East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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The Silk Road from the wrong end

41PXW22MFDLThe joys of the internet era.
back in the days before Youtube it took me forever to get my hands on the NHK/CCTV documentary series, The Silk Road.
Now, I find the first series, twelve episodes, on Youtube, and I’m pretty sure the second series should be somewhere at hand.

According to the legend, it took 7 years to the Japanese NHK to plan and film the series – a travel along the Silk Road starting from Chang’an and ending in the Pamirs.
The project was developed further during the following decade, finally taking a staggering 17 years to reach completion. Continue reading

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Tracking Marco Polo

51ki+wP7fXL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_So it’s summer, and I’ll be spending a lot of my (little) free time reading Tim Severin.
In case you missed him, Severin is an award-winning explorer, traveler and writer who specialized in tracing the steps of famous historical and literary voyagers.

Severin is one of my all-time icons (together with the likes of Jacqes Cousteau, Folco Quilici, Thor Heyerdahl and more recently Barry Clifford), and all of his books are currently available in ebook format for very cheap price tags, so, why not.

And why not start with Tracking Marco Polo, the 1964 chronicle of Severin’s first expedition? Continue reading


Back to the Silk Road – three blogs (and more!)

coverfinalsmallThe Silk Road was one of the inspirations for this blog1 – it even says so in the About page.
Ever since I was a kid I spent lots of time reading books about the history of the Silk Road, and even planned an ill-fated adventure travel along the Road, that never happened.

I wrote a non fiction book about travelers along the Silk Road in the early 20th century (Avventurieri sul Crocevia del Mondo, available only in Italian) and of course the history and legends of the Silk Road are part of the series of novels and stories I started with The Ministry of Thunder.

The world wide web has been called the New Silk Road and indeed a lot of features of the old caravan tracks can be found on the internet – from the mingling of cultures to the trading of goods, from the exchange of ideas in meeting places to crime and banditry.
And a wealth of resources is available for those that would like to know more about the Silk Road.
Some you can find in the links section here in the sidebar, but I’d like to single out a few. Continue reading

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The explorer that loved music – Henning Haslund

henning-hasslundHenning Haslund was a Danish explorer.
In the early 1920s he was part of an expedition to Central Asia led by his old military academy chum Carl Krebs.
The idea was to get there and set up a dairy farm.

What happened next is the subject of Mongolian Adventure, that Haslund published somewhere back in the first half of the 20th century; a thick, massive, highly satisfactory book that the fine guys of the Long Riders’ Guild* have reprinted a few years back.
I was given the book as a gift by a friend – and what a wonder it is! Continue reading

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Asia Overland

Back in 2003, I think, I wrote the following, in an article which appeared in the magazine LibriNuovi, published in Turin

The day I’ll start writing Clive Cussler-style adventure yarns (ehi, why not?) the Silk Road and the Taklamakan desert will be a central element in my stories.

Well, having written a few sword & sorcery stories set between the Roman Empire and the Chinese Empire, I sort of kept half of that promise.

And now that I’m working on a honest-to-goodness pulp adventure tale set in the Taklamakan area, well, I think I can say the promise is fulfilled completely.
Or it will be as soon as my story gets published. Continue reading

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Languages of the Silk Road

9781741046045_p0_v1_s260x420I was trying to bring back some order to my bookshelves yesterday afternoon, and as it usually happens, I stopped working because I started browsing the books I was supposedly moving around to clear some space.

From a box of assorted langage books popped out a small wonder I thought lost forever: my own copy of the Central Asia Phrasebook, by Lonely Planet.

A small paperback, this book packs in 240 pages a wide selection of essential phrases in Uyghur, Uzbek, Kyrgyz, Kazakh, Pashto and Tajik, plus a very brief selection of Tashkorghani, Turkmen, Burushashki, Khowar, Kohistani, Mandarin, Mongolian, Russian, Shina and Wakhi.

I normally think of this sort of phrasebooks as a relic from the Victorian Age – and I do mean this as a compliment.
They speak of a more civilized age, one in which travel was a thing of the mind, and not only of the body. When you could flip out your handbook and fix a room in a hotel, give directions to your taxi driver, chat aboout the weather.

There is all that, in the Central Asia Phrasebook – general utility phrases, special boxouts with medical terms and a big selection of all-purpose phrases.
There’s also a lot of cultural observations, local customs, national festivals, assorted tips and other useful stuff.
Surprising, in such a small package.

I bought my copy back in the days when I was planning my TurinHong Kong train trip.
My project went nowhere, but this booklet is still highly useful – as a reminder of the variety of peoples and cultures along the Silk Road, as a tool when I write my stories and I want to drop some local color in the dialogue.

Finding it again – I thought it lost when I moved house – brought back memories.
Which is what old books will do for you – even phrasebooks.

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The return of Pinterest for Writers

I already did a post on Pinterest, and how it can be useful to writers.
Heck, I did two posts about Pinterest!
Well, there’s more.

avventurieriMy Italian-language non fiction ebook, Avventurieri sul Crocevia del Mondo, my pulp-history overview of adventurers in Central Asia between the wars, is doing fine on Amazon – good sales, excellent reviews, nice Top 100 position.

But I get lots of requests for graphical contents – maps, photographs of the characters whose stories I’m telling.
It figures.

Now, putting graphical contents in a Kindle book is not that easy – and maybe not even worth the time and the effort, considering that older, cheaper readers (like the one I use) are not that good at displaying images.
Can you really appreciate a map of Central Asia on a 6″ b/w screen?
Old grainy pictures?
Very large, garish paintings?
Also, a graphically-intensive ebook can be huge – and Amazon charges you some extra cents for big files.
And finally, there’s the lengthy (and expensive!) matter of the rights to the images.

And yet, it’s the sort of content that would make my ebook more appealing to the paying public.

So, I did a Pinboard on Pinterest – pinning the maps, and the photos of the historical characters.
As hi-quality as possible, with Italian captions, in the proper order – so that as you read my ebook, you can browse the pinboard and meet the characters.

Not only this free extra web-content allows my readers to finally get a good look at those faces, at their leisure, on the bright, colored display of their device of choice.
It could also work for the undecided – now they can look at the pictures, and decide whether they’d like to purchase the book or not.
And it can be updated.

With the next update of my text, I’ll place a link and a short note at the very beginning of my ebook – and at that point, it should all be nice and fine.

I’ll certainly adopt the same strategy for my next non-fiction book – which, after all, is about Dinosaurs!
You’ve got to have pictures in a dino book!