Let me tell you about a book. Not the one I’m working on, but one written in 1890, by an English author named Guy Le Strange; ‘Palestine Under the Muslims’. This is one of three books, and whilst all of them are good, this has proven the most directly useful to me in recent days. (To the point that while I was using the version on the Internet Archive, I’ve actually ended up getting a hardcopy version.) This isn’t really the sort of book that you sit down and read - well, aside from the opening chapters, which provide an excellent description of the Levant as it was in the Middle Ages - but more of an encyclopedia.
But there is the internet, and Wikipedia, you say. Well...yes, but everything from those sources has to be taken with a pinch of salt. I’m not saying I don’t use them, because naturally I do, but this is an encyclopedia with a difference, in that it collates the writings of a large number of Muslim geographers, describing the world through their eyes. Whilst it does cover cities like Aleppo and Jerusalem, perhaps the greatest value comes from the lesser-known regions it covers.
Here’s one of my favourite examples, “Seven miles from Manbij is a Hammah (hot spring) over which there is a dome, called Al Mudir (the Inspector). On the edge of the bath is the image of a man made of black stone. According to the belief of the women of the place, and who are barren have but to rub themselves on the nose of this statue, and they will forthwith conceive. There is here also a hot bath, called the Bath of the Boy (Hammam as Sawabi), where the is the figure of a man in stone, and the water for the bath gushes out from his nether parts.”
Never mind a novel, that sounds like one of the sites for a great roleplaying setting - and certainly could bring about a memorable scene for a book (and likely will). The book is littered with these, and with it I have been able to come up with the outlines for a map to cover the setting. Not that I intend to attempt it myself; I have enough rough notes for the purposes of writing the book, but for purposes of publication I’ve commissioned one, which hopefully should be with me early in August; naturally, I will show it off here as soon as it arrives! It’ll be the first time that I’ve put a map in a book before, but I think it a requirement. I’m certainly eager to see it.
The plan, as I have indicated, is for this to be the first of a series of novels. I’m not sure how long I’ll run them for, but I have covers for three books, and a fourth in my head as well, so I think that will be the minimum - though I have a feeling that this one could potentially run for a while. As a result, I laid out the map specifications with room for expansion; I could have got away with only a couple of spots on it, though that would make it a pretty poor map - adding additional locations gives me more room to explore - and reading that book makes me anxious to visit some of them in any case!
It’s getting close now, the plot forming up rapidly in my head. Giving myself a ‘created’ site has given me a lot of freedom to maneuver when it comes to the basic plot itself, which is essential, though I have also been extremely inspired by the sites I’ve been reading about over the last few days. Who needs to create something from scratch when there are wonders aplenty to use, ones that haven’t been looked at before! I really owe Le Strange a lot; I think I’ll be picking up more of his books in the future, though for the present, I have what I need.
Well, the maps are either ready or soon will be, and in any case are out of my hand, so tomorrow it’s time to get back to the basics of the plot. I’m not far from starting to work right now, though I’m not sure whether it will take me a day or three. I have a couple more books to read first, and tomorrow I’ll talk in more detail about the research stage, though most of that I have already completed. (Which means I may actually start the book in one sense tomorrow, for it will include at least a short bibliography. I really do feel like I’m back at university!)