UFOS are back

Nick Pope, former UFO desk officer at the MOD and author of several UFO books argues that interest in UFOs is returning.

After a period when interest in the subject had waned, the topic is suddenly generating a vast amount of media coverage. So what's going on and what are the implications for publishers and authors?

First of all, I should declare an interest. I used to run the British Government's UFO Project at the Ministry of Defence. I've written four books on the subject, all of which were agented (can I use a noun as a verb if my editor isn't looking?) by Andrew Lownie.

Interest in UFOs is cyclic. The last peak came in the mid-Nineties. In 1995, the so-called 'alien autopsy' film was released: grainy black and white footage that some said showed a vaguely humanoid extraterrestrial being cut open by US military surgeons. Believers claimed this was the proof they'd been waiting for, while sceptics said that the film was a clever hoax. 1997 saw the 50th anniversary of America's first 'flying saucer' sighting and of the Roswell incident, where something (alien spacecraft or weather balloon, depending on who you believe) crashed in the New Mexico desert. Publishers, the media and the public were intrigued by all this and numerous books appeared. They did well. Authors such as Timothy Good were on the bestseller lists and my own first effort 'Open Skies Closed Minds' got to number three in the hardback non-fiction list and stayed in the top ten for ten weeks.

However, in publishing as in economics, every boom is followed by a bust. The market was saturated and the view was that publishers had overbought. Interest in UFOs fell away, replaced perhaps by an interest in magic. Flying saucers and aliens gave way to the fictional worlds of Harry Potter, Narnia and The Lord of the Rings. But now, things are changing. Perhaps driven by interest in Dan Brown's 'The Da Vinci Code', people are rediscovering their interest in real life mysteries.

Interest in UFOs is rising quickly and steadily. This is being fuelled by the Freedom of Information Act - the MOD is being bombarded with requests for documents on UFOs, and a look at their website confirms this is virtually the most popular type of request they receive. The media have been quick to recognise the resurgence of interest. Over the Christmas period several national newspapers ran major features on the 25th anniversary of Britain's most famous UFO sighting, the Rendlesham Forest incident. Ant & Dec's new movie 'Alien Autopsy' is a fictional retelling of the story that sparked so much interest in 1995. Various UFO-related documentaries are in pre-production. But the real clue is in the way the subject is spilling out into a wider arena. The Science Museum have been running an exhibition about alien life, and my own recent TV appearances include not just documentaries, but popular entertainment programmes such as 'The New Paul O'Grady Show' and 'Totally Doctor Who'.

All the signs are there: the UFO is back. It remains to be seen how the publishing industry will respond, but I suspect the next few years will be an interesting time. Oh, and next year sees the 60th anniversary of the Roswell crash!