A. We are shunning traditional methods of book distribution, avoiding conventional book selling outlets because we believe that bookshops are probably the worst place to buy a special book of this kind. The easiest way to buy Timbuctoo is on one of the Amazon sites around the world. See the links on the heading BUY. There will also be unusual places to buy it. Sign up to Facebook and Twitter to learn more about them. And, we encourage anyone wanting to buy bulk copies (five or more), or signed copies, to order directly from this site.

A. As an established author who’s published by a host of leading publishers, Tahir thought long and hard about how to release Timbuctoo. The question was control – or, rather, the lack of it – if he went with an existing publisher. The publishing industry is in a state of crisis, and in a time when number-crunchers and yes-men are putting profits over design, and even content. Bearing this in mind, and the book he had envisaged, Tahir decided to go it alone. We hope very much you agree that hard copies of the book do justice to this spirit and, more importantly, to the forgotten story of Robert Adams.

A. The Regency was the period in English history in which King George III was regarded as unfit to rule, due to a condition of insanity. While still technically the monarch, his eldest son, George, ruled in his place as Regent – all but king in name. The Regency continued from 1811 until 1820. It was a time of neo-classicism, of decadence, and of triumph – most notably over the French at Waterloo. With the death of his father in 1820, the Prince Regent ascended the throne, ruling as George IV. As for Timbuctoo, it was believed to be an African Eldorado – a city crafted from the purest gold. And, as such, it was the object of every explorer’s attention. Timbuctoo mania gripped western Europe, with all the major powers eager to reach the distant Saharan city, and then to sack it.

A. Until comparatively recent times, standardization in place names – especially those in far off climes – was virtually inexistent. Timbuctoo was spelt by different European powers in varying ways and, with time, they have transmigrated from one language or culture to another. The British formerly used ‘Timbuctoo’, especially during the bulk of the nineteenth century. But, they then adopted the German spelling of ‘Timbuktu’, probably due to the rise in German exploration, in cartography and so forth. The French used, and continue to use, ‘Tombouctou’, as do the Malians themselves. A raft of other spellings have existed as well, including ‘Tumbutu’, ‘Timbuktoo’, and (as used in Adams’s Narrative) – ‘Tombuctoo’.

A. Yes, indeed it is – something that large numbers of people find hard to believe is true. The city is located in modern Mali, less than ten miles north of the Niger River. Fought over and taken numerous times throughout history, Timbuctoo was always a distant outpost in the Sahara, a place dedicated to Islamic scholarship and to learning. For more information, see the Wikipedia page.

A. It seems that in the 1860s, the expression, ‘As far away as Timbuctoo’, was used for the first time. And it stuck, probably because of the romantic image of an African Eldorado, as much as for the sound of the word, and its spelling.

A. As is described in Tahir Shah’s novel, Timbuctoo was regarded from earliest times as an African Eldorado, a city fashioned from pure gold. No Europeans were known with certainty to have ever reached the city and survived, and so expectation rose to fever pitch. The idea of a golden city stuck in the middle of an impenetrable desert was like something out of A Thousand and One Nights.

A. There was treasure, but it wasn’t gold. As Robert Adams described in his Narrative, the real treasure of Timbuctoo was salt, which was carved from dried lakes in great slabs. Salt was a commodity that allowed life to exist, and was far more practical than gold. Another treasure of Timbuctoo, relatively recently appreciated, were the Islamic manuscripts that were created and stored there. For more on this subject, see Tahir’s Shah’s article in Aramco World Magazine.

A. Firstly, you crack one of the four codes hidden in the novel. Then, you enter it on the web site, and crack a further series of codes. Then, you venture to the grid reference you have come up with, and you dig. It’s as easy as that.

A. Yes, there’s no need to buy a hard copy of the book if you want to take part in the treasure hunt. You can use the eBook version and the web site. But, the clues are more easily recognized in the hard copy. Good luck!