East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


Accountants, Soldiers and Nurses

Accountants are dangerous. And no, I am not going to entertain you with my adventures in mortgage and banking. The fact is, while doing a bit of research both for The Ministry of Lightning and for a short article I am about to write, I chanced on something that will not go in the article – being only tangentially connected with the topic – and will certainly get into the novel. And it’s all about accountants.
One accountant in particular.
His name was Andrea Compatangelo, and he was an Italian, from Benevento.

Let’s bactrack a little – during the Great War, a number of Italians fought in the Austro-Hungarian forces, simply because the territories from which they came, while being ethnically Italy, were part of the Hapsburg Empire. Many of these men were taken prisoner on the Eastern Front, and deported to Russia.

After the war, an Italian military mission took care of extracting the “talianski” from the Russian working camps, and bring them back to Italy. This is the subject of the article I am writing.
But there were others. And here we go down a wholly different rabbit hole. This is a strange story…

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Coming soon-ish: The Heart of the Lizard

There is one thing that can really make things look up even on a cold rainy day, when you are writing for a living, and that’s being asked by your publisher how many more stories in the same series can you write, per year, should the first one you just delivered be a success.

The obvious answer being “as many as you need,” of course – but in the meantime you feel real good because you know you’ve done a good job.

It happened to me a few hours ago, three days after delivering The Heart of the Lizard, my first (hopefully, of many) tie-in novella for Andrea Sfiligoi’s 4 Against Darkness fantasy solo roleplaying game, set in the gaming world of Norindaal.

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The Singing Bowl

I was in need of adventure, and thanks to one of those very mysterious book promotions Amazon Italy sometimes does (why? How? Based on what? It’s a mystery) I got myself a stack of books by the Long Riders Guild, livening up my growing collection of books about the Silk Road and environs. I am going through them in the evening, when I am too tired to write and the countryside is dark, cold and unforgiving.
If I can’t travel, my mind can.

Last night I finished Alistair Carr’s slim The Singing Bowl – Journey through Inner Asia (2006), the chronicle of the author’s visit to Mongolia and the Silk Road in the early 2000s.
It is a crisp, concise story of an adventure -a travel started because the author woke up one morning “with Mongolia in his head.” An apt way to describe the lure of far-off lands, the urge that animated travelers for centuries.

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Unusual gifts idea

Every year, as the festive season approaches, I get a link-laden mail from the British Museum, that offers me a selection of merchandise from the museum shop, to enliven my gifts list. And indeed, who could resist to a replica of the portrait of Ashurbanipal, or a couple of replica Egyptian cats?

Ashurbanipal doing his thing in the British Museum’s shop.

These are the moments in which I am almost grateful I am going through lean times. I’d find it hard to resist, otherwise, just as I’d find hard to resist at the museum bookshop. I am saving a lot of money I don’t have.

But you guys out there take note – if you are looking for original, unusual gifts for your family and friends, checking out museum shops might be a great way to find a few ideas. And get a lot of weird looks on Christmas morning.

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Shopping suggestions mystery

What would be our life without a little mystery.
Here’s my little mystery from the last two weeks or thereabouts.

I get mails from Amazon.it.
My favorite pusher of books and assorted stuff sends me a mail once in a while suggesting stuff I might like.
fadfae60-1061-4d45-b1ab-b2f7e14d41cdBecause evidently Amazon.it likes to play it safe, these lists of stuff I might like usually include ten items, eight of which are taken from my Amazon wishlist and/or from my recent browsing history, including stuff I have actually bought, with two other titles thrown in for good measure.
Now I find it markedly stupid on Amazon’s part to suggest to me I buy something I already wish to buy, but who knows, maybe it’s one of those psychology things.

Anyway, I got three such mails in the last ten/fifteen days, and something weird happened. Continue reading


The (Japanese) Black Cat

Let’s get back to our usual topics – strange stories and the East and adventure and flashing swords.
I’ve been spending a lot of time, this weekend, doing some background research for my current “mainstream” project – basically listening to music and watching documentaries about Japan, to catch a sense of place, because my story will have a Japanese side.
As it usually happens, research is changing and stretching the original concepts, and writing will be a fine game of balancing the original plot and the new elements.
It’s going to be fun, hopefully.

But all this also caused me to think back at the strange connection there is between my generation, here in Italy, and Japan. We were the ones that were in their early teens when the big anime invasion began (with stuff like captain Harlock and Mazinger Z), but I always thought there’s something deeper.
Samurai movies, and old documentaries.
For instance – I was in primary school when I caught on the telly Kaneto Shindo’s Kuroneko – the movie had been presented a few years before at the Cannes Movie Festival before it was cancelled because of the 1968 riots, and was being used to test the video walls in Turin during the Technology Fair.


Basically, if you lived in Turin in the early 1970s, during the Fair you caught extra movies in the morning, movies that were broadcast locally. Continue reading

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The Sex Lives of Cannibals

51m8HcJWoXL._SX315_BO1,204,203,200_In the 1930s a young Thor Heyerdhal spent one year and a half in the Marquesas, as part of a project of what we could call today experimental archaeology. He and his wife lived as low-tech a life as possible,and later Heyerdahl wrote a book on the experience, called Fatu Hiva, from the name of the island they were living on. The book was published in 1974.

Sixty-odd years after the Heyerdhals’ stay in the Marquesas, J. Maarten Troost and his girlfriend did something similar, and spent two years on a small island in Kiribati. Their experiences went into a book called The Sex Lives of Cannibals, that was published exactly thirty years after Fatu Hiva (a coincidence, most certainly).


The postman just delivered a mystery package containing pristine copy of Troost’s book this morning. A gift from a friend (thank you!), I’ve been curious about it ever since I learned of its existence.
This is going to be a fun weekend.

The book also goes to expand the list of books here on my shelf that are prominently displayed just to shock my (rare) visitors.