THE ZEN APHORISM
A samurai once asked Zen Master Hakuin where he would go after he died.
Hakuin answered “How am I supposed to know?”
“How do you know? You’re a Zen master!” exclaimed the samurai.
“Yes, but not a dead one,” Hakuin answered. – Zen mondo
The nature of Zen has always appealed to me. At fourteen I was looking in the local library in Ryton, County Durham in the north east of England and saw a book with Zen in the title. The strange nature of the word, itself, made me borrow it. Arthur Koestler once said this was being guided by the Angel in the Library. Shut out of your mind what you think you want and allow your blindly-led fingers to pick out something you know nothing about. Since then the idea of saying as much as possible in the minimum number of words has beguiled me. I even wrote a small book called An A to Zen of Management which consisted entirely of my own Zen aphorisms.
In Azimuth every chapter begins with a new aphorism. Here are four from the text, providing layers of meaning in terse statements, sometimes contradictory and paradoxical, sometimes fluid and infinite.
Those who would be gods are either devils or fools (Book 3 Chapter Fourteen)
Enlightenment means knowing what you cannot give (Book 1 Chapter Sixteen)
Split a hair an infinite number of times and still you may not achieve justice (Book 2 Chapter Thirteen)
The strongest will can forge the greatest blindness (Book 3 Chapter Eighteen)
LIVING WITH CHARACTERS
Characters become vibrant and independent if you write well. Then you become a recorder of their lives, rather than their god.
As far as we know, Tarot packs have been around since the fifteen century in Europe. A pack consists of 78 cards and there are many versions in shops that peddle otherworldly portals! I have had tarot packs since I was in my twenties. I think I was introduced to its existence by Lindsay Clarke, the novelist, (The Chymical Wedding). As with all knowledge of the esoteric kind, it is difficult to make statements about such vehicles for meditation without inviting criticism and/or abuse from those who regard themselves as experts in their interpretation! But, to be brief, my own take on meanings in the Tarot pack is highly idiosyncratic. They are like, I would imagine, stained glass windows were to peasants in the Middle Ages. The light shines through them and you see a technicolour other world. You make of it what you will but, generally, you find out more regarding your inner self than anything divinatory regarding the universe outside you. In Azimuth I only use, apart from on one occasion, the Major Arcana. These are the figure head cards of the pack, there are twenty two of them and they follow a particular numbered pattern representing complete cycles of change throughout life. Each card is redolent with symbolism and it depends what your background is as to how you read it. Each Book in Azimuth has this pattern to highlight or counterpoint its Tales – of which there are sixty six! The cards depicted in Azimuth are simple line drawings with French titles but here you can see The Magician, a typical example of a card in its full panoply!
A number of people have suggested including a map with the text to ‘help the reader’. I remain unsure as to how wise this might be. Each of us, when we respond to works of art, has a subjective experience which is unique. When I, as the author, first described the landscapes facing the Magus and Shahrazad’s troop of strange humans, as if I was looking through their eyes, I had no clear conception of what they might come across next or what the totality of the topography could be. Since the Magus was travelling a thousand years or more before Mercator or whomever began to piece together world geography, it seemed right to be utterly localized, constrained by the viewing distance of the characters or the magical roan.
If I wanted the map now, I’d have to read the three Books as a reader and slowly develop it for the first time! I’d rather not. Instead I have a poetic sense of the world as it was then, in that parallel universe mentioned elsewhere. There are the north western valleys with their European-style seasons. There are the Ice Lands to the far north. There are the great central continental steppes. There are the hot desert lands to the south. There is sandstone and limestone, forest and grass, rivers and seas. I can juxtapose them with a single sweep of an imaginative gaze but each reader will create a different topography, a different geography, a different local terrain in their mind’s eye.
The ankh is an ancient Egyptian symbol, meaning life. I use it as a glyph to divide the Tales in Azimuth so that the reader feels time is passing (like a cut from one scene to another in a film.
THE NON-ENCRYPTED NOVEL
The case for encryption in e-literature is that it protects the author on the one hand but limits the force of the novel to make its way in life, free and unfettered, on the other. Would an author prefer to have his or her work read by thousands or hundreds? The former of course. But the hope always is that an e-readership recognizes and sympathises with the blood sweat and tears of ten years’ work and would rather buy, than copy. There are enough patrons out there, I have always believed.
Another version of the non-encrypted novel is called a paperback. I have made available a limited run of 500 signed copies. Being from another time much before current technologies, I would not be fulfilled by a virtual book, alone. Something must exist, owning and inhabiting its space and time, gradually yellowing, creasing, with a knock-down price scribbled upon its flyleaf in a charity shop. Or mint, perennially scented with fresh paper and ink on the shelf of a collector, embalmed against ageing. But, in particular, being passed from hand to hand like Hitchcockian McGuffins making their own, unique animated journeys.
(You can buy the Azimuth books also on Azimuth Kindle and all other devices in all formats!)