I think I am attempting the impossible – trying to sum up my feelings for Turkey in general, and Istanbul in particular, without descending into the purple prose of the travel brochure. I could rave about the moon over the Hagia Sophia – surely one of the most beautiful buildings on earth…I could wax lyrical on the food – is there anything more fantastic than picking your fish from ice in a Karakoy restaurant on the banks of the Golden Horn, grilled perfectly and brought to you, to be washed down with raki while the Suleiman mosque shines on the opposite bank?
Well, I could speak on this and a dozen other subjects and may in the future – but I am not going to. What I need to write about now and so try to analyze for myself was the sheer bliss of returning to that most fabled of cities, this time as one of its chroniclers. I am humbled by all those who have preceded me there. I envy all those who follow and get to try to set down their feelings – but not too much. For I am going back. I am most definitely going back.
It was my third visit. The first as tourist, the second as researcher, this one on the publication of my novel. ‘Armageddon – Istanbul 1453′ they call it.
or… ‘A Place Called Armageddon’ as it is known elsewhere.
Standing on the terrace of the Galata Tower – another stunning building in a city crammed with them – looking over the hustling ferries and fishing boats, to the old walled city, I see my characters everywhere: Sophia beneath the Tower of St Irene, watching the place we both regard now, where three waters meet -the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn, and the Sea of Marmara - the very spot where the great sea battle was fought. The Valley of the Springs along which Mehmet caused boats to sail on land. The red walls near which St Maria of the Mongols lies. The palace of Porphyrogenitus where Theon betrayed the city. Gregoras escaping with Leilah over his shoulder to the docks on the Horn.
These, so many more. I am both humbled and so proud that my characters now live where so many other great authors have placed theirs, will continue to do so. For this place will always inspire and confound and excite.
Yet I wasn’t there just for dreaming, I was there for business: the Istanbul Book Fair. And this truly was the golden laurel wreathe for me. I was on my publisher’s – Inkilap’s – stand for a couple of hours on both Saturday and Sunday. There must have been 30,000 people in the halls, avid readers of all ages come to browse and buy. And I had the most extraordinary team who did what I have rarely seen: actively sell books!
Directly, as if in the city’s Great Bazaar, hawking the wares to passers by, drawing them to the table where I sat, pen poised. My editor is the wonderful Senem Davies, and the champion ‘hawker’ is Merve ‘la Merve -ieux’ who was selling mine amongst others, loudly declaiming their wares – until I pointed out that Robin Cook and James Patterson weren’t actually there and I was… so how about coming over to my table? She did, we sold, I signed furiously. I got buyers to write their names down – Turkish is full of umlauts and cedillas and strange half moons to show emphasis. Purchasers ranged in age from 80 year old gentlemen to ten year old boys, and in style from chic ladies in dresses to others in headscarves. Many spoke excellent English and I answered questions, especially why I, a Canadian-Brit, had tackled such a Turkish story. My reply was version of the same: how I came to their city and fell in love; how I was honoured that a Turkish publisher would consider my effort worthy to join in the great catalogue of words written about this amazing place.
Here are some of the great Inkilap team. Merve, Senem. And aren’t Turkish women lovely? Sibele on the end only confirms this distracting fact. (I’d add photos of the also gorgeous Sena and Burcu if this post wouldn’t get totally overwhelmed in beauty!)
Gradually the pile sank. I am not sure exactly how many copies I started with. But I suspect I sold around 130 in two-two hour stints. I realized that I might indeed ‘sell out’ and was determined to do so, declaring that I wouldn’t leave until it was all gone.
And then there it was: A sign to gladden any author’s heart.
I think this post has gone on long enough. Sometime in the next few days I will post a new gallery of my Istanbul visits past and present. For now, all I can say, to all at amazing Inkilap, to all those who bought and, I hope, are enjoying my novel: Tesurkker ederim. I will be back to see you all again… SOON!