A NEW BOOK THAT I HAVE TO RECOMMEND, AND ONE THAT I’VE HAD THE PRIVILEGE TO NARRATE

THE G-CODE, A SET OF MORAL PRINCIPLES WHERE THE SPIRITUAL, SECULAR AND METAPHYSICAL ALL MEET by Cochise Tarak-Saa.

‘Never condemn what you need or desire’. ‘Over projection equals insecurity’. ‘Dual citizenship is mandatory’. These and many more make up the brilliantly observed and experienced life learnings of Cochise Tarak-Saa, a Detroit gangland-raised and widely travelled author and teacher, whose impressive career includes playing top-flight basketball in the NBA league and producing a best-selling film documentary.

Cochise writes with great authority, filling the book with many anecdotes about his own varied experiences and hard lessons learned. This is a book that offers good advice in spades, and keeps on giving. Do buy the eBook and/or listen to the audible audiobook, helping both Cochise and me in the process! You can buy the book or listen to a sample here: https://goo.gl/OGgl9r.

I HAVE VOUCHERS FOR THE AUDIBLE BOOK TO GIVE AWAY TO UK READERS, OFFERING YOU THE CHANCE TO DOWNLOAD THE BOOK FOR FREE. JUST LET ME KNOW IF YOU’D LIKE ONE! (NB: DOWNLOADS HELP COCHISE AND I GAIN VISIBILITY, SO PLEASE DO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS OFFER!).

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SINBAD THE ADVENTURER

While their authenticity as true tales from the Orient is disputed, the seven tales that tell of the adventures of Sinbad the Sailor are among the best-known and best-loved of the stories from the Arabian Nights.

In the tales, the tireless traveler recalls his exotic journeys and amazing encounters, usually involving several cliff-edge experiences and face-to-face encounters with death. Always, by some miracle, the sailor survives to fight another day – or rather to make another voyage, despite acquiring riches that would give him a safe and happy life in Baghdad.

A safe but dull existence isn’t for Sinbad – he needs to be constantly seeking adventure, exploring new lands that he’s heard about, putting to sea, where he feels truly at home. It takes little persuasion for him to make tracks for the port of Basra each time he comes home to Baghdad, looking for a ship that might carry him to new shores.

If the stories of his voyages that he tells are true, then he cannot have been disappointed, despite the many dangers that he faces. Each time he sets off, he must know that he is taking a risk, endangering his life and possibly never seeing his luxurious home and store of gold again.

This is of course the nature of an adventurer – a person who wants to boldly go, to be a pioneer, to live life on the edge. Such people are common in our time. Sir Richard Branson might be one example – a high flyer in many senses, and not wanting for money, but a free spirit and daring adventurer none-the-less. I imagine that he couldn’t dream of passing over the opportunity to be on board the first passenger trip made by his Virgin Galactic spaceship, and this will follow on from daredevil balloon odysseys and trans-Atlantic power boat racing, to name a few.

Exploration and adventure seem to be hard-wired into the human psyche. Many of us are curious beings, always wanting to discover new things, and to go to new places. Certainly, there are those who prefer to stay at home to feather a nest and make ready a home for those who choose to venture far away, but in an age when many of us in the Western world can fly across the globe, there’s no shortage of would-be Sinbads.

The experiences gained through exploring are often invaluable. Explorers may learn much themselves, but they bring back knowledge and ideas to inspire those who stay at home too. We need intrepid adventurers, even if we don’t feel inclined to join their number ourselves.

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GOING WHERE YOU’VE NEVER BEEN

One of the things that I love when creating a new story is researching the biographies and day-to-day experiences of the types of characters that I want to write about. Sometimes, this involves imagining circumstances and places that I’ve never encountered myself – including periods in history that might be a little before my time.

This was the case with the story that I wrote to accompany one of the tales of the adventures of Sinbad the Sailor. Given that Baghdad features so strongly in many of the tales of The Nights – it was descriptions of the colorful souks and magic that played out in this very city that excited my interest in some of the tales as a child – I was keen to set one of my stories in this very city.

I’ve never been to Baghdad, nor does it seem likely that it will be safe for a budget conscious, independent traveler like myself to do so, at least in the foreseeable future. Even if I do eventually have the chance to set foot in the Iraqi capital, I’m sure that many of the wonderful sights that would have greeted the visitor 50 years ago will no longer be around.

This is a real shame. I would love to have seen Baghdad in its heyday, at least as it was around the middle of the last century. The personal recollections that I came across when I was researching my story painted a picture of a magical place, which attracted travelers from all corners of the globe.

But any regret that I have about not being able to experience this once great city must be one million or more times less than the sorrow those who live in Baghdad must feel. The city literally seems to have gone backwards through each of the past few decades. It’s well known that many Baghdaders say that life during Saddam Hussein’s era of power was far better than that of the experience now.

My story spans life during the time of Saddam and beyond – yet another experience that is very far from my own. Fortunately, some very evocative descriptions of the lives of those who did witness that period are available. Feeling into these is difficult, but I could imagine being transported into the situations that some of the document is described, albeit as an observer.

Reading, storytelling, and writing can all have this effect – time travel, and journeying to foreign lands, can be important aspects of a story’s offering. This is why I sometimes like to work with a subject that is alien to my own experience. Research forces me to discover, reflect upon, and to learn. These are three quests that I hope I never lose a hunger for.

Download my new book, ‘Arabian Nights & Arabian Nights’, for FREE on Kindle from Amazon this week only (17-21th October). Click on your country site to download the Kindle version or look inside/purchase the paperback edition:

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LOST MEANING?

I was chatting to a German friend of mine the other day about the problem of translating one piece of writing into another language (the problem being whether what gets translated authentically maintains the spirit of what is meant, not the mechanics of translating itself).

We concluded that some things probably translate more smoothly than others, and that it’s often better to have a translation of a good work, rather than none at all.

The matter got put into focus for me when another German lady asked me if she might translate a poem that had come to me during a retreat that we attended together. She wanted to post a translation alongside the original English in a newsletter that she compiles, and I thought that this was quite a good solution. What’s more, she worked very carefully with the words she chose – and read them back to me – to maintain the sound of the poem as much as possible.

In working with a number of English translations of the AN, it became quickly obvious to me that there were quite a few differences in style and the words chosen by the different translators. Some had embellished aspects of a tale, or more than likely, taken a few poetical liberties with the original, although (I think) without probably losing much of the meaning from the original story.

I’ve no way of knowing whether their translations are good or bad – I can’t speak Arabic, the original language for most of the The Nights, and I don’t have access to an expert on the subject. But I don’t think this matters.

My retellings of some of the original tales have taken a few diversions even from the famous English translations of Sir Richard Burton and others. I’ve occasionally left out a few details – such as the extensive religious symbolism in the story of The City of Brass – and embellished a few others.

But I’ve tried to ‘feel’ what the story wants to say, and in the process, tried to tease out at least some of the key messages, morals, or learnings that it seems the original intended to put across.

Every retelling of any story is a new creation of sorts, even if only in a limited way. Storytellers know this – and no one story will be told in quite the same way by two different storytellers.

Since the tales of The Nights were meant to be told as stories, rather than read, it seems to me all the more acceptable to let them have a new voice. We are sadly losing much of the magic that the oral tradition of storytelling can offer, but happily the wonder and color of the old tales that have been told in marketplaces and around camp fires for many years is still there for anyone who looks for it.

Download my new book, ‘Arabian Nights & Arabian Nights’, for FREE on Kindle from Amazon this week only (17-21th October). Click on your country site to download the Kindle version or look inside/purchase the paperback edition:

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WHO FRAMED SINBAD THE SAILOR?

The seven tales that describe the adventures of Sinbad the Sailor, along with the woes of is house-guest Sinbad the Porter, are among the best known and best loved of the stories from the Arabian Nights.

In fact, it’s widely thought that these tales are a relatively modern creation, rather than being found in what might be called an original canon of stories from the Orient. But perhaps we can let that possibility pass, for now.

I’ve felt myself drawn to the Sinbad stories time and again. One reason for this, apart from the fantastic voyages and adventures that they describe, is that something new arises from the stories each time they are read.

They are brilliantly constructed and inspired, and build together to offer a hidden message to Shahrya, the evil sultan in the frame story of The Nights, who forces Scheherazade to tell him a story, night after night. This isn’t unlike the nightly recalling of his voyages that Sinbad the Sailor offers to his porter friend. Perhaps Shahrya might ultimately see that, like the sailor, he cannot really find satisfaction through the current life that he leads.

There is something of a turning point in the fortunes of the two Sinbads in the fourth tale, which I pick up on in the book. Here, we start to see the Sailor admitting to some guilty actions (killing many people to save his own life), opening up the possibility that his storytelling is really a way for exorcising his guilt.

The Porter, meanwhile, is well satisfied at the end of the fourth tale, and his satisfaction seems to grow as he continues his visits to the rich adventurer.

We might also begin to wonder whether the Sailor is really a wild fantasist, not able to see the truth even for himself. The Porter, by contrast, bewails his lot, not quickly noticing that fortune is smiling on him as he continues to be invited to dine with his wealthy namesake.

Then there’s the suggestion that both Sinbads are really one and the same person – shadow selves, reflecting something of the good and the bad in the other, and ultimately being dependent on one another. The experience of one gets projected onto the other, and so both are able to be nurtured by and grow at the expense of the other.

I’m sure that many more aspects of this very clever series of stories will continue to reveal itself when they are read again and again. Doubtless the seven voyages will keep scholars arguing for many moons to come, and for the rest of us, will continue to charm with their colorful descriptions and magnificent characters. Long live the two Sinbads!

Download my new book, ‘Arabian Nights & Arabian Nights’, for FREE on Kindle from Amazon this week only (17-21th October). Click on your country site to download the Kindle version or look inside/purchase the paperback edition:

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A NEW KIND OF MAP

As someone who first became fascinated by the London Underground map as a child (I could name virtually all stations on it by about the age of 10), I’ve long believed that the wonderful schematic, based on Harry Beck’s original design, stands among the most useful maps I know.

Now, Transport for London have added a new twist–and I, along with the author of the article featuring it that caught my eye (http://gizmodo.com/new-london-tube-maps-shows-how-long-it-t…)–think that it’s yet another useful innovation.

The new map shows the average walking times between stations, helping people who only want to make a short-hop to decide whether or not they’d rather stretch their legs. I’m not sure how the average times are worked out (or for other travel planning offerings, for that matter), but the relative distance between stations is made clear by taking this approach.

The map has continued to adapt as new lines have been added, and as stations have come and gone. Yet it still maintains its original striking simplicity and iconic appeal.

The new east-west Elizabeth Line will have to be worked in when that starts service in a couple of years time, and extensions to both the northern and bakerloo lines are also on the cards. But for the expert designers at TfL, I’m sure they’ll relish the challenge of adding a few tweaks to the familiar criss-crossing of bright coloured lines and elegantly apportioned fonts (in fact, I think they now have software to help them).

THE TWO SINBADS

The adventures of Sinbad the Sailor occupy most of the column inches in the seven tales that feature him in the canon of the Arabian Nights. His voyages, discoveries in strange lands, and many near-death experiences are described in wonderful detail, enchanting anyone who hears them. In many ways, these tales embody much of what is enthralling in The Nights – they are filled with color, intrigue, magic, and surprise, to mention just a few of their many virtues.

However, there’s another Sinbad who features in each of these tales – Sinbad the Porter. This poor street-dweller doesn’t have a shekel to his name–at least before he meets Sinbad the Sailor he doesn’t–and spends much of his time bewailing the injustice of his lot. How can it be, he ponders, that some people such as the sailor can have so much, while so many lack even a daily meal or clothes to protect their bodies?

This is a question that we may well ask today, but that’s a topic for another time. What interests me is how the two Sinbads interact. Their first encounter is cordial, but the porter wonders what the motive of the sailor is. The poor man is invited each night to join the sailor in his house, to enjoy a lavish meal, and be entertained with another of the great adventurer’s stories. He even is offered a monetary gift each time the meal ends, leaving him in no doubt that his host is genuine in his wish to show hospitality.

As the seven tales unfold, it becomes clear that the sailor uses his storytelling as a way of expunging his guilt for some of the bad things he has done during his voyages (like killing). With the ever-more fantastical adventures that he describes testing credulity, we might begin to wonder whether he doesn’t occasionally embellish what really happened. He seems desperate to impress, and possibly lost in something of a fantasy himself.

The porter, meanwhile, becomes more comfortable in himself, increasingly feeling satisfied when he leaves the sailor’s house each evening. The two begin to act out a dance, indulging each other’s company, and possibly even becoming slightly dependent on each other. One projects aspects of himself onto the other; even if they don’t see it, there’s a person they recognize in the character of the other.

Some commentators on The Nights suggest that the two Sinbads are really meant to represent one person. Both may have faults, seen in their shadow selves. It’s by coming together and seeing how they can complement and teach other that both men are able to move on from their current states of mind.

We all have shadow selves, the part of us that is unseen and gets projected onto others. Often it’s those closest to us who are best able to reflect back something of this hidden character. That’s one reason why we are attracted to some people – they are perfect partners for helping us grow. I think that there’s something of the porter and the sailor in all us.

Download my new book, ‘Arabian Nights & Arabian Nights’, for FREE on Kindle from Amazon this week only (17-21th October). Click on your country site to download the Kindle version or look inside/purchase the paperback edition:

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WHY ONE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS?

Since there’s no agreed canon of tales making up the Arabian Nights, we can never say how many stories should actually be counted as being a part of this famous collection.

At various times, the series has been described under different names ¬– Arabian Nights Entertainments being as well known during the nineteenth centuries as the One Thousand and One Nights, and the first mention of this number can probably be attributed to Antoine Galland, the French translator whose Les mille et une nuits popularized many of the stories in Europe.

One thousand is a big number – perhaps not quite as big as it might have sounded a century or two ago, given that everything has experienced inflation – but representing “a lot” nonetheless. To add one to this suggests that even more than a very big number was needed for Scheherazade, the narrator of The Nights, to finish her storytelling.

The fact that a work contained so many stories must have made good marketing sense when printed volumes started to be sold, promising near-endless value and entertainment.

But the great number of stories might also be meant to remind us that Scheherazade had to work hard before she was eventually able to break the heart of the evil sultan who is entertained by her tellings. Many lessons needed to be imparted, some repeatedly, albeit through different tales. That he continued to be sufficiently intrigued to invite her back night after night to relate more, suggests that the sultan was undergoing something of an awakening, albeit a very slow one.

That so many stories have come to us is truly a wonder. To have a hundred, or even ten, of such tales would be a great gift from history. But one thousand and one – well, that’s to have all Christmases coming at once! That is if there really are one thousand and one stories among those belonging to The Nights.

Somehow, I suspect that the number is a little less than that. But we have more than enough to be entertained, enthralled, and educated by for a lifetime or more.

Download my new book, ‘Arabian Nights & Arabian Nights’, for FREE on Kindle from Amazon this week only (17-21th October). Click on your country site to download the Kindle version or look inside/purchase the paperback edition:

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GOING WHERE YOU’VE NEVER BEEN / KINDLE OFFER

FREE KINDLE OFFER – CHECK OUT YOUR LOCAL AMAZON STORE TODAY TO DOWNLOAD A COPY OF MY NEW BOOK, ‘ARABIAN NIGHTS & ARABIAN NIGHTS’ FOR FREE!

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And in a reflection today on the book, I suggest that there can sometimes be joys to be had when writing about a subject or a place that is different to an author’s own experience…

One of the things that I love when creating a new story is researching the biographies and day-to-day experiences of the types of characters that I want to write about. Sometimes, this involves imagining circumstances and places that I’ve never encountered myself – including periods in history that might be a little before my time.

This was the case with the story that I wrote to accompany one of the tales of the adventures of Sinbad the Sailor. Given that Baghdad features so strongly in many of the tales of The Nights – it was descriptions of the colorful souks and magic that played out in this very city that excited my interest in some of the tales as a child – I was keen to set one of my stories in this very city.

I’ve never been to Baghdad, nor does it seem likely that it will be safe for a budget conscious, independent traveler like myself to do so, at least in the foreseeable future. Even if I do eventually have the chance to set foot in the Iraqi capital, I’m sure that many of the wonderful sights that would have greeted the visitor 50 years ago will no longer be around.

This is a real shame. I would love to have seen Baghdad in its heyday, at least as it was around the middle of the last century. The personal recollections that I came across when I was researching my story painted a picture of a magical place, which attracted travelers from all corners of the globe.

But any regret that I have about not being able to experience this once great city must be one million or more times less than the sorrow those who live in Baghdad must feel. The city literally seems to have gone backwards through each of the past few decades. It’s well known that many Baghdaders say that life during Saddam Hussein’s era of power was far better than that of the experience now.

My story spans life during the time of Saddam and beyond – yet another experience that is very far from my own. Fortunately, some very evocative descriptions of the lives of those who did witness that period are available. Feeling into these is difficult, but I could imagine being transported into the situations that some of the document is described, albeit as an observer.

Reading, storytelling, and writing can all have this effect – time travel, and journeying to foreign lands, can be important aspects of a story’s offering. This is why I sometimes like to work with a subject that is alien to my own experience. Research forces me to discover, reflect upon, and to learn. These are three quests that I hope I never lose a hunger for.

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FIRST AMONG TOO FEW EQUALS

Scheherazade, the narrator of the tales of the One Thousand and One Nights, is a real enigma of a character. Many of those who’ve studied The Nights present her as an exemplary feminist, managing as she does to be the only person who can stop the evil tyrant Shahrya from sacrificing countless helpless women in retribution for the loss of his wife.

Others picture her more as a classical femme fatale, who uses cunning and intrigue to eventually woo the wicked ruler, and bring him to a point where he’s willing to grant her wishes.

But this famous storyteller puts her own life at risk, and that of her father’s too. She is intelligent, witty, and a great survivor. Through patience, guarded respect for Shahrya, and a willingness to sacrifice herself for the good of others, she proves that she is a worthy survivor.

For me, Scheherazade is more than a survivor and a skilled politician. She displays almost godlike characteristics – using what she’s learned wisely, and biding her time until the moment is right to plead with the sultan that her own life might be spared. She is in many ways the supreme example of a worthy human being – one who waits, observes, and serves others, but is ready to (quite literally) stick her neck out for a cause that she passionately believes in.

It strikes me that there are very few Scheherazade’s in the public eye today. Strong leaders of her kind – whatever their gender – don’t easily come to mind. Maybe the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, might be among their number – but I know too little about how she operates on the German home scene to really feel able to offer a view.

Many of the tales that I’ve encountered in The Nights bang the drum for fair and effective leadership. Many of the heroines and heroes display similar qualities to Scheherazade. Perhaps their examples were meant to be seen by the various rulers of their time, in the different lands where the stories were told. Learning how to be a “good” King or Queen – one who has the right metal to preside over a kingdom – is also a common theme in many popular fairy stories.

Scheherazade may not have been the first of her kind, and we must hope that she won’t be the last. But she’s rightly earned her place as a great example to remember and to follow.

Download my new book, ‘Arabian Nights & Arabian Nights’, for FREE on Kindle from Amazon this week only (17-21th October). Click on your country site to download the Kindle version or look inside/purchase the paperback edition:

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