Monday, 19 May 2008

Done and Dusted

It is with great relief and pride that I can announce that as of three minutes ago I sent my editor at Icon Books the completed manuscript of What is Myrrh Anyway?

In due course edits, corrections and additions will inevitably need to be made, but for the time being I can actually get to bed before midnight for once and drift off to sleep knowing that I've got to the end of another book - my nineteenth, to be precise - and that it's a job well done.

And what's more, I'm off to Italy on holiday on Friday, which will be the first time I've been abroad in five years. The timing really couldn't be better.

So, until next time...

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Marco Polo and the Three Wise Men

What does the famous thirteenth century Venetian trader and explorer Marco Polo have to do with the three wise men of the Christmas story? Well, more than you might think, as it turns out.

Six centuries ago the Travels of Marco Polo were synonymous with tall stories. The Venetian earned himself the nickname of Marco Millions because he had apparently seen millions of marvels which his contemporaries back home found hard to swallow.

One of these marvels (or three, if you're feeling pedantic) were the tombs of the three Magi who had visited the Christ child, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Marco visited the ornate sepulchres at the town of Saveh which is now Tehran, the capital city of Iran.

But more amazing than that was the legend Marco heard whilst there about the three wise men. If you'd like to know more, What is Myrrh Anyway? has all the answers.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Who is Zwarte Piet anyway?

Today I've been finding out more about the curious character known to the Dutch as Zwarte Piet and to the English as Black Peter.

In our more PC age, the idea of someone blacking up to play the part of Father Christmas' assistant seems awkwardly out of place. But that is exactly what happens in the Netherlands at the start of December.

The Dutch version of Father Christmas, Sinter Klaus, arrives by boat on the last Saturday in November with his helper Zwarte Piet. Children are told that this Black Peter is Spanish and will whip naughty boys and girls.

However, the truth of the matter is that he actually pre-dates the Christianizing of the midwinter festival. For Black Peter was once the Dark Helper, a horned, shaggy haired demon, slave of Odin, father of the Norse gods.

If that's whetted your appetite and you want to find out more, you only have to wait until October. What is Myrrh Anyway? has a whole chapter concerning the origins of Father Christmas, from Odin and his Dark Helper through to Clement Clarke Moore and Coca-Cola.