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Tag: adventure

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Q&A on Writing and Travel

TS101. The explorations and adventures in most of your work are set in exotic places that are shrouded in mystery and rich in history and tradition, and it seems as though you have traveled just about everywhere. Do you happen to have any connection with a small and relatively mainstream place like Belgium?

When I was a child, I was sent to stay with friends at Ypres. I was eleven years old, and I remember the visit vividly. Of course I have returned to Belgium time and again since then, but it was that winter journey that is so burned in my memory. My sisters and I were taken to the Great War cemeteries there. I can see the headstones now – all lined up perfectly, glinting white in the flat winter sun. I remember reading the names and ages of those men. They were so young – their lives having hardly begun. A day doesn’t go by on which I don’t think of them. And it is for them that I remind my children daily: Carpe diem! Seize the day!

2. I recently heard you tell a student group that they could and should be explorers. As far as I know, there are no significant mysteries here in Belgium, though there is a great deal of history. What sorts of explorations do you think have yet to be pursued here? What do you think is the best way for parents to make explorers of their children?

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May 24, 2013 Posted by tahir in Books

Last Chance on Scorpion Soup

Scorpion_Soup-01If you haven’t yet purchased your copy of the limited edition Scorpion Soup hardcover, now is the time to do so. I have uploaded it to Amazon, and the price will increase as of June 8th. This is your last chance to get it at its reduced price directly from my website.

I think I mentioned to you before the hardcover was released that I wanted to make it available to my readers at a discounted price before uploading it to Amazon. It’s been out for a few months now, and it’s time to shift the sales to Amazon.

Get your copy now.

Scorpion Soup is also available as an ebook:

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

También está disponible en español: Sopa de escorpión

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

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Q&A on The Caliph's House

2012-07-26 10.48.43I am occasionally interviewed via email or invited to participate in a Q&A for a course that is reading one of my books. I thought I’d share this one with you, which discuses The Caliph’s House:

1. Why did you choose to express your feelings through imagery, rather than express them directly? 

That’s a good question and one I have never been asked before. I wrote The Caliph’s House not long after 9/11, and I had that atrocity in my mind all the way through. It was really important to me to try and show Morocco from the inside out, and in a way that American people especially could receive. I wanted to show the kingdom in ways that were not merely descriptive, but touched the senses, as well as reaching an audience through anecdotes. It was difficult to do, but I am always so happy when people write to me saying that the book changed the way they regarded Morocco — ie as not “just another” Arab country.

2. Did you realise that the Arabic meaning of the characters’ names in the book correlate to their personalities, or is this coincidental?

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April 3, 2013 Posted by tahir in Books

New Releases from My Backlist

TS ebook series backlist

I’m very pleased to share with you the release of my travel backlist as ebooks. Each book has been updated with a new introduction, with the exception of Travels With Myself, my 2011 release. Trail of Feathers will also be available very soon.

Get your copy now: Read more

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March 21, 2013 Posted by tahir in Books

Get Your Limited Edition Copy of Scorpion Soup

Scorpion Soup by Tahir ShahAs announced on my Facebook page yesterday, Scorpion Soup has now reached the UK warehouse, which means that all orders to the UK and to continental Europe will be available for shipping starting this afternoon.

There were some questions about shipping costs to continental Europe, and we’ve found a less expensive way to take care of this, so all book orders to continental Europe will pay the same as the UK orders. They will be sent via Royal Mail.

Order one copy of Scorpion Soup to the UK or to continental Europe using this link. Generally speaking, books will be shipped within 24 hours after an order is placed, for Monday-Friday orders.

Pre-orders for the US can be placed using this link. All orders will be uploaded to our fulfilment system as soon as they’re received by us. The books should reach the US warehouse this week or next, and books will ship out automatically as soon as they’re checked into the warehouse.

As I mentioned before, we’ve tried to keep the purchase price on this book as low as possible, which is why I’m only making them available for sale through my website for a limited time. Once they go online to other retailers, we’ll have to raise the price to cover commissions and fees.

At this point, there are links to purchase one copy or five copies. If you would like a different amount, please email secretum.mundi at gmail dot com, and someone can check on the cost of shipping for you.

Many, many thanks for reading! I hope you enjoy this book.

 

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Scorpion Soup: ebook available now!

scorpion_soup_EBOOKcover SMALLIf you’ve been following me on Facebook, you know that the ebook edition of Scorpion Soup was released earlier this week. It’s already received several reviews on Goodreads, as well as Amazon US and Amazon UK, and it’s been featured on at least one blog that I’ve seen so far.

Scorpion Soup has its own website, with a full list of the eighteen stories, a discussion of the  frame story, my take on storytelling, and some background information on the Blaeu maps, ten of which are included in the limited edition hardcover of Scorpion Soup.

The ebook is currently available for purchase on Amazon US and Amazon UK, and it will be available shortly on other major ebook retailers, such as Apple, Barnes & Noble, Gardners, Ingram, Kobo and Waterstones.

If you’re looking forward to the limited edition hardcover, with its 10 fold-out maps, it will be released on March 25th. It’s been prepared along the lines of Timbuctoo, with the same attention to detail. It’s available for pre-purchase now on the Scorpion Soup website.

I hope you enjoy it. Thank you for reading!

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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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Morocco's Pirate Realm

Relocate from a cramped East End flat to a haunted mansion, in the middle of a Casablanca shantytown, and you can’t help but slip into the Moroccan Twilight Zone. It’s a world conjured straight from a child’s imagination – a realm of Jinn and exorcists, of dazzling colours, exotic foods, and unending possibility.

During our several years here, we have descended down through the interleaving layers of Moroccan society to its very bedrock. In that time I have become preoccupied with the Morocco that tourists rarely glimpse, the one that lies just beneath the surface, waiting to be discovered by anyone ready to receive it.

            Every day Europe’s budget airlines ferry tourists back and forth, depositing them at the gates of a few key Moroccan cities – Marrakech, Agadir and Fès. Yet, the rest of the kingdom is left largely alone. So, stray a little off the beaten track, and the rewards can be immediate and quite extraordinary. And, as often happens in Morocco, the greatest treasures are where you expect them least of all.

I was reminded of this recently when my daughter, Ariane, came home and begged me to help with her pirate project. She’s obsessed with Johnny Depp, and imagines all pirates to be bumbling caricatures, rather than the ruthless killers of today’s African Horn.

Googling ‘Morocco Pirates’, she began a treasure trail which led right from our own door.

An hour’s drive up the coast from Casablanca is the capital, Rabat. It’s rather staid – orderly traffic, clipped hedges, and droves of diplomats. Across from it, nestled up on the windswept Atlantic shore is the small town of Salé. Most Rabatis like to stick their noses up at their down-at-heel neighbour. They regard it as sordid, squalid, a complete waste of time. I had bought in to the whole Salé-bashing syndrome, and found myself snarling at the mere mention of the name.

But Ariane insisted I’d got it all wrong.

She told a tale of a pirate realm worthy of Jack Sparrow himself, one where Robinson Crusoe had been taken as a slave. For eight centuries, she said, Salé had been a world centre of looting, pillaging, and of white slavery. The frenzied debauchery had reached its height in the 1600s, under the greatest marauder in the Barbary history, the infamous Jan Janszoon.

A Dutch freebooter, and former Christian slave himself, Janszoon made himself overlord of a pirate republic based at Salé. He waylaid many hundreds of ships across the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, possibly extending as far as Iceland and the Americas. In true pirate tradition, he sired countless children. His descendents are said to embrace a Who’s Who of celebrity, including the Marquis of Blandford, Humphrey Bogart, and Jackie O.

Intrigued by this curious fragment of international pirate trivia, I bundled Ariane into the car and sped north.

Soon we spied the skyline of Rabat, all proud and stately as a capital city should be. Across the estuary, the syrupy yellow light of late afternoon gave a glow to the ancient walls of what was once the pirate realm – the Republic of Salé.

Even from a distance there was something bleak and piratic about it.

Gnarled volcanic rocks, breakers, wine-dark sea, and walls right out of Treasure Island. Approaching from along the coast, we found ourselves at an immense and ancient burial ground – tens of thousands of graves packed tight together, the head-stones lost in each other’s shadows.

Unable to resist, we strolled slowly between the graves, the chill Atlantic wind ripping in our ears. Ariane said she could imagine the pirates sleeping there, cuddled up with their secrets and their treasure maps.

In the middle of the graveyard a fisherman was crouching with a long slim rod, and an empty paint can filled with fish heads. He was surrounded by cats. When I asked him about pirates he narrowed his eyes, nodded once, and pointed to a low fortress at the edge of the cemetery.

We went over to it.

Crafted from honey-yellow stone, the Sqala, as it’s known in Arabic, was built into the crenellated sea wall, rusted iron cannons still trained on the horizon. A policeman was standing outside. He had a weather-worn face, watery eyes, and a big toothy grin. Ariane asked him about pirates. Before we knew it, we’d been ushered inside.

He led the way through a cool stone passage and out onto a rounded terrace, bathed in blinding yellow light. There was something magical about it, as if it was so real that it was fake, like a Hollywood set. The cannons there were bronze, lizard-green with verdigris, each one bearing a different crest.

‘They were obviously captured by pirates,’ said Ariane knowledgeably. ‘If they weren’t, the crests would all be the same.’

 Staring out to where the water joined the sky, the policeman suddenly recited a poem about unrequited love. He said there was no better place in all the world to compose poetry than right there, and that poetry was his true love.

I asked if he’d ever heard of Jan Janszoon. He cocked his face to the ground beneath his feet.

‘The dungeon,’ he said grimly.

We went down jagged steps, along a vaulted corridor bored out from the stone, lit by shafts of natural light. Home to nests of stray cats, it was damp and smelled of death. The officer showed us a truly miserable cell which looked as though it had been quite recently used. His grin subsiding, he explained that the last prisoner had been forgotten, and had starved to death.

‘Was it the famous corsair, Jan Janszoon?’ I asked.

The policeman shook his head.

‘For him, you must go to the old city,’ he said.

After sweet mint tea, and yet more poetry, we escaped with directions scribbled in Arabic, directions to the home of Jan Janszoon lost in the maze of the old city.

After six years in Morocco, I am no stranger to walled medinas, and have traipsed through dozens of them – often searching for a cryptic address. In that time I’ve learned to be thick-skinned when approached by hustlers laden with tourist wares.

Slipping through the Bab Malka Gate, we prepared ourselves for the usual onslaught of salesmen and mendicants. But it didn’t come. Instead, the silence was so pronounced that we could hear the children playing marbles in the labyrinth of lanes. Without waiting for us to ask, one of them led the way to the great mosque.

Built in the glorious twelfth century Almohad style, its one of the greatest treasures in the kingdom, and one of the least known. The boy said there were seven doors, one for each day of the week.

Twisting and turning our way down the whitewashed lanes, we found a time-capsule of Moroccan life from a century ago. There were vegetables piled high on carts, and chunks of fresh mutton laid out on fragrant beds of mint; tailors busily sewing kaftans, mattress-makers and carpenters, brocade-sellers, and dyers hanging skeins of wool in the sun. And, rather than any tourists or tourist kitsch, there were local people out shopping, bargaining for underpants and melons, pumpkins, wedding robes, and socks.

When Ariane showed the scribbled directions to the marble-playing boy, he led us to a spacious square, the Souq el Gazelle, the Wool Market. It was packed with people buying and selling used clothes and brightly-coloured wool. The boy said it was where slaves had once been sold, having been dragged ashore from captured ships.

Nudging a thumb to the directions, I asked about the home of Jan Janszoon.

The boy beckoned us to follow him.

Winding our way through the Mellah, the old Jewish quarter, the air pungent with kebab smoke and baking macaroons, we reached the crumbling façade of a building. Once plastered, the dressed stone was exposed, ravaged by the elements. A fig tree had taken hold and was growing out from the side, and the studded wooden door was falling to bits. The boy glanced at the scribbled directions and gave a thumb’s up.

Ariane and I stood there in awe. We were on hallowed ground after all – at the home of the greatest pirate in Barbary history, the progenitor of Jackie O no less.

As the muezzin called the prayer, his voice singing out over the tiled rooftops of old Salé, I whispered thanks to Jan Janszoon and to his band of marauding corsairs. Through a special conjury of Moroccan magic, the Dutch-born freebooter had lured us through a keyhole into his own pirate realm, the Moroccan Twilight Zone, where nothing is ever quite what it seems.


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July 3, 2008 Posted by tahir in Travel

Jungle

My whole life I have been fearful of jungle. It started when I read Kipling’s story of Mowgli and Sher Khan, his Jungle Book. The more I read, and learned, of the insects and the fantastic creatures, the more afraid I became.

Years passed. And I found myself writing about distant places and people. I used to hope an editor would take something from me from home, but there was no hope of that. They used to want me to go further, to endure more, to push myself and those around me beyond boundaries more terrible that I had ever imagined. I travelled to India and studied magic with its Godmen, to Ethiopia, where I searched for the lost gold mines of King Solomon. I ventured through the Far East, too, across africa and back, and up and down the mighty Andean chain.
The editors liked the work and they liked the sense of wilderness. Most of all they liked the idea of me, someone with no training, journeying where only the intrepid or the mad usually go. They asked me where I was planning to venture next. All I could think of was the notion than primitive man flew, or glided, like the birds. The Birdmen… that was it,. So I told them.
‘I am going in search of the Birdmen of Peru,’ I said.
So it was that finally I arrived at the jungle. I had been in the Amazon once before, a fleeting trip while crossing Latin America. But I had never known it. I will never forget the first night I spent upstream in Iquitos, the Peruvian Amazon. It was a place of joy and of fear, fear of what was all around.
The journey ended up as a book called Trail of Feathers. When it was published I pressed my hands together and smiled. I’ll never, ever have to return to that place, I thought to myself. I was done with the jungle — with the heat and the interminable rain, the insects as big as saucers and with hallucinogenic plants.
But then, something happened. I got talking to a mad pair of Swedish film makers and they urged me to return. It was like leaving prison and going back, voluntarily. So I did.
The idea was to venture to Madre de Dios, the thickest and most fearful cloud forest on the planet. We had almost no equipment, no understanding, a few hundred Pot Noodles, and a map with nothing but green wavy lines. Our mission was to find Paititi, the lost city of the Incas, a place known by the locals as ‘House of the Tiger King’.
We set off. Terrible conditions and a lack of food took an awful toll on the men. There was talk of spirits and of tigers, and of all sorts of stuff that preyed on all our nerves. The porters were mostly Seventh Day Adventists from a small village called Llactapampa. It was there that our saviour, Eduardo was from. He was their leader and he whipped them up into a Bible-bashing frenzy, a frenzy that gave us the energy, the zeal, to find the lost city.
But it is not Eduardo or the porters or the Swedes, or the truly deplorable journey that I want to mention here. It is Pancho, a Machiaguinga warrior whose face is burned into my mind. 
Pancho claimed to have found the ruins while out hunting as a young man. He discovered a golden hatchet buried there and proudly brought it back to his father, the chief. Instead of receiving the praise he expected, he was castigated, ordered to return the hatchet at once for fear of bringing a terrible curse down on the community.
Eduardo knew Pancho and introduced us. Anyone who has seen our film will know of his face… gentle, honest, fanciful… that’s the wonderful thing about him and something that’s always with me. You see, for Pancho (and I say this after being in the deep jungle for seventeen weeks trying to unravel it all), fact and fantasy are two halves of the same thing. 
Pancho found the ruins and the hatchet, of that I am certain. But I am also now certain that he found them not in the world we would regard as ‘real’ but in an equally real world for him — and for all people until the industrial revolution… the world of his imagination.
An evening doesn’t go by without me wondering what Pancho is doing at that moment. He is the most content and honorable man I have ever encountered, and I don’t say it lightly.
I remember that he begged us again and again to take him to Cusco. We didn’t want to pollute his mind, but he would not stop asking. So eventually we agreed. We took him to the city.
He licked ice cream, touched cement, saw cars for the first time, ate in a cafe, touched a llama, and even went to a disco. At the end of three days I asked greedily if he loved what he had seen, if he was happy. Pancho’s ever-present grin had gone. He seemed unhappy.
‘This place, this city, has forgotten nature,’ he said, ‘and it is worthy of you all.’
TS