At the centre of my private little writer's world is a nifty piece of software called Scrivener. It is a nexus, a central, the hub in the nominal centre of a rather irregular cartwheel, of my writing activity and everything associated with it: feeding into it, drawing from it and pointlessly going round and round inside it. You are looking at it's much-filtered public projection.
I would like to get published, of course I would, but that is not my aim. My aim is to become a good writer—a very good writer. If that leads to publication, then wonderful; if it doesn't, then I will still have achieved my aim of becoming a good writer. There's enough evidence out there to show that publication prioritised over good writing is a very bad idea.
This website is as close as you're going to get to the shadier workings of my mind and probably closer than you're going to want to get. It is your glimpse into
my world (I could say 'my mind', but don't want to risk scaring you off so
early on). It is also my link to you and your link to me, should you be
inclined to do me the honour. Here I try to convey why I write what I
write and why I write the way I write. The site will evolve to become less about the writer and more about the projects. Writing about the writing process will retain its prominence, except that I hope it might deepen.
It is hard to say where I am
located as I change country so often—the term 'global citizen' is fast becoming a cliché. Right now I'm in China, although home, inasmuch as I have one, is Western Europe in general
and the UK in particular. My identity, though, is built on a personal
history that includes growing up under Apartheid, a
semi-religious upbringing (long since abandoned) that links me to the Middle East, lineage that links me to south and southeast Asia, a more substantial
education than most have had the privilege to gain, life in
several countries and one or two life-changing experiences.
now fifty-something and opinionated. Thankfully, I've also learnt that
it's sometimes smarter to keep my gob shut. Some say I don't keep
it shut often enough while others say I should learn to share more. You just can't keep everyone happy, can you? This website has also come to be something of an outlet for
what I don't get to say elsewhere. And yes, one way or another, it all
comes out in the writing.
I'm not going to explain how it all hangs together. Just dive in and find out for yourself...
So far, I owe these people bigtime...
fuzzy initial ideas firmed up a lot from early discussions with Dr Gamze Oncul in
Turkey, who pointed me towards others who’ve successfully done what I’m trying
to do. I am grateful to my colleagues in Morocco, Dr John Shoup, for information on 12th century Fez and also to Dr Eric Ross, for numerous
debates and discussions on the early centuries of Islam, tribal societies, the
Seljuqs, medieval travel and many other topics. I also had the privilege of accompanying him to the Tafilalt Oasis in the Sahara for his BBC documentary presentation on the Sijilmassa ruins. The medieval oasis city of Sijilmassa features in Working Title #1. I am also grateful for the help, kindness and support of many people in Morocco, whom it would be imprudent to name personally.
My colleagues in Suzhou, Gloria Molinero and Dr Ying Chang, commented on large tracts of the story. A number of my students in China have been generous with their knowledge of the Song Dynasty period and classical Chinese literature. My reading group in Shanghai, Micro Readers United, did me the honour of reading and discussing some of the stories embedded within Working Title #1. Our monthly discussions help me keep my feet on the ground, as do these words by Annie Dillard, quoted slightly out of context:
"The written word is weak. Many people prefer life to it. Life gets your blood going, and it smells good. Writing is mere writing, literature is mere. It appeals only to the subtlest senses—the imagination's vision, and the imagination's hearing—and the moral sense, and the intellect."
I am especially grateful to Ghulam Abbas Hunzai of the Isma'ili Centre in London for his kindness and generosity in sharing his ideas with me and for putting me in touch with experts on Isma'ili history. If this book should prove me to be a writer, then much of the credit for that should go to my friend, Jane Eaton Hamilton in Vancouver, for her patient mentoring and great inspiration. I've also had incredibly stimulating discussions with Madeleine Thien, while she was Writer-in-Residence at M on the Bund in Shanghai. Sam Murray and Eliane Thoma-Stemmet helped me set up this website, but I alone am responsible for the oopsies.
My mother, who had only been to school long enough to acquire basic literacy, was an avid reader. She taught me to read and as soon as I could do that, she trotted me off to the local library. At four or five, I became its youngest member (yes, they bent the rules—my first lesson in the virtues of creative bureaucracy). Mummy, when you were still with us, I tried to thank you for having taught me the wonder of written words. Even now, I still feel unable to thank you properly.