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Archive for September 2012

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Boiled Frog

I was recently asked for an interview, ‘What are your thoughts on the way society is changing?’

My response:

We are urbanising at the same time as technologising. It’s happening everywhere at the same time.

Where I am living, in Casablanca, the city grows each day as more and more people come from the countryside and try to live here in the city. Of course, most of them can’t get jobs, and once they have seen the bright lights of the city, they can’t go back to their villages.

The world is changing, but most people aren’t seeing it happen. They’re not programmed to notice the change.

It’s very similar to the BOILED FROG idea:

If a frog is placed in a pot of cold water, water that is heated very slowly, the frog won’t notice the increasing temperature, and it will be boiled alive.

Our society is very similar to the boiled frog. We are going to be ‘boiled alive’ — as the world in which we live changes. We have been developed as a species for the savannah… to react to an instant threat, but not to a gradual one.

The only way to survive is to alter the way we notice change, and the way we react to it.

 

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The Way of Things to Come

I was recently asked for an interview, ‘Can you comment on the future of technology, and the way it’s effecting the book business?’

My response:

We live in a fascinating time. Technology is changing our lives, and will continue to do so more and more. That’s a certainty. And, elements of culture that we have known and appreciated over centuries will change, or even disappear. That’s the story of human culture.

I think it’s GREAT that the world of books is going through a radical change. The book business has been very restricted for too long: controlled by too few people in publishing firms. For the first time it’s easily possible for anyone to publish a book — either as a Print on Demand (e.g. using Lulu), and/or as an eBook. People can write blogs as well, which I think are a fantastic way of communicating thoughts and ideas.

And, eBooks are going to take a larger and larger share of the market. I think eBooks are a very good way to get people reading. And they make work accessible, instantly.

That can only be a good thing.

I have been extremely critical in recent months about the low quality of production of paperbacks and even in standard hardback books — and I think the typical low quality pulp paperbacks will be replaced by eBooks in coming years.

And, thank god for that.

I chose to publish TIMBUCTOO myself because I hated the idea of a publisher reducing it to just another pathetic junk paperback format. I believe in beautiful books, as objects of inspiration and beauty in their own right… and I am certain that we will be left with high quality books and with eBooks. The paperbacks with smeary type, which fall to pieces in your hands, will be resigned to the dustbin of culture — where they belong.

It’s true that a lot of authors are panicking because they think they will be out of work — fearing the end of books. I think that’s nonsense because authors are storytellers and human society needs storytellers — whether it is to develop material for a video game or for a movie, or a novel. These are exciting times, and are times to be embraced — not feared.

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Wigtown Book Festival

Will you be at this year’s Wigtown Book Festival? I’ll be speaking about Timbuctoo on Monday 01 October 2012 at 15:00 pm. Tickets can be purchased online.

For those of you who are not familiar with Wigtown, it is a small town with a population of about 1,000 in southwest Scotland.  In 1997 it was named the country’s National Book Town, due to the fact that it held over twenty book-related businesses, including bookshops and publishers.

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Morocco Lost in Translation

Last week a close Moroccan friend and I met for our weekly cup of tea at our usual café.

‘You know how much I like you foreigners,’ said my friend, ‘but you people confuse me, and other Moroccans as well.’

Smiling, I asked what he meant.

My friend went on to tell me of how he had been received at an American family’s home in Casablanca the week before. Following that visit, he invited the American family to his own home. A series of lost in translation moments had punctuated both visits.

As someone with one foot in the East and the other in the West, I could see the difficulties and, for this reason, I wanted to present a list of do’s and don’ts for Westerners living in Morocco.

Here it is:

When visiting a Moroccan home:

  • Take a gift, however small. Not to do so when arriving for a social visit is almost unthinkable. If there are children there, take something for them, or something straight-forward such a platter of pastries. Better to take more than less.
  • Don’t expect a tour of the house, or ask for one. Bedrooms and anything but the formal salon, will be probably off-limits, unless you know the family well.
  • Don’t be surprised if the television is left on all through the visit. TV is regarded as background noise in Morocco.
  • Don’t worry if people come in and out endlessly, while you feel awkwardly rooted to one formal chair. You’re a guest and, as a guest, you’re expected to be seated while everyone honours you. At prayer time members of the host family might slip out, pray, and then return.
  • And, as a respected guest, an abundance of food will be provided. Don’t gorge yourself on starters, as there will probably be large platters of cooked meat to follow.
  • The choicest pieces of meat may well be picked out and served to you. Don’t worry if you have to leave a little, because that’s fine in Morocco – just as eating every crumb is a sign that you are still hungry.
  • Do not help yourself to drinks, but wait for your hosts to serve you.
  • If eating from a communal dish of couscous or a tagine, keep to the triangle of the dish in front of you.
  • Don’t praise an individual object in the home too much, because it may well be presented to you as a gift.
  • Don’t take wine or an alcoholic drink unless you are very certain that the hosts drink.
  • Do make polite conversation, declaring how you adore Morocco, and Moroccan culture. Don’t launch into politics or religious matters.
  • Irrespective of whether you are the guest or the host, your children will be kissed by all. And, if it’s a conservative household, men either kiss each other’s cheeks (if already close friends), and women kiss women’s cheeks. Men shouldn’t kiss women and vice versa, unless you know the family well or if you know them to be less conservative. A handshake is always a good bet unless a cheek is offered.

 

When Receiving Moroccan Guests

  • On no account serve any dish containing pork or pork products.
  • Don’t necessarily ask your guests what they would like to drink. It’s better to just serve tea, or whatever, or to pour various cold drinks and present them on a tray. Don’t offer wine or beer unless you’re pretty sure your guests drink alcohol.
  • Never eat or drink anything until you are sure that your guests have all been taken care of. And never on any account help yourself to a second helping until all guests have taken what they need. If there’s a little food left at the end of the meal, never dive in and finish it if you are hosting the meal.
  • Remember that when receiving people in your home, they are traditionally guaranteed security beneath your roof. This means that you are obliged to treat them with respect, and so it’s not the right time to launch into severe arguments.
  • In Morocco, receiving a guest is regarded as an honour for the host, and so there should be an abundance of food. Don’t worry if you have many times what will be eaten, as you will be honoring your guests. Quantity, quantity, quantity.
  • Don’t offer a tour of your home, unless the guests are close friends. Moroccans are always confused about the idea of the house tour. It’s largely regarded as absurd.
  • Don’t stress if your guests sit in silence. In Morocco, as in much of the Arab world, silence is seen as a virtue and a medium through which people get to know each other.
  • Don’t be offended if your Moroccan friends don’t send a message of thanks. It’s not something required in the culture. But, you are likely to receive a return invitation instead.
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One more chance to win a free copy of Timbuctoo!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Forthcoming projects...

I’m often asked about what I’m working on. Here’s a sneak peek into what’s in the works at the moment:

Scorpion Soup (In Production)

A story within a story, the book is inspired by The Arabian Nights in its use of a frame tale. One story leads to another, taking the reader down through numerous levels. The idea is derived partly from my fascination for The Arabian Nights, as well as my love for my grandfather’s book THE GOLDEN PILGRIMAGE — in which fellow travellers to and from Mecca relate their own tales.

Hannibal Fogg and the Supreme Secret of Man (In Production)

An epic work of fiction, I wrote Hannibal Fogg back in 2009, with the intention of creating a character that would satisfy my obsession for the obscure, the fantastic, and all the places I had been to but never really spoken of.

The House of Wisdom (In Production)

Having lectured on the legacy of Arab science, I have taken every opportunity to draw attention to the extraordinary contribution that Arab science from the Abbasid era — the ‘Golden Age’ of Islam — has played in the development of Occidental know how and science. Named after the Bayt al Hikma, The House of Wisdom is a fast-paced thriller that considers the roles of Arab science from the great polymaths of the Abbasid age.

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My Top Ten Favourite Museums

My top ten list of museums around the world.

  1. Pitt-Rivers Museum, Oxford. Fav object: the shrunken heads.
  2. Sir John Soane Museum, London. Fav object: the sarcophagus of Seti I
  3. Hunterian Museum, London. Fav object, the giant’s skeleton.
  4. Mutter Museum, Philadelphia. Fav object: Hyrtl Skull Collection.
  5. Dog Collar Museum, Maidstone. Spiked hunting collars from 16th century .
  6. Parasite Museum, Tokyo. Fav object: all of them.
  7. Sedlec Ossurary, Czech Republic. Fav object: the chandelier fashioned from human bones.
  8. Barbed Wire Museum, Kansas. Fav object: the selection of razor wires.
  9. International Toilet Museum, Delhi. Fav object: the Japanese toilets.
  10. Avanos Hair Museum, Turkey. Fav object: the caverns full of hair.

 

What are your favourite museums? Have you been to any of these?

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10 favourite places we visited on our US trip

If you’ve been following my random updates on Facebook, you have an idea of some of the places we visited during our month-long road trip across the US. Here is a list of our top 10 favourite places that we visited.

1. Berkeley, because it beats to a rhythm of its own.

2. Malibu, where our great friends live. An affluent slice of Paradise.

3. Death Valley, because it meant we’d escaped Las Vegas.

4. Panguitch, Utah (photo to the left), which is a real Wild West frontier town.

5. Meadowlark Motel, Nebraska, because it took us in when we needed it most.

6. Omaha, Nebraska, because I never quite believed it existed at all.

7. Providence, Rhode Island, which reminded me of visiting Rach there half a lifetime ago.

8.Marblehead, Mass., a fragment of the Great Gatsby.

9. Hudson, New York, which is beyond amazing, and must be seen by all.

10. Central Park, where you can be whoever you want to be.