Book signing and Java problems

Cornerstone Books Sat Nov 17th 2012Two things this time. First, the book signing at Cornerstone Books in North Finchley on Saturday went well. Some interesting conversations, some good contacts for the future, and some book sales! Now I have to think about how to follow this up.

Secondly, the Kindle Previewer program on my Mac suddenly stopped working a short time ago, and over the weekend I managed to get it working again with the help of a blog article by Adam Bien at
http://www.adam-bien.com/roller/abien/entry/if_the_kindle_previewer_won
It turns out that the latest version of the previewer (2.7.1) does not work with Java version 1.7 (also confusingly known as Java 7). So as and when some other program updates Java, the problem surfaces. In my case it was probably one of the application development programs I have installed, but as so many things use Java it could have been something different. Whatever the root cause, the result was that Kindle Previewer would not start up.

Fortunately the blog article tells you exactly what to do – follow the directions about opening the launch file and pasting in a specific line exactly as shown, and lo and behold everything works again. Basically what you are doing is forcing the previewer to continue to use the previous version of Java, rather than it automatically selecting the newest version. In brief, you need to find the launch file
/Applications/Kindle Previewer.app/Contents/MacOS/Launcher
and insert the following as a single line of text
export JAVA_HOME=”/System/Library/Java/JavaVirtualMachines/1.6.0.jdk/Contents/Home”
directly after the initial line
#!/bin/sh
If this makes no sense at all to people then there are step by step instructions and a couple of alternate options at the above blog.

A quick experiment suggests that there is not a corresponding problem on a Windows machine, but I am not 100% certain that I have exactly the same versions of everything installed there.

I imagine that Amazon will bring out an updated version at some point, but until then this will keep you able to use the previewer.

Writing about everyday life

One of the things I particularly wanted to do with In a Milk and Honeyed Land was to write about everyday life in a small town at the end of the Late Bronze age. There are plenty of novels written about Egyptian rulers like Ramesses, Akhenaten, or Nefertiti, and a fair number written with Moses as the main figure, or David a little later on. Some of them are well worth reading, and I dare say more will join their ranks in the future. But that is not what I wanted to do. I wanted to write about the kind of life led by more ordinary figures.

This then raises questions about how to do the background research. Most literature that we have from the ancient world concerns the interests and anxieties of a small elite minority, since only these few might be literate or at least could afford to engage the services of a scribe. Every so often we get glimpses of other layers of society, but even these are seen through elite eyes. Fortunately, we have other resources in the form of archaeological digs. These, interpreted every bit as cautiously as a piece of writing, can tell us all kinds of things about everyday life. So we can get a good idea about the houses people lived in, the cooking utensils they used, their basic diet, their tools and weapons, some of the objects that featured in their religious habits, and so on. It’s a difficult business, sometimes, to interpret the cultural significance of some items, when there is no written explanation to accompany them. For example, large numbers of small modelled female figures have been found all around the Levant. These have been interpreted in a great many ways, including a goddess figure as a focus for worship, a magical or good luck charm for promoting fertility or safety in childbirth, and a children’s toy!

Now, the advantage of dealing with a small town is that I can include a good range of people within the same few houses. So Damariel, although poor and a politically nobody compared to a Pharaoh, is nevertheless on the edges of the elite. He can read and write, is responsible for the spiritual and worldly life of his people, and is entitled to correspond with other similar leaders in times of crisis. And of course almost all of the towns and city states in the region were also small. Town leaders might well style themselves “king”, but in most cases they only held sway over a few square miles of territory and maybe a couple of thousand people. It had been said of a character called Phicol, who the Hebrew Bible describes three times as “commander of the king’s army” (in Genesis 21 and 26), that he most likely commanded fewer men than the typical Fire Brigade in a contemporary small town. Titles were often grander than reality, and numbers of people involved were usually much smaller than we might expect.

Finally… only a few days now to the book signing event for In a Milk and Honeyed Land – Saturday November 17th at Cornerstone Books, from 10:30 or so until 3:30 or so. Cornerstone’s contact details are: Cornerstone Books, 45-51 Woodhouse Road, London N12 9ET, 020 8446 3056, http://www.cornerstone.co.uk/pages/1648.htm. Hope to see you there!

Spotlight review for ‘In a Milk and Honeyed Land’

A few days ago In a Milk and Honeyed Land got a boost on the Indie Author Anonymous web site in the form of one of their “spotlight” reviews. The idea is to provide a place where prospective readers can get a quick sense of what the book is about, alongside others of its kind.

The permanent link is at
http://indieauthoranonymous.com/2012/10/30/spotlight-book-in-a-milk-and-honeyed-land-by-richard-abbott/

The Indie Author Anonymous web site is worth a look around to see what else is there in the book genres that you like. You can search by different criteria, browse similar titles, or, if you are an author, avail yourself of any of several services provided.

Other news – only about a week to the book signing event for In a Milk and Honeyed Land coming up in just two weeks now – Saturday November 17th at Cornerstone Books, from 10:30 or so until 3:30 or so. Cornerstone’s contact details are: Cornerstone Books, 45-51 Woodhouse Road, London N12 9ET, 020 8446 3056, http://www.cornerstone.co.uk/pages/1648.htm

5* Review for Fargoer: End of Innocence by Petteri Hannila

Another book review for this week. Fargoer: End of Innocence by Petteri Hannila is the first part in a series of short stories. I quite like the way that Petteri is using this format for his story-telling, though it does mean that you quite rapidly get to the end of any given one in the series, and so (in my case, at least) then have to wait until you have a decent wifi connection to get the next one. Presumably those folk who got the 3G version of the kindle are spared this problem!

Anyway, Petteri has set his stories in a remote and magical part of his native Finland, and I am thoroughly enjoying the series. Since doing the review on Amazon and Goodreads I have in fact read the second in the series, so presumably I shall be playing catch-up for a while – so far there are four in the series.

The review itself can be found at Amazon.co.uk or Goodreads so I won’t repeat it here. Suffice it to say that Petteri writes persuasively about a culture that I knew very little about, and the second story starts to satisfy the hope I expressed in that review that we would learn more about the culture as a whole. I am a great enthusiast of including poetry inset into prose – this was a key theme in In a Milk and Honeyed Land – and Petteri introduces us to the myths and archetypes of these people via song. Great stuff, and I am looking forward to enjoying the rest of the series.

My own news: as well as the book bio I talked about last week at http://indaindex.com/book-bio-in-a-milk-and-honeyed-land-by-richard-abbott/ I have also had a book “spotlight” of which more in a few days time. Meanwhile the link is at http://indieauthoranonymous.com/2012/10/30/spotlight-book-in-a-milk-and-honeyed-land-by-richard-abbott/. I also got some very encouraging comments from a reader here in London, who I hope will put electronic pen to digital paper and put their comments into a review!

Finally, don’t forget the book signing event for In a Milk and Honeyed Land coming up in just two weeks now – Saturday November 17th at Cornerstone Books, from 10:30 or so until 3:30 or so. Cornerstone’s contact details are: Cornerstone Books, 45-51 Woodhouse Road, London N12 9ET, 020 8446 3056, http://www.cornerstone.co.uk/pages/1648.htm

Book Bio – Independent Author Index

I had a very pleasant surprise over the weekend. I was invited to do a book bio on the Independent Author Index site for In a Milk and Honeyed Land by Faydra, who runs that site.. This is a bit like an author interview, and has a few questions in common with that – such as “What did you like most about writing this book?”. But it’s more about the book than it is about the author. So faced with such an offer, naturally I put a bit of time into replying!

The result can be seen at http://indaindex.com/book-bio-in-a-milk-and-honeyed-land-by-richard-abbott/, and I am really pleased with the appearance. Just to be clear, the look and feel is chosen as part of the site design, but responsibility for the content (and any typos) is mine. I had a lot of fun wondering what, in fact, I had most liked about writing it!

The single thing that took most thought was one of a series of checkboxes on the web form. Most were easy – there are no descriptions of how to make weapons of terror, or such like, for example. But then I got to a difficult one – “are there descriptions of sexual acts between consenting adults?” The question (and associated age rating) makes perfect sense since the site lists all manner of books, from young children’s through to decidedly adult, and part of the purpose of the bio is to help potential readers choose something suitable.

Now, on one level the answer is easy – yes there are, in particular when Damariel and his childhood sweetheart Qetirah consummate their relationship.

But inevitably things aren’t that easy. When I was looking at the preview of how my responses would appear online, I realised that the answer needed some clarification. After all, if someone read that and then rushed off to buy the book expecting to enjoy erotica, then they would be sadly disappointed! So I talked it over with Faydra – who must be kept very busy running this site – and she came up with a compromise. A very pleasing minor change that – hopefully – will alert parents wondering whether to get the book for their children, without unduly raising the expectations of those looking for something explicit. The end result is at at http://indaindex.com/book-bio-in-a-milk-and-honeyed-land-by-richard-abbott/. Everyone should be happy…

In passing, if you are a writer or reader, the Independent Author Index site (http://indaindex.com/) is full of great resources and contacts and is well worth checking out.

Finally, looking ahead a little, don’t forget the book signing event for In a Milk and Honeyed Land coming up in a few weeks now – Saturday November 17th at Cornerstone Books, from 10:30 or so until 3:30 or so. Cornerstone’s contact details are: Cornerstone Books, 45-51 Woodhouse Road, London N12 9ET, 020 8446 3056, http://www.cornerstone.co.uk/pages/1648.htm

Triumphal Accounts in Hebrew and Egyptian

I am very happy to say that the ebook version of my PhD thesis, Triumphal Accounts in Hebrew and Egyptian, has now made it to the Amazon.com and .co.uk sites as part of the KDP program. As you might guess from the title, the book is unashamedly geeky, although at around £2 / $3 for a copy I reckon it’s pretty good value for money. A whole lot cheaper than A Brief History of Time, and that seemed to do alright a few years ago! The ebook conversion had its own times of excitement, as I worked away at converting odd fonts (Hebrew and Egyptian for a start) and diagrams from word processor format into kindle format. It was an educational experience.

Before I forget, links to the book are:
Amazon.com – http://www.amazon.com/Triumphal-accounts-Hebrew-Egyptian-ebook/dp/B009UETQD4/
Amazon.co.uk – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Triumphal-accounts-Hebrew-Egyptian-ebook/dp/B009UETQD4/

Cover image, Triumphal Accounts in Hebrew and Egyptian

Quite apart from the book’s own inherent interest – on the assumption that issues of poetry and cross-cultural contact near the end of the Late Bronze Age interest you – the thesis provides some justification for plot themes used in In a Milk and Honeyed Land. For example, the relationship between Damariel and Nepheret begins with an exchange of songs over a meal – repeating in microcosm a process which the evidence suggests was also going on at a national level. Of course, their relationship ends up going well beyond the recitation of poetry, but it’s a place to start.

How much of the book is really accessible to the interested but non-academic reader? Well, I certainly would not recommend the appendices. They are densely packed with tables of supporting evidence. They are very dull, which is why they ended up in an appendix where even the PhD examiners need not plough through them unless they really wanted to. But the introduction and conclusions are very accessible, and for a first read it would be well worth just reading through those two sections. One of the joys of the ebook format is that I could very easily insert hyperlinks so that the casual browser could skip all of the interior if they wanted! The main six chapters are in pairs – the first two look at issues of poetry in general, the middle two focus on one representative piece of Egyptian and one of archaic Hebrew poetry, and the last two explore the wider historical setting. Different readers may well that they prefer to explore different sections.

I have to admit to being very pleased that this has now made it through to publication. The work itself was very satisfying to carry out, and the ebook conversion had its own lessons. Getting this out of the door, so to speak, also means that I can put more time back into writing…

Of course, if you want to skip straight to reading In a Milk and Honeyed Land, then copies can be obtained at a variety of online and London retailers. Check out http://www.kephrath.com/WhereToBuy.aspx

Book signing at Cornerstone Books

Here’s some exciting news! On Saturday November 17th I have been invited to do a book signing event of In a Milk and Honeyed Land at Cornerstone Books, just up the road from me in North Finchley. Should be a good time – I shall be there from 10:30 or so until 3:30 or so, and Cornerstone say that they will put on cake and coffee!

A few weeks to get myself ready for this…

Cornerstone’s contact details are:
Cornerstone Books, 45-51 Woodhouse Road, London N12 9ET, 020 8446 3056,
http://www.cornerstone.co.uk/pages/1648.htm

The Man in the Cistern

The Man in the Cistern is the title of a short story now available on Amazon, in ebook format only. Currently it is enrolled in the Amazon KDP program, which means that it is available for loan for the next few months. It also means that from time to time there will be special offers, such as this weekend (Saturday Oct 20th to Sunday Oct 21st) when it is scheduled to be absolutely free to download. Don’t get too excited though – it is a short story rather than a full-length novel, so wil only cost you 77 pence in the UK (99 cents in the US), so even if you miss the promotion it will not set you back too much. Over time I shall add more short stories to the collection, ranging back and forward in time rather than trying to fit everything in strict sequence.

Cover - The Man in the Cistern
Cover - The Man in the Cistern

The Man in the Cistern is set in the same town as In a Milk and Honeyed Land but about a decade later. Most of the characters will be familiar from the novel, although you do not have to have read it to follow events in the story. We follow Damariel and Nepheret, priests and seers of Kephrath, as they juggle the conflicting possibilities that have arisen from newcomers in the region. The story begins as follows:
=========

The Mitsriy were withdrawing from their outpost up at Ramoth Hurriy. Damariel the seer had first caught rumour of the move nearly a year ago, but had waited to see if there was real substance in it before taking the news seriously. These days, there were always stories of this place or that being abandoned, and so many of them were either scare-mongering or wishful thinking, depending on who was talking.

Now, for sure there would be little impact on Kephrath and her three sister communities, the four towns Damariel cared for. Ramoth Hurriy was south of Shalem, up on the heights overlooking the southern edge of that town, and Damariel was not sure he had ever met anyone who lived there. So far as he knew, there was only a shrine to the goddess Hathor served by a few Mitsriy priestesses overseeing a training centre for Kinahny girls who had been given over by their families to her service, a small garrison of bowmen, and a straggle of traders adhering to the slight wealth as best they could. At a guess, only the Mitsriy would actually return home, and the temple novices and acolytes, as well as the traders and their families, would be left to reintegrate as best they could into Shalem itself, or maybe down into the lowlands.

=========

Find out how it continues at Amazon.com – http://www.amazon.com/Cistern-Short-Stories-Kephrath-ebook/dp/B009QM4GQM/ – or Amazon UK – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Cistern-Short-Stories-Kephrath-ebook/dp/B009QM4GQM/. Don’t forget – this coming weekend The Man in the Cistern it is scheduled to be free to download. If you like the short story, follow it up with the novel.

As always, more information can be found at the web site http://www.kephrath.com.

The task of writing in Kephrath

This blog post was partly inspired because I got annoyed watching an otherwise quite informative BBC documentary, in which the presenter gave the Phoenicians around 750BC all the credit for developing and distributing the alphabet. Well, the Phoenicians were certainly a key factor in spreading alphabetic writing far and wide, but the actual invention goes back about a thousand years before then! There is intense debate as to whether the very earliest examples are from the Sinai or from Egypt a little north-west of Luxor, but either way we are talking around 1800BC or so. The presenter was (I suspect) repeating a seriously out of date view in which alphabetic writing was seen as the immediate precursor to universal literacy and general social transformation. However, this old romantic view that “every urchin would be able to read” shortly after the invention of the alphabet was soon dashed by the observation that large fractions of the Roman and Greek world remained illiterate, despite having a well-defined alphabet to work with!

The real mystery, now that more of the true history of alphabetic development is known, is why this seemingly liberating tool sat around for the better part of a thousand years without being used for anything much more than odd bits of graffiti and the occasional short dedicatory text. The first real piece of extended narrative that we have written in alphabetic script is called the Moabite Stone, dating from around about 850BC and giving a broadly parallel account (but from the opposite perspective) of an event recorded in the Hebrew Bible. Rather earlier, and further north in Ugarit, a large collection of religious material has been found written in an alphabetic script, but this uses poetry rather than prose to achieve its purpose.

As regards the time I write about, around 1200BC, the job of a scribe was interesting, varied, and very complex. Someone like Damariel in the hill country would at minimum have to be adept at reading and writing the “new” alphabetic signs – and writing them meant doing it neatly and consistently, not just scrawling them. But to make contact with the major authorities he (or possibly she – we have little evidence either way) would also need to be competent in cuneiform writing (wedge marks in clay). Damariel is quite disparaging about cuneiform to his friend Kothar – “of course no-one writes this stuff any more, this wedge and clay work is all finished” – but the reality was that it would continue for many more centuries, and Damariel himself would need to draft a crucial letter using the script later on. Egyptian writing is another story – and another day’s blog.

We do know from archaeology that works of fiction that were considered great classics – such as the story of Gilgamesh – were copied and enjoyed in cuneiform versions in the Levant area and not just far out to the east in Mesopotamia. Analysis of the clay used for these shows that they are local copies, not imported ones, and one particular fragment originates from southern Israel – perhaps even the tablet that Kothar acquired in the market at Bayth Shamsh! We also know that much early alphabetic writing was produced on materials which by nature are perishable – wood, wax, cloth etc. So it is possible, although not certain, that Damariel and his fellow seers were writing alphabetic stories and prose accounts themselves, but that these have simply not survived. Some scholars think that the use of local alphabetic scripts was a deliberate challenge to the older, established nations such as Egypt – a sort of very early example of using social media to spread a slightly subversive message!

Writing in various forms colours large parts of In a Milk and Honeyed Land – why not see how many examples you can find! Your local bookshop should be able to order copies – in case of difficulty see http://www.kephrath.com/WhereToBuy.aspx

Some forthcoming plans

Today I’m going to talk about a couple of forthcoming pieces of writing. I’m hoping that the first of these will be ready for release before the end of October. The second is lagging behind a bit, but should be ready by the end of the year.

Both are being published under the banner of Matteh Publications (http://mattehpublications.datascenesdev.com/). Matteh is the ebook publishing wing of DataScenes Development, based in north London. DataScenes is also responsible for some mobile and tablet applications relating to the ancient world (http://apps.datascenesdev.com/). So far the most popular of these is a version of the ancient Egyptian game of Senet. This is considered by many people nowadays as an ancestor of backgammon, but in Egypt seems to have had a religious dimension as well as just entertainment.

Back to the forthcoming books. The first is a short story called The Man in the Cistern, set in the same community as In a Milk and Honeyed Land but about ten years on. It describes how Damariel and Nepheret have to tackle the arrival nearby of a group of migrants trying to settle near the town of Kephrath. For those who know a little of the archaeology of the region, it also proposes an explanation of the occupancy of a particular village.

The second item is the long-awaited PhD thesis Triumphal Accounts in Hebrew and Egyptian. Turning this into ebook format has taught me a great deal about how (and how not) to handle complex matters of layout and font display! Issues that word processing packages handle very easily turn out to be rather more fiddly when you are producing an ebook. This thesis explores cross-cultural issues of poetry in the earliest parts of the Hebrew Bible, and provides an academic foundation for the romantic spark of creativity enjoyed by Damariel and Nepheret.

More news about both of these in the coming weeks. In the meantime, whet your appetite – or that of a friend – with a copy of In a Milk and Honeyed Land! To find out where to buy it online or in the real world, check out http://www.kephrath.com/WhereToBuy.aspx.

Writing, both historical and speculative