East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

The new book has been outlined: now comes the fun part

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This morning I put together the first proper outline of a book that will supposedly see the light in early 2020: a non fiction book for a small but classy Italian publisher dealing with one of the topics of this blog: travelers and explorers in exotic parts, between 1800 and 1940-something.

The trick will be weaving together the lives of at least twenty historical characters, so that the volume will be a homogeneous narrative and not a series of episodes.

So I spent quite some time trying to decide whether to use time or space to tie the story together.

Following geography seemed a good option at the start: it’s a lot more easier to build a single narrative about people that are actually in the same place, often following each-other’s footsteps.
But then an unexpected problem arose: a lot of the travelers and explorers I’ll be covering were literally all over the place. The sort of guys that start with a jaunt in the Alps as a warm-up, the Palestine, Central Asia, Borneo, the Andes, the lot over thirty years.

And of course following a strictly chronological structure means sometimes we get two guys that in the same decade were one in China and the other in the Western Indies. How the heck do I connect these two into a single homogeneous narrative?

So I went for a hybrid approach.

  • First, I divided the 150 years the book shall cover in seven “slots”, each of which will become a chapter in the book, that thus has a chronological structure.
  • Then I divided the travelers in two groups: those that were mostly active in a certain slot (and therefore will appear in a specific chapter), and those that were active over many decades, that will serve as a connection between chapters, providing chronological continuity.
  • But at this point I operated a second subdivision: travelers that were mostly focused on a certain area or region (Africa, or Antartica, or even more specific, like Egypt or China), and those that were all over the place.
  • Each chapter will have a geographical set of sub-chapters, focusing on a specific traveler and his area of interest, and the globetrotters will provide continuity – following these characters that went out and about, in each sub-chapter I’ll be able move the focus of the narrative from one continent to the other.

It is really like a weave – with some characters moving through history and some through geography, and tying up everything together.
Now the thing only needs to be written: but I have 13.000 words already in the can (that’s why the publisher asked me to write the book in the first place – I already did part of the job for them), and this looks like the sort of fun, relaxed project that will be like a vacation.
A paid vacation, thankfully.

Will the book ever see the light in English?
I don’t know. But it would be nice to at least try and publish some extracts somewhere.

But I’ll post here and there while the work progresses.

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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