Pipe Dreams and Warriors: The Author talks about his favourite form of research – in the place where the action happened, talking to the people.
‘A room with a view is a surer posession than any virtue’. So wrote a Byzantine poet about a thousand years ago and having been to the city that so inspired him, I know exactly what he means.
There are few places with more fabulous views than Istanbul and the tourist who goes there will be suitably dazzled. I know I was the first time when I did the full tourist number. But it was my second visit that took me beyond astonishment to deeper feelings – to sense, in my own small way, the love its inhabitants must have for it. This second time, in the summer of 2010, I met its people and learned a little of their love for the place.
I was so fortunate. My last novel ‘Vlad’ about the real Dracula, had just been published there. So my Turkish publisher organized a book signing for me. Truly one of the thrills of my life, to be a tiny part of that legacy of words – Latin, Greek, Turkish, Arabic, Persian. For a millenia, words had been made there, passed through there, on their way to enrich the libraries of the world. I was, in such a small way, a part of all that.
It was the people who dazzled me. I was there for warriors – and met them, first in the shape of my translator, Murad, who shared snippets of his sufi philosophy and who had been in the National Judo squad. Then, over a pipe of apple tobacco in a narghile den (what the English call hubble bubble), I was approached by a huge man with a matching smile: Suleiman, a national karate champion, keen to practice his newly acquired English. And there was a warrior of a different kind there too, a gentle philospher, Acay, disciple of the mystical poet known in the west as Omar Khayamm. He was impressed with the little I could recite (‘Awake, for morning in the bowl of night/has flung the stone that puts the stars to flight.’ My Father would wake my teenage self with that of a morning!)) and we talked and smoked and exchanged ideas.
The people reinforced my early thoughts – that the city is made up of descendents of those who fought either side of the wall. That there were heroes and villains on each side, as there always are in war. And that Istanbul is the city it is – still central to the world, still with a huge part to play, because of that melding.
About A Place Called Armageddon:
To the Greeks who love it, it is Constantinople. To the Turks who covet it, the Red Apple. Safe behind its magnificent walls, the city was once the heart of the vast Byzantine empire.
1453. The empire has shrunk to what lies within those now-crumbling walls. A relic. Yet for one man, Constantinople is the stepping stone to destiny. Mehmet is twenty when he is annointed Sultan. Now, seeking Allah’s will and Man’s glory, he brings an army of one hundred thousand, outnumbering the defenders ten to one. He has also brings something new – the most frightening weapon the world has ever seen...
But a city is more than stone, its fate inseparable from that of its people. Men like Gregoras, a mercenary and exile, returning to the hated place he once loved. Like his twin and betrayer, the subtle diplomat, Theon. Like Sofia, loved by two brothers but forced to make a desperate choice between them. And Leilah, a powerful mystic and assassin, seeking her own destiny in the flames.
This is the tale of one of history’s greatest battles for one of the world’s most extraordinary places. This is the story of people, from peasant to emperor - with the city’s fate, and theirs, undecided... until the moment the Red Apple falls