Sunday 30 May 2021

Akkad at 115k

Art by Castagnas


With all the quaky-shakies going on recently, I haven't done a lot of writing. Poor sleep has led to a state of being too knackered to imagine much. Yesterday, I hit the 115k mark with Akkad and there's still a way to go. Another 5,000 words and it'll be the longest novel I've ever written. Currently immersed on the battlefield, which I must admit, isn't my favourite place to be. I'm not great at military tactics and keeping track of everyone can prove challenging. I can already feel that this novel is going to require more fixing in edit than anything that's gone before, but I'm soldiering on.

I'm still discovering interesting things along the way, including the Babylonian Map of the World, which came much later in history than Akkad, but is still pretty fascinating. I was going to write about this, but I've been spending a lot more time on YouTube recently, so I'll probably just make a video of it soon-ish. It's my new favourite writing distraction after Words With Friends. I must admit, I'm surprised and nervous that I've taken to it. I've always preferred being behind the camera - hence, writer - but I'm getting used to it. Hoping to do an interview with my friend Firmin soon, about his publishing business in Rwanda. More and more lately, I've been thinking I should shift the focus of my consultancy towards something I'm really interested in, and publishing is one of those things.

So, plodding along. 

You'll be glad to know the earthquakes seem to have stopped. We had a little wobble late yesterday evening, but the past couple of days have been really calm.

Here's one of those videos. It's the stuff I was saying previously about the weird similarity between Mesopotamian art and Rwandan imigongo, only in video form. 

Thursday 27 May 2021

Another Short Nyiragongo Update


Another brief update on the Nyiragongo situation. There is now a mass evacuation going on in Goma. The tremors have really died down since this morning and everything is calm in Kigali. 

Wednesday 26 May 2021

Nyiragongo Update


I posted this last night as an update to what's been going on with Nyiragongo and Lake Kivu. Pleased to report that the last 24 hours have been really calm. There was one final, large shudder after I posted the above, but since then only a couple of very gentle wobbles. It looks like the worst is hopefully over, though there's still a lot of destruction and infrastructure damage in Rubavu and Goma.

Monday 24 May 2021

Things in Jars


I opened this one because I thought it sounded interesting:

Bridie Devine—female detective extraordinaire—is confronted with the most baffling puzzle yet: the kidnapping of Christabel Berwick, secret daughter of Sir Edmund Athelstan Berwick, and a peculiar child whose reputed supernatural powers have captured the unwanted attention of collectors trading curiosities in this age of discovery.

Winding her way through the labyrinthine, sooty streets of Victorian London, Bridie won’t rest until she finds the young girl, even if it means unearthing a past that she’d rather keep buried. Luckily, her search is aided by an enchanting cast of characters, including a seven-foot tall housemaid; a melancholic, tattoo-covered ghost; and an avuncular apothecary. But secrets abound in this foggy underworld where spectacle is king and nothing is quite what it seems.

Blending darkness and light, history and folklore, Things in Jars is a spellbinding Gothic mystery that collapses the boundary between fact and fairy tale to stunning effect and explores what it means to be human in inhumane times.

I think I'm a little bit in love.

Wow, can Jess Kidd write. It's sumptuously descriptive and intoxicatingly poetic. I haven't fallen for prose this hard since The Binding. One of those writers that makes you go, damn, wish I'd done that.

Follow the fulsome fumes from the tanners and the reek from the brewery, butterscotch rotten, drifting across Seven Dials. Keep on past the mothballs at the cheap tailor’s and turn left at the singed silk of the maddened hatter. Just beyond you’ll detect the unwashed crotch of the overworked prostitute and the Christian sweat of the charwoman. On every inhale a shifting scale of onions and scalded milk, chrysanthemums and spiced apple, broiled meat and wet straw, and the sudden stench of the Thames as the wind changes direction and blows up the knotted backstreets. Above all, you may notice the rich and sickening chorus of shit.


The raven turns in her element and the world turns too, confirming what she already knew: she is the centre of everything.


Sir Edmund’s home is an architectural grotesque, the ornate facade the unlikely union of a warship and a wedding cake. A riot of musket loops, carved shells, liquorice-twist chimneys, mock battlements, a first-floor prow, and an exuberance of portholes. On the carved stone pediment above the wide front door Neptune cavorts with sea nymphs. The lower-floor windows are festooned with theatrical swags of stone starfish and scallop shells. For all this, the house looks unlived in.

The description of the shifting tattoos on Ruby Doyle's body is just beautiful.

I love everything about the way she writes, and the narration of the audiobook by Jacqueline Milne was just brilliant. She really made the sleazy and the creepy characters come to life. It's a dark modern-Gothic mystery treat. 

Sunday 23 May 2021

Nyiragongo Erupts


Yesterday, Nyiragongo erupted. It's about six miles from the northern border of Rwanda, in Goma, DRC. It is an utterly magnificent and amazing natural landmark, but it's also ferociously dangerous for the people living in its shadow. The above was my reaction to the news of the eruption, plus a little information about the volcano and the last time it erupted in 2002. We've been experiencing a few tremors down here in Kigali today.

Seismic activity in the past 24-hours.

Saturday 22 May 2021

Akkad at 110k - The Great Flood

Art by Annamieka Hopps Davidson

Took Akkad over the 110k mark a few days back.

Thought I'd share a couple of research points that I've found really interesting. 

The last part of this book is an epic tale of war and conquest. I was having a tough time waging war against Sumer because Akkad needed more of an army than it had, and I wanted to move some men from Ebla, in the north, to assist. Only, that's at least three weeks' hard ride away. In order for the armies to arrive in time, they needed to start moving ahead of the showdown. The only way I could think to do this was to send a message by bird. However, paper hadn't been invented and a pigeon couldn't exactly carry a slab of clay in its beak. They might have painted messages on cloth, but I didn't want to get too creative about that. I didn't even know if the Akkadians had homing pigeons. When I looked it up, I was fairly surprised to discover they did:

In 2350 B.C.E. King Sargon of Akkadia—the present Iraq—ordered each messenger to carry a homing pigeon. If the messenger was about to be captured, he released the pigeon, which flew back to the palace. Its arrival meant another messenger should be sent. - Sarah Woodbury

That certainly made things a lot easier. Though, I assume the pigeon had an identifying leg tag or something to explain who it belonged to. A man about to be captured might have had trouble writing down what happened in time to send the bird. 

Still, the Akkadians appear to have invented empires, kick-ass bows, and the world's first ever automated bounce message.

The second thing I want to talk about is the flood myth. 

I've been aware for many years that the Noah's Ark story in the Bible is based on a Mesopotamian flood myth, but I had no idea just how closely they'd copied that one. There's a few versions, but the one from The Epic of Gilgamesh is the closest to Noah's Ark, predating it by around 2,000 years. That's as far before the crucifixion of Christ as we are after it today. A long time in terms of human lifespan. You can find a full translation here, with the flood story starting on P.43. Utnapishtim is the Noah of that story. There are a couple of earlier versions, namely that of Ziusudra, but Utnapishtim is the closest to the bible story. You can find a fascinating breakdown, including full texts, here.

So, some of the things that you'd expect to end in a publishing lawsuit today:

The most striking similarity is the near-identical deck areas of the three arks: 14,400 cubits2, 14,400 cubits2, and 15,000 cubits2 for Atrahasis, Utnapishtim, and Noah, only 4% different. - Wiki

The end of the flood and finding land:

A raven was released and apparently never returned... Noah sends out the dove one more time: “Then he waited another seven days and sent forth the dove, and she did not return to him anymore.” The dove had no need to return to the ark, since it had found a home on land... The raven served as a first attempt to discover dry land, and the dove became Noah’s way of determining when to leave the ark.

- Got Questions 

When a seventh day arrived
I sent forth a dove and released it.
The dove went off, but came back to me;
no perch was visible so it circled back to me.
I sent forth a swallow and released it.
The swallow went off, but came back to me;
no perch was visible so it circled back to me.
I sent forth a raven and released it.
The raven went off, and saw the waters slither back.

So, the raven went first and the dove found land for Noah, but in the original, the dove went first and the raven found land. 

Now for a few key differences.

In the original, they talk about the boat coming to rest on Mount Nimush. Mount Nimush is known today as Pir Omar Gudrun in Southern Kurdistan. 

Around the 11th century, Christians decided that the mountain was Mount Ararat in present-day Turkey. However:

Many historians and Bible scholars agree that "Ararat" is the Hebrew name of Urartu, the geographical predecessor of Armenia; they argue that the word referred to the wider region at the time and not specifically to Mount Ararat. - Wiki

Since when has geography ever stood in the way of a good story? Plus, as I discovered on my own trip to Armenia, it was the first country ever to become Christian in 301 AD. There is even an Ararat Distillery, where Churchill and Stalin both ordered their cognac from.

Moving on. After the flood, Noah was said to live to the age of 950. That's twenty years on the first man, Adam, who made it to 930, but a few years shy of the eldest member of the cast, Methuselah, at the slightly chucklesome age of 969.

Mind you, none of them holds a light to half the kings in the Sumerian King List, such as Alulim, who reportedly reigned for 28,800 years, or En-men-lu-ana, who reigned for 43,200 years. You can imagine the conversation between the scribes:

"Man, nobody's gonna believe a king can live that long. We need to revise down to something believable in the next bestseller..."

"Yeah, you're right. How about nine-hundred years?"

"Sure, that sounds feasible."

As you've probably guessed, at least in the King List, it was a translation error. Years weren't being recorded in units of one, but in units of sars (3,600), ners (600), and sosses (60).

Xisuthros was listed as a king, the son of one Ardates, and to have reigned 18 saroi. One saros (shar in Akkadian) stands for 3600 and hence 18 saroi was translated as 64,800 years. A saroi or saros is an astrologolical term defined as 222 lunar months of 29.5 days or 18.5 lunar years equal to 17.93 solar years. - Wiki

Some apologists explain these extreme ages as ancient mistranslations that converted the word "month" to "year", mistaking lunar cycles for solar ones: this would turn an age of 969 years into a more reasonable 969 lunar months, or about 78.3 solar years. - Wiki

Whilst these guys were haggling over numbers, all the heroes of the original flood myth were granted eternal life for their hard work. Both Utnapishtim and his wife attained godhood. In the bible, Noah just gets three sons for saving the human race... weigh up that one: immortality v. three sons. There's a lot to be said for the old ways. 

If anyone was wondering - Bahrain. That's where the world came into being. Bahrain is an island in the Persian Gulf, formerly known as Dilmun. Seat of the gods and all worldly power. Paradise on earth and possibly the original Garden of Eden. Once international travel returns, you can probably get a package tour.

Whilst Noah was entirely focused on saving animals and his own family, Utnapishtim also rounded up as many craftspeople as he could, knowing that the new world would need things like carpenters, brickmakers and artists. 

One thing the EoG does clarify though, is something I always wondered about: whilst floating about on that ark, what on earth did they eat?

Well, the epic deals with logistics. The sun god Shamash took care of that: 

In the morning he let loaves of bread shower down,
and in the evening a rain of wheat

So, they all ate very well. Except the carnivores, who probably ate each other.

It's been really interesting reading through all of this and the above are just the highlights. It ties in quite closely with my theories on the origins of imigongo. Something cropped up in the above story that lends strength to the early migration theory from Sumer to Central Africa, but I'll devote another post to that.

Meanwhile, time to get back to that novel.

Tuesday 18 May 2021

The City & The City


My friend Cathy left Rwanda recently after many years here. She sold most of her stuff, including a large book collection, which I had a rummage through. There were a few China Mievilles in there, and she told me this was her favourite. I took the paperback, but also found it on Audible 

When a murdered woman is found in the city of Beszel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks to be a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad. To investigate, Borlú must travel from the decaying Beszel to its equal, rival, and intimate neighbor, the vibrant city of Ul Qoma. But this is a border crossing like no other, a journey as psychic as it is physical, a seeing of the unseen. With Ul Qoman detective Qussim Dhatt, Borlú is enmeshed in a sordid underworld of nationalists intent on destroying their neighboring city, and unificationists who dream of dissolving the two into one. As the detectives uncover the dead woman’s secrets, they begin to suspect a truth that could cost them more than their lives. What stands against them are murderous powers in Beszel and in Ul Qoma: and, most terrifying of all, that which lies between these two cities.

I really enjoyed this one. A very unique concept: two cities transposed on top of one another in a sort of 4D space, and the problems that causes as the two cities make it illegal to acknowledge one another.

You cannot train yourself to successfully and sustainedly unsee and unhear - you do them all the time, but they also fail, repeatedly, and you cheat, repeatedly, in all sorts of small ways.


How could one not think of the stories we all grew up on, that surely the Ul Qomans grew up on too? Ul Qoman man and Besź maid, meeting in the middle of Copula Hall, returning to their homes to realise that they live, grosstopically, next door to each other, spending their lives faithful and alone, rising at the same time, walking crosshatched streets close like a couple, each in their own city, never breaching, never quite touching, never speaking a word across the border.


The early years of a Bes (and presumably an Ul Qoman) child are intense learnings of cues. We pick up styles of clothing, permissible colours, ways of walking and holding oneself, very fast. Before we were eight or so most of us could be trusted not to breach embarrassingly and illegally, though licence of course is granted children every moment they are in the street. I was older than that when I looked up to see the bloody result of that breaching accident, and remember remembering those arcana, and that they were bullshit. In that moment when my mother and I and all of us there could not but see the Ul Qoman wreck, all that careful unseeing I had recently learned was thrown.

I like the part towards the end where top officials admit the system of 'unseeing' doesn't work, but they force people to try to comply anyway. So many rigged systems like that around the world, and the stress they cause people, trying to comply with something you can't possibly fully comply with. 

I read Perdido Street Station a couple of years back and ended up joining a political party. I'm no longer a member as I've stopped following British politics - ridiculously depressing stuff - but thankfully, I haven't felt compelled to join any other groups since finishing this novel. Cathy said she really likes Mieville's diversity and the way he can switch genre. This was definitely very different to Perdido and reads like a science-fiction gumshoe.  Nicely done, and one of my favourite insults:

If the techs are on it we're fine, but Briamiv and his buddy could fuck up a full stop at the end of a sentence.

All in all, good fun and a great concept.

Sunday 16 May 2021

Saturday 15 May 2021

Mother of Words


I mentioned last week that I had been shortlisted for the inaugural Bet Tuppi’s Ancient Near Eastern Historical Fiction Prize.

Well - I won.

Read The Mother of Words

[update: there is now an online reading.]

The story was selected from ten amazing shortlisted stories, all of which you can read here

Public feedback:

We love the unique take on Enheduanna, the first named poet. The story really encapsulates the essence of Mesopotamia, which is known not only for its empires and violence, but also as the birthplace of writing and literature.

Notification feedback from judge 
Matthew Parkes, MPhil in Assyriology at the University of Cambridge:

We specifically loved how you drew upon the source material. For instance, considering the namelessness of many of Mesopotamia's authors whilst also exploring the power that writing brought to these early civilisations. It was truly a pleasure to read your story!

I just want to take a moment to explain why this means so much. 

As regular readers will know, I have been writing a novel about the Akkadian Empire for the past year. It's very nearly coming to a close. The story began as the telling of Enheduanna, but, in order to get there, I needed to retell The Legend of Sargon, her father. What was supposed to be a background chapter soon ballooned to over 100,000 words and became a full-blown novel of its own.

I've been working closely with Leif Inselmann, a wonderful research scholar at the University of Göttingen. Leif also happens to be a German author and you can find his books here. He has been incredible in helping to clarify things and preventing me from wandering into the absurd. Although, he didn't proof the story I submitted to the competition, which is why there was a slight metallurgical historical slip-up in there. I wrote it late at night and in a hurry to hit the deadline.

But, just pause for a moment and consider what it was like, having been completely obsessed with the Akkadian Empire and ancient Sumer for over a year, to suddenly see a writing competition specifically asking for Sumerian, Akkadian and Assyrian historical fiction? I mean - what were the chances? I almost didn't enter because I thought, how gutting would that be if I didn't even get placed? 

Well, I'm glad I did enter, and I'm absolutely blown away and very thankful to have impressed the judges. I do occasionally think that Enheduanna glances over the shoulder of every writer from time to time. We've swapped clay and stylus for paper and pen, but we're all just continuing her 4,000-year tradition of writing down our thoughts. 

I'll sign off now, but it's always an incredible boost when a story you write connects with its readers. As writers, we're used to rejection and it's easy to feel overlooked and to doubt ourselves, but one win wipes away all of that. If you're a creator, keep creating. Keep putting yourself out there. Keep spinning stories and breathing life into them. Eventually you'll catch a little luck in your web. 

Sinjye wahera hahera Enheduanna.

Friday 14 May 2021

Francis Cameron

Just saw the sad news that the wonderful Mr. Francis Cameron has passed on. A talented, well-travelled and wonderful man, and a respected member of the British Pagan community. 

I have exceedingly fond memories of the PF Conference in Tintagel years ago, of wandering the lanes of Oxford and stopping for tea and cake, and the time he officiated at a friend's handfasting. He was an accomplished pipe organ player who spent time on walkabout down under in his youth. A truly lovely and beloved individual. 

He kept a blog from 2007-2017, which you can find here.

Merry meet, merry part, and - I am certain - merry meet again.

I'm sure we'll share a cup again someday. 

Thursday 13 May 2021

The Untamed

Behold, the Tortoise of Slaughter!

I am totally and completely smitten by this. I've taken a detour away from Korean films and found my way to C-drama. The Untamed is basically what would happen if Hogwarts, Game of Thrones and live-action Spirited Away collided - in Chinese. It's flipping fabulous. The costumes, the characters, an epic musical score, and the hair - oh, the hair!

Ziyi Meng as Lady Wen

There's also a small splash of Jim Hensonesque puppetry going on. It's a bit mad in that respect. Korean dramas are smooth as they come, all super-slick CGI, but this one flicks between CGI and the occasional random giant puppet wolf or Tortoise of Slaughter. It's quite fascinating and absolutely adorable. And I don't mean that in a disparaging way - it really is utterly charming. It's like a hybrid between 21st century and 1980's FX. I completely love it. You feel there was probably more planning, skill and effort involved in the puppet characters than the computer stuff. 

I have to admit, I didn't really understand what was going on until the middle of episode three, when they arrive at Cloud Recesses. Give it until at least then. I also know I spoke before about how Korean soaps are epic in length compared to British ones, either in the number of episodes or in the length of the episodes, which regularly run to one-and-a-half hours. The Untamed also adheres to this trend. The episodes are only an hour long, but there's fifty of them. I know that sounds a lot, but I'm already past halfway and rationing my daily allowance because I don't want it to end. I watched a Neil Gaiman interview recently in which he talked about the way people are starting to 'treat television novelistically,' where we're consuming visual stories like we would the chapters of a book. I think this is a prime example. Each episode is like a chapter in an epic fantasy story. It's so much fun.

I'm watching it on Netflix, but someone's also put the whole thing on YouTube, here with English captions. I have to say, I do wish Netflix would rework the timing of their subtitles. I find that the subtitling on many of their Asian series go by way too fast in places, but it's worth the slight inconvenience of sitting with your finger on the pause button.

It's just wonderful, and surprising, and full of glowy goodness, mythology and tears. 

Tuesday 11 May 2021

Akkad at 100k

So, yeah... made it to 100,000 on the WIP yesterday.

Thought I'd post this for kicks.

About 500 of those 100,000 do involve baby Sargon high on ganzigunnu (ganja).

Thinking I might be in a little bit of trouble. I've still got quite a way to go with this one. I reckon it'll come in somewhere around 140k.

Writing a book this length is honestly like drawing one of those concertina pictures, where you can see the face really clearly - the first few chapters - because you're constantly editing them, and you can see the boots - the last chapter you just wrote - but everything in between is folded out of sight and you have no clear memory of what it contains. I'm excited to finish and dive into those forgotten parts. 

I've put aside the next few weeks to just write and I'm feeling really good in myself. I haven't left the country in three years, and was just about to book a holiday home to see the folks when the pandemic hit, so, if I can't physically go anywhere, at least I get to go to ancient Sumer every day and take a cup of coffee with me.

Although I have the whole day to write, I don't push myself too hard. I get up late, write for a bit, watch Netflix (I'm currently obsessed with The Untamed - more on that soon), do a bit more writing, make some food. I try to aim for a word count rather than keep writing until I die. I like to be able to end on a scene I'm excited about, so I can come back to carry on the next day. 

Little by little, we get there.

Today I'm hoping for between 2,500-3,000. 

Just about to head into battle with the Sumerian forces of Lugal Zage-Si. 

Time to strap on my armour.

Monday 10 May 2021

The Redemption of Althalus


Picked this up because I liked the cover colours and I was in the mood for epic fantasy:

It would be sheer folly to try to conceal the true nature of Althalus, for his flaws are the stuff of legend. He is, as all men know, a thief, a liar, an occasional murderer, an outrageous braggart, and a man devoid of even the slightest hint of honor.

Yet of all the men in the world, it is Althalus, unrepentant rogue and scoundrel, who will become the champion of humanity in its desperate struggle against the forces of an ancient god determined to return the universe to nothingness. On his way to steal The Book from the House at the End of the World, Althalus is confronted by a cat - a cat with eyes like emeralds, the voice of a woman, and the powers of a goddess. She is Dweia, sister to The Gods and a greater thief even than Althalus. She must be: for in no time at all, she has stolen his heart. And more. She has stolen time itself. For when Althalus leaves the House at the End of the World, much wiser but not a day older than when he'd first entered it, thousands of years have gone by.

But Dweia is not the only one able to manipulate time. Her evil brother shares the power, and while Dweia has been teaching Althalus the secrets of The Book, the ancient God has been using the dark magic of his own Book to rewrite history. Yet all is not lost. But only if Althalus, still a thief at heart, can bring together a ragtag group of men, women, and children with no reason to trust him or each other. Boldly written and brilliantly imagined, The Redemption of Althalus is an epic fantasy to be savored in the listening and returned to again and again for the wisdom, excitement, and humor that only the Eddingses can provide.


People talk really highly about David Eddings's earlier work, especially the Belgariad series, but this is the first of his that I've picked up and it didn't really chime with me. I found myself rather agreeing with this Goodreads reviewer:

I like the evil side to be just as intelligent as the good side; an even match so you question the ending... The "bad guys" as they so often refer to them are, well, stupid. They're incompetent bumbling fools held together by an evil god who never makes an appearance. - Adam Reinwald


I suppose the best way to describe the book is 'jaunty.' Everything's very upbeat, the main characters face few real challenges, their success is never in question and, as Reinwald put it, the bad guys are stupid. There's nothing about them to fear. All of that probably wouldn't be so bad if the book wasn't twenty-seven-and-a-half hours long. That feels like a lot of time when there is little happening. The characters spend most of it discussing battle tactics and talking about what they are going to do, and far less time actually doing what they've just said they're going to do. It's a lot of tell with little show. 

There was also quite a bit of roll-your-eyes-aren't-women-funny moments, where the lead character addresses the all-powerful female goddess (in the non-threatening form of a cat) as 'yes, dear,' repeatedly and makes uncomfortably too much out of one young female character having 'daddy issues' and calling him 'daddy' all the time. That was just weird. Neither the baddies nor the female characters seem to have much substance. It's all just very jolly. 

I did think the opening couple of chapters were excellent, but, like The Hummingbird’s Tear, it just didn't maintain that level after the initial opener. People who have read more of his work say that the characters in this story are diluted versions of characters from his earlier books, so perhaps he got caught in a trope and couldn't shake it off. That happens sometimes.

I very rarely speed up a reading, because I feel guilty for all the work that's gone into it, and the narrator, Dennis Holland, did a really great job, but it just wasn't what I was looking for in high fantasy, though plenty of other people loved it.

Sunday 9 May 2021

Introduction to Literary Perspective

A beginner's introduction to literary perspective. I'm putting some of my old lectures online on my website. You can find the rest of the Literary Perspective unit here, and more writing units here.

Friday 7 May 2021

Sex at Dawn

I picked this up because it sounded interesting:

Since Darwin's day, we've been told that sexual monogamy comes naturally to our species. Mainstream science - as well as religious and cultural institutions - has maintained that men and women evolved in families in which a man's possessions and protection were exchanged for a woman's fertility and fidelity. But this narrative is collapsing. Fewer and fewer couples are getting married, and divorce rates keep climbing as adultery and flagging libido drag down even seemingly solid marriages.

How can reality be reconciled with the accepted narrative? It can't be, according to renegade thinkers Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha. While debunking almost everything we "know" about sex, they offer a bold alternative explanation in this provocative and brilliant book.

Ryan and Jetha's central contention is that human beings evolved in egalitarian groups that shared food, child care, and, often, sexual partners. Weaving together convergent, frequently overlooked evidence from anthropology, archaeology, primatology, anatomy, and psychosexuality, the authors show how far from human nature monogamy really is. Human beings everywhere and in every era have confronted the same familiar, intimate situations in surprisingly different ways. The authors expose the ancient roots of human sexuality while pointing toward a more optimistic future illuminated by our innate capacities for love, cooperation, and generosity.

A very enlightening read. I certainly wouldn't say I'm surprised by the findings, but there were some really interesting facts in there that I'd never heard before. I particularly liked the look at other, non-monogamous cultures in the world, which is something never discussed during sex-ed at school. There was one culture in China, the Mosuo, where women have their own bedrooms with a door onto the street and they can invite any man in that they choose, provided he is gone by morning. Any children conceived are brought up in the woman's household, removing male rivalry over lineage. It sounds like a very nice idea, and a peaceful way of life. 

There's a tribe in South America which believes the more sperm a woman receives whilst pregnant, the more skills and strengths a child will develop from each of the men. There's the first father, who plants the seed, and the other fathers who contribute to stirring the pot. In tribal cultures, children raised in non-monogamous families, where many men, rather than one, have a vested interest in the child's wellbeing and growth, have better survival odds than when only one man is there (or not) to help raise the child.

"Yes, but we're living in the modern world," you might say, "not in a tribe!" Well, we might think we are, but our physiology says something very different. From the size and shape of our genitals, through to why women are louder than men during sex, it all points to our biology being more closely matched with non-monogamous primates than monogamous ones. Far more similar to the bonobo than the gibbon.

Something else that was fascinating - and tragic - was the effect of the contraceptive pill on women's sense of smell. I remember watching Dr. Winston perform the T-shirt test on TV when I was in my teens. This is where he sniffs a bunch of T-shirts that women have been wearing, and orders them by the smell he most prefers. At the end, it's revealed that ranking them by smell also ranks them, almost exactly, as the most genetically compatible for producing a healthy baby.

Women have the same ability to sniff out a genetically compatible mate - unless they're on the pill. Then, apparently, it reverses the attraction. It's one theory for why so many women go off their husbands after childbirth. Whilst on the pill and looking to get laid, they like the smell of him, but once they come off the pill to get pregnant, the reality hits their nostrils. As the book asks: how many women have only just realised they're not compatible with their partner once it's too late? That's quite something to think about.

Anyway, a really interesting read, which makes a lot of logical connections when it comes to male infidelity, mid-life crises, female attraction and sexuality, and a host of other important points. Definitely worth a look. Though, if you're in a relationship, it might not make for easy reading.

Wednesday 5 May 2021

Akkad at 90k

I'm taking a couple of weeks off work to focus entirely on writing.

Just taken Akkad over the 90,000 mark. That, to me, is the baseline for a solid novel. I can now call it 'my novel.' However, there's still a substantial way to go. I sensed this would be a long one when I started. I began playing with the idea almost two years ago, but didn't start writing seriously until October last year. It's come a long way since then, although progress has been slow as I've been fitting it in around work. 

As with any work in progress (WIP), I know the first three chapters really well, and the last couple of days, but, over the span of six months, I've forgotten most of what happens in the middle, so I'm excited to start the edit and remind myself. 

The longest novel I've ever written was Children of Lir, which is about 120,000 words. I reckon this will be similar or a little longer. For those who know Sumerian history, I'm building up to the final showdown between Sargon and Lugal Zage-Si. Sargon is widely known as the first man in history to found an empire, but he did that by defeating another man, Zage-Si, who was already well on his way to doing the same thing. The records don't really explain why Sargon and Zage-Si fell out, so I'm having fun inventing that bit. 

On with the writing...

Monday 3 May 2021

Ancient Near Eastern Historical Fiction Prize Shortlist


I received the lovely news the other day that I've been a little bit shortlisted for the first ever Near Eastern Historical Fiction Prize:

Congratulations, your entry has been shortlisted... We had a large amount of submissions for our inaugural competition (we have spent the last month reading countless stories) so this is a real achievement, well done!

I'm having a lovely time reading the other entries, which have been published on their website. Love Roxanne Gregory's futuristic evolution of Google and Wikipedia merging into Ooogle-iki. That needs to be a thing.

Now the hardest part of all, trying to put this out of my mind until the winner is announced later in the month.

[UPDATE: I won this!]

Saturday 1 May 2021

Descriptive Writing

A little lecture I gave on descriptive writing. If you'd like to take the whole descriptive writing unit and do the exercise that goes with it, head over to my website. I'm putting a few of my creative writing units from the university online under the WRITING101 heading.