Tuesday, 6 November 2007

MGHarris.net is almost ready and I'm moving the blog...

Thanks to all you lovely readers for reading this blog. I have been working on a new site which will be hosted at MGHarris.net

All the old blog posts are there, and also your kind comments.

(Lucas has beaten most of you to it and discovered it all on his own...)

To those of you who have subscribed to this blog via email, you'll hopefully be pleased to know that I've set up the same facility on the new site.

So that's it for my Blogger blog. My next post will be on MGHarris.net and only there. I've spent the evening learning how to use the Wordpress CMS and I think I'm good-to-go. Not an expert user yet but then you don't want the site crowded by too many widgets...

Meanwhile, Gareth Stranks, where are you? We need to talk about designing me a new Website header...
Hope to see you all at MGHarris.net! And thanks to my wonderful agent Peter for all his help setting me up with Wordpress when I was in Mexico.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Extras by BlackBerry

I believe I have already mentioned my adddiction to my BlackBerry Pearl. Not since the luscious Palm Vx have I been so taken by a gadget. The iPhone looks very pretty but it will take a while to convince me to part with my CrackBerry.
Meeting a group of independent, London-based booksellers last week I realise that the anecdote which they seemed to enjoy most during the after-dinner conversation was the one which followed a throaway comment of mine about how most of the 'extras' in the book 'Invisible City' had in fact been written abroad and on a BlackBerry. By sheer coincidence I kept receiving emails from the desk editor at Scholastic asking for urgent additions to the book, and was always away from home at the time.
For example: the text of the integral code which readers can track throughout the book, solve and win an iPod, was written late one evening in a bar in a hotel in Nimes, France. Not because I was drinking, but I needed peace and quiet and the hotel was very quiet at night.
For example: the Q&As (if they include them) were received very early in the morning whilst we were on the isolated, corally beach near Tulum, Mexico. I had jet lag and there was no internet access in the hotel so wound up typing out the whole reply on the BlackBerry, under the bedcovers whilst the rest of my family slept. Then I went out and finished it as the sun was coming up.
What would I do without my BlackBerry? I would miss deadlines, that's what.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Day of the Dead

Calaveras de dulce - sugar skulls on sale in Cancun's Market 23

Well, I'm back. I was going to post a very jolly thing about Day of the Dead and the party we had last night to celebrate the Mexican festival of Dia de los Muertos, but it seems rather crass given that for thousands of Mexicans in Tabasco state, yesterday was one major disaster - the awful floods.

Earlier this year, photos of Oxford flooded made it onto international news and resulted in my Mexican relatives sending me anxious emails. A bit of a turn-around - normally we're the ones calling about earthquakes or volcanic eruptions (part of my family comes from a small town near the active volcano Popocatepetl).

Anyway, from the looks of it Tabasco state has got it pretty bad indeed, but so far not many people dead, thank God. Either it's a miracle or Mexico isn't so third-world as the outside world likes to portray it.

It's been a busy, busy week and I started it by being ill with some virus. Had to go to London to do stuff with the publishers and only started to feel better yesterday. Then I set myself up as the cocktail mixer for the party, making margaritas and daiquiris, sampling all batches of course. Feeling a bit delicate again to be honest...

"Invisible City" has been selected by the trade magazine "Publishing News" as one of its February Picks with a very nice review that head of publicity at Scholastic passed on to me:
"Conspiracy and intrigue, complemented by non-stop action and excellent characterisation make this an exciting debut. Think Young Bond/CHERUB levels of potential. Plus the cover is really cool."
The publishers and I are all pretty chuffed by that...

Friday, 26 October 2007

Shopping in a Mexican market

In the artesanias market, Tulum
I love shopping in Mexican markets. In fact a visit to Mexico isn't complete without one. They smell of tropical fruit but even stronger of fish and meat; they're colourful and messy.
This morning we went to Cancun's non-glitzy downtown, were the locals live and shop, to Market 23, where my sister had advised me that I could shop for Day of the Dead decorations and sweets - the typical decorated sugar skulls. I'll post photos around the time of 2nd November...
The photo above shows the Tulum shop where I shopped for Mayan souvenirs to show to readers. Yanno, one day, if anyone ever invites me to talk at a school or anything. This guy gave me some great deals.
Yeah right. He first offered me a price based on the marketing law of pricing: wherever possible, charge offensive minus a penny. But for me, there was a deal. I was offered the goods at a price of offensive minus tuppence.
There's a lot of this in Mexico now. What with the Big Tourism and everything, prices in tourist traps such as Tulum, Cancun and Playa del Carmen are pretty steep. Things were much cheaper at the deserted huts outside Becan, Chicanna and Calakmul.
There just wasn't much for sale.
Tourists don't visit Cancun's Market 23 though. It's strictly for locals. Bargain city.
Been taking photos of Joshua-related things. I'll be adding them to my site sometime soon...

Monday, 22 October 2007

Bugged Out in Calakmul

Our daughter on top of Structure VI at Calakmul, Campeche, Mexico

If you've never heard of the ancient Mayan city of Calakmul, don't worry. Neither have most Mexicans. That includes people in the tourist industry and work just a few hours away. It also includes the people who set up the otherwise excellent Mayan museum at Chetumal, the state capital of Quintana Roo and at 3.5 hours away, the nearest large town to Calakmul.

But back in the day, Calakmul was the local city-state; 'the day' being roughly in the middle of the seventh century. Calakmul was the Snake Kingdom, vying for power with the huge city-state of Tikal (now in Guatemala).

The ruins of Calakmul are not what you'd call particularly accessible - even now when there's a paved road which takes you all through the 50km of surrounding bioreserve . Until quite recently though it really was lost in the jungle. Archaeologists are only starting to uncover the history of the region. A major breakthrough came with the decipherment by Mayanist David Stuart of an inscription on a staircase at Dos Pilas. (See Maya Hieroglyphs Recount "Giant War" in National Geographic).

(There's a recent issue of National Geographic with several great articles about recent findings in Mayan archaeology.)

Visiting the ruins at Calakmul, as well as those at nearby Chicanna and Becan, gave me the biggest 'discovery' buzz I've ever had at an archaeological site. Unlike other sites such as Chichen Itza, Palenque, Uxmal, El Tajin, Teotihuacan and Tula, the ruins at these three Campeche sites have been left relatively uncleared. The trees have been left growing between the main excavated structures, and in many cases, left growing out of the actual temples, as in the photo above.

There are howler monkeys and spider monkeys in the woods. They swing through the trees watching you progress along the trail.

That, plus the fact that in all these places we were practically the only people visiting the sites, gave us the feeling of what it must have been to discover these places...kind of like John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood, the latter was the artist who produced such evocative pictures as the one shown below.

The downside is the mosquitoes, and the heat. The ruins of Calakmul and Chicanna are accessed by walking down a jungle trail, during which a cloud of vicious mosquitoes surround you and munch on every scrap of exposed flesh. Insect repellent may cut your bites down to twenty or so. Stop moving and they'll settle for a good, steady drink of your blood.

But heck. It's worth it.