Username:

Password:

Fargot Password? / Help

Tag: life

5

Q&A on storytelling and tradition...and The Tale of the Sands

30maro_slide05You are creating wonderful stories about what our heart is telling us, but today more than ever we fail to reconcile our heart and our mind. Why are they tugging us in different directions? What do you do when your mind shouts louder than your heart?

As you say, I am telling and creating stories, and that’s what’s so central here. Storytelling appeals to the default setting of mankind, the core programming that’s in-built within us. We don’t really know why, but culture is arranged around storytelling – revealing information, ideas, and entertainment through stories. We can’t help but retell experiences in this way because we are programmed to do it. And, bizarrely, most people have forgotten that humanity operates with stories as their language. I sometimes find myself wondering whether other animals, or even insects, do the same and tell stories as a matrix like we do.

At the same time as live to tell stories, we reside in a world that’s so incredibly at odds with the realm our ancestors knew. Yet, in this mad frenetic, frenzied stew of life, it’s the stories and the storytelling that present themselves as a recognizable thread – a kind of communal backbone to humanity. We grasp hold of stories whether they be in the form of a book, a Tweet, a blog entry, a TV commercial selling soap, a movie, or even in the guise of a video game.

You mention your father very often in your works. Would you say that your story is a sequel to his? To what extent are our hearts beating together with those of our ancestors’? Does our storytelling begin where theirs has stopped? Read more

1

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?

Read more

2

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?

Read more

0

Timbuctoo Holiday Sales

Timbuctoo book cover straight on 600pxSeveral people have emailed me lately requesting bulk pricing for Timbuctoo so they can purchase multiple copies for the holidays. I’ve spoken with my warehouse people, and they said that orders need to be in by tomorrow, 18th of December at the latest in order to reach you by the holidays. Because we’ll be selling these directly, we can offer a huge discount on the books.

Regular UK pricing of Timbuctoo is £29.99, currently available on Amazon at a discount of £25.49. We can offer you the bulk price of £20 for 5, 10, or more books (in multiples of 5).

Regular USA pricing of Timbuctoo is $49.99, currently available on Amazon at the same price. We can offer you the bulk price of $33 for 5, 10, or more books (in multiples of 5).

If you’re in the UK, and would like to order 5 books to be delivered to one address, please order here:




If you’re in the UK, and would like to order 10 books to be delivered to one address, please order here:




If you’re in the USA, and would like to order 5 books to be delivered to one address, please order here:




If you’re in the USA, and would like to order 10 books to be delivered to one address, please order here:




9
July 22, 2010 Posted by tahir in Travel

Five Years On

Five years ago at this moment I was crouched in the corner of a solitary confinement cell at a torture jail in northern Pakistan. My Swedish film crew from Caravan Film and I were arrested a week after the London bombings of July 2005, and held without charge for sixteen days, and nights. In the half-decade that has elapsed since our release, I have found myself turning the experience over and over, looking at it in varying ways, and drawing a myriad of conclusions. It was clear that the system had seized us without quite knowing why and that once they had us, they didn’t know how get rid of us. The most obvious thing –just open the cell doors and let us walk out — never appeared to have occurred to them. My conclusions these days revolve less about our actual experience, and more about what it says in terms of the situation that people like me (one foot in the East and the other in the West) now find themselves in the Post 9/11 world. We can’t help but be affected, and be regarded with suspicion — by both sides. It’s a ridiculous position, and one which I might find myself drawing amusement from were the stakes not so high. The thing which still astonishes me is the apparent lack of cultural understanding between the Occidental governments and those of countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan. Certainly, they may have a linguistic commonality, but they both appear (to me, anyway) to have almost no intellectual connection. My experience of this has been first hand, most shockingly when interrogated blindfold and manacled night after night in a Pakistani torture room… and then when received at Heathrow by the British secret services. I’m not trying to make a big point here other than to say that we would all do better to learn much more of each other’s culture. Reading each other’s literature, study each other’s histories, understanding dissimilar etiquettes and so on. Beyond that, I write this in anniversary of those terrifying nights, waiting for the jangling of the keys and for the blindfolds, the signal that I was about to be led back down the long corridor to the torture room.



TS
2

The Big Picture

Keeping an eye on the detail is of paramount importance, but so is the ability to keep the other on the big picture — micro and macro. It’s hard perhaps to explain this or why it’s so important. But while you’re on an expedition it’s very easy to focus on the hand in front of your face and, by doing do, to lose focus on your surroundings. In my experience, the team will quickly lose all interest in the wider goals, the greater scheme of things. They’re too wound up in the pain their injured feet are giving them, or their groaning stomachs. So, it’s your responsibility to watch the expedition from afar and ask yourself key questions. Are you on track? Is everyone pulling their weight? Could you re-jig and win time? Is morale flagging and, if so, can you pep it up right now? At the same time you must be prepared for disaster. It strikes, of course, when you’re getting complacent and comfortable. What happens if there’s a sudden downpour and the river swells two feet? Or if a man snaps his ankle on the next bend, or if hornets attack? Are you prepared? What would you do to cope? Keep the boy scout spirit alive and always remember that you’re as fragile as a feather on the wind.



TS
0

Experience

I like watching myself doing things now, and imagining how I did them years or even decades ago; perceiving the effect of gradual experience. The best way to see how far you’ve come is by looking at a child’s progression. Although, as I wrote yesterday, children have something far more precious than we do… the default setting of humanity. As I write this, my little son Timur is sitting beside me. He’s copying words out of his big gruesome book on Mummies. Each word takes him a while, as he does it with attention, and care, forming the letters, and making sure he is getting the spellings right. From time to time, Ariane comes in and laughs at him for doing work that she thinks is easy. She’s only two years older, but in that time she’s grasped it, and has become quite experienced. The same is true with writing, especially journalism. I remember when I wrote my first articles, I didn’t know where to start. I did masses and masses of research, most of which was never needed. I followed leads that were dead ends, and was like Timur writing his words out. I meant very well and was driven by the same enthusiasm as him… but my vision was clouded by a kind of veil. Work at something, really work at it, and the veil lifts. And what’s so wonderful is that you never realise it’s lifting until it’s no longer there. Watch yourself from a distance as you progress, as you become adept, and marvel at it all. Again, I see that with Ariane and Timur, and remind them as often as I can how far they’ve come, and how fast the journey’s been.



TS
 
1

Magic Dust

When I was at school, I remember my teachers always harping on about how wise they were and how young and foolish we were.  I would always roll my eyes and think how dead they had become, trading natural innovation for a learned system. I still believe this, and think we are all born with an amazing ability to think. It’s something that can be re-learned and used in writing, and just about anything. Look at children and you see it right away. They solve problems and use their minds in the most innovative and creative ways. Yet most of the time adults — who have had this default setting knocked out of them — tend to deride it. They don’t understand it because it was removed early in the education system. I find myself wondering how the world would be if we thought as communities using this default setting. Imagine it. Yes, there’d be less of the technological breakthroughs we are used to, but there would a form of genius that we’ve lost. The greatest thing would be, of course, to have a blend of the two systems… using one to fuel advances in the other. This imagination is something that’s like magic dust, an element that, when sprinkled into a writer’s work (whether it’s in a book or magazine),  has the ability to touch a part of us that’s often not stimulated at all. Learn to sprinkle the dust, and you will succeed in the most original ways.



TS
1

Pegs

I used to spend all my time dreaming up ideas for articles which I planned to sell. The ideas got better and better. Editors even told me they were great. But no one bought them. Why? Because there wasn’t a reason for publishing. Remember that most magazines and newspapers have limited space. For this reason, they need to be able to qualify why a certain story is going to run. The editor will often have to be ready to defend his choice to his own boss. So enter the idea of the ‘Peg’. It’s simple: If you write an article about London’s Tower Bridge, you may find it hard to sell. Editors will ask ‘Great, but, er, so what?’ But if you work out that it’s the 300th anniversary since the bridge was built and, better still, that there’s going to be an anniversary parade, you have a sure fire seller. Other pegs include political or military acts and anniversaries of any kind. You can get the Media Guide (in the UK) which gives details of up-coming anniversaries. But remember to pitch early. A magazine may work five months in advance, and a newspaper features’ section five or six weeks.



TS

0

Rights

 The difference between making $1000 for a story and making $25,000 for the same story is in the rights, and how you sell them. I’ve written already about how I started an agency to sell my books. Well, I used it for selling magazine features as well. The beauty was that, whereas editors will offer what they want to a writer, when they are dealing with an agency, they’re a lot more respectful. As the agent, it’s you who decides the price. And it’s you who chops the world into territories and sells a story again and again, as First British Rights, First Australian Rights and so on. You assign the rights in a contractual letter or a form that the magazine sends. And if you’re a journalist starting out be very careful they the magazine doesn’t assume they are buying all rights. You may have to fight them, but the truth is that they probably don’t even want world rights because they don’t have an active sales’ department. I’ve sold the same article dozens of times, and if you own the photos, you make twice the money again.



TS

Pages:123