided to move there. But when I talked to foreign editors, they said they were interested in Afghanistan, not Pakistan, so I went to live in Peshawar, where I started travelling with the mujaheddin fighting the Soviets. There I realized real-life stories were far more interesting than anything I can make up.
What are the items you can’t survive without in the field?
Cappuccino sachets and a good book.
What makes your approach different to getting attention from editors?
I am first and foremost a storyteller, so I look for people with a story through which I can tell an often-complicated situation.
Describe that item you carry around with you all the time and never use.
So far I have never had to use my tourniquet, I am glad to say .
What media/news/feeds do you follow and why?
Twitter to see what everyone is talking about. Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy, Global Post, Buzzfeed, BBC, CNN, AP, Tolo TV, Zimbabwe and Pakistan newspapers …where do you want me to stop?
How do you measure risk and how do you protect yourself?
I have been doing this job 28 years, so I think you develop antennae about a bad situation. As I’ve got older – and particularly after becoming a mum – I take more care. The best protection is good information and having local people you trust .
Describe your most rewarding career moment.
It’s hard to beat working with Malala on her memoir – she’s an astonishing person. My all-time favourite stories were the brave Afghan women writers risking their lives to keep writing during the Taliban (The Sewing Circles of Herat) and the roundabouts that work as water pumps in African villages so children have something to play on and women don’t have to walk hours to get water. An amazing Englishwoman read the story just after her son Lawrence had died tragically at the age of eight and set up a charity, Lawrence’s Wells, which has now built 100 of them.
Tell us about your most recent assignment or work.
I have just finished a book Farewell Kabul: From Afghanistan to a More Dangerous World, looking at why the combined power of NATO could not defeat the Taliban and how we can’t end wars anymore. It’s based on my 28 years of reporting Afghanistan and Pakistan.
More books by Christina Lamb