Monday, 11 November 2013

The Caravanserai, Facebook discussion group

The Caravanserai

A caravanserai is an inn in some eastern countries with a large courtyard that provides accommodation for caravans, and hospitality for travellers.

The Caravanserai Facebook discussion group

The Caravanserai is a new open and informal group at Facebook for people interested in a broad range of fields such as spirituality, mysticism and similar traditions; psychology; cultural research; education; learning; human rights and humanitarian concerns; the environment, and creativity ... or whatever material, news or internet links you feel would interest other members here.

Feel free to take part in formal discussion; to share your experience, or to simply engage in relaxed chat.

You can find The Caravansarai discussion group at Facebook.

The frame story behind the name "caravansarai" can be found in the writer, thinker and Sufi mystical teacher Idries Shah's works:

Saturday, 2 November 2013

The Institute For Cultural Research and The Idries Shah Foundation

Many of you will know that the London-based The Institute For Cultural Research (ICR), founded by the writer, thinker and Sufi mystical teacher Idries Shah, has now suspended its activities.

A new organization, The Idries Shah Foundation, has now taken its place, and the foundation's publishing arm, ISF Publishing supersedes Octagon Press.

ICR, New Year 2012/2013:

Here is a copy of a statement sent out to members and friends of the ICR around New Year 2012/2013:

Dear Members and Friends of ICR,

As most of you know, ICR is working towards changing into The Idries Shah Foundation in the near future.

Since it transpires that charities law grinds exceedingly slowly, we will continue to operate as usual until the new Foundation is set up.

Three lectures are being planned for the spring of 2013, and will be held at King's College between the end of February to the middle of May.

The ICR AGM will take place a little later than usual next year, in order to maximise the chances of the new foundation being operational by the time we meet.

At the last AGM, Saira Shah set out the reasons for the change:

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Casablanca Blues by Tahir Shah: Book review

Casablanca Blues book cover
☆☆☆☆☆ Casablanca Blues is another exciting, gripping, fast-paced, well crafted and atmospheric read from travel writer turned fiction author Tahir Shah. Personally, I found this to be Shah's best fictional work thus far.

The central character of the book, Blaine Williams, is obsessed by the classic film Casablanca and its own stars, Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, and is going through a mid-life crisis. This doesn't last very long, however, for early in the book, Shah pulls the rug from under him, again and again. Although written in different genres, this reminded me of Catherine Cookson's trademark, in which time and again, she'd shock the reader or wake them from complacency by deliberately thwarting a character or throwing them in the deep end.

As the story and Blaine Williams' character develops, however, we see that what seems like cruel fate or bad luck is perhaps a blessing in disguise. What impedes Williams and pushes him into crisis actually drags him out of a hole. Rising to the occasion – however challenging – he is propelled forward into a whole new life, and liberation, that until then he could only have obsessed and fantasized about.

All the while the author, who lives in Morocco with his family, paints an entertaining and perceptive picture of life in the land, enticing the reader to go there and share the wonderful experience. As for the eventual outcome, I don't want to give away the storyline, except to say that it greatly pleased me.

In summary, Casablanca Blues is a great read and I heartily recommend it.

Disclaimer: I first began reading Idries Shah's work (Tahir Shah's father) in the mid-1980s and later came across Tahir Shah's own writing. I was asked if I would read through a pre-publication draft of the work in PDF format, but I was not asked to write a review. This is a voluntary and honest review.

Casablanca Blues was launched in London on 20 October 2013 and will be published in November 2013. You can find it at:
You can find the author Tahir Shah at: 

• By Etienne de L'Amour ~ Google+

Saturday, 10 August 2013

How to make the most of the Kindle Paperwhite's web browser

penguin holding ebook readerI've been having a go with the experimental web browser on my Kindle Paperwhite. I was initially put off because I found it very fiddly to use, but I'm getting more used to it now, and I've also found a number of resources that make the experience more bearable. The Kindle Paperwhite is not the best web-enabled mobile device around, but the WebKit-based browser is workable at a pinch (a bit like the ZX81 of personal computers), if you're away from home, at a public wifi hotspot, or if you just want to get away from your desktop and have not been physically or psychologically chained to your desk.

I don't think it's advisable to use the Kindle Paperwhite's experimental web browser for really sensitive or important work, such as online banking.


stylus for kindle paperwhite
One thing that made a huge difference, at least for me with my fat fingers, was to buy myself a stylus from Amazon (a pen-like device with a soft rubber tip). The one I got was the "Wayzon Purple High Capacitive Soft Rubber Tip Touch Screen Stylus Pen Suitable For Amazon Kindle Paperwhite Tablet" at £2.45, but there are many others to choose from. You may prefer one with a finer, less blunt tip.

The stylus is fine for tapping on the keyboard, on hyperlinks and on buttons, though there are times when you have to zoom in to the web page content to pick out one closely-spaced link or button from the next. Clusters of social media sharing buttons are the worst, or buttons right at the edge of the screen. These styluses (or styli) have a soft rubber tip, so I'd advise that you use them for tapping and use your fingers for swiping and scrolling, if you want your stylus to last.

Tapping the screen

You'll get best results if you sharply tap the screen with your finger or stylus, rather than push. And when typing, allow a little time for key taps to register, as the Kindle's response to touch can be a bit sluggish.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Escape From the Shadowlands, free 24-28 July 2013 (updated)

Update: This title is now back to its regular price of $2.99.

Free promotion updated and extended:

Escape From the Shadowlands by Etienne de L'Amour, a soft scifi / mystical adventure ebook, is FREE for your Kindle from Wednesday 24 to Sunday 28 July 2013, inclusive, Pacific Standard Time.

☆☆☆☆☆ "Astounding, dizzying journey! Entertaining, enlightening."

If you like Doris Lessing's Shikasta, James Hilton's Lost Horizon, Idries Shah or the legendary Sarmoun Brotherhood, then give this book a try. Escape From the Shadowlands is preceded by two prequels, but it stands on its own and is self-contained, so this is probably the best book to begin reading the Shadowlands series.

Amazon US Amazon UKGoodreadsBlog post

Enjoy! :)

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Job seeking: Online diagnostic profiling

Well, here's something to think about. I've to sit an online employment profiling diagnostic test in a couple of weeks, for the Department for Work and Pensions' Work Programme. It's to help them match me up with jobs in the most appropriate fields.

My new mentor told me that this test would involve agreeing or disagreeing with questions such as "Adverts contain hidden messages."

So what would you do posed with such a question? Because some adverts actually have used subliminal images and messages and other subtly pursuasive and sometimes questionable psychological techniques, then (since there is no means by which to qualify or clarify my responses) the honest answer would be "agree". That should at least get me a a +1 on the scale of honesty, one would vainly hope.

Now, if the assessor is also aware of this possibility, then my response would be fine and dandy. But if s/he is not, then I could potentially be profiled as a "conspiracy theorist" or "crackpot". Given that, is it wiser to disagree – feigning ignorance – at the risk of being diagosed instead as "ignorant"? And if I were to express my uncertainty, would the diagnosis be "indecisive"?

God, I love this boffinry. Or is that buffoonery?

Tips for writers #6: Read, read, read

 “Read, read, read. Read everything -- trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it.

Then write. If it's good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out of the window.”

~ William Faulkner.

Monday, 15 July 2013

JK Rowling and the Secret of The Cuckoo's Calling

JK Rowling: What's in a name?

In April 2013, an ex-military policeman, Robert Galbraith, published his debut crime novel, The Cuckoo's Calling. Though critically-acclaimed, according to the New Statesman it only sold a little more than 1,500 copies. Then something spectacular happened.

Richard Brooks, the Sunday Times' arts editor was of the opinion that the quality of the writing was too good to be that of a new author. Later, a columnist at the Sunday Times received a tip-off that the book had actually been written by JK Rowling; and finally JK Rowling admitted that it was indeed her work. Rowling told the Sunday Times, "I hoped to keep this secret a little longer because being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience. It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation, and pure pleasure to get feedback from publishers and readers under a different name."

Before this news broke, according to an article in the New Statesman, The Cuckoo's Calling was ranked #4,709 at Amazon. Within a couple of days, it had hit the top of the charts at #1, and journalists have been falling over themselves to write-up this extraordinary event. Again by the New Statesman's reckoning, at the time it hit the #3 slot at Amazon, the book had made a 150,000% "increase in sales over just one day."

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Can you spare any change?

Sadly, #BuyMyBook! is an ever-more-frequent and insistent message to be seen in the social media, and the screen shot from Twitter, shown below, really is a classic example of how not to hawk one's wares:

a tweet

Old school marketing

This kind of approach, which you could call legalized spam, is based on old school marketing, the erroneous belief that one is in competition with tens of thousands of other authors, and that the only way to have your message heard is to shout more loudly and more frequently than all the others.

Things are not made any easier by a minority of authors who shamelessly abuse the new linebreak feature at Twitter (which is great when used in moderation) to post multiline "display adverts" so that they stand out in the crowd. Nor are things made easier by authors invading or hijacking hashtags used by genuine readers, such as #amreading, to advertize their books when they have so many hashtags of their own that they could use, like #kindlebook and #99cents.

It goes without saying that adopting this approach, the "tweet-readers' experience" can only go from bad to worse, and that for the tweet-authors, there will be a rapidly diminishing rate of return. And there is sure to be an angry or frustrated backlash, especially from the old guard of traditional publishing, who just love to crow about the failings of the unwashed masses, the hoi polloi and the dire threat posed to civilization by latter day "vanity publishing".

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Is there a niche for reviews of ebooks by readers?

The Guardian newspaper has a weekly reader reviews roundup. To post a review, you first search their database to select a book, and you find that, alas, ebooks are not listed.

There are lots of groups at Facebook and Google+ where authors self-advertize, and book review bloggers who have a waiting list measured in months or years, or who are all-too-often "currently not accepting submissions".

Is there a niche for moderated groups or blogs catering for hopefully genuine reviews of ebooks by readers?

Obviously, a group or blog would need to have clear rules and guidelines and enforce them. Groups would be faced with quality control and style issues and would most likely require several moderators working in different time zones. Blogs would be more labour-intensive, as it's difficult to establish the real identity of the poster, and the owner rather than the reader would have to collect, edit and post the reviews on the readers' behalf.

Anyhow, if there is a niche for this kind of thing, then please go straight ahead. The best of luck to you!

• By Etienne de L'Amour ~ Google+

Friday, 14 June 2013

Writers and their inspiration

the muse
Inspiration can be a wonderful thing, but it can also be quite fickle ... If you want to be able to call on inspiration reliably then you need to work on it with regularity.

Someone once said that if you only go out with a bucket to collect water when it's raining, sometimes you'll get water. But if you go out with your bucket every day, even when it's not raining, sometimes you'll catch unexpected rain. And also, a strange thing may happen: that the very act of going out with your bucket may actually provoke such rain.”

So write something -- write anything -- come rain, shine, hell or high water.

~ Etienne de L'Amour, Time and Time Again.

Image: The Muse of Poesie (1886) by Konstantin Yegorovich Makovsky (1839–1915). Source: Wikimedia Commons.
• By Etienne de L'Amour ~ Google+

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

The peasants are revolting!

a clenched fist
Radicalization and the activist

There has been increasing talk about radicalization in the UK press in recent months and years. For the most part, post-9/11, this has been about a minority of Muslims who have become radicalized by Salafist and Wahhabist fundamentalists and extremists, something which the vast majority of decent and moderate Muslims abhor.

Of course, there has been a backlash and physical reprisals, led by far right and racist factions, which are increasingly radicalizing people and swelling the ranks of their own followers, and again the vast majority of decent and moderate people find this equally abhorrent.

The mainstream media have placed far more emphasis on the radicalization of Muslims than on radicalization by the far right, but even that is only the tip of the iceberg awaiting our old steam ship.

a beggar and his dog
Radicalization and Jo Public

What the mainstream media have not really addressed, but which is increasingly being covered by alternative, online media -- the real, if at times biased story -- is the perfectly understandable and growing radicalization of ordinary, everyday, liberal-minded and otherwise peaceful people, just like you and me, by the actions and inactions of their own governments; by what some have termed the military-industrial complex; and by the rich, powerful and sometimes secretive elite.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Demand for foodbanks rises as austerity kicks in

As recession, austerity and Government cutbacks in the UK begin to bite, it has been reported that foodbanks now feed an unprecedented 500,000 people a year.

What is even more disturbing is the news that one provider has implemented its own list of criteria for eligibility, stating that families with sick members, victims of crime and those faced with an emergency (such as an appliance breakdown at home) are eligible to receive charity. However, those with "chaotic lifestyles" or "money management issues" will be turned away.

“Please, sir, I want some more.” ~ Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist.
#austerity #cutbacks #WelfareReforms.

The question asked in an article about these important issues in The Word is: If foodbanks reject the "undeserving", where can they go?

Image source:
By Etienne de L'Amour ~ Google+

Friday, 24 May 2013

Thanks for your generous ratings and reviews

Many thanks to the kind readers who have generously posted star ratings and reviews at Amazon US, Amazon UK and Goodreads. Not having an established fan base, this feedback really is much appreciated and keeps me going through the low points of self doubt. Each star rating and review is a delight and something to treasure.

You can help

If you've read and enjoyed any of the books, I'd be very grateful if you could post a quick short review. This will help others find the material, which I hope will be both entertaining and useful to them.

Etienne de L'Amour

You can find Eteinne de L'Amour's books listed at Amazon here:

And at Goodreads here:

H.M. Forester

You can find H.M. Forester's books listed here at Amazon here:

And at Goodreads here:

Blog articles about each book

If those links don't work for you, you can find a list of blog articles about each of the books, and links to the books, here:

Many thanks again for your time, your interest and your consideration.

• By Etienne de L'Amour ~ Google+

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Author H.M. Forester on the writing process

Phase 1: Pantser

When I first started out writing in my pre-teens, in the late 1960s, I didn't plan at all. I just wrote down the first thing that popped into my head ("wrote by the seat of my pants"), or pretty much copied whatever I'd read or seen on television. I guess that's how we begin to learn things: by imitation? Five decades later, I look back and cringe, and yet for all its deficiencies, I'm thankful that I found an early interest in writing, and I'm immensely grateful to my junior school teacher, Gordon Sharpe, for actively promoting this interest, not just in me but for the whole class.

Phase 2: Planner

Fast forward a couple of decades to the early 1980s, when I was by then working in science education, and I found myself increasingly and meticulously planning my writing. I'd surround myself with a barricade of reference books and spend half my time checking spellings and meanings and hunting for apt quotations. I guess that there were five elements at work here: at that time, I was unsure of myself; words did not come easily for me; I still hadn't found my own voice as a writer; I felt that other writers expressed their ideas much better than I could; and, probably due to my technical education and work, I was what we once incorrectly termed "left brained", that is logical, linear and methodical rather than lateral thinking, intuitive or inspirational.

Working in education, there was quite a relaxed environment and I could at times rest on my laurels. However, when I next came to work in industry, I encountered a game-changing culture shock. Here I found that I was only as good as my last customer helpline call; I had to multitask; and I had to do everything on the hoof, with a steep and often frantic learning curve. This, too, probably contributed to a dramatic change in my writing style from long, spoon-fed descriptive passages to fluent dialogue and action, often leaving the reader to exercise their own imagination.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Excerpt from Game of Aeons: First chapter

Game of Aeons
1. McAfee's Poshe Emporium

The little brass chime tinkled gaily above the rickety wooden door as Robin Hargreaves pushed the door open and entered Mister McAfee's Poshe Emporium, a seedy looking second-hand shop off the high street. The paintwork had long since begun to yellow and peel off, and judging by the antique fittings, the layout of the shop had not been changed since it had first been established in some previous century. It was like entering through a time warp into some grey and dismal bygone era.

As he entered, a wizened old man behind the oak-topped counter laid his book face up to save his place and stood up expectantly.

“Yes, young sir? Mister McAfee, owner of the eponymous Poshe Emporium at your service. May I be of assistance to you?” the old man enquired in lilting tones, anxiously rubbing his hands together and then, as if catching this too-gleeful habit, quickly returning his arms to his sides.

“Thank you, I'm just browsing,” Robin smiled back, walking slowly around the shop to see whether any of the goods took his fancy.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Game of Aeons: A short novel, H.M. Forester

Game of Aeons kindle ebook
The biggest "open secret" the world has ever known.

Young Robin Hargreaves is looking for something to occupy his time and spice up his life. Apparently by chance, whilst perusing the wares in a second-hand shop, he is introduced to Game of Aeons, a computer simulation.

In the game, he meets up with a young lady, Ellie, who takes him under her wing. Despite her youth, Ellie has risen to the ranks of a veteran in the game and as well as a loving heart, she has a wise head on her shoulders.

Robin soon discovers that like life itself, Games of Aeons is not all beer and skittles. As he becomes more and more involved and immersed in the game, it becomes increasingly real and at times frightening. But by the time he realizes this, it is too late to back out and there is too much at stake – not only in-game but also in what we commonly and mistakenly think of as the Real World.

If you like The Matrix, you might like Game of Aeons.

☆☆☆☆☆ "A fascinating idea; thought provoking; a great read."

Genres: psi-fi, soft sci-fi, young adult.

Some quotes

"Once you become thoroughly engrossed in the work, you'll never see this world in the same light again."

"There comes a point when you stop thinking of you playing the game, and you simply become a part of – and merge into – and become lost in the game."

"There really is more to this world than meets the casual or untutored eye."

"There are universal laws at work, even here. The Law of Attraction; the Law of Correspondence; and the Law of Karma. That is: like attracts like; as within, so without; and what goes around comes around." 

"These technical impediments [... things like ignorance, impatience, unexamined assumptions, habit ...] get in the way of what would otherwise occur or develop quite naturally, such as wakefulness, awareness, inspiration and infallible intuition. Things that should be our birth right. This preliminary stage, then, we call learning how to learn." 

"Then there was the not-knowing, itself. Human minds being the fallible instruments that they are, she couldn't help but fill in the gaps with horrific possibilities, the application of a thumbscrew being a case in point. They hadn't said a word about torture, and yet here she was already bracing herself for something that might never happen, and scaring herself silly for no good reason. So yes, the psychological torture had already begun, if not in reality then in her own mind."

"Red pill or blue pill? If only it were that simple. You've been watching the wrong movies."

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Wisdom and common sense in the Sufi Way

In Learning How to Learn: Psychology and Spirituality in the Sufi Way, the writer, thinker and Sufi mystical teacher, Idries Shah wrote: "There is no wisdom where there is no common sense: it cannot under those conditions find any expression."

There is no wisdom where there is no common sense ~ Shah.

In response to this quote, in a recent on-line discussion, a friend wrote: "We are, as Al Ghazali points out in his Niche for Lights, surrounded by symbols and metaphors in our "everyday life" that potentially, if looked at carefully, can act as a bridge to higher realities i.e. "the metaphorical is the Bridge to the Real" but if we cannot understand those metaphors or symbols in their most ordinary sense and what they mean in commonsensical terms, it will do us little good to "fly" toward the "esoteric".

Whilst I agree with that up to a point, and agree with the need to first carry out the preliminary work of learning how to learn before moving on to higher things, I'd still like to take this further.

Shah's use of the term "common sense" might not be quite what we think it is. When people say that "you haven't got the sense you were born with", this perhaps comes a little closer?

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The Heart's Code by Paul P. Pearsall: Book review

The Heart's Code
Product description

The Heart's Code: Tapping the Wisdom and Power of Our Heart Energy, by Dr. Paul P. Pearsall, is a fascinating synthesis of ancient wisdom, modern medicine, scientific research, and personal experiences that proves that the human heart, not the brain, holds the secrets that link body, mind, and spirit.

You know that the heart loves and feels, but did you know that the heart also thinks, remembers, communicates with other hearts, helps regulate immunity, and contains stored information that continually pulses through your body? In The Heart's Code, Dr. Paul Pearsall explains the theory and science behind energy cardiology, the emerging field that is uncovering one of the most significant medical, social, and spiritual discoveries of our time: The heart is more than just a pump; it conducts the cellular symphony that is the very essence of our being.

Full of amazing anecdotes and data, The Heart's Code presents the latest research on cellular memory and the power of the heart's energy and explores what these breakthroughs mean about how we should live our lives. By unlocking the heart's code we can discover new ways of understanding human healing and consciousness and create a new model for living that leads to better health, happiness, and self-knowledge.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Nasrudin, the Wise Fool: I think you are right!

The Wise Fool
There was a magical exchange across at the Facebook page of the Web Organization for Research into Knowledge (W.O.R.K.) the other day, and I feel that it is well worth reproducing here, for posterity, before it is lost in the labyrinthine archives. But first, a little more context.

Humour in the Sufi Way

At the Facebook Page for the writer, thinker and Sufi mystical teacher, Idries Shah, the page owner had been posting one quote from the works of Idries Shah each day and folk were commenting on those quotes. There were a couple of relevant quotes on the page, taken from the book Special Illumination, which also help explain the use of humour by the Sufi mystics:

"Jokes are structures, and in their Sufic usage they may fulfil many different functions. Just as we may get the humour nutrient out of a joke, we can also get several dimensions out of it on various occasions: there is no standard meaning of a joke."

"One of the characteristics of many truly metaphysical jokes (that is, tales and quips intended to jolt the consciousness) is that they are viable in several different ranges of meaning."

One of the commentators, B.D., thoughtfully explained that: "The Nasrudin tales are perhaps the best example of the 'metaphysical joke' genre. In any one tale it is difficult to tell, solely by looking at his external behavior whether the Mulla [Nasrudin] is 1) a wise man 2) a fool 3) a wise man who is acting the part of a fool as a mirror for his audience, or 4) a fool who is rationalizing his foolish behavior in order to make himself appear wise. All of these possibilities are present in the best Nasrudin jokes, and while we are on the topic, all of these possibilities (in so far as Nasrudin is a mirror) are present in our own behavior." [Nasrudin holds up a mirror to our faces, so that we can see our wayward self reflected in the jokes].

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Scorpion Soup by Tahir Shah: Book review

Scorpion Soup: Dancing to a different drum

Tahir Shah has been steeped in traditional storytelling, folklore, legend and creative mythology from an early age and he was brought up in a family gifted in the art and possessing vivid creative imagination. This shines through in the interlinked short stories which comprise Scorpion Soup: A story in a story, which was inspired by the One Thousand and One Nights.

As each tale is recounted and segues into the next -- as if hinting at and mimicking the world itself emerging and blossoming in a stream of consciousness -- the reader is tantalized by what he has read and drawn into and drawn along by what "moreish" tale might come next. Tales not only of creative imagination, but also -- as is the way of the world -- partly-cautionary tales about its wayward cousin, spurious imagination; at times recurring tales of wondrous destiny and also of less happy fate; tales whose apparently-opposing warp and weft are craftily and necessaily woven together to augment the rich tapestry of life.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

(6) Time and Time Again (Shadowlands)

Time and Time Again tells the story of difficult decisions and hard times for the common people with the rise of a violent movement of religious fanatics, the Hujardi, sweeping through the land of Gilgamar.

"The culture that was to become so famed for its profound humanity, its immense treasury of learning, its paradisal gardens and its grand architecture hung onto life for so many long years with no more secure a purchase on life than a mountain flower clinging to a crevice in a sheer rock face, or an oasis in a desert. And now a gargantuan monster rears up, threatening to rock the very foundations of our own frail societies."

~ Tenzing Jangbu Rinchen.

Time and Time Again is a short novel, circa 50,000 words, in the genre of "mystical faction". It is book 6 in the Shadowlands series.

The book is available for the Kindle at Amazon UK, Amazon US and European web sites. ASIN: B00AWU9YPK. If you don't have a Kindle, simply google "free kindle reading apps".

You can also find the book at Goodreads.

• By Etienne de L'Amour ~ Google+