The obvious first question for Yann Martel: Is it writer's block? He finished his last novel, Life of Pi, about four years ago. Since it won the 2002 Man Booker Prize, he's travelled to 20 countries. Sit still for long enough anywhere in the world and Martel, 41, will find you - in between book signings, talks, the launches of translations and children's editions, as well as work on a film version of Pi to be directed by M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense and Signs). For the moment, the Montreal resident is in London publicising the new collection of his early writing, The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios (Canongate). It's all happening in the life of Yann, aside from a new novel. But he denies the success of Pi has interfered with his writing. A novel is ready to be written - next year, after the 'noise' over his breakout book dies down. 'I decided to enjoy what was happening to me,' Martel says. 'From the very evening I won the Booker, I knew I had to take a two-year break from the next book. I was getting invitations from all over. Why shouldn't I accept them? I could have chosen to close the door on all that noise and keep on writing, but I didn't see why. I enjoy travelling. It was interesting to sally out and meet people. You cannot be an artist if you hate all of humanity. If you do, you become a writer who only writes about himself or herself.' Martel is effusive on every question but the topic of the next book. He keeps the plot to himself, saying only that it's about the Holocaust and stars animals. Reports suggest it involves a monkey and donkey somehow travelling over a Jew's shirt towards the Yellow Star during an epoch called 'The Horrors'. 'What I'm trying to do here is a different approach to looking at a particularly appalling historical event,' he says. 'I'd like to look at the Holocaust in a more imaginative way, less rooted in history, less rooted in fact. How do we live with [the Holocaust] post-historically - once the history's been absorbed? I don't think we are doing that. I think the Holocaust is fading. 'Most things that touch on the Holocaust tend to be documentary in nature - they're rooted in a time and a place. The problem with that is that dust tends to accumulate on things historical. We tend to think that history is part of the past and we don't apply it to the present. Clearly, what happened in Rwanda was that the lessons from the genocide of the Jews between 1933 and 1945 in Europe were not applied. You might say the same thing about the Cambodians 30 years ago and even in smaller incidences where a person dehumanises another person. I'm interested in how this lives out in the imagination. What do you do with absolute horror?' Martel has visited Auschwitz three times and travelled through Cambodia in 2003 as part of his research for the unwritten novel. 'Time away from writing doesn't mean that you're not writing. It's not coming out on the page, but that doesn't mean it's not percolating in your mind. Writing isn't just tapping away at a keyboard. 'Before I sit to write the book it's completely developed in my mind. By the time I sat down to write Life of Pi, I knew there would be 100 chapters. I knew exactly how the final chapter would end. I had 300 pages of notes. 'I get ideas. I write them down and then I type them up in no particular order. Then I cut up those notes and put them in envelopes that have to do with various topics in the novel. Getting the prose out is still a voyage - there are discoveries along the way. It's like I'm going on a road trip and I've read the guidebooks and novels about the place I'm going to visit. I'm very well prepared, but it's still an adventure.' Unlike Martel's deliberate search for escapades, his characters are usually dragged into their adventures. The bigger the issues in his novels, the more humble the protagonist. The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios - the best story in the re-released collection - also deals with history. The narrator helps Paul, a young man dying of Aids in 1986, to focus by inventing a game that brings the past to life. Using historical facts from each year in the 20th century, the pair constructs a story about a family. Life of Pi takes on religion via the plight of a boy adrift on a lifeboat with a tiger, with the motives of the tiger explored almost as much as Pi's. Similarly, dogs play small but important roles in the Helsinki collection. Now, it seems Martel is ready to give animals an even bigger role. Research trips to donkey sanctuaries are on the itinerary for the British publicity tour. 'I find it useful to use animals to tell stories. It's easier to make the reader suspend disbelief. People tend to be well disposed towards animals, especially if they're not portrayed in a way that's too cloying - in a way that's anthropomorphised.' Animals are merely a technical tool, Martel says. The real thread between his work is why we rely on storytelling to 'give us a sense of meaning of who we are and where we're going'. Humanity might need a sense of direction, but the author sees his wandering course as true. 'Life of Pi came out three years ago. That's fine. I'm happy. I'm prepared to move on and I have no regrets. I have a structure in mind for the next novel and I have notes. Now, I just have to keep moving forward. I'm still very early in the process. It's a very exciting time when things are still very changeable.'