Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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The last twist of the year

My friend Angelo pointed out to me a recent article on an Italian newspaper about Andrea Compatangelo and the Battaglione Savoia, that – with minimal changes – are featured in Guillotine Wind, my recent historical adventure novella.

Based on the little I was able to find on the character (that I called Campatangelo, with an “a”, adopting an alternate spelling found in some documents) and his adventure, I played fast and loose while I was writing – there is a point beyond which historical adventure has to be more adventurous than historical.
The name change was indeed intended as a signal that my story was fiction, not history.

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Greetings from Krasnoyarsk

And so it’s finally done, and delivered to my Patrons – Guillotine Wind, the first Pandora story, was one of the hardest nuts to crack in my multifarious writing career. But it also features – if I do say so myself – some of my best writing.
And it’s a first in a series!
And it will go on to be part of the Seven Lives Project, and so it will benefit a bunch of stray cats. The cats will dismiss the whole thing like something due to them by divine right, but who knows, some people might like the stories.

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Translating myself

Having closed Guillotine Wind, my latest novella, I am now getting ready to post it to my Patrons – and this means translating it in Italian. Because it is good to be my patrons, and my Italian-speaking supporters get my stories in Italian, just as my English-speaking supporters get them in English.

This means a bit of extra work, and the hard part is not translating the text, but conveying the tone and the rhythms. And that is, after all, the crux of translating.

I am always dissatisfied with my own translations of my own stories – there is always something missing.

Case in point – the title of my latest novella: Guillotine Wind.
It’s good, compact and yet intriguing-.
Sounds fine.
In Italian it sucks, big time.

Fact is, what wind, and what guillotine?
Is it Il Vento Ghigliottina… but then it sounds like the wind is operating the guillotine… or is it La Ghigliottina Vento, that sounds simply stupid?
Maybe La Ghigliottina del Vento is better, but it sounds lame, and it’s four words instead of two, and it has the wrong rhythm.
Going the other way around, Il Vento della Gigliottina, would possibly suit a story set in Paris during the Terror, but not a story set in Siberia in the ’20s.

So in the end I just dropped the lot.
In Italian, the new novella will be called Vento d’Acciaio.
Steel Wind – a title I would not use for a story in English, because it was the name of a rock band.
See what I mean about being dissatisfied with my translations?

But I’m halfway through – the Patrons will get their story for Christmas.


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Guillotine Wind: the soundtrack

I like to think of my stories in terms of movies – with a cast, shots and camera angles, and a soundtrack. And as I have just finished Guillotine Wind, I thought I’d publish a selection of songs that have been playing in the back of my mind as I was writing.
And so I prepared a cassette.

Just follow this link: GUILLOTINE WIND O S T


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Curse of the Golden Bat

One thing I learned from Ian Fleming is branding my characters.
Which sounds kinky – and quite fitting, given certain tastes exhibited by Fleming in his time – but what I mean is simply calling stuff by their brand name, as a shorthand to convey certain details to the reader.
Bond shaves with a Gilette razor, lights his cigarettes with a Ronson lighter.
Before it became the product placement we see in movies, it was a writing trick to give substance and weight, and definition to what were otherwise cursory descriptions.

This works quite nicely with weapons – “he drew a gun” is different from “he drew a Remington .44” at least to some of the readers. And maybe those readers will be happy, and that’s a good thing.

I am finishing the first Pandora story – that will be called Guillotine Wind, by the way – and the branding issue came up again.
Cigarettes, in particular.

Turns out that during at least the early phases of the Russian Civil War, the Great Powers were quite happy to supply the White forces with anything they may need – money, weapons and ammo, uniforms, medical supplies and, of course, cigarettes.
And cigarettes came from Japan.
So, what is Pandora smoking?

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Enter the Women’s Black Hussars of Death

I am hard at work to finish the first Pandora story, and as I finally got to work on the last act, where the action heats up and things start to go bang! (because kids nowadays want explosions, you see) I have had the dubious pleasure of meeting the Women’s Black Hussars of Death – one of those things that will probably be flagged by critics because they are too pulpy and implausible, but actually were a real thing during the Great War and the Russian Civil War.

Yes, say it aloud… The Women’s Black Hussars of Death.
Why they never taught me this sort of stuff when I was in school?

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A woman with a past

The first time I met her, she called herself Helena Saratova.
She claimed to be a Russian aristocrat, and she managed a high-class brothel in Bubbling Well Road, in Shanghai.
She was in her forties, and had blue hair.
It was the summer of 1936, and Felice Sabatini was in a bind.

I was one-third into my first novel, The Ministry of Thunder, and I had painted myself – and my main character, Sabatini – in a corner. We both needed help, and fast, so I summoned a throwaway character, someone that could come in, help the hero, and be gone.
I got much more than I bargained for – Helena not only solved the problems in my plot, but she stayed on scene for most of the second third of the novel, stealing the scene from the leading lady and showing such an easy chemistry with the protagonist that when all was said and done, the novel finished, packaged, sold and read, most of the readers were quite happy,m yes, and wanted more of it.
More action, more adventure, more flying white apes and Chinese demons.
More of Felice Sabatini.
And oh, please, more Helena Saratova.

So I wrote the short Cynical Little Angels, a prequel of sorts to The Ministry of Thunder, that told the story of the first meeting between Felice and Helena.
The readers were once again happy.
Helena Saratova had become my first breakout character.

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