Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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Mediums of improving conversation, brilliant wit, and moral obligations

Some things never change. I get an idea for a story, I start doing a modicum of research. Three Letters from the Country (because I am going to write it!) is going to be a ghost story set in a country house and told through letters. Ergo, I research old country houses, possibly of the British persuasion, for a map and hopefully some interior shot (to make my descriptive work easier), and I do research letter-writing during the Victorian and Edwardian era (because I want my letters to be formally convincing).
And I take notes, because I am also writing an article about research for writers.

Photo by John-Mark Smith on Pexels.com

So, letter writing in the Victorian era… now that’s a surprising subject because we often forget that back in the time letters were all that was available for interpersonal communication. No phone calls, no emails, SMS, face time, voice chat… only letters.
And even a superficial search through the web reveals a number of things.

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Where the streets have no name

As I mentioned a few days back, I am working on my (first?) story for the Pro Se Productions “St Germain Project”, in which I will have to give new life to a character that was first and last published in 1938 – if she was actually published at all, because as it was explained to me, the publisher practically died as the first issues of its various magazines were en-route between the printing presses and the newsstands.

So I am working on notes based on what we know, and as it usually happens in these cases, there are a few things we know in high detail, and quite a lot that are necessarily vague.
And some were kept vague by choice – such as, the city in which the action takes place.

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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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The Soldier’s Disease

Again on the joys of research – because focusing too much on that mess that is the Russian Civil War would be monotonous, and I really like (no, seriously, I like it) doing research on the fly when writing.
So, let’s put down the books and the videos about Russians killing each other in the snow, and let’s look into something different.

Like, the Soldier’s Disease, a definition first coined in 1915 to describe morphine addiction among the troops – a phenomenon observed for the first time during the American Civil War.
Ah, doing research, an endless series of discoveries…

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Into the heart of Chaos

Just to make sure you don’t think I’m only spending my time reading novels and being idle, I’ve been doing some on-the-fly research for my current story – that I hope to have finished, one way or the other, by the weekend.
And I’ve spent the last two days immersed in absolute Chaos.
And if this did nothing for my headache, it will certainly do a lot of good to my story.

So, what I’ve been researching?
The Russian Civil War.
And to give you an idea of how chaotic the thing is – we know there was a civil war in Russia after the Great War, but depending on the sources it ended in 1920, in 1923 or in 1926. It probably started in 1919. Or maybe in 1917.
Or something.

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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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