Topics for my meanderings? Culture, history, science, space, cats…the usual suspects.
It’s not that I don’t like books about crime or that I dislike Tartan Noir – quite the opposite: I’m a big fan of Ian Rankin, Stuart MacBride and Malcolm MacKay, yet somehow, I’d never read anything by Val McDermid, which is strange in itself. But even stranger for me, who hates gore and horror, was the book of McDermid’s that I choose to read first. Its title? Forensics. Although I would not normally have been interested in such a gruesome subject, I had a problem. In Book 2, The Gold Monkey Key, I needed some ideas about a murder that complicates life for the main character Sanjeev and a way for him to be able to identify the killer of a courier who is carrying important documents. Step forward Val McDermid! On page 44, I found exactly what I was looking for: an account of Song Ci’s 700 year old The Washing Away of Wrongs (what a great title). Song Ci was an official in ancient China who wrote the first book about forensic medicine. In The Washing Away of Wrongs, Song Ci describes how he solved the murder of a farmer through the use of insects. Nowadays, as McDermid goes on to discuss, the use of insects to help establish the time of death is not uncommon, but all those years ago, Song Ci was a pioneer, making use of his knowledge of science and logic to apprehend the guilty and exonerate the guiltless. In The Gold Monkey Key, Sanjeev has a lowly fly to thank for avoiding the noose. All those years ago, a similar fly convicted a murderer. In both cases, flies are more than pests, though I don’t make any promises about remembering that the next time one lands on me.
David and I have prepared a chapter-by-chapter resource for The Jade Dragonball which offers ideas for mini-projects and discussions, questions to test factual knowledge and elicit opinions about events and characters in the book, and links to curated sites. We hope you will find it useful. An example is pictured and if you are interested, you can download the complete pdf below it . Have fun and enjoy the book!
Perhaps the biggest thing I learned while researching and writing this book with David was that the Song Dynasty was the time when the amazing Qingming Scroll was created. The artist responsible for the painting, Zhang Zeduan, really brings history to life. One of my absolute favourite scenes is the trouble the ship’s crew is having at the Rainbow Bridge, which is something we included in the Jade Dragonball’s story. I also really like the street scenes in the busy city of Bianjing. When you look at this part of the scroll, it’s easy to hear the people chatting, laughing, arguing, and gossiping… If you read the Jade Dragonball, you’ll discover other parts of the Qingming Scroll that we used in Sara’s adventure. Finally, if you want to see more of the Qingming Scroll, have a look at this great piece of animation. https://youtu.be/_dK-GSLSPmc
I first came across cicadas when I worked in Japan. I can remember walking down a road in central Tokyo shortly after I arrived and wondering “What is that noise?” I’d never heard anything like it in my life. It was incredibly loud – like someone screaming and using a drill at the same time! I eventually figured out it was coming from the trees and that some kind of small creature must be responsible for the racket. Later, I wasn’t all that surprised to learn that cicadas are, in fact, amongst the loudest of all insects. Sara is absolutely right: cicadas are loud, really loud.
One of the evil characters in our book – you’ll have to read it to find out who – has a tattoo which plays a vital role in helping Sara, the main character, understand what is happening to her. When I was writing the scenes, I knew I needed something like a tattoo as a distinguishing mark for this evil character, but I wasn’t sure if tattoos were used in ancient China. After searching online, I discovered they were, but for very different reasons in different parts of the country. Here’s one of the articles I looked at, but there are many others: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_tattooing
This isn’t to suggest I wrote the books myself. I didn’t. It’s just what I learned. As for David and what he learned, I guess he’ll tell you himself. First lesson? Surprise, surprise: it is really tough writing a book! It takes an awful lot of time, energy, planning, enthusiasm, co-operation, determination, and support. As for which is the most important, maybe it is support. One huge lender of support was our publisher. Without a publisher who believed in us, the Jade Dragonball would never have happened, so hats off to Neemtree Press!