Thursday, October 21, 2010

Author who movie-storyboards key scenes before writing his Egypt-based mystery adventure thrillers...

How I visualized the opening to The Smiting Texts Egypt adventure novel.

What comes first - the book or the movie?

As a Creative Director in advertising, I've learnt to think visually. As a result, I like to do a book storyboard using Googled photos - like this opening scene from The Smiting Texts. As the storyboard shows, I visualized a Hugh Laurie type as my witty British rogue Egyptologist Anson Hunter.

I did the same with the next books in the Egypt adventure series: "The Hathor Holocaust" "The Ibis Apocalypse" and the rest in the series.

This approach helps to achieve a heightened sense of reality - as important for the author in writing as it is to the reader living the story.

I've almost shot the movie BEFORE I've written the book.


e Ibis Apocalypse. The trilogy is now a series...

Monday, October 11, 2010


The African Kingdom even toppled the might of Egypt.
Photo from a research trip to Nubia.

Not long ago I was lucky to attend a lecture by visiting German Professor Wildung on the Rediscovery of Ancient Sudan. It raised the question for me: why aren’t the so-called Afrocentrists content to claim the dazzling rival civilization to Egypt, Nubia/Sudan?

Here, my renegade fiction hero Anson Hunter touches on the controversial issue in a scene ('The Hathor Holocaust').

Chapter 11
Gebel Barkal, Nubia

ANSON SAT next to the driver, thrown around in the cabin of the Land Cruiser, as they approached an isolated butte rising in the shimmer of the desert.

Here the great Nubian kingdom of Napata once flourished at a place where the River Nile, slithering like a snake on a scorched belly across the largest desert on earth, loses its way. Stunned by the smoking heat of the Nubian sun, it twists back on itself, flowing in the wrong direction for 270 kilometres - back towards the heart of Africa, before winding its way into Egypt.

And here, too, the design of pyramids changes direction. Unlike those of Egypt, they were smaller, clustered together and tapered, with steep-sides inclined at seventy degrees, as if stretched in a heat haze, or as if viewed through the eyes of a Modigliani.

“That’s the holy mountain of Gebel Barkal over there, near the town of Karima, where we’ll camp. It marks the most important religious complex in Nubia and the second most important to the Egyptians,” he said for the benefit of Gemma. “It was the southern home of the God Amun-re.” He pointed into the haze. “The Royal Necropolis of the ancient city of Napata, the Nubian capital before the Meroitic period, lies over there to the north. There are also large pyramid fields at El Kurru, a few kilometres southwards from the mountain, and at Nuri, on the other side of the Nile.”

Gemma, in the back seat, commented:

“I suppose with such an influential neighbour as Egypt, Nubia was bound to become a mirror society instead of a stand-alone civilisation.”

The Nubian driver growled.

“Let me tell you something. Nubia not only stood alone. One of our great Nubian kings, Taharka, formed an alliance with ancient Israel and defended Jerusalem from a siege by the Assyrians, driving them away. He is even mentioned by name in the Old Testament.”

The driver was no mere driver. The shiny headed man, as dark as the image of a shade in an Egyptian tomb, was a former inspector of Nubian antiquities. Ali had a degree in Egyptology and was now a specialist tour operator and something of a renegade as well as a friend of Anson’s.

Anson added: “The Nubian Taharka may have done more than save Israel’s bacon. He may have rescued the entire Jewish culture and religion. The Assyrians under Sennacherib were intent on destroying Jerusalem and deporting its people. Consider this. The Old Testament had yet to be written and they were still wrestling with the concept of Yawveh. Where would the Abrahamic faiths Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - be, if the Nubians hadn’t stood by Jerusalem? It was a turning point for the Western world and the Middle East.”

“I’m no Afrocentrocist, by the way,” Ali said, softening. “I’m not claiming that Egypt was a black civilisation. It wasn’t, although there certainly were black elements and black pharaohs. No, we have our own civilisation to be proud of.”

“Indeed the Nubians had a long and intricate relationship with Egypt,” Anson said, smiling. “From New Kingdom times they were admired for their loyalty and honesty and hired as the police force of Egypt and also as mercenaries because of their prowess with the bow. The Egyptians felt they could rely on the Nubians - right up to the point where they invaded and took over the country in the eighth century BC. These guys did a reverse takeover and ruled Egypt for almost a hundred years! They became the pharaohs of the twenty-fifth dynasty, with their capital at Gebel Barkal.”

Ali laughed.

“And Anson trusts me!”

Sunday, October 10, 2010


"If the extremists had their dearest wish would they obliterate these remnants from the so-called Age of Ignorance before Islam?"

Extreme Islam’s hostility to Egypt’s ‘pagan’ antiquities rears its head - again. (Recent article, 'Public Outcry after Salafi preacher's fatwa on antiquities', Almasryalyoum, Fri Oct 8, 2010)

Maybe my renegade Egyptologist hero Anson Hunter was right. (Here's a scene set in the British Museum from my novel 'The Hathor Holocaust' - Amazon Kindle & Paperback)

Chapter 4

‘A MUSEUM is a dangerous place.’

Sir Flinders Petrie, pioneer British Egyptologist, first said those words, but today Anson was thinking them.

A man had followed him to the British Museum.

Who was he?

Petrie had been thinking about another kind of danger when he’d made his famous remark about the dangers of museums. The founder of modern scientific Egyptology had been alluding to the manner in which the early Cairo museum had dealt with a royal mummy fragment found at Abydos, a single, bandaged arm, covered in jewels, the only remains of First Dynasty king Zer.

The curators took the jewels and tossed the arm way, the earliest royal mummy remains ever to come to light. It was a mummy horror story to eclipse any devised by the most febrile imagination, Anson had always thought, but right at that moment his mind was on the other worry.

Anson went up the steps and between the Ionic-style columns into the building. He passed through a crowded reception hall to arrive in the Great Court beyond.

Above the court, a tessellated glass and steel roof spread out overhead like a vast, glowing net, catching clouds, blue sky and a spirit of illumination, while the round, central building swelled like an ivory tower of learning. He crossed the clean bright space before heading left to the door of the Egyptian section.

Inside the dimmer light of the hall, a group of school children crowded around the Rosetta Stone in its glass display case. Two little black girls peered inside, their heads close together as they examined the stone, their hair braided in cornrows. An African look, he thought. It linked his thoughts to Africa’s greatest river, the Nile, and to Egypt’s irrigated fields that bounded it and made Egypt the breadbasket of the ancient world.

He made for the sculpture gallery.

Egypt, both divinely monumental and naturalistic, surrounded him. Two statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III, powerfully formed in dark granodiorite, flanked the entranceway to a hall, granting admittance, and inside, as stone slid by, other familiar sights came into view, a red granite lion with charmingly crossed forepaws, and further on, the statue of the Chief Steward Senenmut tenderly holding the daughter of Queen Hatshepsut, the little princess Neferure, on his lap - the child wrapped within his cloak and her face peeping out - then a soaring, crowned head of Pharaoh Amenhotep in the background. And people everywhere, creating a sound of buzzing like voices in a cathedral at prayer time.

But he barely saw or heard them. He paused at a figure standing on a pedestal near a wall on the right hand side, almost overshadowed by a colossal granite torso of Rameses the Great in the centre of the hall.

Khaemwaset, the priest-prince and magician.

Anson confronted the figure. The sculpture depicted the prince in a pleated kilt, stepping forward while holding a pair of emblematic staves at his sides. The conglomerate stone must have presented a technical challenge to the sculptor as it was shot through with multi-coloured pebbles. It made Khaemwaset look as if galaxies were exploding out of his chest.

A museum label said:

Red breccia standing figure... one of the favourite sons of Rameses II, the legendary Khaemwese…

The label used a variant spelling of the name Khaemwaset.

He looked up at the face. Intelligent, sensitive features, faintly saddened. An air as haunted as the face of the sphinx.

Anson silently interrogated the statue.

Open up, Khaemwaset. As one renegade to another, what do you really know? As a seeker of forbidden power, did you open the sanctuary of Hathor, provoking fiery destruction, plagues and pestilence on your father Rameses and his kingdom? Legend tells that you found the magical Book of Thoth, so why not the disc of Ra, too?

Egyptologists agreed on one thing. Prince Khaemwaset was a kindred spirit. ‘The world’s first Egyptologist’ they called him, as a result of the prince’s peculiar antiquarian interests. Khaemwaset lived a few thousand years before his time and had a fondness for digging up and restoring ancient tombs and monuments in the Memphis and Saqqara areas, some already more than a thousand years old at the time of his attentions. He did this he said, because of his ‘love of the ancient days and the noble ones who dwelt in antiquity and the perfection of everything they made’.

But another reason was his love and pursuit of secret, forbidden power. This led to his being venerated by future generations as a great magician and remembered in a cycle of stories. Khaemwaset, seeker of illumination, put a good official complexion on his activities by dedicating the exploration and conservation work to the honour of his vainglorious father, Rameses, yet he did not shy away from leaving his own name recorded on the monuments.

“I did not expect to see an alternative theorist looking up to an Egyptologist with such awe,” a voice said, interrupting his contemplation.

A man joined him and shared his inspection of Khaemwaset.

He was a Middle Eastern man with tight, curly hair and a widow’s peak and he had a whiff of cigarette tobacco on his leather jacket.

He was the man who had shadowed him to the museum.

“I can accept the tag of part-time conservationist for him if you press me,” Anson said. “But not Egyptologist. Khaemwaset was first and foremost a metaphysician. His reputation as a powerful magician lasted for thousands of years. In fact even in the nineteen thirties, a group calling itself the Society of the Inner Light beat a regular path to this very statue in the British Museum, believing that it exuded powers and acted as a medium for metaphysical activity. And your interest? You know something about Khaemwaset. And about me.”

The man’s eyelids partly veiled the irises of his eyes. It made him look as if he were communing with some inner voice.

“I know enough. But let me say this to you. Do you think it wise to go in search of the forbidden and dangerous? Do you think it advisable to prod around among ancient, pagan belief systems and risk destabilising the balance of a region?”

“The Middle East?” Anson said.

The stranger nodded.

“In the first place, yes, but the risks go wider. Do you ever stop to think that your digging around might help to begin a worldwide catastrophe?”

Who was he? A hard man, dressed in a tight jacket and an open necked shirt, he had an air of officialdom about him. It would be handy if people came with museum labels.

“My name is Ahmed Ragab.”

He was a messenger, Anson guessed. But who had sent him? The Supreme Council of Antiquities? The Egyptian Government?

Strange currents are gathering around me lately. First the girl on the train and now this Egyptian.

“You just happened to be here and decided to wander over and offer me a piece of advice.”

“You could put it that way.”

“Okay, I’ll tell you what. Seeing you’ve asked, I’ll just give up my life’s work.”

“It is your life that is a concern. Think about what you are doing and take your steps very, very carefully my friend.”

“You are obviously thinking that I’m on to something. Is that the official view in Egypt?”

“We have seen your persistence before and we know how your brand of speculation seems to attract other interests. Be careful what friends you make. You are a dangerous man and one who is being watched, be assured of that.”

“You’re a long way from home to be making threats.”

“So is Khaemwaset a long way from home, and all the sculptures in this British Museum. They should be back in Egypt.”

“Maybe they’re safer here.” Safer away from extremists, he thought.

“You are safer here too, Mr Hunter. Good day.”

The Egyptian left him and went to examine a relief carved in red granite and mounted on the wall, of Pharaoh Osorkon II and his wide-bodied consort, Queen Karomama.

What was he to make of this approach?

The Egyptian authorities were nervous and that meant they believed in the existence of some new find that could have repercussions, fearing its potential to disturb the intricate equilibrium of the region. But what exactly was the root of their fear - religion or politics? Or both? The Egyptian stranger’s aversion to ‘pagan belief systems’ disturbed him.

Modern Muslim Egyptians lived in fearful tension with their ancient past, he reflected, turning a sweeping glance around the British Museum’s hall of sculptures, taking in the statue of Khaemwaset and the colossal head of Rameses behind him. Not long before, Egypt’s Grand Mufti had issued a fatwa against sculpture. Egypt’s ancient sculptures were forbidden by Islam, he said. Sculptors were doomed to receive the harshest treatment on Judgement Day.

If the extremists had their dearest wish would they obliterate these remnants from the so-called Age of Ignorance before Islam?

Antiquities authorities in the Arab Republic of Egypt wondered why Western museums were less than eager to repatriate their Egyptian collections to Egypt, yet who could see what lay in the future for this Islamic nation?

Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities had distanced itself from the fatwa, saying that the sculptures they preserved and showcased were not for the purposes of idolatry but to provide a window on history. “We display statues so they can be studied and so people can get to know their heritage. This is Egypt's national heritage. We don't display them for worship.”

A number of influential sheikhs supported the mufti, however, while intellectuals and artists in Egypt were said to have called the fatwa laughable.

And yet…

Could firebrands one day use this as an excuse to harm treasures of history that belonged to all of humankind?

The Taliban in Afghanistan demonstrated the peril of antiquities in the hands of ideologues. They had used explosives to destroy the sixth century Buddhas of Bamyan, a pair of colossal Buddhas carved into the side of a sandstone cliff, irreplaceable examples of Indo-Greek art.

In spite of recent hectoring by the Supreme Council of Antiquities to return artifacts to Egypt from the museums of the world, modern Egypt's exclusive claim on the civilisation of the pharaohs was shaky. Where was the link of this 21st century Arabic society with ancient Egypt? Not religion, not language, not politics, probably not even temperament, certainly not philosophy or social structure - let alone shared basic assumptions about equality between the sexes - not artistic tradition, not even the rhythm of life regulated by the ebb and flow of the Nile - the construction of the Aswan High Dam severed that link forever.

Today’s new antiquities grab was as questionable as the first rape of the Nile by colonial powers. It was a form of rampant nationalism and, in more enlightened times, disagreeable in Anson’s view.

It was also counter-productive for today's Egypt. The very presence of ancient

Egyptian antiquities in the museums of the world spurred thousands to visit Egypt every year.

Why kill the goose that laid the golden sarcophagus? he thought.

Feeling a surge of protectiveness for the civilisation he loved, he suddenly - unreasonably, he knew - wished that the British Museum’s ancient Egyptian galleries were ten times their present size, along with those of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Louvre, Berlin Neues Museum and Turin Museum.

And yet he liked a great many Egyptians very much and he loved the land of Egypt itself and its sites of antiquity and he valued the feeling of place that connected him with the past. The Nile Valley was still the biggest and best museum on earth.

He cast a final glance at the broad back of the Egyptian man and walked away. The issue of who owned the past was a complicated one. He moved on through the hall.

He passed an object that had the appearance of a vast stone bathtub. In fact, this was pretty much the fate that had befallen it, he thought. The granite sarcophagus of the last native king of Egypt, Nectanebo II, finely covered with inscriptions taken from the Book of ‘What is in the Underworld’, had never been used for his final resting place, but instead had ended up in Alexandria where it was used for ritual ablutions and dubbed ‘Alexander’s bath’. Napoleon and his company of scholars found it in a mosque in Alexandria, where locals declared it to be the sarcophagus of Eskander, as they called Alexander the Great.

Anson kept moving, his sights set on some other special artefacts.

There they were. A woman stood in front of them, a group of four looming statues of the lioness-headed goddess Sekhmet-Hathor in granite, commissioned by the fearful king Amenhotep III to pacify her angry onslaught. On slender women’s bodies, the lioness heads looked frozen with the ferocious intent of big cats that have spotted a prey. The Museum had over twenty fragments of the 600 now accounted for, the vast majority of them now standing in the precinct of Egypt’s Karnak Temple.

He felt a shiver. He imagined as he looked up at a disc on a feline head that he could hear the roar of an angry sun.

“Is Egypt threatening you again?” The woman in front of the exhibit spoke to him.

“I’m sorry?”

“I overheard your exchange just now.”

How much of it?

“Oh, that. Yes, I do have an unsettling effect on the Egyptian authorities.”

“You upset them.”

“Let’s say we have history - and not just the ancient kind.”

She was snugly dressed against the London chill in a coat and boots, a blonde with a peculiarly clean, English appeal.

“We need to talk. This is not an accidental meeting. I’m here to pick you up for some polite questioning.”

A museum is a dangerous place.

Who was she? Antiquity authorities? Interpol?

Did she know about the girl on the train? This could ruin everything.

“Maybe you should introduce yourself,” he said.

“Not here. How about a break and an early lunch? I missed breakfast to get here and now I’m starving.”

“You missed breakfast on my account? I hope I’m worth it.