Wednesday, July 31, 2019

A Road Map of Bombay

Sujata Massey

Lately, my work in progress has been dragging its feet. Maybe it's because I'm writing from my home in Baltimore, while I long to revitalize myself with a walk through Fort, the historic Bombay neighborhood I write about in the Perveen Mistry novels. Even though I've been there in person, I feel like I need to be led along the streets again.

If I could step into an old map, it would fix everything, wouldn't it?

Maps inside a book are like sugar in dessert. You don't need it, but it's so much nicer when it's there.

Philip Schwartzberg's map created for Widows 

My relationship with maps did not start out well. I used to be terrified of when my parents were driving, and we got lost. The driving parent would call out for someone (the spouse or eldest child in the car--yours truly) to study a large, cumbersome road map and discern the correct way back. It seemed I  could never read the map fast enough nor could I orient myself in a direction other than the printed paper. Because of the way my brain processes direction, I was not a natural fit with maps--though I need them, because I have a terrible instinct for misdirection.

I began feeling less overwhelmed by maps when I lived in Japan. This was the era when I was a foreigner in Japan doing groundwork for a first novel. I wanted to write a mystery that felt real; and for me, that meant naming actual streets and train stations. The little line maps on the back of every shop or restaurant's business card were my salvation in cities like Tokyo and Yokohama where many streets didn't have names, just numbered buildings.

After publication of my first book, The Salaryman's Wife, I learned how attentive readers are to details of place. If I located a known building on the wrong corner, I would hear about it. But just as quickly as people catch errors, they also delight in hearing the names for almost-forgotten places.

In India, many city and street names have changed due to political progress--and here I am, sounding like an old person, talking about "Bombay" instead of Mumbai and "Bruce Street" instead of Homi Modi Street. I search out the oldest-looking places and commit them to my camera, and my heart.

On the way to Crawford Market

Apollo Bunder, with the Taj Hotel

After independence in 1947, Indians refused to continue speaking of streets named for men who were the enforcers of its colonial past. Many city and street names on maps officially changed from English government officials to Indian heroes, although verbally, the English names are often still used in spoken directions by locals. Ironically, there is at least one area renamed after a British person: Horniman Circle. Benjamin Horniman was a progressive British journalist who was thrown out of the country in the early 1900s for writing supportively of Mahatma Gandhi. The handsome driving circle in South Mumbai framed by offices and shops had previously been named in honor of the 13th Lord Elphinstone, one of Bombay's governors. If I hadn't learned who Mr. Horniman was, I might have mistakenly misnamed the circle in my novel. Interestingly, there still is an Elphinstone College in Bombay (named after the second Lord Elphinstone) as well as Wilson College, named for the Scottish Presbyterian missionary educator who founded it.

 Horniman Circle (once Elphinstone Circle)

For quite a few years, I have been gathering such arcane details from old guidebooks and maps. Some of my key sources are huge, vintage reference books like the Imperial Gazetteers of British India, and  old city guidebooks, especially if they have maps. The best place in the United States I know to find such wonders is the Ames Library within the University of Minnesota.

Rare antique travel guides to Bombay at Ames Library

The newly translated vintage guide

Karl S. Baedeker was the famous publisher of 19th and early 20th century travel guides that originated in Germany, a country with people still passionate about travel. The Baedeker guides were  meant to help Westerners see marvelous places beyond their imaginations, all the while in comfort and security. Baedeker guides were often translated into English. However, the 1914 Baedeker's only guide to India was published in 1914, and due to hostilities between Germany and Britain, never found an English language publisher. Not until 1985 was the guide translated into English by Michael Wild.  I was grateful to be able to buy the modern translation and picked up from it some interesting details about the city from an early 20th century German viewpoint.

Because old maps are very helpful, I was tempted when I discovered a 1967 Bombay folding map being auctioned on eBay by a seller in England with a starting price of 49 pounds. Once airmail delivery was included, the map would run me about $77 US dollars.

I've bought moisturizers that cost more, but I hesitated. My worry was this mysterious map on eBay would be focused exclusively on tourism venues. I knew it also would have plenty of Indian street names, so I would continue to need to cross-reference street names.

The seller had posted some photos of the map booklet that looked promising, so I pressed the button to bid. It was the last day of the auction, and it turned out I was the only person on earth interested in a Tej Brothers 1967 Bombay Street Map.

Two weeks later, a neat little package in a sturdy, waterproof envelope arrived from England. The map booklet had traveled safely between two pieces of cardboard inside the package. It was just the right size to put inside a handbag, yet it was utterly fresh, as if it had never been opened up and read. To say this map is in perfect condition is an understatement. Some of the booklet pages unfold into very large, easy to read maps which are rich in color and landmarks.

The booklet also has listings of popular name of restaurants and hotels, movie houses and shops. I can't wait to show it to my stepfather, who was a young man-about-town during the map's prime.

In the week that I've been studying it, the map's provenance has intrigued me. Because there is absolutely no smell of mold or deterioration from moisture, I believe the map probably left India many years ago and was kept in a cool, dry location. I wonder: was the map's first owner someone who meant to use it while exploring Bombay, but instead relied on the directions of a human companion? Or did the planned trip to Bombay get cancelled? Could it be the map never had a real owner, but just resided for decades in a travel agent's file cabinet?

I've come to realize that a map can offer much more than geographic placement or inspiration for story; it can be a mystery unto itself.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia

Annamaria on Monday

Here's a Jeopardy moment you will never see on the screen:

Contestant: Historic Firsts for $500

(BING sounding in the background)

Alex Trebek, reading: This Italian PhD was the first woman ever to earn a university degree.


 If this fact were not entirely too obscure to be used in such a context, the correct question would be:  Who was Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia?

Today, I will fill in this serious gap in our collective knowledge.

In human history, the very first university degree awarded to a woman was a doctorate in Philosophy to Elena Cornaro Piscopia.  She earned it at  the University of Padua on the 25th of June 1678 .  She was 32 years old at the time.  Her journey to that moment is fascinating.

Her father was Gianbattista Cornaro-Piscopia, a nobleman who eventually became second only to the Doge in Venice's heady power structure.  Her mother was Cornaro's peasant mistress, Zanetta Boni.  A first child, illegitimate at birth, Elena could not be recognized as a member of the nobility - a fact that galled her father.

By 1664, however, the ambitious Gianbattista has risen so high in Venetian society that he was able to throw his weight around.  He threw it in favor of his monumentally talented and brilliant child: Elena.

The family's palazzo

Plaque commemorating Elena's birth

  When a priest who was a friend of the family began her classical education, Little Elena's talents showed up early and continued to develop.  By age seven she had mastered classical Greek and Latin as well as French and Spanish.  Following which she learned Hebrew and Arabic, earning the designation Oraculum Septilingue, Oracle of Seven Languages.  She also studied mathematics, philosophy, and theology, at the same time as she was  becoming expert at the harpsichord, clavichord, the violin, and the harp.  She wrote music, too.  By her late teens, she had taken up physics, astronomy and linguistics.

By age 23, she was translating scholarly texts from Spanish into Italian.  And by 24, she was president of the Venetian society Accademia dei Pacifici.  Considering her astonishing accomplishments, her tutors, at the insistence of her father, petitioned the University of Padua to award her a PhD in Theology.  The Bishop of Padua, Cardinal Gregorio Barbarigo refused on the grounds that she was a woman.  But by now she was famous for her scholarly accomplishments, and her father wasn't taking no for an answer.  The university relented and offered her a PhD in Philosophy instead.  So many people wanted to observe her performance in her oral exams that they had to hold them at the Padua Cathedral, instead of in a university lecture hall.

Etching of her oral examination

For an hour, Lady Elena discoursed on randomly chosen passages from Aristotle's Posterior Analytics and Physics.  In Latin!  The awe-struck university examiners not only awarded her the degree, but a laurel wreath, a scholar's ring , and an ermine cape to wear on academic occasions.

Statue of Elena at the University of Padua

She became a lecturer in mathematics at the University of Padua - as had been Galileo before her.

Lady Elena lived only another six years, much of the time  as a lay woman in a convent devoting herself to charitable works.

She died on 26th of July 1684, three hundred and thirty-five years ago just this past Friday.

Memorial services were held for her in Venice, in Padua, in Siena, and in Rome.

Her gifts and achievements, however, still go largely unknown outside Italy.

Francesco Ludovico Maschietto, a monk-scholar, wrote a brilliantly researched biography of her, published in Italian in 1978.  It took until 2007 for it to be published in English translation. 

Satined glass window of Elena Piscopia at Vassar College

Sunday, July 28, 2019

A Room Of One’s Own Is Not The Problem: A Writer’s Needs

Where do you work?
Picture: expresswriters @
Virginia Woolf famously said that what a woman writer needed to work was “a room of one’s own” and “£500 a year”. Of course, when she said that in 1928, women were not welcome in many of the institutions that were open to male writers, and £500 / $650 a year was a pretty hefty income. (It works out at around £30,000 / $37,500 in today’s money.)

Sadly, ninety years later many writers don’t earn much more than £500 a year. And that’s at the non-adjusted rate. Only a small fraction—a mere 5%—make in excess of £30k and even then they perhaps not do so with any great regularity.

Last month, the Royal Society of Literature published its own findings from a 2018 survey funded by the Author Licensing and Collecting Society into UK authors’ earnings. The report, called A Room of My Own, makes fascinating if sobering reading.

The RSL points out that although more than 184,000 books are published in the UK each year, and that sales of books and journals rose to £5.7 billion / $7.1 billion—not to mention all the other media which books give rise to—the majority of authors earn less than £10,000 / $12,400 a year. Considering the hours involved, that’s not even minimum wage.

But, for many of us, this is not simply a job. It’s an urge, an obsession, a compunction, and a catharsis. We write because not writing would be infinitely worse.

Anything else is a bonus.

The RSL findings identified the support a writer needs, in order of importance, as having a place to write, the support of their peers, emotional, and finally financial support.

Emotional support for foxcubs 
But when it came to the main challenges a writer faces at the start of their career, the lack of present or future income was the main stumbling block, followed by a lack of time, lack of confidence in their abilities, or lack of information about any financial aid—grants, bursaries, etc—available to them were noted.

I remind myself on a regular basis just how lucky I am to have made my living from words since the 1980s. To begin with, I wrote non-fiction as a full-time freelance photo-journalist. This introduced me to the concept of no-work-no-eat (always good motivation) although it also made starting work on the first of my Charlie Fox novels something of a busman’s holiday.

People have apparently been badly mauled by thinking pandas are as cuddly
as they look and climbing into enclosures to give them a hug.
I carved out the time to write the early books by setting my alarm earlier in the morning, first by an hour, then two. It’s amazing how much you can get done when you’re forced to sit quietly for fear of waking the rest of the house and tap away at your keyboard.

I date myself horribly by admitting this was pre-Internet, so there was little else to distract me apart from the view from the window in summer, or the gradual breaking of dawn in winter…

Where I wrote was a moveable feast. Yes, I had a desk next to a radiator (for winter writing) and a window (for summer writing). But I also wrote in the car while travelling, or scribbled notes if it wasn’t feasible to get out a laptop. I still carry a notebook and pencil everywhere I go, just in case I find I have a few minutes to spare or inspiration strikes.

I’ve written on trains, planes, ferries, yachts, in cafés, garage waiting rooms, propped on the sofa with a cat on my legs, in bed, in the garden. And if it’s noisy, I put in headphones and crank the music, or I wear custom earplugs.

Possibly slightly safer to hug than a panda.
(But only possibly.)
 The moral of this story is, if you really want to write, you will find the time. If there’s a story inside you that’s bursting to get out, you will beg, steal, borrow, or simply make the time.

The biggest time-suck of all has to be that haunted fish tank in the corner of the living room. It’s just too easy to switch on the TV while you’re having dinner and to end up slumped in front of a programme you wouldn’t have set an alarm for, but you end up watching anyway. And the next thing you know, it’s time for bed.

Hugging lions is likely to end in tears, also.
Although, whatever you do, do NOT poke one in the ear.
(Especially using a stick with an 'orse's 'ead 'andle.)
But by far the biggest problem for many writers, I think, is getting emotional support and having confidence in their abilities. I worry constantly about the quality of what I write. In fact, in some ways, I get the feeling that the day I stop worrying about it will be the day I really should start to worry.

Hearing from readers has always been possible for writers, although at one time a fan had to take the trouble to write to their favourite author c/o their publisher, who would then forward the letter on. Now, it’s almost instantaneous, via email, blogs, websites, and social media.

Horses are also not known for their ability to hug,
although this one is doing its best.
Even so, getting a positive message from a reader who has absorbed the motley assortment of characters I’ve imagined, sweated over and wrestled into submission on the page, is a wondrous experience, even now. It reminds me, once again, of my good fortune.

I am reminded of this more strongly today, as the Advance Reader Copies of the new Charlie Fox book, BAD TURN, went out to my Advance Reader Team on Friday. By Saturday morning, the first of them had not only read and enjoyed the book but had posted on goodreads to say so.

The support of readers like that is what makes many of us keep scribbling well into the small hours.

So, if you’ve read a book and thought it was terrific, I urge you to let that writer know. Either by sending them an email, posting on social media, leaving a brief review, or even all three. It’s like you’re giving them a big virtual hug. And we all need those occasionally, don’t we?

These days, you can even buy a chair that will hug you...
This week’s Word of the Week is deadline, which has come to mean the date by which a task must be performed. It is thought to originate in the 1860s during the American Civil War. Then it referred to the line drawn around a prison camp, past which no prisoner could pass without risking being shot. Some of the earliest uses of deadline in this context are in prisoner-of-war diaries from 1863 although it wasn’t until the Andersonville prison camp was established by the Confederates in 1864. The camp was notorious for the harsh conditions and the Union soldiers kept there knew if they crossed the light railing twenty feet inside the fence they had crossed the ‘dead line’.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

A Confidential Mykonos Question


Into its fourteenth year of publication, Mykonos Confidential is the often imitated, but never equaled, summertime bible of the passions, pastimes, and peccadillos of a place like no other. 

This year, as in the past, its publisher Petros Bourovilis, and Managing Editor Ira Sinigalia invited me to contribute an article to the issue. It’s always a great pleasure and honor to be part of MC, and so I of course accepted.

For those of you who’d appreciate the opportunity of perusing Mykonos’ premier summer time publication from cover to cover (stopping perhaps to pause and contemplate life at pages 90-91) and potentially gaining a sense of what summering on Mykonos means these days, here’s a link to Mykonos Confidential 2019.

But for those of you who simply want to read what I had to say—in an essay titled, “A Question For the Mykonians”—here's how it appears in the magazine, and beneath that (in sympathy for all our eyes), its text:

“What did you do in the war, daddy?” is the title line from a 1960s film packed with well-known actors.  The film is a comedy, and back in those days Mykonos had not yet attained anything near its current star status, yet I see a serious meaning in that line keenly on point for what the island now faces:

Those confronting today’s threats to their way of life will surely be judged by those left to live with the results of their ancestors’ decisions.

As our world currently shapes up, I’d say the ancestor adulation market is in for a precipitous decline worldwide.  But I’m not concerned about everywhere. I’m concerned about here, on this island I call home, at this moment in time.

And that is why I wrote THE MYKONOS MOB, the tenth mystery-thriller in my Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis series.  Yes, it’s fiction, but it ranges across the island, touching upon matters not obvious to the casual visitor, but well known to Mykonians who’ve experienced the many changes to their island.  It is for them that I wrote this book.

I am not a preacher and do not write sermons.  Nor is it my place to suggest how others choose to live their lives.  Having spent thirty-five fun-filled years on Mykonos, I’d be the proverbial stone-thrower living in a glass house should I attempt any of that.  My role as a writer is simple: entertain my readers. Yes, I delve into the seamier aspects of life, but that’s what a mystery-thriller calls for.  Nor can I take responsibility for how much of what I write later ends up actually happening.  I chalk that up to a Cassandra-like curse. 

Mykonos has undergone an extraordinary metamorphosis during my time on the island, and change on a cosmic level for those who remember its pre-Jackie Kennedy Onassis visit years. Going back further, it’s hard for those not touched by the island’s World War II-induced days of starvation and depression to imagine Mykonos as impoverished as it once was.

And that’s what makes its current celebrity and off-the-charts good fortune an understandable joy for all who love the island and its people.

And in that lay the conundrum. 

How much of a good thing is too much? How much candy can you eat before getting ill? How much heavenly sunshine can you enjoy before it kills you?  You get the idea.

It seems impossible that in little more than a single generation the island achieved worldwide renown as a 24/7 summer-playground for international celebrities, the super-rich, and holidaymakers from around the globe wishing to be in on the glitz of it all, transforming long-impoverished Mykonians into among the wealthiest per capita people in Greece.

But, like everything, it came at a price.

Much of the island’s traditional agrarian and seafaring ways were sacrificed to cater to the holidaymakers.  Its dozens of breathtaking beaches now boast world-class clubs and restaurants, many designed to keep sun worshipers and partiers onsite and consuming from morning until well beyond the witching hour.

Locals who’d run traditional businesses out of buildings in town that had been in their families for generations realized they’d make far more by turning their shops into bars, or renting their spaces to national and international fashion brands. Outside of town, farmers found themselves making more from the sale of a parcel of land than they could ever hope to make in a lifetime farming that same soil.

Off-islanders, drawn to Mykonos by its seeming immunity to the rest of Greece’s dire financial circumstances, have invested heavily in catering to the whims, wants, and fantasies of holiday-makers willing to pay whatever it takes to be part of the island’s anything goes tourist season experience.

Let’s face it folks, the world realizes Mykonos is a tourist goldmine.

I won’t bother to quote statistics, prices, or champagne sales records, but they continue to greatly inspire the island’s investors, and keeping one’s investors inspired is a very good thing.  After all, they’re who’ve kept the sun brightly shining on Mykonos while so much of the rest of Greece has struggled against the darkness. 

I bet you think the next sentence is going to begin with something like, “On the other hand…”

Wrong. I’m not a naysayer, and though a true downturn in the tourist industry is always a risk, I see a different one confronting Mykonos’ future.

To wit:  How far away from their island’s cultural and societal roots are Mykonians willing to stray to accommodate their island’s new reality?  It is a question for each Mykonian to honestly answer and act upon to the full extent of his or her own beliefs.

That’s not my passing the buck on offering an answer to the Ultimate Question; it’s stating a respectful reality. I am not properly qualified to offer an opinion on how today’s Mykonians should shape their island’s future.

After all, it is their descendants who shall judge them on how they chose to act—or not.


Friday, July 26, 2019

The Next Big Thing


A few years ago I walked into my pal's house and noticed a new painting up on the wall. I asked who did it and I heard the name of a man that I not going to mention here. I shall simply call him the Man Of Mystery.

Later, I was introduced to  the Man Of Mystery by the mutual friend and  he told me, as every body does when they  meet an author, 'Oh I have written a book.' Actually, that is not true. His pal told me and I had to half strangle Man Of Mystery to get the truth out him.  As a Glaswegian,  I can get the truth out of anybody. Very easily.

After much nagging and threatening, I finally got to read the book. Normally,  this leads to the problem of how do I tell somebody that this is badly written or nonsense or both!  But no, this book was great, and written in a style that is very proper and rather upright - almost as if it was written in the 40's or 50's which adds another  layer of tension to a very good story that is told well.

 I confess that I didn't get the perp right. So I fell out with him!

The Man Of Mystery is an artist.  And has a day job that involves the creativity of his art but not the pleasure he gets from standing in front of a blank canvas and waiting for it all to happen.  As somebody who has difficulty drawing a conclusion, I really admire  that.  I do have the ability to draw portraits, but they are all of William Shatner or Emma Thompson, they are the only two faces I can do.

As he is now under contract and sworn to secrecy ( he's not but this is a mystery writers blog site), he will remain the Man of Mystery and the book will be referred to as The Next Best Seller, as it's title really is  under wraps. The bit about him being under contract is also true....

 I thought I'd get a blog out him now, and again in a year and we will see how his answers have changed.....

Here's the Man Of Mystery


Do you have a back ground in writing?
Not really. I always enjoyed creative writing, but life got in the way, and it fell by the wayside a bit.
                                                                 trying to look like a serial killer on a cold day!

Is this the first book you have written, or the first book you have submitted?
I started writing a book years ago, but got about half way through and realised it was terrible, so I binned it. This is the first book I have written to the end!
So I asked what the bad book was about.
The terrible  book was a romantic comedy and was really, really terrible. Definitely won’t be resurrecting it. Ever. It was about a guy who after ten years married to his high school sweetheart realises he is in love with her gay older brother. Nuff said.

I thought that sounded interesting, if he then killed his wife and... consider that idea stolen Man Of Mystery.  

Books two and three are both stand alone. All three are quite different from each other in terms of story, but all are equally as dark and twisted. 

What thought inspired ‘The Next Best Seller?’
Lots of things inspired it really. I’m always intrigued by deep dark secrets, and the idea of a long passage of time passing between certain dark events, so these were the sparks that set the wheels in motion for this book.
Doesn't give much away does he?  I think woman looks out a window and recalls the last time she saw her childhood friend, the day her friend vanished,  and maybe starts to question what happened that day. Something like that...  That was the version I read but it may change.....
An original by the Man Of Mystery, called Storm. Scottish weather in the summer I think inspired this painting.

Where would you like to be next year, in an ideal world?
In an ideal world I would absolutely love to see my book adapted for the big screen.  I think it would make a great film! But in reality, I would just be really happy to know that people were reading my    book/s and enjoying it/ them. 
And the Tv adaptation? Who would star in that?
I think Russel Tovey would make a great Adam, and Carey Mulligan would be an excellent Emily. Jodie Comer would be absolutely perfect as Lily. And Mrs Abbott would have to be Kristin Scott Thomas.
Do you have book two ready, or is it still up your sleeve?
I have started book two, but it’s very early days. Watch this space. I also have the idea for book three in my head, and book four… so much going on in there!

With your background as an artist, do you have an ideal what the cover should look like?
I definitely have a few clear ideas of what I’d like to see… but if someone suggests something better that I haven’t considered I would be open to it.  
                                                          This is a pic of the house that inspired my last book.

You have a day job,   you are a professional artist and soon to be a published writer,  if the book takes off as predicted,  what will you give up first?
As predicted by who?!! J I would definitely love to give up my day job, without a doubt, and focus my time on doing the things I love like writing and painting… but realistically I know my job pays my bills, so don’t think that can happen any time soon! I could never give up my creative outlets, I enjoy painting too much to give it up. It’s what I do to relax. The dream would be to make a full time career out of writing.
Tell you about your writing routine?
A lot of my writing for this book was done late at night, after 11pm, and into the small hours. Probably like most emerging authors, I have to fit writing in around my job, and quite a busy life, so it’s basically a matter of finding a time when I’m not doing anything, and writing until I start to fall asleep.  I do find that my ideas flow much better late at night though anyway, when there are less distractions.
Have you yet been subjected to harsh editorial comment, and if so how long was your sulking time?
I’ve been quite lucky so far… but I’m in no doubt I will get some at some point. I am the king of sulkers though… comes from being the youngest of three brothers!

So that's a world exclusive for Murder Is Everywhere!
Watch this space

Caro 26 07 2019