James Cameron is an odd choice for a mentor because I never met him. He died in early 1985 just at the point I decided journalism was what I wanted to do. It was he I admired and wished to emulate. So as he was buried I sent nearly 200 letters off to editors in search of my first opening.
I think most hacks deep down yearn to be foreign correspondents (until they actually do the job). Cameron was the most distinguished of his age. He'd seen and covered it all: the American exhibition of its nuclear power at Bikini Atoll in 1946; the Korean war; what befell North Vietnam at the hands of the US; the Arab-Israeli conflict; post-colonial Africa. I'd come across him first not through his journalism but his book about India, An Indian Summer, which, for my money, remains the best short introduction to the country.
Cameron was a beautiful writer - measured, engaged and authentic. Beginning at 16 his years spent toiling away as a sub before he became a reporter taught him the value of precision and economy. Such were the straitened circumstances of the Sunday Post in 1930s Glasgow that he even drew the illustrations for his features.
Three years into journalism I found myself for the first time in Bombay for The Independent's Saturday magazine. An Indian Summer begins with a description of the journey from the airport into Bombay at dawn marvelling at the ritual of collective roadside defecation. "It is an enduring mystery why the Municipality so ordains it that multitudes of visitors and strangers should be introduced to the country to find that the gateway to India is a public shithouse many miles long," wrote Cameron. As the light came up I had my eyes peeled as I slumped in the back of my Ambassador taxi. And lo - the excremental vision. Half the population was already up and having a crap on the pot-holed Tarmac.
Matthew Gwyther is editor of Management TodayReuse content