Ancient Egyptian dream interpretation

Well, proof-reading Scenes from a Life is going nicely, but it could hardly be called gripping work, however necessary it is. So in parallel with that I am going through the author’s notes section at the end of the book and filling in parts of that. One of the sections is on the way that ancient Egyptians interpreted dreams – which I find particularly interesting – so I thought I would copy chunks of it into a blog article.

Basically, the matter arises because the main character Makty-Rasut is rather shaken out of his comfortable life by a series of dreams, which are interpreted in part for him by a priest called Senenptah. Here is the current version of this part of the notes… The white sandals turn up in several of Makty’s dreams.

Egyptian dream interpretation sounds entirely random if you see the texts just in translation, but in the original language it makes far more sense. It was largely based on ideas of word-play – if you dreamed of one thing then the interpreter would think about other objects or situations that sounded similar or had similar verbal roots. There was also, as with dream theory in other cultures, a strong emphasis on identifying whether the situation would turn out as favourable or unfavourable for the dreamer. I have largely ignored this second strand of interpretation in Scenes from a Life, but in reality Senenptah would routinely be trying to ascertain from Makty’s dream accounts when an action should be taken or avoided to achieve a good outcome.

Now, interestingly, similar ideas are used in some modern schools of dream interpretation, especially those having a Jungian influence. In these, the unconscious processes active in dream sleep may well use word plays or visual puns to transfer meaning and significance to the conscious mind. So, hypothetically, dreaming of falling over – taking a trip – might suggest a journey, or even a drug experience.

Back with Makty-Rasut, the connection Senenptah makes between white sandals and a journey with auspicious conclusion is based on an actual dream text we have, specifically papyrus Chester Beatty III. This dates from less than a century before Makty’s time, and was found at the royal workmen’s village at Deir el Medina, on the west bank of the Nile opposite Luxor and so very close to Makty and Senenptah’s homes. It is currently in the British Museum. It contains a large number of single line interpretations, each of the form “If a man sees himself in a dream in [some situation] then: [interpretation]“. Each interpretation has a brief summary as either GOOD or BAD, followed by a brief explanation. The words GOOD or BAD are picked out in red ink rather than the normal black.

The relevant line of this text is “If a man sees himself in a dream shod with white sandals, BAD; it means roaming the earth“. Normally in Egyptian culture, roaming the earth would be perceived as BAD as it would mean being uprooted from the social network in which the person was embedded – family, friends, work, ancestral burials and so on. A journey would especially be seen as BAD if it involved travelling out of the Beloved Land (Ta Meri in Egyptian) as it carried the risk of having to be buried outside the land’s borders. In Makty’s case, the journey turns out to have a GOOD ending, but this is because of the particular circumstances of his life rather than normal ancient Egyptian thinking.

One of the several themes of the Egyptian poem The Tale of Sinuhe concerns the anxieties felt by Sinuhe himself and others who hear of his situation, at the thought of burial in a remote and rather uncivilised place. Likewise, one of the great motifs of his reconciliation and return to Egypt was the promise that a proper burial would be possible when the time came. The Tale of Sinuhe was composed several centuries before the setting of this story, but remained popular for many years, and copies have been found near Luxor, in particular at the workmen’s village.

The other word associations Senenptah makes for Makty are invented, but credible given the nature of the scheme of interpretation. Perhaps in time archaeologists will uncover an Egyptian text which confirms them! For example, when Senenptah asks Makty if he has seen a royal sceptre, or a large dish, the words used sound like (and are spelled very similarly to) words for Asiatic and north respectively. These sorts of clues would suggest to the priest that Makty was being directed by his dreams to travel north into the Asiatic province, here called the Kinahny lands. Many of the other details that are picked out in the dreams have a similar basis; others are just regular dream imagery that readers can enjoy deciphering for themselves.

All good fun… and a nice intermission from proof-reading!

All the Scenes from a Life are there!

Well, it’s true – just last night I finished the last sentences of Scenes from a Life. Of course, that is far from saying it is finished… for one thing I have to do my own read-through and catch as many of the little slips and errors as I can find. And get some external advice on this as well. And finish the author’s notes at the back, which will have a mixture of historical and textual notes including a paragraph or two on how ancient Egyptians interpreted dreams.

So there’s plenty to do yet, but this seems to me to be a good milestone to celebrate.

Other news – the Orangeberry tour continues with a guest post at Quality Reads UK. This was a brief look at how to present religious institutions in fiction – lots of people go down the route of large temples, structured hierarchy etc, but I wanted to capture something much less formal that would operate on a local village scale. The next event on the book tour is on October 1st.

I’m hoping to do a short series of more historically-oriented blog posts in a while, partly prompted by the very short guest posts I wrote for the blog tour. So look out over the next month or so for some bits and pieces on life in the second millennium… BC.

Book review – “The Blazing World” by Margaret Cavendish

Today’s blog is a book review, but unusually for me of a work by a long-dead author, Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne (1623-1673). She published The Blazing World back in 1666, the same time that John Bunyan was serving a prison sentence for his beliefs and Samuel Pepys was writing about the Great Fire of London. I came across it in a list of seminal female science fiction writers which circulated on Google+. Nowadays it is available on kindle at a very reasonable price, and no doubt elsewhere as well, a fact that might well intrigue and amuse Margaret.

As I go on to say in the review, the book is not for readers who crave a fast-paced plot with regular cliff-hangers. Its concerns are very different from those of many modern authors. But as a window into the forward-thinking perspective of an older time, and as a precursor to much modern writing, it deserves better exposure. Happily, it is taught as part of some English literature university courses here in the UK, and available electronically to an interested modern reader. Long may this situation last!

Book Cover - Margaret Cavendish's Blazing World

==============The review===========

I first heard about Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World through a friend on Google+ and was intrigued. A female science fiction writer from the time of the Plague and the Great Fire of London? Since the kindle version is so extraordinarily cheap I had to follow this through, and am very glad that I did.

First though, let me say that not all readers will enjoy this book. It is, naturally enough, written in an older form of English in which many words do not have quite the same sense as today. The most obvious example is “artificial“. Today, if we see “artificial” in contrast to “natural” we tend to think that using “artificial” suggests that the thing is lacking in some way, clunky in comparison with the natural. But in the 17th century, it was used to indicate that something has been made by art, or artifice if you like, and so reveals something of ingenuity or creativity, as opposed to a raw product. A precious stone just out of the ground would be natural; the polished and shaped gem would be artificial.

Also, Margaret had no interest in fulfilling the plot expectations of some modern critics. Many things do happen, and I found the overall imaginative sweep gripping, but you won’t find a visceral cliff-hanger every few pages. Personally I liked this and it was a refreshing change from some of the formulaic modern material one encounters.

Finally, Margaret is just as interested – perhaps more so – in the philosophical shape of her world as the material one. There are descriptions of the physical layout of the Blazing World and how it might be accessed from our own. But there are also long sections in which one of the main female characters engages in intellectual debate with some of that world’s schools and learned institutions. Some of these are sympathetically presented, others plainly satirical, though you would have to know more than I about the intellectual landscape of her time to really appreciate the satire. It’s a bit like reading parts of Dante and trying to puzzle of why a particular person is being lampooned.

All in all, some modern readers would become impatient and frustrated with the book. For those who persevere with it, the gentle charm of the book draws you in. There is an inter-planetary war, and the invention of devices like submarines and torpedoes, but the real interest is in the intimacy of human contact, and the ultimate superiority of the world of the imagination over the world of external things. Particularly striking examples are “Why should you desire to be Empress of a Material World… when as by creating a World within yourself, you may enjoy … as much pleasure and delight as a World can afford you“, and again “if any should like the World I have made.and be willing to be my Subjects, they may imagine themselves such… but if they cannot endure to be Subjects, they may create Worlds of their own“. This theme increasingly comes to drive the narrative.

I became convinced as I read that modern authors such as Arthur C. Clarke have been influenced by The Blazing World. I was particularly reminded of the passage from 2001: “So almost certainly there is enough land in the sky to give every member of the human species, back to the first ape-man, his own private, world-sized heaven–or hell” – though in that case Clarke was thinking purely concretely in terms of stars in our galaxy, rather than imaginatively.

So five stars from me, along with a sincere wish that in whatever form Margaret might yet survive, she is able to receive modern appreciation of her work. This tale is not for everyone, certainly not for those who are impatient for a high-octane or erotically-charged plot, but personally I thoroughly enjoyed meeting this work and its author.

Orangeberry blog tour progress

Well, the Orangeberry tour is a few days in and so far there has been a variety of posts and the like. Before listing those, here’s a quick snap from the British Museum today (apologies for the slight glass reflection to be seen). This rather charming scene is of Nebamun’s anticipated garden in the afterlife, and as well as trees, fruit, birds etc features a goddess figure leaning out of one of the trees (top right) offering food and drink to Nebamun.

Nebamun garden scene

Anyway, the list of blog tour activities so far is as follows:

Full details of future items may be found at


On the London Underground

Those of you who regularly travel on the London Underground (as of course I do myself) could have a look out for two copies of In a Milk and Honeyed Land which are now part of the “Books on the Underground” scheme.

A copy of In a Milk and Honeyed Land being sent out

Check out for more details, or follow @BooksUndergrnd on Twitter.

In a Milk and Honeyed Land began its subterranean wanderings at Victoria this morning… hopefully I might get to hear of other sightings in time!

Catching up with things

OK, the last few days have been a catch-up time. For one thing I have posted up four reviews of books I read while away travelling. The simplest way to find them all is to go to and check out the most recent four items. There you will find a quick summary of them. Or you can go to each of Amazon, Goodreads and Shelfari and read the full versions.

The books were:

  1. The Patterns of Chaos, by Colin Kapp – an old science-fiction book I rediscovered,
  2. If Only You Knew, by Anastasia Abboud – a contemporary romance which I enjoyed for the centrally-important cross-cultural aspects,
  3. Skater in a Strange Land, by David Frauenfelder – a sort of cross-over science-fiction / fantasy book that mostly defies description but kept me reading avidly to the end, and
  4. The Ghost Bride, by Yangsze Choo – another cross-over, this time between historical fiction (1890s Malaya) and fantasy.

In just a day or so In a Milk and Honeyed Land is taking part in the oddly-named Summer Sizzle book tour – odd because over here at least the temperature has fallen well below sizzling! But check out the following link:
There’s quite a schedule of blogs, reviews and what-have-you to follow over the next couple of months, with several events just in the next week. I’m sure there will be something for everyone in all of that.

There’s more to post on other subjects too, but that can wait for another day!

A quick update

I am on the move with only intermittent internet connection at present, so this is just a quick note. The gap has meant I have been able to have something of a read-fest so expect a little flurry of reviews before long.

I have also made great strides with the last parts of Scenes from a Life – the penultimate chapter is done, final chapter is now over half complete, and there are only a few odd bits here and there in earlier ones. I am almost at the stage of having a complete draft…

Meanwhile, here is a link to an animation of the contents of the British Museum Nebamun gallery – – Nebamun’s tomb dates from several generations before Scenes is set, but the content serves to inspire one of the central characters in his own work.

Review – ‘Across the Waters of Time: Pliny Remembered’

Cover: Across the Waters of Time I came away from Ken Parejko’s Across the Waters of Time: Pliny Remembered with very mixed feelings. On the plus side – and these are very large plus features – this is a beautifully conceived book, with a powerful and compelling imaginative sweep and some marvellously lyrical passages of writing. The presentation of Pliny’s interior thought-world, and its evolution through his lifetime, is splendid, and the historical events Ken chooses to illuminate this come over as pivotal to Pliny, and in some cases centrally important to the entire first century AD. It is a book which can be highly recommended in these grounds alone.

I had not realised before – having given up Latin studies too early to get beyond Julius Caesar’s wars in France and Britain – just how close Pliny had been to the key figures of his age. He counted among his friends the emperor Vespasian, the Jewish author Josephus, and a wide circle of other political and intellectual people.

But the book ultimately is more concerned with the interior world than the exterior. Pliny’s approach to history, and most especially to the natural world, have become foundation stones in our own systems of evaluation and classification. We follow how these ideas slowly crystallised in his mind, triggered by external events, and coloured always by his advancing age and frailty. By coincidence, if there is such a thing, I started reading this just after visiting the British Museum’s superb exhibition on the Vesuvius eruption which destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum – and killed Pliny along with many others. So I had a very clear idea of the material world in which Pliny lived, which gave an extra dimension to my reading.

Sadly, though, the book has been finished very carelessly. There are a great many spelling and grammar errors, accidental use of similar words (swapping her for here, and such like), and problems of formatting. There is even an email address at one point in my version, presumably dumped in by an auto-correction feature of the software Ken used. I can easily live with a few of these kinds of slips, but there were so many that they became a serious impediment.

I also did not like the way Ken substituted modern place names and modern turns of phrase. In the early parts of the book these are largely absent. So the chapter set in Germany by and large uses the contemporary Roman names for towns and other places. The reader is immersed in Pliny’s world, and must make the personal effort to cross the waters of time and find out what they mean in modern terms. But increasingly we find modern place names used, and so are pulled away from the ancient world. Likewise the word “ok” (or variant spellings) appears with increasing frequency as the book proceeds. I’m sure the Romans had an equivalent for this slang phase, but this word grated on me. Again, on a purely technical level this time, the Kindle text is missing the standard navigation aids such as table of contents, and the ability to jump to and fro between chapter headings.

All these things, especially given they occurred more and more frequently as the book proceeded, suggested to me an air of neglect. Ken has conceived what I believe to be an important and beautiful book, but he has neglected to care for it enough to finish off the details. Even a small amount of extra time spent on the presentation and preparation, or another round of proof-reading, would have eliminated a large number of these mistakes. It is very unfortunate that this kind of nurturing care did not take place. There is a character in the book called Aulus, who because of birth deformities is exposed in the countryside and left to die. A very moving passage relates the different reactions of people caught up in this event. It is an experience which continues to haunt Pliny throughout his life. Sadly, Aulus’ story is rather mirrored by that of the text itself.

For depth and sweep of ideas, and for the way in which Ken has captured the inner world of a great and influential thinker, Across the Waters of Time deserves five stars. But the faults of execution, and the sad neglect of what could have been a beautiful text, mean that I can only give it four. Readers who are willing to live with the flaws will, I believe, discover a fascinating tale here.

The review will be posted to Amazon and Goodreads shortly.

Author interview – Marian Allen

Picture - Marian Allen You will no doubt remember that about a week ago I posted a review of Marian Allen’s Sage I – The Fall of Onagros. This is part of the August spotlight on Marian; see also the Readers meet Authors and Bloggers Spotlight group or for some details and a rafflecopter giveaway.

So for today’s post I asked Marian to be interviewed so we can get a bit more insight into her as a person and as a writer. Here we are…

So, Marian, when and how did you start to write for an audience?
I think I was in elementary school. I tried writing poetry, with my mother as my target audience. Everything I wrote, she said was “cute”. She said it with love, but I meant it to be deeply moving. I think that was when I began to think I should either add a touch of humor to my writing or, at least, PRETEND I was adding a touch of humor.

Tell us a bit about where you live now. Does the scenery feature in any of your books? After there any particular places you have loved or visited which have heavily influenced your writing?
I live in the woods, just outside a small town, not far from a city, so that pretty much covers all the bases. I set a lot of my stories in southern Indiana or in Kentucky because those are most of the folks I know.

Me: At this point I had to turn to the internet to get an idea what they look like – the only thing I could recall about Kentucky was that it has blue grass. But it seems that Indiana borders onto the Great Lakes and has lots of farmland, and Kentucky has lots of natural splendours that tourists might visit (as well as blue grass). They both have a lot of water and a relatively long and rather unsettled history, particularly during the early European settlement period and the American Civil war.

OK. Suppose that you are about to go on a long journey and can pack one book (not your own!). What would it be and why?
It would be Jerome K. Jerome’s THREE MEN IN A BOAT, TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG. That’s my #1 go-to book when I want a book to take me away from it all. It’s funny, it’s moving, it’s packed with history and travelogue. Wonderful Victorian book that was meant to be non-fiction, but Jerome couldn’t resist wandering off topic and making stuff up for fun.

Me: The first time I read this I was completely paralytic with laughter. It never had quite the same effect on subsequent reads but very nearly. When I was in school the ‘how do we open the tin’ passage was a routine part of the syllabus. Great stuff.

Tell us about one character from a book or film that you wish you had invented, or else would like to invite as a guest for a while.
I wish I had invented Steerpike from Mervyn Peake’s GORMENGHAST trilogy. I would most assuredly NOT want Steerpike as a guest, because he’s one of the worst people EVER! What a terrific character!

Me: I have never got around to reading Gormenghast but have been meaning to for ages.

You write in several genres (fantasy, science fiction and YA, I think), something that I would find really difficult. Do you have a favourite? Is it easy keeping them separate as you write about them? Is there one that you want to revisit in another book sometime?
It’s easy keeping genres separate, because I don’t really write in genres, unless I’m writing for a specific publication. For the most part, I write the story, and it is what it is.

Thinking specifically about Sage I: The Fall of Onagros now… did you imagine the world all at once or have you filled in details as you have gone along? Is there some part of the world that you want to write some more about one day? Who is your favourite character and why?
I imagined certain things about the world before I began writing, and “learned” more about it as I went along. I’d like to write about the lands outside Layounna, particularly Nishi, where Salali comes from. My favorite character … Tartarus was the most fun to write because he’s so awful, but Brady and Nerissa were fun, too, because they know who they are inside. And Florian of the Traveling Players, because he’s such an ACTOR.

Me: As I mentioned in my review, one of the many things I loved about the book was the breadth of imagination, and the way in which we are introduced to the world through many different people’s perspectives.

Can you tell us a little about your current work in progress?
I’m currently in edits on a YA paranormal, A DEAD GUY AT THE SUMMERHOUSE. An orphan approaching his 18th birthday is happy to be hired as companion/dogkeeper by a sweet little old lady until he meets her family. The last young man she hired ended up dead, and at least one person seems to think he’s carrying the dead man’s spirit around inside him.

Cover image - Sage I: The Fall of Onagros Sounds great – and very different to the Sage trilogy, or the other books of yours that I have come across. Thanks Marian, for the interview, and I hope things go well for you in the future.

To buy Sage I: The Fall of Onagros, check out (kindle edition) or (print edition).

For a rafflecopter giveaway navigate over to the Readers meet Authors and Bloggers Spotlight group or

New readings at YouTube

Well, I have finally got around to doing a series of readings and so added to my YouTube collection. For a long time this has stuck at the single promotional video for In a Milk and Honeyed Land (at

Now there are no less than five readings made by yours truly, three for In a Milk and Honeyed Land and two for the (as yet incomplete) Scenes From a Life. They are home-produced rather than in a studio.

The three from In a Milk and Honeyed Land follow Qetirah’s story arc – though in fact in these extracts she has not one word of her own to say. They are:

  • – Damariel takes part in the burial of his two brothers. His relationship with Qetirah is just beginning.
  • – Damariel returns home from a pilgrimage trip to Hatsor, expecting to find Qetirah waiting for him. Instead…
  • – The final confrontation between Damariel and the chief Mahur-Baal, towards the end of the book.

As for Scenes From a Life, please bear in mind that the text may well change over the next few months as I work towards completion later this year. The extracts I have chosen are:

Enjoy! Eventually I hope to add some more readings to add to the collection.

Writing, both historical and speculative