Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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Roman soldiers in Egypt

And so I said, what the heck, it’s Saturday afternoon, I’ve worked all the morning, I’ll take a break, eat some ice cream and forget about the rest for 36 hours.
But then the usual fear comes – what if I waste my time and miss my deadlines…
I forced myself to take it easy – it won’t be a day that will make that much of a difference, and I can use this downtime to do some minor research.

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Tropical diseases, Egyptian curses, colonial traditions and Sherlock Holmes

I skipped a post yesterday: first I was busy doing a supermarket run and stocking my freezer with ice cream as a defense against the heat (36°C and 74% humidity as I write this), and then I scrapped the Holmes story I have been working on these last two weeks and started it over.
So I spent part of the afternoon and night of yesterday checking out books about Egyptian magic, and old Victorian books about tropical diseases.

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Honor among thieves

The thing one does for research. Today I weathered the heat and humidity by applying massive doses of cold tea and by reading an interesting article about the ethics of criminals.

Apart from the interesting bits about organized crime in 15th century Spain – that might come handy for future writing pursuits – I was particularly interested in one aspect of the ethics/crime/professionalism quandary: if I can compare writing to a con game (as Lawrence Block, among others, has done), and a writer to a highly skilled international jewel thief (cfr. Paddy McAloon’s “The Best Jewel Thief in the World”), then what is the place of ethics in all this?
Does being professionals only mean we get paid, and any way we get paid is OK?
Or is there something more? And how it works?
Spending a few hours with this article helped define some basic principles.

I might write about the whole thing, one of these nights.


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‘La Mesnée d’Hellequin’

I’m reading two books, as one does. One is a mystery set here in the place where I live, and I’ll talk about that another time. The other is Claude Lecouteux’ Phantom Armies of the Night: The Wild Hunt and the Ghostly Processions of the Undead, a very thorough coverage of the legends and folklore connected with the Wild Hunt, a medieval European legend with its roots in a much deeper past and with echoes that reach us today.

And apparently the Mesnée d’Hellequin, as it was called in Old French has acquired some recent popularity due to a bestselling series of fantasy novels and an equally popular video-game franchise – but I don’t care. I’m doing some research for a story (or five) and I want to go back as close as possible to the original sources.
So, what’s this Wild Hunt all about?

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The pinball effect

On the 19th of October 1903, at the Princess Theater in Manchester (UK), Ellen Terry opened as Beatrice in Bill Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing, that happens to be one of my two favorite Shakespearean plays, but this is another story.
Admittedly, a Beatrice somewhat long in the tooth, considering that Terry was born in 1847 and was therefore 56 years old at the time.

This bit of information is particularly interesting because I am writing a story – called The Adventure of the Manchester Mummies – set (also) in Manchester in the late autumn of 1903 – and knowing that Ellen Terry was in town with a Shakespeare play has absolutely nothing to do with the story I am writing, and I doubt I will ever use the information, but is the sort of strange fact that surfaces while one is looking for something completely different – train timetables, in this case.

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Damn aristos!

Today I found a hole in Wikipedia. Nothing major, but enough to derail my research work for the better part of this morning. I had to dig out old books and cross-reference information to determine not only what the hole was about, but also what should have been in place of the nothing the hole represented.

I’ve been commissioned a short historical article about two women that lived in Turin in the 17th and 19th century respectively. They belonged to the same family, and lived in the same building, but were extremely different for personality and personal history. So I was looking for historical detail to define their actual relationship and to build some kind of bridge between the two. I needed something that could fit two paragraphs and join the two personal histories.

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