If you ask me...Anthony Loyd

Anthony Loyd has spent much of his journalism career covering conflicts around the globe. But it was the return home to London, rather than the horrors of war, that would reignite his heroin addiction.

Loyd wrote about his early days covering war as a journalist and his parallel struggle with heroin addiction in his book My War Gone By, I Love It So.

In his latest, Another Bloody Love Letter, Loyd describes how the aftermath of any war experience always left him "spinning in the homecoming splashdown" and fighting again his battle with heroin addiction. The "itch" would be upon him before he arrived at the arrivals luggage carousel, whereas he never missed the drug when he was in a war zone.

Loyd would long for the phone call that would send him on assignment and free him from the "London world of rehab, routine normality and unutterable boredom".

But at 40, he is more able to enjoy the good things about coming home – including spending time with his partner, stepdaughter and sevenmonth- old daughter.

He admits that he was still "cranked up" when he returned recently from a reporting assignment in Afghanistan, but says he is not drawn to the drug dealers and the heroin habit any more.

Loyd began his search for adventure in the army, where he hoped to follow in the honourable tradition of his ancestors. He saw little action, despite volunteering for the Gulf War, and disappointed by "the seeming deceit of the war's non-event" he eventually set off for Bosnia. At the end of the conflict there, he considered himself a journalist.

Another Bloody Love Letter addresses the question a US soldier asked Loyd after an ambush in which a fellow army officer was shot: "Got everything you want, have you?"

In seeking an answer, Loyd's book throws a light on the world of the small côterie of war correspondents, their camaraderie and the strange disconnect between being witness to incredible horror and the escapism that drinking and partying provides.

Loyd refers to the correspondents who congregate in a Pristina hotel as "white, middle class and angry", although he doesn't offer much by way of explanation. "It was just an observation I wanted to make. I guess it says that the media in this country is white, middle class and angry," he says.

Loyd has reported from war zones in Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Chechnya and his new book is a tribute to both his mother and Kurt Schork, the correspondent who was killed with Miguel Gil Moreno de Mora in Sierra Leone.

War brought out the best in Schork, Loyd claims, and he thinks it's true of many war correspondents that they somehow feel complete when operating in war.

For that reason, Loyd is determined to continue reporting overseas four months of the year to get his "bite of the apple".

There is really quite a small cadre of people who work in wars on a regular basis.

If there's a huge breaking story like the war starting in Iraq in 2003 then Uncle Tom Cobbley and all go down, but the people you find hanging out in the bazaars in autumn 2004 and 2005 is actually quite small an amount. It think it's quite a common personality trait among that group of people to feel they are good at it, that they can operate in that environment and to some degree many of them feel slightly incomplete outside of that environment. It is different now, I do have a family, I'm not just some single expendable guy so I do have a sense of home.

But I still get the hunger to be in another country in wartime.

People who do that job have to be quite angry in the first place and if they're not they certainly will be.

Addiction is very common. I don't think so much in terms of heroin, although I do know some people who juggle the two. But in terms of alcohol and the general disassociated, disconnected lifestyle, speed, constant movement, people coming down and stabilising, drinking and partying, philandering, whatever, it's a hard escapist lifestyle. I think people who get involved in that are quite extreme and I think war does make people quite extreme as well.

People talk about it amongst themselves. Contrary to popular belief the little society of war correspondents is quite altruistic within itself and quite openminded, you can talk about that stuff.

The community of foreign correspondents is very self-medicating. I don't mean because they get trashed and sleep around, but you can sort a lot out with your peers just talking at night.

That can be better than seeing a shrink who has never been to war who is only too happy to start putting his own theories about what's gone on in the war onto the journalist.

I think you have to be very careful with this road.

There are individuals who get spun out by the things they've seen and done in war, but on the other hand you have to look at the personality types who get involved in the business to begin with. Fairly unstable people, who probably had loads of the problems they've got now before they even went to their first war. They come back and think they've got some sort of stress disorder, they go and ask a shrink and the first thing he says is 'Yeah, he's just been to war' and completely reinforce his theories without ever looking deeper at what kind of person this was, or at the pressures of the profession itself, the way so many people link their self esteem to whether they have done well in the eyes of the paper or whether they have had a good assignment.

There are all sorts of pressures that aren't actually to do with the war.

I find there's quite a lot of decay in this work – like seeing people who are going through the most extreme trauma of their lives and you come away thinking 'Oh, good story'.

Often you are doing stuff that later you think 'that's really unhealthy behaviour'. You see people being ripped apart and that night beguiling someone, drinking wine and thinking 'fucking hell we did well today'.

One has many experiences and faces many challenges and finds many realities and truths in war as a journalist.

At the same time you are there to observe other people and it's extremely uncomfortable some of the time. It's a very uncomfortable job and it gets more uncomfortable. I think it has to be – I meet journalists occasionally who aren't discomfited by it, because they're morons. They are so sold out on corporate shit that they can't see the wood for the trees, they have no emotional engagement with the people they meet. You have to have some sort of empathy with the people in whose country you are working to exist there for any length of time. You should engage on many levels with [them], in order to understand how they think, see, feel. People who are just interested in the story rather than the subject and the people behind it are very hard to understand.

There is always a chasm between you and the people in whose country you are working because as one person is observing, another is enduring.

In 1993 I was living with a family in Sarajevo. I went to live with them not as a journalist but as someone who wanted to be a journalist. By the time I left I was a journalist. A young woman was killed on the steps outside our flat. She was someone I had stopped and spoken to and shared cigarettes with occasionally. She was lying on the steps, the blood running down. I remember someone shouting 'get your cameras, get your cameras'. I just couldn't take a photograph of her and at that point I thought 'hang on, what the fuck are you here to do'. Either you're just here to experience this with these people – it's not your own city. And if you're just here to experience it, well that smacks of something I really don't want to get involved with at all, some sort of war tourism. Or you are here to try and further your understanding and try to become a journalist in which case you should pick up your cameras and learn to shoot even if the image you are capturing is your dead friend. I didn't know what to do. In the end I didn't take a picture and walked away. That was quite a revealing day.

My hardest knocks were losing people, which I took very hard – for me bereavement is the worst thing there is.

It was something I wanted to put myself through and I had my hard knocks along the way. But people do get their hard knocks in life, whether they are putting milk bottle tops on bottles in a factory or whether they are a journalist or a soldier or whatever.

At forty I look back and I think it certainly wasn't all a holiday, but I'm pleased to be where I am now. I lost people like Kurt Schork and my mum – and that was nothing to do with war, she just got banged out with cancer – taken off the board just like that.

But at the same time I feel very fortunate to have had people like that in my life and what they taught me is not something that ends with their dying.

Kurt was an iconic figure, not just to me, but to a generation of journalists. He was a very special person. You are lucky to meet but one or two people like that in your life.

Losing him was tough, but I regard myself as very fortunate not only to have been his friend but even

to have met him.

Everybody at first, inevitably, as they are with grief, concentrates on what it means to them and being bloody sad. He was killed three years before the Iraq war started. I don't think people realised the impact it had. They knew the profession had lost one of its front men. I'm not saying that if he had been alive it would have turned around the war in Iraq but the standards he set in terms of the profession in general were way out there in front of what most people were capably of – in holding people to account, in his methodology, in his confidence and in his perception.

As an individual he was a smart tough son of a bitch.

I think journalism should have been a lot more aggressive in the lead-up to the war in Iraq. I think the government got away with a lot.

To my mind there's far too much pally-pallyness between journalists and politicians.

Journalists get into bed with PR people and spin doctors, and the military and politicians do it too. I think there should be more snarl between the media and the military than there is. There are far too many journalists prepared to kiss ass.

More in Iraq than in any other area, working as a journalist you are seen as a legitimate target.

In most other wars you might be shot or blown up but it's nothing personal, really.

At the moment the media is in a slightly awkward position, which probably isn't new, these things probably happen in cycles. The biggest and most important war at the moment is the war in Iraq.

There, due to the nature of the war, the background to the war, and the views of the people engaged in it, the Western media can't work with much freedom at all. Journalists are extremely reliant on whatever the coalition forces can give them in terms of information or access. Of course that doesn't totally compromise things, but it means that if you are an embedded journalist you have to have the psychological strength to accept the awkwardness of being with a group of people who are to an extent looking after you, possibly quite amusing and interesting guys and yet you have to be prepared to write in a distant and analytical way. The embedded process isn't all bad, some parts of it obviously work.

It's almost impossible to have contact with people in Iraq. The time I've spent there I'm at a great distance from the people who live there. I really don't know what's going on in their minds.

There is definitely some separatist psychology among war correspondents.

I don't know how realistic it is. I think your home news hack on The Sun probably has a lot more in common with a war correspondent in Baghdad or Kabul than either party might realise. But there's no doubt about it: war correspondents feel they are the cavaliers of the industry.

Often you get foreign correspondents who live abroad, whether it is Iraq, Afghanistan or in the old days Bosnia or the Balkans, who will be saying one thing about what's going on in the war, whereas you get a great morass of reporters and columnists here, back in England, saying another. Society is more often influenced by the sheer volume of reporting that is going out from home.

In Bosnia most foreign correspondents were saying intervention is a workable possibility, but most of the media back here, especially those getting dripped information by the government spokesmen, were saying they're all as bad as each other, we shouldn't get involved at all.

I don't think making a difference is part of the journalists' remit.

If policy makers react to coverage in a particular way that's great, but if they don't I don't believe that's the fault of the journalist. You get it there for the record and history will decide.

It can still feel like an interesting adventure and I'm not writing the whole thing off, but certainly with regards to my family, now it's just a job.

My sense is that it's work and a profession, but the caveat is that it's still an exciting and interesting job.

Having a family changes things psychologically, although I don't know how much it will change things practically. Of course you think 'Gosh somebody is really dependent on me for the first time in my life' but practically there is also the awareness that I'm 40 and I've got to support my family. I wouldn't particularly want to do anything else.

There are often times that I miss friends I don't feel sad for the farewell to my youth although I'm not saying my life is without sorrow. I can look back at the old gang, which is quite a youthful memory, the people I started working with in my twenties in Bosnia and it's very scattered now and we lost some of the best. I think 'Christ, I wish you were here with me now to see this', or 'I wonder how soand- so would have handled this'. There's certainly sadness there.

When anyone tells me they want to be a war correspondent I tell them to do it, you won't look back.

War gave me answers to questions I hadn't asked and didn't answer the ones I did.

It's quite common for people to go to war, either as soldiers or journalists to prove themselves brave or test their mettle. People do ring me up and ask how they should go about it and I say be forward and be decisive. Do it and be bold about it, don't just sit around thinking about it as so many people do. If it doesn't work out, at least you did it.

The story I still have nightmares about

I quite often have nightmares and they are quite surreal, but war is hardly ever there. My nightmares are to do with fear. The imagery becomes slightly irrelevant. I don't have a lot of them but it's usually a black cloud, its vestigial fear and tension, and it's a black spreading cloud in the corner of a room.

I knew I had made it when

A mate bowled into my hotel room with a handful of opium and said come on we've got to get wasted and I said 'sorry, mate you're on your own'.

The person I most admire

I can never get over Nelson Mandela coming out after all that time in solitary with the sort of compassion he had. I spend my life and work seeing people who react in wars to situations. Bang, they lose someone, they get angry. To see someone who manages to transcend that is quite rare.

 

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