Monthly Archives: December 2009

Yashim’s Christmas

I don’t imagine that Yashim, the Ottoman investigator, has a Christmas list.

His more devout Greek friends in Istanbul will fast through Advent: even George the greengrocer keeps a three day fast. Christmas is not a time of gifts for them – that belongs to the New Year, St Basil’s Day, when Christ was circumcised. Then a child – usually a boy – first foots his friends and relatives, bringing a ‘dog onion’ to each house. He goes away with a few coins.

Ambassador Palewski celebrates Christmas in his own way, naturally. On Christmas day he eats only what has been prepared the day before, and he lays an extra place on a white tablecloth in case someone turns up unexpectedly. That person is often Yashim. Under the tablecloth he puts straw. Otherwise, he watches the weather, according to the Polish tradition that the weather at Christmas foretells the pattern for the coming year. Once he invited Marta, his housekeeper, to pick a straw from under the tablecloth. A green straw for marriage, a yellow straw for spinsterhood, and a withered straw for more waiting; the short straw indicates an early grave. Inevitably the experiment led to misunderstanding, and tears.

Yashim visits the local orthodox church on Christmas Eve and lights a candle in memory of his Greek mother.

There’s a little more about her in An Evil Eye, which comes out this Summer.

The End

Writing THE END at the bottom of the page – the bottom of the whole great scrolling and unwieldy document, in fact – should be a cork-popping moment.

And so, in a way, it is. The Valide has made her point, Yashim has saved his little bit of a vanished world, and whatever I hoped would be true about it all has been said, one way or another. For this time, and in this story.

But An Evil Eye isn’t quite finished, yet.
There are scenes which need knitting together. There’s a whole character who needs to be veiled more thickly in suspicion. A ticking clock I still need to wind. I need, finally, to print the whole book out and sit up somewhere with tea and a pencil.

The book’s there, all the same. More from Preen, the dancer; Palewski coming up trumps, and laying his comfortable fire; some good moments between Yashim and his chopping board again. And also a story about Yashim dealing with his own past, as it comes up to bite him in the character of Fevzi Ahmed Pasha – a real-life figure I’ve snatched out of history for the purposes of the novel. Oh, and the Valide, who is getting increasingly frail…

I’m pleased about the time-scale of the book, too, which starts in the same month as The Bellini Card, but returns to Istanbul that winter, when snow lies on the ground. Different stories, but casual overlap here and there.

An Evil Eye revolves around treachery and the harem. Both of them moral dilemmas, of a sort.

So the champagne’s on ice – at least until the pencil’s done its work. And then, perhaps, it’s time to move to a new blog, too?

An Evil Eye.