We’re Done!

No, not you and me, silly. I don’t want to spoil a beautiful relationship, let’s make the most of it. Happy New Year.

I’m talking about my third book, Clear Eyes—the first draft got finished this morning. I’m pleased, of course, but also a little sad. It’s that ‘post’ feeling. Post-coital, post-natal, lord knows. Post-script.

In the end it weighed in at 90,668 words, slightly over three hundred pages. Now comes the rest: print, revise, finalize, publish. I was aiming for 90k, so that’s not bad—however I didn’t try to lard it up or trim it to meet that target. It’s as if the book knew it needed to be that size.

I’m so pleased I didn’t have a plan. I only figured out what to do with some of the characters when I was writing yesterday—it’s only when I write that people come alive, and then they tell me what to do.

All in all, this one took nineteen months, although I’d have loved to finish it within a year. But for the final push this Christmas, twelve thousand words in as many days. Full time, that’s a book every three months, although it wouldn’t work that way.

But in all fairness, those nineteen months included a mountain of research, two visits to Palos de la Frontera, one to the Columbus house in Las Palmas, and one to Genoa. Out of the three places, I recommend the first two—all three made it into my blog, but the maritime museum in Genoa was very disappointing.

I was on a schedule, and didn’t have time to see Columbus’ home in Genoa, but I suspect it would be underwhelming—the man lived there only in his youth, if at all.

I learned a lot of history, and I’ve tried to pass that on in my usual way—writing it so you won’t notice it’s there. One of the most exciting things for me was to delve into the history of the Caribbean peoples that Columbus encountered.

All of Book 2 (The Indies) is devoted to reconstructing the period he spent in the various Central American islands, including the Bahamas, Cuba, and Santo Domingo. This was perhaps the most laborious part of the work—the Lucayan people had no written history, and most of their narratives disappeared as the Spanish consolidated their occupation of South America—simply because the ‘conquistadores’ killed a vast number of indigenous people, and otherwise enslaved and brutalized the population.

Map of the four journeys of Columbus.

Map of the four journeys of Columbus. The first journey was the closest he ever came to the United States.

In parallel, the Americas were repopulated with African slaves, further diluting the local culture.

I did find many intriguing texts, including centuries-old works in Spanish, Portuguese, and French—the Internet is now a powerhouse of good information, provided you have a decent grasp of languages, and are prepared to delve into difficult texts.

All the original diary of Columbus published by Navarrete is online, as well as the admiral’s correspondence. The Gutenberg project, which provides digital versions of old books, and a host of other sources, mean you can surf the planet to get what you need.

Where would I like to visit before finishing the book? La Gomera is top of the list. If I’d realized how important that little island in the archipelago of the Canaries would be for my story, I’d have made time to go there.

And the Beinecke library at Yale, to see two maps: one by the Portuguese Jorge de Aguiar, one from Henricus Martellus. I tried last April, but the library was closed for refurbishment.

There are two more places I hope to visit next month, but the book will be out by then: the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice, which holds a map by Andrea Bianco made in 1436, and the Biblioteca Estense in Modena, which has the original 1502 Cantino map. The whole segment of the West African coast in the Cantino map was ‘lifted’ from the map by Aguiar.

Part of the thrill of researching history from this period is undoubtedly the maps. In between The India Road and Clear Eyes I’ve amassed quite a collection, almost all in digital. One of these days I’ll set them up chronologically and give you a slide show.

Atmos Fear was mapless. Too recent. And the next book will be mapless too, simply because it is uncharted—The Hourglass will be a book about the future.

In order to research Clear Eyes, I built a spreadsheet containing all the days where there is a log entry—obviously this implies that I read the log. I read the original Spanish version (1825), and the excellent translation into English by Clements R. Markham (1892). Several times, as the need arose.

To deal with the issue of the fake log book, I calculated the leagues, and then the equivalent Italian sea miles—Columbus confused these with Arab sea miles in his estimates of the distance to Cipango. This was then crossed with distances measured on Google Earth.

My conclusions? Overall, the admiral made a pretty accurate estimate of distance traveled—it’s just that it wasn’t Japan, it was the Caribbean Sea. The sea was named after the Caribs, about the only thing that was correct in all this geographical mess.

What else is worth noting? Perhaps the fact that I found absolutely no credible evidence that Columbus was anything other than Genoese. Not Jewish, and not from Portugal, Poland, or any other of his many supposed origins.

One of the more bizarre claims on nationality uses the village of Cuba, in Southern Portugal, as ‘evidence’ that Columbus was Portuguese. Alas, Cubao was the Taino name of the island—’Portuguese’ Columbus called it Juana in honor of Juan, the only son of the Catholic Kings of Spain. How very patriotic.

I hope Clear Eyes is something different, both fun and accurate—they’re not incompatible. I toyed with the idea of a publication date of March 4th, the day Columbus arrived in Lisbon, but I’m far too impatient. I’d be amazed if you couldn’t buy it this January.

In my rummaging for this text I found yet another map, this fascinating production by the German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller, made in 1507.

The map was made as a tribute to Amerigo Vespucci. Unfortunately, the man after whom America is named was a complete hoax-but that's another story.

The map was made on the basis of the writings of Amerigo Vespucci. Unfortunately, the man after whom America is named was a complete hoax-but that’s another story. For now, suffice it to say that the coast of America was drawn based on Vespucci’s letters, which explains why it shows nothing of interest!

This is my first post of 2016, and it is fit and proper that it speaks of history.

Oh, by the way. That map? The Library of Congress paid ten million bucks for it in 2001. Fancy a quick look in the attic?

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones and tablets.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones and tablets.


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