Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Research Nausea

Update on my work-in-progress, Heart of Flame:

I have started. I've started with Chapter 2 because my mental picture of the characters introduced in Chapter 1 needs firming up, but that's okay. And I've got the plot roughed out.

Mostly though, I've been doing research. And thank the gods for Wikipedia, say I - How did writers manage before it? I've also borrowed a small car-load of books on Arabic history from a friend and my head is awash with new information; when it got to the point when I was feeling dizzy and a bit sick I knew I had to start writing it down! Anyway, I now know my Abbasids from my Umayyads, and my Caliphs from my Emirs (and believe me the difference is significant).

Not that this will necessarily show up in the written novel, but if I'm going to get details wrong I want at least to be aware that they are wrong and have made a conscious decision. For example, it is highly unlikely that my hero (or Sinbad himself for that matter) would, in a real historical context, have fought with a scimitar: curved swords were a Turkish introduction and earlier Arabic warriors fought with straight, double-edged blades. But I'm going to ignore this because the curved saif is part of the Arabian Nights archetype. Likewise there's no evidence of coffee shops as early as the 9th Century when Heart of Flame is set, although coffee is native to the Middle East and was arguably drunk in domestic settings, but I'm damn well having them in my novel.

My favourite source-book at the moment is History of the Arabs by Philip K. Hitti, which was published in 1930 and thus full of colour, social detail, interesting anecdotes and highly questionable eyewitness reportage, unlike the more modern books which are on the whole as bland and dry as they possibly can be. Hatti's book is of course extremely un-PC, reporting murders and religious persecutions without a qualm (more modern historians tend to fear looking bad by appearing potentially critical of non-Western cultures) and treating homosexuality with cross-eyed horror:

"We read of ghilman [catamites] in the reign of al-Rhashid, but it was evidently al-Amin who, following Persian precedent, established in the Arabic world the ghilman institution for the practice of unnatural sexual relations. A judge under al- Ma'mun used four hundred such youths. Poets like abu-Nuwass did not disdain to give public expression to their perverted passions...'"

Huzzah - now that is the sort of thing I need to know. Four hundred? In one sitting??


Nikki Magennis said...

Ooh, that sounds like a fascinating world of research to delve into, Janine!

I have this brilliant set of volumes called 'Peoples of the World', which was my grandfathers. It's quaint and breathtakingly patronising and wildly inaccurate, but I love how it draws such vivid pictures of different cultures. Want me to look up what it says about the Turks?

Janine Ashbless said...

Sorry about the delay Nikki - I've been on holiday on the Isle of Man. I spent one evening writing up notes on Syria but otherwise have been shamefully lazy and non-productive. Go on, tell me about the Turks!