Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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Ghosts for Halloween, and the winter to come

I love ghost stories.
They were the first form of genre fiction I ever read, before crime stories, or science fiction, or sword & sorcery, and to this day, I still love a good ghost story.
So, this being the season and all that, here’s a very general list of names you might want to check out.

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Good night, miss Nelson Douglas

I am saddened by the news of the death of American writer Carole Nelson Douglas. A prolific author of both mysteries and fantasy (both straight and urban), I discovered her work in 1992 when I bought in a London bookstore the first two novels of her Irene Adler series, Good Night, Mister Holmes, and Good Morning, Irene. The Irene Adler novels (there’s six more of them) are Sherlockian pastiches focusing on the adventures of The Woman, and are among the best Holmes-related fiction I ever read.

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Hands and feet

So it’s now a week since the doctors removed the Zimmer Bar that was holding my left pinky in position, and I am slowly trying to go back to normal.
Yesterday I went to the baker, to buy some bread, and discovered that as I can’t properly close my left fist, I can’t hold the change. The lady in the shop handed me the money, I tried to close my hand over it, and I dropped a shower of coins on the floor. This is how things stand now, and how they will stand for quite a while.

I can write, though, even if I find it extremely hard.
Which is not good, considering I have to deliver 50.000 words by Christmas, and roughly 75.000 words for the end of January. But this is not so much a physical thing as a mental thing. The forced idleness of the past month has slowed down my systems, and the various worries connected with my broken hand have weighed me down.
I’ll need to get back in the saddle.
There are contracts and deadlines to be respected.
In one week I went from no show to 1000 words per day.
I’ll need to keep increasing the output. There’s bills to pay.

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Spooking

As it usually (and frequently) happens, I was looking for a gift for my brother’s birthday, and I ended up buying a few books for myself. I also found a suitable gift for the brother, so it’s all right.

And among the books I bought for myself there’s one that’s moving steadily to the top of the best books I read this year. I bought it from Amazon and I am happy of my purchase, but you can find it for free on the Project Gutenberg.

The book is called The Road to En-Dor, and it was written in 1919 by a former officer of the British army, Welshman E.H. Jones. The subtitle is suggestive…

BEING AN ACCOUNT OF HOW TWO PRISONERS OF WAR AT YOZGAD IN TURKEY WON THEIR WAY TO FREEDOM

It is the account of how Jones and RAF pilot C.W. Hill, both prisoners of the Turkish forces in a camp in the Altai mountains, set up a colossal spiritualist scam in order to bamboozle their guards and make good their escape.
It took them almost two years, and a lot of chutzpah.
Jones calls his fake medium ploy “spooking” and the made-up Spirit Guide he created with the help of Hill is, of course “The Spook”.

The book is written in a plain, straightforward tone and it does really sound like the reminiscences of someone that saw some pretty dark places, but got through it all, and now can talk about it.
Jones is a fine writer, the plot hatched around the ouija board is the sort of crazy that would be deemed implausible in a novel, and the succession of events feels like a very good adventure comedy-drama.
The BBC should do a series from this book.
Indeed, there is a screenplay, written in 2014 by Neil Gaiman and Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller) – but apparently nobody was interested in shooting the script.

This book ticks all the right boxes with me – it’s an adventure story, it’s set in the East and somewhat along the Silk Road, it’s set in the early 20th century. It features war (and little-known episodes of the Great war inparticular), danger, espionage, bravery, survival, the supernatural, stage magic and confidence games. And it’s a true story, narrated with the dry wit of a man from a more civilized time.
This is a perfect example of why I love history so much.


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A beautiful book

I gave myself a gift last week, because I had done a lot of work, made sure we will be able to pay the bills for a month or two, and I felt like I deserved a prize.
Also, I was looking for a birthday present for my brother, and as it usually happens, I bought a present for myself. Some things never change.

And today the mailman delivered a copy of Robert Frankopan’s The Silk Roads, the illustrated edition.
And boy is this a wonder.

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Selkies, Sirens & Sea Monsters (and Octopodes)

The anthology Water: Selkies, Sirens & Sea Monsters, edited by Rhonda Parrish, is out tomorrow, just in time for a nice relaxing read on the beach. Advance reviews were extremely positive.
The volume features my short story The man who speared octopodes, about a man that, you know, spears octopodes, for… reasons.
Check it out.