East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

From Seoul to Ancient Rome, and back

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Back from the con, and beached with a bad case of cold.
Happens every time – I am getting too old for this sort of things.
The cold led to some experimentation: hot tea from the local supermarket, brewed real dark, added lemon juice, sugar and powdered ginger. Maybe it will not help with the cold (I put my trust in aspirin) but it’s certainly good for the soul.


Also, I got an open call for a story set in Seoul (no, the two things, the call and the cold, are not related).
Now, the closest I got to Seoul was when a colleague from Seoul University visited the University of Urbino while I was doing my doctorate. But I have friends in Fukuoka, Japan, that’s pretty close to Korea. I could work out something.

The considerations above had two consequences:

First – I got an idea about a Seoul story, and I am already jotting down a few notes.

Second – it reminded me of the frigging rule “write what you know”, that according to some means I should only write stories about a guy doing a doctorate in the University of Urbino.

I got in a discussion, last week, about how an Italian writing about Ancient Rome is a lot better than, say, a guy from Aukland writing about Ancient Rome.
Which I think is silly.


And mind you – I do write about Ancient Rome, and I am an Italian.
I did a lot of research using books published by the University of Cambridge, and I highly recommend Mary Beard’s SPQR to anyone interested in getting a good, highly accessible, non-academic overview of Ancient Rome.

This is to say that there is no genetic tie to the ancient history of the place where you live – and living in a place with a scattering of old remains adds little to the mix, because you know, familiarity builds contempt.

The only advantage I can see in this whole “being Italian/knowing ancient Rome” thing?
Probably the fact that, here in Italy, we get a load of Roman history in school, while in Aukland, or Seoul, or Mumbay, they probably give it a lighter pass.

Direct experience is always good, but where direct experience is not available, we can go for the best next thing: other people’s experiences, shared in writing, in photography and film, in any form.

So the rule should probably be, write what you know, no matter how you got to know it.
But hey, don’t take my word for it – I’m just a hack trying to figure out a story set in a place he never visited… be it today’s Seoul or Ancient Rome.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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