References / facts

The internet is a great place to find information.

It’s an even better place to find distractions, confusions and outright silliness.

I spent a long time worrying about terminology, accuracy and even, in some cases, physical possibility when thinking about what I laughingly term my book. There is so much out there that the more I looked for information the less likely I was to actually get anything done. I’ve certainly had my eyes opened on a number of subjects … maybe some things I could have done with not knowing.

In the end I just had to say ‘sod it’ and get on with writing. I’m probably wrong on many counts. The damn thing is set in a future with impossible people so who is to say what may or may not be appropriate terminology.

History, real ancient history, is one of the things I have tried to maintain an air of versimilitude (you can tell I’ve not had a drink yet today). Having shelves of Egyptology books doesn’t necessarily mean that I don’t go off-piste – once I get settled on the sofa it is often easier to go www rather than get up and look for the books I know have the reference that I half remember.


When I was thinking about what to call my experimental soldiers I found nothing that I was very happy with. I left it and left it, waiting for an appropriate word to bubble up from my subconscious. Eventually, looking at the line of Egyptian figurines on my mantelpiece I thought ‘Shabti’ and I was happy. The word has different spellings – shabti, ushabti, wushabti – and the little figures are generally reckoned to have been magical stand-ins in the Egyptian afterlife. The richer the deceased the more shabtis he would have and the better modelled they would be. There were worker shabtis and overseer shabtis of all types, all inscribed with the spells that committed them to answer on the part of their owner should he be asked to do any task in the Field of Reeds.

So many shabtis have been found that they cram forgotten cases in museums around the world and a quick search on ebay will always uncover entries for many ‘genuine’ examples but, to be honest, reproductions are cheaper and generally nicer looking unless you have very, very deep pockets.

In searching for a word to describe an army of the faceless and nameless to be sacrificed and used by their government owners then ‘shabti’ seemed to be the right one.


Once I’d decided on using a real word for my disposable soldiers then it seemed easy to include other Ancient Egyptian references in other parts of the book. Egypt became the backdrop to the relationship between Gihon and Dave, the sense of time and history seemed appropriate. The apartment they live in is one I would like to have but after taking 4 years to complete a mural in my own house I doubt I would be able to complete the decoration I’ve described.

I have an idea for one of the story beats to take place at a maskerade party where the main characters appear in costumes appropriate to the gods guarding their rooms. Just me having a bit of fun with the notion but when someone refers to Gihon as a hippo he is not being offensive, the hippo represented Set as he was finally defeated by Horus. And before anyone gets snarky about hints that Set had an unnatural interest in his young nephew well that can also be found in the Egyptian stories.

Trust me, you may never look at lettuce the same way again. That’s all I’ll say for now.

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Current reading

I love reading. Reading is about one of the best pleasures in life.

As a tiddler I was a bit slow on the uptake, regularly thought of as ‘nice but dim’. Then, after being kept in what was euphamistically called a vertical class for a year (quick ones from lower down, slower ones from older year – you can guess where I was from) the penny seemed to drop. Either that or they bowed to the bleeding obvious and let me put a pen in my left hand instead of making a complete hash of things with my right.

After that I lived in my head. In the long pause between the invention of the wheel and the internet there were things called books and, if you you were a bit odd like me, comics.

I love comics – literature and art combined – what’s not to like?

Anyway, along with other distractions I am having great fun catching up on Sandman. If you’ve never read Neil Gaiman I just can’t recommend him enough – books, comics and now even scripts for Dr Who. Uncanny vituosity can be found in bookshops, comic stores, Twitter (@neilhimself) and at http://www.neilgaiman.com

Sandman cover

Sandman - The Sound of Her Wings