Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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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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A magic primer

I have just delivered the last chapter of a big job to the editor, I have spent one hour revising a translation (more work on it tomorrow), and tonight after dinner I will try and write a 1500-words flash-fiction to answer an open call. Maybe.
Maybe I will just go on and follow up on my before-dinner reading.

To celebrate the closing of the big one, I have cracked open a book I have had here for a while, Philip Carr-Gomm and Richard Heygate’s The Book of English Magic, that I bought a few months back and has been here tempting me all along.

The volume covers what it says on the tin: magic, as traditionally practiced in England. No Wales, no Scotland.
Only Ye Merrie Englande and its magickal history find a place herein.

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The formula

This morning I spent a few minuted talking with a friend and colleague about a book he has abandoned halfway through and about which I never went beyond the Amazon preview. In about of self-assuredness, I mentioned the fact that a book like that I can write in two weekends. Which was not meant literally, but close to it. Let’s say I can crank out ten thousand words a day – two weekends, starting on Friday evening, would mean 50.000/60.000 words in two weekends.
Nice and smooth.

I mentioned this to another friend, about half an hour ago – she’s writing a series, and she was taking a break, and we exchanged a few messages. The point of the discussion was – the time-consuming part is not typing (and she’s a much faster typist than I am), but coming up with good ideas.
Ideas about plot twists, character traits and interactions, ideas about dialogue.
Good ideas and the research to stimulate and back them are the critical point, and they are time consuming.

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Accountants, Soldiers and Nurses

Accountants are dangerous. And no, I am not going to entertain you with my adventures in mortgage and banking. The fact is, while doing a bit of research both for The Ministry of Lightning and for a short article I am about to write, I chanced on something that will not go in the article – being only tangentially connected with the topic – and will certainly get into the novel. And it’s all about accountants.
One accountant in particular.
His name was Andrea Compatangelo, and he was an Italian, from Benevento.

Let’s bactrack a little – during the Great War, a number of Italians fought in the Austro-Hungarian forces, simply because the territories from which they came, while being ethnically Italy, were part of the Hapsburg Empire. Many of these men were taken prisoner on the Eastern Front, and deported to Russia.

After the war, an Italian military mission took care of extracting the “talianski” from the Russian working camps, and bring them back to Italy. This is the subject of the article I am writing.
But there were others. And here we go down a wholly different rabbit hole. This is a strange story…

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