Monthly Archives: March 2014

Cover to cover









This is the UK edition. For the US we turned to Ivan Kramskoi’s Portrait of an Unknown Woman (1883). Aren’t they great?

The gorgeous US edition

The gorgeous US edition

Yashim in the Crimea

‘I was told you were in the Crimea.’

Yashim blinked. ‘I found a ship. There was nothing to detain me.’

The seraskier cocked an eyebrow. ‘You failed there, then?’

Yashim leaned forwards. ‘We failed there many years ago, efendi. There is little that can be done.’ He held the seraskier’s gaze. ‘That little, I did. I worked fast. Then I came back.’

There was nothing else to be said. The Tartar khans of the the Crimea no longer ruled the southern steppe, like little brothers to the Ottoman state. Yashim had been shaken to see Russian Cossacks riding through Crimean villages, bearing guns. Disarmed, defeated, the Tartars drank, sitting about the doors of their huts and staring listlessly at the Cossacks while their women worked in the fields. The khan himself had fretted in exile, tormented by a dream of lost gold. He had sent others to recover it, before he heard about Yashim – Yashim the guardian, the lala. In spite of Yashim’s efforts, the gold remained a dream. Perhaps there was none.

The Janissary Tree


The palace of the Tartar Khan at Bakhchisaray, Crimea

The palace of the Tartar Khan at Bakhchisaray, Crimea

 At the beginning of The Janissary Tree, Yashim has just returned to Istanbul, telling himself that ‘anything was better than seeing out the winter in that shattered palace in the Crimea, surrounded by the ghosts of fearless riders, eaten away by the cold and gloom. He had needed to come home.’

One irony that won’t be lost on anyone following recent developments in the Crimea is that Catherine the Great stole the territory illegally in the first place. By the treaty of Küçük Kaynarca, signed between the Ottomans and the Russians in 1774, Crimea was to remain in Ottoman hands. Nine years later, the Russians seized it.

The harem at Bakhsaray Palace

The harem at Bakhchisaray Palace today


Unbelievable! Unrepeatable! Incredible! Offer Must End Soon! &c

When I wrote lately about putting some of my backlist on Kindle, I wondered aloud if this was a Good Thing – or the Slippery Slope.
The truth is, I suppose, Kindle is here and here to stay.
I recommend this article by George Packer in the New Yorker, about Amazon and their total control of information.


Be that as it may, for authors I think it is the new best thing – and here is one reason for thinking so.

After my GREENBACK: The Almighty Dollar and the Invention of America inspired a 5 part BBC Radio 4 series at the end of last year, I revised and republished the book as a Kindle download. Here it is:

It was immense fun – not least because every author, coming at a book after a gap of several years, sees what he wants to do differently this time round. That’s why would-be authors are often advised to put their manuscript in a drawer and forget about it for a while: when they come back to it they have the advantage of reading it anew, as a reader, not as the writer. That clunky paragraph? That darling line which you should have murdered first time round (cf. murder your darlings: Auden)? That digression which seemed so fascinating when it was something you had just discovered yourself?
Well, you follow my line of thought here, no doubt.
With a published book there’s usually nothing to be done about it – the book is there, it’s done, pasted between boards and out in the world.
But with GREENBACK for Kindle, I got a second bite at the cherry.
I trimmed it. I boosted up the argument I had made too faintly. I corrected the error a kindly reviewer had mentioned, en passant. I lopped a whole six pages – that digression! – from a chapter on the American Civil War. I performed literary liposuction on every chapter and the book was better for it. Honest. I made it zippier, funnier and more focussed.
And then, in about twenty minutes, I published it on On On and…and so on.
The story of the world’s favourite currency available to the whole world.

Gideon Fairman's engraving of Gilbert Stuart's portrait, on the dollar bill

Gideon Fairman’s engraving of Gilbert Stuart’s portrait, on the dollar bill

And here’s another reason for liking this process, one that should resonate with readers and authors but not, maybe, with publishers.
It’s control. I set the look, and the price – and when I want to get more people to see the book, maybe buy it – I can do a price promotion.
Right now, GREENBACK is available on at a ‘special’ price – ie, cheap. And that has the astonishing and slightly alarming effect of raising sales tenfold.
I cut the list price – $7.99 – by half. And have just sold ten times as many copies of the book. Go figure.
At $3.99 it is, I think, too cheap. It’s less than a throw-away magazine, or a skinny latte, or a bowl of olives in a restaurant. And it took me four years’ work.
On the other hand, writers want readers.
Ps But hurry! The Offer, as they say, Ends Soon!