Gertrude Bell introduced Bodley to T. E. Lawrence [Lawrence of Arabia]. Bodley met Lawrence one day outside the Paris Peace Conference and told him of his intent to move into politics. Lawrence responded furiously, calling him a moron and a traitor. When he replied that he had no other prospects now that the war was over and asked what he should do, Lawrence suggested “Go live with the Arabs.” Bodley said his conversation with Lawrence, which lasted “less than 200 seconds”, proved to be life-changing. He promptly sorted his affairs, and with a total of £300 and no prospects of further income, went to live in the Sahara. His bemused friends held him a farewell party. They all agreed he would be back in six weeks; he stayed in the Sahara for seven years.
Travels through the Sahara and Asia
Bodley spent his seven years in the Sahara desert living with a nomad Bedouin tribe. He purchased a herd of sheep and goats and used them as a source of income, hiring 10 shepherds to care for his flock. He wore Arab dress, spoke Arabic, practised the Muslim faith and abstained from alcohol; Bodley continued to be a non-drinker after leaving the Sahara. He left the tribe on the advice of its chief, who told him there was no use in continuing to pretend to be an Arab.
In 1927 he wrote Algeria from Within, after being encouraged to do so by publisher Michael Joseph. The book is based on his experiences living in French Algeria. The book’s success greatly exceeded his expectations, prompting him to continue writing. His first novel, Yasmina, was published later that year; it sold well and was reprinted. His next novel, Opal Fire, published the following year, was a commercial failure, but this did not discourage him from continuing to write. Bodley regarded his time in the Sahara as “the most peaceful and contented years” of his life. He was considered among the most distinguished British writers on the Sahara.