Give an indie a go

I’m not a shameless advertiser, but I am desperate.

Simon J. Cook (independent scholar – on Tolkien among other subjects) has written a short post, Awesome Amgalant, where he calls the start of the book at least ‘up there with Mary Renault, which is to say damn near perfect.’ I hope to God he likes the rest, but then again, after that I scarcely care if he doesn’t.

While you’re there – seriously – play the music vid. It’s Altan Urag, Mongolian folk rock band, and they are beyond fantastic. In fact, visit just for this wild instrumental…

… which I sort of identify with. Maybe I’m doing Mongol folk rock. It’s what I like in Mongolian music: fusions of traditional and contemporary. I’m told it’s how I write my prose. If I can in future create sentence-equivalents to pieces of this track I’ll be, in an artistic sense, happy ever after.

Of course, I look forward to Simon J. Cook’s discussion on what makes the perfect historical novel. As a practitioner, fairly obviously, I’ve become more and more interested in the writing of history, fact and fiction. So much so, I’m going back to uni next year to study it.

Meanwhile here I am, plugging or begging: Be adventurous – try an unknown indie, who’s trying adventurous things herself. If you need a paperback, contact me. I haven’t done huge giveaways, so I’d think of individual asks as a better way to giveaway. We’re still fighting for traction at Amgalant.

Publishing is a dispiriting business for perhaps the majority of writers (trad or indie, dead or alive). I won’t be throwing in the towel, because I have things to say. But of course, one wants those things to be heard. I don’t write ‘for me’, no more than I write for an audience.

I write for Them. I write because no-one has said these things about them. In part I’m stitching together ideas and interpretations from disparate books – that tend to be less mainstream Mongol history, or else that aren’t Mongol history but shed light. In part – as happens when you begin to do this – I have come to conclusions/speculations/inferences unwritten as yet in book. My job isn’t as simple as to turn into a story what the history books have to tell me. Mongol history is ever more contested, including by me. If you’re interested in Mongols, there’s much in my novels I can pretty much guarantee you won’t have met. And that you may think dodgy, but the point is, I try to write an interpretative historical fiction.

It isn’t that I think my Tchingis is the true one. That’s why I spelt him Tchingis, instead of the common transcriptions. But he’s a possible one, I believe, and my mission is to express these possibilities. [1]

With Three – that is, with the Conquests – even more so. I have my material for Three and my main lines. I want to add factors that aren’t usually considered in work on the conquests. They’re not mine: as I say above, stitching together disparate books. Leads to leaps… there’s a thing about novelising history, about the demands of fiction, the cogency and the psychology required, that can result in another, valid way to write history. Or so I fully believe, but I don’t have my thoughts sorted, and that’s why I’m going off to study next year…

Today T. Greer was kind enough to write, when asked for non-fiction recs, ‘For what it is worth, [Bryn Hammond’s] novels on Chinggis’ early life are possibly a better introduction to the period, its characters, and the timeline than anything else in print.’ That’s much appreciated, since T. Greer isn’t a big fiction reader, but has a website, The Scholar’s Stage, on matters strategical, geopolitical, etceterical. If you look under entries tagged ‘Steppe and Sown’, you’ll find Greer’s independent work on steppe subjects (I’m happy to say, my Goodreads shelves were found useful as a kind of annotated bibliography).

  1. One HF I’ve been excited by this year is Shan Sa’s Empress, on China’s woman emperor Wu. It excited me because I felt she was doing a similar ‘possible interpretation’ (out of a hostile historiographical tradition) – that might be seen as whitewash of a shady character, but I think is more than that.

Hoaxes, satire, legends

Chinggis - Chinese caricatureIn November a satirical news site announced the discovery of Genghis Khan’s tomb: archaeologists-unearth-tomb-of-genghis-khan

Hoax exposed on this satire watch site: badsatiretoday.com/tomb-genghis-khan

What’s the purpose of satire? To imitate the real news so closely as to point out its idiocies. The Lost Tomb is among the most popular of Genghis topics, and I get asked about it. Here’s my answer: I hope and trust he was laid simply in the open, on a spiritual mountain, or under a tree – one legend has him choose his tree. In life he was anti-ostentation, and a strong traditionalist in ways — in these ways, I think. The Mongols’ neighbour people transitioned from a shamanist disposal in trees to lavish tombs, quickly with their Imperial Period, as I wrote about here: tomb-masks-from-the-kingdom-of-qatay  Whereas the Jurchen Jin, after a century in China, kept such simple burials, even for royalty, that there is speculation they did not believe in an afterlife. Interestingly, they painted tomb inhabitants as spectators at a theatre: theatre-life-and-afterlife-tomb-decor-jin-dynasty [1] Traditional or pre-imperial disposal among the Jurchen, too, seems to have been so simple as to leave no record.

Sensationalism is of course an ancient art. The most bloodthirsty legend attached to dead Genghis dates to Rashid al-Din’s Jami al-Tawarikh, where you can read (in my Wheeler Thackston translation): “Picking up his coffin, they set out upon the return, slaying every creature they encountered along the way until they reached the ordus.”

I’m not the only one who thinks this as legendary as Genghis’ most-quoted quote, also the responsibility of Rashid:

“Genghis answered: ‘You are mistaken. Man’s greatest good fortune is to chase and defeat his enemy, seize his total possessions, leave his married women weeping and wailing, ride his gelding, use the bodies of his women as a nightshirt and support, gazing upon and kissing their rosy breasts, sucking their lips which are as sweet as the berries of their breasts.” — the translation found in Paul Ratchnevsky’s biography

Alternate translation, courtesy of Yu, Dajun & Zhou:

“The real greatest pleasure of men is to repress rebels and defeat enemies, to exterminate them and grab everything they have; to see their married women crying, to ride on their steeds with smooth backs, to treat their beautiful queens and concubines as pajamas and pillows, to stare and kiss their rose-colored faces and to suck their sweet lips of nipple-colored.” [sic… or did I mean, sick?]

I found that translation in WikiQuotes, where at least the attribution is ‘disputed’.

I’ll illustrate this post, fittingly, with Chinese caricatures of Chinggis (above) and Subutai (I call him Zab for short – beneath).

#

[1]  More on Jin tombs in Linda Cooke Johnson, Women of the Conquest Dynasties. She says, ‘The meagre Jurchen interments have typically attracted little archaeological attention’ [60] – which is a pity, because we can only guess what they meant by their tomb murals of the husband and wife seated in a private box above a stage; and I’m intrigued by their afterlife beliefs or lack of.

Subedei-Chinese ink

thoughts of Three

blake_death_pale_horse__Best copy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This won’t be my horse for Three, but as you can see I have my eye out already. Here’s a William Blake rendition of ‘Death on a Pale Horse’ — after the Turner of that name we have on the cover of Two. It’s fairly perfect, at least to think about Three with. Is that a History scroll above? Is that, beneath, a black horse and a driving spirit whose name might be he of the Black Tuq… my Jamuqa drives my Temujin in these wars — psychic presence though he is. Imagined? Is Temujin mad these days? In our terms, no doubt, but what about his own? Whatever the case, he leans on Jamuqa for the work he has to do in Three. Like the face in the Blake, he’s committed but freaked out, and you notice the wild spirit’s ahead of him. He feels he has a mission in/from history, yes. History accumulates in Three (a weight on his shoulders, and a struggle for me: how to make that history digestible). There was a quote I liked very early on, from a Joachim Barckhausen, L’Empire jaune de Gengis Khan, Paris 1935:

Genghis Khan was certainly one of those men — perhaps the greatest — who made history. But he could only become it because History created him. He acknowledged this role by trying to understand it and play it, by subordinating himself to it, by serving it...

I’ve always thought there’s something in this, and Ile Ahai has been ruminating on it ever since (he owes at least one speech to Joachim Barckhausen).

This morning I thought I might need a nightmare horse, Fuseli-style, or a war horse done in horror fashion. Or else, the one-horned beast leapt to mind too. The unicorn vision they have in India has become significant in my telling — maybe he’ll belong on the cover, for the Wonder side of my draft, to-be-ditched title, Wonders and Horrors. Can I fuse both?

Meanwhile I like this Blake, to think by. Temujin an old king (hey, he’s only sixty at the end, but let’s exaggerate in picture) and believes he’s on a white horse, doesn’t he? In China white is for a funeral, white is death & ghosts, whereas on the steppe white is blessed and the holy ride white horses. Chinggis has a white tuq for his days of peace, a black tuq when at war. When he gives the reins to Jamuqa (unaged, dead at 39, in scale armour or just scales), lets the black horse loose… Jamuqa being, at this point, a figment of his mind, his attempt to be Jamuqa may end up worse than Jamuqa. “Nobody stopped me,” Jamuqa said once.

The unicorn stops him. We may yet have a unicorn.

Fabulous Five blog hop

My fellow writer and dear sister, Julie Bozza, tagged me in what’s titled the Fabulous Five Author Blog Hop. I at once thought Enid Blyton, but that’s the Famous Five, isn’t it? Lucky they didn’t call it that. Instructions: answer a set of five specific questions, then tag five other authors. Whom you might want to help get slightly more famous.

1. What am I working on?

I’ve thought of myself as a one-book woman since I undertook Amgalant, eleven or twelve years ago (I’ve lost track of my start date, which is a bummer). If there’s life after Amgalant… mostly I just hope to stay alive to finish it.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I agree with my sister, one hesitates to answer this. Here goes, though, fairly frankly. What’s to lose?

It differs too-bloody-much. I’d have to say that my major influences lie elsewhere, or at least, are among older hf rather than current. I only began to read in-fashion hf after I’d published, and it’s then I saw how differently I’d done things. Maybe my reader has to be an omni-genre person; I’ve called myself an enemy to genre in the past. I grew up more on speculative fiction (sf/f) than historical – I liked and like both, but I’m going to say, contentiously, in this quiet venue, that the impression has been gaining on me lately, that sf remains a bolder genre. There are things I feel alienated by, in the main lines of hf today. Chiefly, the split into action/adventure and romance, with (deep waters) the gender associations of these – I can’t tell you how antipathetic that is to me.

Mention Mongols and I think people expect an action/adventure style. I’m bored by action/adventure. I mean, unless it’s The Three Musketeers… I do like adventure… it’s more the action-movie style that I blank out at, on screen or page. I’ve flippantly described mine as psychology/culture instead: that’s what I search for in hf, and that expresses the focus I have when I write. I want to write Dostoyevsky meets ethnography, you know? Funny subject I chose to do it in. Except it’s not a funny choice, because when the Mongols wrote about themselves, in my beloved source the Secret History, they’re as interested in psychology as I am (along with their own ethnography, you can say). They do not have an action-movie style, but in the battles for instance, it’s the collision of human minds they tell about. Likewise. At least I can claim I am in tune with my source. Which is underutilised, even by historians who don’t treat it as art with art’s concerns (written or oral art)… in a sense my novel is about the Secret History, more than about ‘the history behind it’. There, I identify with T.H. White’s interaction with his 15th-century fiction source, Malory. I’m still on the look-out for other models, in that relationship with a source. I want models.

3. Why do I write what I do?

I do have a sense of mission. I shall not disguise it. Mainly, see last sentences above: the Secret History is underutilised. Even in the history books. I want to do it justice. Its contents tied in with… the themes of my life, so I had a quasi-religious moment when I met it. In my thirties I spent an uneasy time as a frustrated writer, with themes and motifs that had run with me since my brain awoke in the teens, but which I hadn’t found a vehicle for. The symptom of this was unfinished novels. My discovery of the story that fit them together, and ended frustration, I won’t ever forget – even if I forget the date. I’m terrible with dates.

4. How does my writing process work?

It’s had to change. I say I’m a hermit in my bio, right? I was so ahermitised while I wrote One and Two – I wasn’t on the social internet, and I’d eliminated my social life to write – that publication was unbelievably disruptive to my brain. I published in 2012, and it’s only in 2014 I’m back in harness. To prove what a disruption the grey matter went through, my writing process seems to have changed. I’ll let you know. Christ knows how authors on contracts cope with the great interruption that is publication. My big decision was whether to finish the three books before I publish (that dangerous step). Impossible to know whether I chose rightly, but – that always goes; a sentence you wrote today, if written yesterday, might have been a different fish.

I remember odd things about the old process. I remember that my brain rewired itself into a writing brain – by dint of habit, and I mean I sensed a physiological brain-adjustment. I’ve seen stuff on the teev about the brain adjusting itself to illnesses or accident, rewiring. So, when I got haywired, I got haywired.

5. Who’s next on the blog hop?

I’m going to tag these individuals, indie friends of mine, who can feel free to ignore. I don’t hop much myself.

John Caviglia

Laura Rahme

C.P. Lesley

P.J. O’Brien

and, even though I haven’t seen him about in years, but because his novel’s major league in my belief, Robert Polevoi

 

Good cop/bad cop: Chinggis/Genghis

On the very split personality of our most famous Mongol. For years past I have believed that there can’t be another historical figure with such opposite images… can there? Since I only know bits & pieces of history I haven’t claimed this to be so, but a few pages by Timothy May on ‘Mongol Image’, in his book The Mongol Conquests in World History, have kicked off this post. May’s pages display plainly his split image.

He divides them on the names: after running through “the most innocuous forms of popular entertainment, from movies to comic books,” to see the sheerly casual use of the Mongols to stand for evils and worst-case events, he concludes, “the G-Word or Genghis Khan appears to be the avatar of this image, while Chinggis Khan is the historical figure.” [102]  Let’s footnote that ‘Genghis’ can be insisted upon by publishers, on the grounds that the general public doesn’t know who Chinggis is (John Man says his did, and John Man’s book falls on the Chinggis side).

It’s not a matter of popular culture versus scholarly history – not in the least. But I’ll linger for a moment on the popular culture. The Mongols, and Genghis in particular, are at saturation-level on the internet, television, in casual talk. Last week on QI the honourable Stephen Fry gave us twaddle about Chinggis – a little barb in my thin skin, as it always is. For a Mongol researcher like me, it’s dangerous to turn on the internet. The amount of off-the-cuff, casual – I’m going to use that word a few times – use & abuse of Mongol history, and Chinggis in particular, has got to be beneath the internet’s usual standards… hasn’t it?

Timothy May, just yesterday, told me that yes, the Mongols (and Chinggis in particular) are a stand-out case. He has told me that the stigma and infamy are, indeed, unexampled. “Certainly the Vandals garnered some recognition,” but they don’t have the Mongols Motorcycle Club, rival to Hells Angels. [103]  As a teacher of world history, he ought to know, and he has told me this much in a scholarly book, and I am going to try to explain the effect on me. However weird this post turns out. You see, historians rarely look at the popular culture – as if there is a partition and they needn’t be concerned – and so, I haven’t seen this situation described in an (ahem) legitimate source. And you know what? I feel legitimated – in the emotions I have had, as a Mongol researcher. I feel like I’ve been a secret alcoholic and now I’m standing up and talking about it, because a person has given me permission. I have been given permission to feel what I felt. Therefore, you’re going to hear about it. I promise not to be too splashy-emotional, and Timothy May is in no way to blame for the content of this post. He only wrote a few pages on ‘Mongol Image’.

As I said above, it isn’t only popular culture. If it were, we’d fix it in no time, for there isn’t a partition, there’s a… zone… and I live in that zone. It isn’t as simple, either, as that old scholarship = negative towards Mongols, new scholarship = more enlightened. Rene Grousset (1939), Michael Prawdin (1935), even Henry Hoyle Howorth (1876–1888), can give you more sympathy towards Chinggis and his Mongols than you might find in a recent biography. In fact without Rene Grousset… this post is a sort of sequel to one on Grousset’s tragic Jenghiz Khan, where I talk about the inception of my novel and complain about scholarly portraits of Chinggis, so I needn’t do that here. Today I just want to describe my experience.

The bad cop Genghis input – not only when I ventured onto the internet, but in the privacy of my library of academic books – barraged me for years. I felt mentally battered and besieged, by my own books. That good cop/bad cop routine is meant to discombobulate you, right? It did me. I’m not natively thick-skinned… I tried to grow elephant hide on the Mongols’ behalf, and not be a wuss or make a fuss. I used to feel sorry for myself, in a quiet, hangdog, hunched-up way, and I had to wonder, do other researchers cop this flak? Flak’s the word for it: random, violent, senseless, everywhere. Misery wants company, and I sniffed about for others with misunderstood pet subjects… there were the Richard III Rehabilitation Society people, perhaps they suffered a bit too? But not like me. This was in the days before Jack Weatherford published. When his Genghis came out, in 2004, I reacted like a starved prisoner dragged suddenly in front of a banquet: you can’t eat it, you can’t digest it, you half-hate the sight of it. I went into a strange mental reel, because I was in an unhealthy state, head huddled in my arms against the blows of my library books. Things have climbed from there, I stride the world with confidence, I don’t cringe at the mention of Genghis…

See, Timothy May told me yesterday that the Mongols — and Chinggis in particular — are an exceptional case, that the casual, saturation-level vilifications go beyond what researchers on other subjects have to face. I had a reason for my self-pity. It feels good, I feel liberated to talk about it.

Dashi_Genghis_Khan_gallery page
Of course, his other image lives in Mongolia, largely. Very largely – have you seen the size of the statues? As May says, as has been said before, at home he’s a King Arthur equivalent, but elsewhere he’s a Hitler. These two collided with the installation of Dashi Namdakov’s sculpture at Marble Arch in London (pictured). You can see this is an inspirational, spiritual image, Genghis as “thinker” as Dashi said to the papers. Quote a councillor: “To erect a statue of Genghis Khan at Marble Arch is a bizarre decision… Who’s next? Stalin? Pol Pot? Saddam Hussein?” Here’s the story in the London Evening Standard. If that comment were unusual… but it isn’t, it’s absolutely standard. Genghis is so often bracketed with Hitler that a phrase has come into use, ‘to the right of Genghis Khan’. I can only explain the etymology of this by assimilation: Genghis & Hitler = killed a lot of people: Hitler & Genghis = extreme right-wing. The senselessness. Timothy May has an online post about that phrase: To the Left of Chinggis Khan. Hey, I used that title… I hadn’t met his when I did. Irritated minds think alike.

I wish May’s discussion of image had covered fiction. He talks film, from John Wayne to Sergei Bodrov’s Mongol. That latter was a healing event for me: Genghis in the cinemas, and the most sympathetic fictional portrait in existence… outside of Mongolia. I have seen three or four Mongolian-made historical films on/with Chinggis, and of course they have far more of King Arthur than of Hitler. Hitler doesn’t enter. It helps to understand – as Timothy May iterates – that Mongolians remember him for his internal activities, not so much his external wars. It’s like the Secret History, where the off-steppe conquests are the least important thing he did. I’d kill (oops) to have Mongolian fiction on Chinggis translated and widely disseminated. Novels are better than movies. I believe it’s fair to say that our novel-reading public expects and wants bad-Genghis, and that’s almost always what they get. Historical fiction is allowed to fictionalise. It isn’t written to salvage his reputation. It does affect the view of him in the streets. Example: in nine out of ten Genghis novels (I have a little collection) he rejects or is estranged from his son Jochi because of Jochi’s bastardy. For the sake of a story, although we have Jochi’s own word for it that Chinggis accepted him as a son. When we rob him of documented good deeds, he hasn’t got a hope. I cheered when Bodrov’s Mongol has him embrace two bastard kids (he adopted several enemy children — they have an excuse to make it two). A Japanese novel, The Blue Wolf, hangs its theme and story on his rejection of the bastard, and has him psychotic at the age of eight. A French Blue Wolf tells the story this way: “But soon, his hunger for power becomes increasingly violent and leads him to experience overwhelming paranoia and a growing mistrust of old friends and allies…” (perilously, I quote the blurb – never believe a blurb, but I have the book for back-up). As I say in my Grousset post, see above, what I admire Temujin for is exactly that this didn’t happen. However, the negative image in fiction is changing too: Chinggis isn’t bad cop in Tom Shanley’s, while Elizabeth Bear has historical fantasy where Mongols are simply human beings.

I’m going to wind up this post, that has been a catharsis for me. Thanks for listening.

Mongol women: a miscellany, part 1

Wenji - whole
A miscellany on Mongol women. My topic in part one is the state of our ignorance about them. It was Socrates who said – more or less – your first step towards knowledge is to understand that you know nothing, and for the study of steppe women, I think he’s right. The false sense of knowledge is the danger; it means we’ve used a template familiar to us and assumed a similarity. So to start with, I want to talk about how much we don’t know.

An example is the difficulty I have in illustrating this post. I want primary source and it’s hard to get. For reconstructions, go to Zaya’s glorious gallery of Mongol queens and ladies. But where can I find images of steppe women from the time, and if I can’t, how can I know what they look like?

When Linda Cooke Johnson set out to study Jurchen women, she had a single rich image. In her book Women of the Conquest Dynasties she writes: “Jurchen tribal culture is best represented in the painting Wenji gui Han… Apart from the Wenji painting, most extant works of art reveal very little that is specific.” [57, 54]  Above and beneath is the painting; I’ll just have LCJ point you to the women and leave you to look at them: “Six women are shown in the painting: Wenji herself at the centre of the composition, two servants running beside her horse, a woman on the lead mare holding a flag, and two women among the group on horseback.” These last are centre-back in “round fur hats”. [57-8]
Wenji herself

This is a painting on an ancient historical subject. Here’s how the Met Museum captions a Song dynasty painting of the same story:

Represented here are scenes from the life of Lady Wenji, who was abducted by a horde of marauding barbarians about A.D. 195 and spent twelve years among the Xiongnu, a Mongol tribe, as wife of their chieftain. She bore him two children before she was finally ransomed and returned to China. The Southern Song emperor Gaozong (r. 1127–62) probably ordered the story illustrated as a reminder of the capture of his kinfolk by the Jurched Jin. In this scroll, the costumes of the nomad invaders are those of the Khitan people, who established the Liao dynasty (907–1125) in northeastern China. To the early Southern Song viewer, Eighteen Songs, which presents a historical drama in contemporary details, did not represent a mere historical romance but a true, pervasive national trauma. — at MetMuseum.org

It’s interesting, then, how the Jurchen Jin portray this story (Jurchen are the tribal people who established the Jin dynasty when they conquered north China from the Song). The Jin painter dresses these third-century steppe people in Jurchen costume. Linda Cooke Johnson on this: “To the Jin court of the early thirteenth century, the civilized south was Jin China and the sheng (wild) Jurchen have become stand-ins for the ‘barbarians’ who abducted Wenji.” [59-60]  They view the story in the costume of their own tribal past: “To members of the sophisticated Jin court, these figures would have seemed bizarre, an aberration from the past.” [57]  A recent past – within the century.

As an aside, the ‘horde of marauding barbarians’ only has a name in Chinese transcription: Xiongnu. It’s not their name for themselves, which cannot be certainly recovered from its Chinese disguise. When people call them by the perhaps simplified name of Huns, it’s to acknowledge that Xiongnu is not their original name. If you like you can just call them a horde of marauding barbarians. See the entry on them at Iranica Online, with discussion of the Xiongnu/Hun name.

LCJ has this note on the art she consults: “Because of questions of authenticity and interpretation, I am not making use of paintings depicting pastoralist life that are attributed to Song or later artists… I have previously identified the Kitan tribesmen depicted in [Eighteen Songs of a Nomad Flute – the Song painting of Wenji in the Met Museum, above] as ‘generic versions of barbarians’ because they are all dressed alike…” [190]  Chinese illustration of steppe life can often be classed as exotica. So the only authentic painting she has is from Jin, who at least depict their own old dress-style with antiquarian accuracy.

And as for me – who’d like to give you Mongol women on the steppe, as they lived before the Mongols conquered China – I have nothing for you. To quote LCJ, for the last time, “Liao and Jin women may not have been as unusual as the Liaoshi  [the Chinese history of the dynasty] claims. Liao, Mongol and Jin women alike drew their strength from steppe traditions. To make a firmer case, however, we need to know more about women in steppe society beyond the frontiers of China.” [139]  And we don’t. It’s important to know we don’t.

To that end I’ll also quote a statement by Bruno De Nicola, whose research has specialised in Mongol women. From the abstract of a seminar paper:

This paper is a section of a bigger project that seeks to analyse the status of Mongol women throughout the Mongol Empire. The main objective is to ‘incorporate’ the history of these women into the general history of the Mongols by looking at the role played by them in different aspects of medieval Mongol society… Mongol women should not be taken as anecdotic agents or placed at the margins of history; rather they are a constitutive element of pre and post Chinggiskhanid Mongolia. Understanding the role played by these women will allow a more comprehensive approach to the social history of the medieval Mongols and their interactions with the societies that later came under their domain. – this abstract on academic.edu

In other words there’s much more to do. We need to keep in mind that the above hasn’t been done yet. Socrates was right: acknowledgement of our ignorance is where to start – we can go forward from there.

Women in the Ilkhanlig are getting attention (another note on names: I prefer to say khanlig instead of khanate, which is an ugly amalgam of Latin onto Altaic. Let’s stay Altaic). Bruno De Nicola, just quoted, has a book in preparation on khatuns (ladies/queens) in the Ilkhanlig. A study by Yoni Brack, ‘A Mongol Princess Making hajj: The Biography of El Qutlugh Daughter of Abagha Ilkhan’, [on academic.edu]  retrieves the life and doings of a Chinggis great-great-granddaughter from a Mamluk biographical dictionary, where she rates an entry because she was the first notable from the Ilkhanlig to travel into Mamluk territory on hajj. This is a piece of luck, as al-Safadi records more detail on her than we have from Ilkhanid sources. Here are excerpts:

She was the aunt of Ghazan and Kharbanda  [Oljeitu Ilkhan]. Among the Mongols, she was greatly respected, often referred to, highly revered and her words were valued and appreciated. She was sharp-minded and skilled in furusiyyah [the knightly arts, centred on horsemanship]. She was married to Urab Ti  [Ghurbati]… When her husband died, she rode on her own and killed his killer, beheaded him and hanged his head on the collar of her horse. It stayed there for a long time until she was approached about it and she then got rid of it. Some say that she only got rid of it when instructed by a royal decree. She never married again after Urab Ti.

Then she comes on pilgrimage, in the year 1323, when she is estimated to be in her fifties:

The judge Shihab al-Dın Ahmad b. Fadl Allah said: ‘I was undertaking the hajj that same year and I saw that she was a woman deemed worthy among men for her resoluteness, decisiveness and honour. She had on her the expression of greatness and the gracefulness of majesty. She gave great sums of money to charity and it is said that she gave to charity in the two holy places thirty thousand dinars. She travelled the way on a palanquin and rode a horse, the quiver fastened to her waist and the parasol raised above her. She led ring hunts and hunted all along the way. She was greatly respected for countless good deeds. When she arrived at Damascus, the commander Sayf al-Dın Tankiz went out to meet her and he treated her with most kindness and honour so she entered Damascus without a parasol over her head.’  [parasol etiquette was different in the two states]

Yoni Brack’s study of this biography suggests that her vengeance for her husband may have been execution-style — for injured parties were allowed to perform an execution — and compares it to the vengeance recorded of a Chinggis daughter in Juvaini: she went into the reduced city of Nishapur and slew widely, after her husband had been killed in the fighting. That leads me to the question: how often were Mongol women present at the fighting? We don’t know. This Chinggis daughter is mentioned because of the incident at Nishapur – Juvaini hasn’t told us before that she was on campaign. Who else was on campaign, but didn’t happen to earn an anecdote in the histories? We don’t know. At battles in the Ilkhanlig – again my source is papers by Bruno De Nicola – high-status, high-profile women are mentioned as present. But do they rate a mention because they are Chinggisids? Or, were only Chinggisid women present? Unknown.

I’ll end with a celebration of life in the Ilkhanlig. This time I’m not going to predispose your mind with comment, even to point out the women. I wish I had found more images online, for there are other exhibits in The Legacy of Genghis Khan: Courtly Art and Culture in Western Asia, 1256 – 1353.

In part two of this miscellany, we’ll visit the world of celluloid from Inner Mongolia; the complaint of a Mongolian princess in a 1935 newspaper; and ‘Monstrous Mongols’ – androgyny in European depictions of the Mongol Other.
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IlkhanidHorseArcher WikiCommons

 

 

 

 

 

 

DiezAlbumsElephant

 

DiezAlbumsFestivalPreparations

 

Why I like indie covers

Quick and easy answer:
Because the creator of the work chooses them.

Under those conditions, you can judge a book by its cover. Its cover is an integral part of the creative work – is the writer’s expression of what her/his book is about.

I have come to see, over a couple of years, I’m on what I’m going to call now the anarchist end of indie. In cover terms, that means, to my mind the idea isn’t to look ‘just like a trad cover – you can’t tell it isn’t.’ No, no, trad covers are ugh, we’re here to fix what’s wrong with them. This is your chance to get out of the rut. I don’t care if your cover’s not quite up to scratch in production values – what interests me is your creativity (doesn’t mean you have to draw it yourself. If you can, I’ll be wowed). It’s about the idea. Put into a picture your idea of your book, and I’ll learn about your book in a way I can’t from a market-standard cover. Indies can be artisans and craft their books as objects too, inside, outside. When I love an indie cover, I think I’m in tune with the writer and am likely to love the story. Trad doesn’t have that chance at self-expression, nor that additional data when I try to pick whether I’ll like a book.

Indie: Today stands for Individual Fiction.

Title page by ‘The Author & Printer Will.m Blake’, a patron saint of indie.

The author and printer Will. Blake

 

I want to thank…

I’m 50 today and kids, it’s tough to turn 50. I’ve had a questioning week. You’re lucky you’re not getting a post called Futility at Fifty, but instead, by grace, I’m in the mood to thank a few people.

First my sister, without whom. Every book of Amgalant has this dedication:

My sister has been godmother to the book. Amgalant, what’s written and what isn’t written yet, is dedicated to her, with waves from Tem and Jam, and no sight or scent of a goat. In steppe epic, a steed and a sister are your trustiest, most intelligent and indefatigable aid: the hero doesn’t have to be heroic, but these do.

When gloomy in the past week, I browsed writers’ blogs for the harsher side of the writing life. The sad experience is, numbers of writers operate without support from those closest to them – or with active sabotage of their attempt to write. One comment I saw this week I understood: a writer said she found dedications in books hard to read. A few years ago, I did too. You don’t like to confess it. But those dedications that go, ‘my wife lived with this novel for five years, and listened to my instalments every evening at dinner…’ I mean, frankly, you think, poor wife, don’t you? And if you’re me you think, I don’t know how to ask that of another person, even if I believed you should, and I have to believe you shouldn’t. Neither do I happen to know, in person, of writers with this sort of husband; if you do have a significant other like this, value them and for God’s sake don’t ask too much. It can hurt to see dedications. Because of the ones you don’t see: ‘I wrote this alone and nobody helped.’ I felt like that a few years ago, but I was with a man who gave me daily discouragement. I think he sensed – and he was quite right – that the novel was the only thing to have come along that mattered to me as much or more than he did; and it was a shock to him, who had been the centre of my attention. I left the man and kept the book, as any sensible writer does. People don’t write dedications such as that in published books, and so struggling writers only see the nice ones. On blogs, in writers’ groups online, is where you see admissions of the real situation. There are writers who have to function in the total absence of support from husband, children, family and friends. I know how lucky I am to have my sister. Without whom, I’d be a worse person and possibly no writer.

At slight risk of embarrassment to him, I next want to thank Don Jansen, because he’s the perfect reader, of whom we writers dream. Why is he the perfect reader? He’s an intelligent, curious reader who ranges widely, without prejudices. He reads at the high end too but has no genre prejudice; and nor does he avoid the self-published. Bless his socks. While one can count one’s readers on one’s fingers (or at least, readers who don’t wish I were Conn Iggulden – because folks, I never set out to be, I never shall be; live and let live, I wish him well) – in that situation, a single reader can make it feel worthwhile. Sorry to embarrass you, Don.

Thanks to fellow novelists. For instance, I assured Gary, twice, he shouldn’t feel he has to read mine – his subject had been a hook to me but I couldn’t see he had any earthly interest in Mongols – still, he read it on the quiet and surprised me. John, no doubt, is too much of a gentleman not to have returned a read; even so, it was in no way incumbent upon him to read Two.

Thanks to Joseph. It’s hard even to place mine with book bloggers, I think, and therefore, to have his professional reviews, of both One and Two, is invaluable. To be honest I can’t work out how ‘professional review’ is defined in the indie context – I certainly don’t mean paid reviews, which I abhor. Whatever, I know he’s a professional, and his opinion has mattered as much to me, in its own way, as the coveted ‘reader-only’ opinion.

That’s it. I’ll go away and be fifty now. You’ll excuse that I complain about this fact online; I’m a solitary creature and when I talk I tend to tweet or blog.

mucked with

When I was 49, with heavy book on shoulder. I tried to do an imitation-shot after Joy Hester’s ‘Girl with Book on Head’ – which is such an identification-picture for bookish girls – but the shot didn’t work out.
Girl with Book on Head

 

 

 

Oral epic online

If I have life in me after I finish this dratted novel, I want to spend it with oral epic from the steppe. Perhaps I can begin to learn Turkic from my dual-language edition of Manas … where I like to browse the facing page for a sense of verse and rhyme. I say ‘Turkic’ because yesterday I read Paksoy’s book on Alpamysh. It is his strong conviction that the ‘cultural-linguistic unity’ of Central Asia has been split up into artificial languages, in a Soviet divide-and-rule strategy: the epics are common cultural heritage and are a way back into that shared tradition. I found this vision a glint of a light of hope – maybe I can struggle into Chagatay, the old common language that he explains to me is more rightly known as Turki and is ‘alive and well across Central Asia. It has never died.’ – although pronounced extinct. Until yesterday I understood I faced Kazakh epics, Uzbek epics, Karakalpak epics… If this was meant to make the task seem impossible, it certainly worked on this interested party in Australia.

Even in Paksoy’s functional translation, Alpamysh is richly a poem. This was thrust home upon me when today I turned to the Battalname (Turkish with Arab background, written down in the 15thC), a folk epic in prose. Battal’s life on the Byzantine frontier has story coincidences with Alpamysh in his setting over east, but suffered from the contrast, being such plain prose. No, no, I want the poetry.

Paksoy also told me that the plot summaries most of us rely on for acquaintance with steppe epic (eg. in Oral Epics of Central Asia or The Oral Epic of Siberia and Central Asia) issue out of a process of distortion with political intent. So there is both heartening and depressing news from him.

For incentive, I have my despair of ever reading Kyrk Kyz /Qirq Qiz unless I learn to in the original. The title translates as Forty Maidens/Girls. If you know me, you might know I have a thing for fighting girls – well, there are forty of them in that plot. [1]  (Never, never tell me that women with weaponry are a contemporary fictional fashion, because I’ll quote you old epics from the Mamluk-age Sayf, Knight of the Yemen to the Byzantine Digenes Akrites – in the latter of which they are wretchedly done. But that only proves they have to be there.)

Let me not get side-tracked.

Oral poetry resources online. First, H.B. Paksoy makes his work available for free online at Carrie Books.

John Miles Foley, pioneer (alas, the late) believed in the congruence of the internet and oral tradition. See his philosophy on this at the Pathways Project.

The Oral Tradition Journal, founded by Foley above, is online and open access. Issues from 1986 onward. A very well-ordered and usable site, and amen to their statement on universal access.

The Archive of Turkish Oral Narrative. PDF files, MP3 audio files, video files. Extremely valuable but not extremely easy to navigate, at least if you need to find English content.

Again I direct you to the online Manas. As Paksoy says, Manas “contains one million lines and requires up to six months to perform.” Here we have the beginning. It’s marvelous so far.

I’ve always liked epic, and spent most of my thirties with Beowulf – a translation that tried for too much poetry, and a novel from Grendel’s point of view, both away in a drawer. But now I have met the epics I like more than Homer… I won’t say more than Beowulf, but he gets enough attention and these don’t.

One thing I smiled to see – as a historical novelist – was at the end of Paksoy’s book, where he talks of a new way to save the dastans, historical fiction inspired by them. Published in Tashkent and Alma-Ata. Like the Mongolian novels I hear about (one called Water on Fire, about Temujin and Jamuqa) – unlikely to be seen in English.

Did you hear of the guy who taught himself English entirely from his copy of Shakespeare? He was a fantastic conversationalist. I’m going to start following my Manas on the facing page.

  1. potted plot (from a Soviet encyclopaedia):
    (Qïrq qiz), a Kara-Kalpak heroic epic. It was recorded in 1939 and 1940 in 20,000 lines from the recitation of the folk narrator Kurbanbai Tazhibaev. The main plot has much in common with Herodotus’ accounts of Queen Tomirisa of the Massagetae tribe and of her war against the Persian king Cyrus, as well as with Diodorus Siculus’ account of Queen Zarina of the Sacae, who freed her people from foreign bondage. In Forty Maidens the heroine, Gulaim, goes into battle against the Kalmyk khan Surtaishi and the Iranian ruler Nadir Shah; she is aided by her beloved, Aryslan, and by 40 girl-warrior friends. Having freed Khwarazm, Gulaim and Aryslan form a government from the representatives of the four nationalities inhabiting the country: the Kara-Kalpaks, Turkmens, Uzbeks, and Kazakhs.

mucked with


about me and my novels on the Mongols –

see my page Amgalant and me

Inspiration by Dashi

Official London

 

 

An inspired Genghis, who for a few months wowed the crowds when installed in the great outdoors in Marble Arch, London. Images from Dashi Namdakov: A Nomad’s Universe exhibition in 2012 at the Halcyon Gallery.

Dashi_Genghis_Khan_gallery page

See more at his site dashi-art

In graphical works, his Warrior series, his Mongol series, and his shamans are of perpetual inspiration to me. But I am speechless about them, so go see.

I like

about me and my novels on the Mongols –

see my page Amgalant and me