Category Archives: The writing life

Ottoman London


We are almost ready to launch Yashim’s incidental meisterwerk, YASHIM COOKS ISTANBUL: Culinary Adventures in the Ottoman Kitchen, on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter. As soon as it launches you will be able to order copies, watch the video – and even sign up for a guided tour of Ottoman London.

Leighton House

Everyone who has signed up for my newsletter will also hear about the new audio version of Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire, and get the first news about a forthcoming Yashim adventure.

Taking a tour of Ottoman London suggested itself last month after some of the high-end travel companies cancelled their trips to Istanbul. London has links with the Ottoman world dating to Elizabethan times, so the capital is riven with echoes and exemplars of Ottoman life and culture, from Wren’s St Paul’s cathedral to orientalist palaces like Leighton House. We will spend the day exploring some of these unexpected refractions of the Ottoman world, as well as art and artefacts in museums like the V&A, with lunch included, a lecture and a movie in London’s plushest private cinema.

Once again, I’ll be giving the details of all this via the newsletter.



Yashim’s Istanbul Cook Book – a big thank you

Yashim put out the call, and you came from Wisconsin and Istanbul, from Pakistan and California, from Europe, Asia and the Americas, generously offering to roadtest Yashim’s favourite Ottoman recipes for his Istanbul Cook Book. Soups and stews and dolma and sarma, salads and puddings and meze and fish: they have all been sampled, in kitchens from Ankara to Aberdeen. Many of you already have sent in your comments to [email protected] – most of them, I’m glad to say, enthusiastic.

Bean salad

A well-known crime author loved the lamb and loved the beans, and will definitely do them both again.


A kindly tester took her Albanian dish to a Greek film night and adroitly avoided sparking an international incident.


A five-year old ate everything on his plate, all cooked by his grandfather!


In America a translator set aside his work to deal with the tiny fish lady, and prepared fresh tuna. He came back for more.


In Poland, two women cooked three dishes together – and took the skins off a pot of beans, for Yashim’s salad.

Stuffed Chard - Jason Goodwin 002

People tracked down urfa biber (aka isot biber) from ethnic groceries – and even on the internet.


The listings magazine Time Out Istanbul did a recipe – and asked to review the book when it comes out on July 9th.


Somewhere in America, a tester went to the store for eggplant and only found leeks, so I offered her a recipe with leeks. When she got back to the shop she found the leeks sold out and eggplant back in stock. She made the dish (and a sensible remark about quantities) and loved it.

Cress soup 2

A surprising number of cooks sprang a new dish on friends – and were glad that it turned out so well.


Me too.


I’ve had really useful feedback, too, on quantities, and spicing, and oven temperatures and timing, all of which have gone into the book. If you don’t use metric and centigrade, I’ll be adding a dead simple conversion chart.


So I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has got involved, and hope that you had fun, and to thank your friends and families. I love these photos! Some of you are still engaged on Yashim’s behalf, so thank you: I am really looking forward to your thoughts and reactions, too.


YASHIM’S ISTANBUL COOK BOOK – a call for volunteers!

As you probably already know, Yashim the Investigator – the hero of my series of five mystery novels – is something of a cook. In an idle hour in his apartment in Balat, Istanbul, he will chop and simmer and stir and sprinkle, and rustle up some delicious meze, perhaps, or a grand main dish, all the while thinking about the case he’s on. It’s how he relaxes. It’s how he thinks. Sometimes it gives him a clue…


The books are full of recipes, and I hope they evoke the atmosphere of 19th century Istanbul – the way it looked, how it smelled, and what it all tasted like. For ages, people have been suggesting that I, the humble author, gather all Yashim’s recipes, and some more, together in one place – and I am pleased to say I’ve done it. Including baklava, of course.

Yashim’s Istanbul Cook Book is on its way.

cookbook page1

It has dozens of authentic recipes for sauces and fish, for grills and breads, for vegetables and kebabs (and pickles, like those being sold by the guys above): Istanbul the year round! And we’ve dropped in passages from the novels, too, to go with them, and lots of fabulous illustrations.

fountin ahmed III

The book has been designed by Clive Crook, the Art Director of Cornucopia Magazine, so it’s gorgeous as well as delicious.It’s being published in July.

Right now I’m looking for volunteers to road-test a recipe.Send me your email address (to the email address below), and I’ll send you a recipe from the book.

I’ve cooked them all, again and again, but I badly want to know what your experience of following the recipe was like. Did it work? Were the quantities right for you? Were the instructions clear, or did they leave you furiously backpedalling while you ground the forgotten spices and the onions burned?!

A quick ‘It worked’ is all I need (though please don’t stint if you’d rather say more), and a pointer to what, if anything, seemed wrong. I’m hoping there’ll be no complaints but I’d rather discover that now than go to press with anything that isn’t 100% perfect.

By all means tell a friend, if you think they’d like to join in. Ask them to drop me a line here, and I’ll send them a recipe to try. Who knows – you could end up having an Ottoman feast!

Get in touch at [email protected]

Five things you should know about The Baklava Club

  1. THE BAKLAVA CLUB is out on June 5th in the US and UK – and in Estonia on June 1st! It’s set in 1842, six years into our acquaintance with Yashim, who made his first appearance in The Janissary Tree, set in 1836. That’s basically one adventure a year.     Baklava_Conference

The story involves a bunch of young Italian revolutionaries exiled in Istanbul, who see the Pope as their enemy, the enemy of liberal nationalism. Gregory XVI came to the papal throne in 1831, and was a diehard reactionary, determined to resist the spread of modern ideas and democracy – he even took a stand against railways. And of course he wasn’t just the Pope, Vicar of Christ: in those days, he ruled over the extensive Papal States, too. He stood in the way of reform, and a united Italy.

Pope Gregory XVI

Pope Gregory XVI

  1. It contains a delectable Ottoman picnic.

    Sweet Waters of Asia

    Sweet Waters of Asia

  2. Yashim falls in love.
  3. By the early 1840s, much of Europe was controlled by autocrats, including Czar Nicholas of Russia and the Austrian emperor Ferdinand. Growing popular resentment broke out in the liberal revolutions that swept Europe in 1848.

    1848 Revolution in Berlin

    1848 Revolution in Berlin

  4. One of the characters is inspired by a minor character in Raymond Chandler’s The Lady in the Lake. And I’ll send a US or UK hardback copy of The Baklava Club to the first person to name them both!
The gorgeous US edition

The gorgeous US edition


Cover to cover









This is the UK edition. For the US we turned to Ivan Kramskoi’s Portrait of an Unknown Woman (1883). Aren’t they great?

The gorgeous US edition

The gorgeous US edition

Yashim in the Crimea

‘I was told you were in the Crimea.’

Yashim blinked. ‘I found a ship. There was nothing to detain me.’

The seraskier cocked an eyebrow. ‘You failed there, then?’

Yashim leaned forwards. ‘We failed there many years ago, efendi. There is little that can be done.’ He held the seraskier’s gaze. ‘That little, I did. I worked fast. Then I came back.’

There was nothing else to be said. The Tartar khans of the the Crimea no longer ruled the southern steppe, like little brothers to the Ottoman state. Yashim had been shaken to see Russian Cossacks riding through Crimean villages, bearing guns. Disarmed, defeated, the Tartars drank, sitting about the doors of their huts and staring listlessly at the Cossacks while their women worked in the fields. The khan himself had fretted in exile, tormented by a dream of lost gold. He had sent others to recover it, before he heard about Yashim – Yashim the guardian, the lala. In spite of Yashim’s efforts, the gold remained a dream. Perhaps there was none.

The Janissary Tree


The palace of the Tartar Khan at Bakhchisaray, Crimea

The palace of the Tartar Khan at Bakhchisaray, Crimea

 At the beginning of The Janissary Tree, Yashim has just returned to Istanbul, telling himself that ‘anything was better than seeing out the winter in that shattered palace in the Crimea, surrounded by the ghosts of fearless riders, eaten away by the cold and gloom. He had needed to come home.’

One irony that won’t be lost on anyone following recent developments in the Crimea is that Catherine the Great stole the territory illegally in the first place. By the treaty of Küçük Kaynarca, signed between the Ottomans and the Russians in 1774, Crimea was to remain in Ottoman hands. Nine years later, the Russians seized it.

The harem at Bakhsaray Palace

The harem at Bakhchisaray Palace today


Unbelievable! Unrepeatable! Incredible! Offer Must End Soon! &c

When I wrote lately about putting some of my backlist on Kindle, I wondered aloud if this was a Good Thing – or the Slippery Slope.
The truth is, I suppose, Kindle is here and here to stay.
I recommend this article by George Packer in the New Yorker, about Amazon and their total control of information.


Be that as it may, for authors I think it is the new best thing – and here is one reason for thinking so.

After my GREENBACK: The Almighty Dollar and the Invention of America inspired a 5 part BBC Radio 4 series at the end of last year, I revised and republished the book as a Kindle download. Here it is:

It was immense fun – not least because every author, coming at a book after a gap of several years, sees what he wants to do differently this time round. That’s why would-be authors are often advised to put their manuscript in a drawer and forget about it for a while: when they come back to it they have the advantage of reading it anew, as a reader, not as the writer. That clunky paragraph? That darling line which you should have murdered first time round (cf. murder your darlings: Auden)? That digression which seemed so fascinating when it was something you had just discovered yourself?
Well, you follow my line of thought here, no doubt.
With a published book there’s usually nothing to be done about it – the book is there, it’s done, pasted between boards and out in the world.
But with GREENBACK for Kindle, I got a second bite at the cherry.
I trimmed it. I boosted up the argument I had made too faintly. I corrected the error a kindly reviewer had mentioned, en passant. I lopped a whole six pages – that digression! – from a chapter on the American Civil War. I performed literary liposuction on every chapter and the book was better for it. Honest. I made it zippier, funnier and more focussed.
And then, in about twenty minutes, I published it on On On and…and so on.
The story of the world’s favourite currency available to the whole world.

Gideon Fairman's engraving of Gilbert Stuart's portrait, on the dollar bill

Gideon Fairman’s engraving of Gilbert Stuart’s portrait, on the dollar bill

And here’s another reason for liking this process, one that should resonate with readers and authors but not, maybe, with publishers.
It’s control. I set the look, and the price – and when I want to get more people to see the book, maybe buy it – I can do a price promotion.
Right now, GREENBACK is available on at a ‘special’ price – ie, cheap. And that has the astonishing and slightly alarming effect of raising sales tenfold.
I cut the list price – $7.99 – by half. And have just sold ten times as many copies of the book. Go figure.
At $3.99 it is, I think, too cheap. It’s less than a throw-away magazine, or a skinny latte, or a bowl of olives in a restaurant. And it took me four years’ work.
On the other hand, writers want readers.
Ps But hurry! The Offer, as they say, Ends Soon!

The Victorian iPhone and Other Traps for Writers

Looking through an album of old photographs the other day we came across this entertaining Victorian group.

Summer tea in a Devon garden in the 1880s: photographed by Beatrice, Countess of Durham.

Summer tea in a Devon garden in the 1880s: photographed by Beatrice, Countess of Durham. 

Effie, on the right, has either just lost at racquets or merely resents her sister Mary’s engagement to Captain Pilkington (together, back left). Mrs Bulteel, the photographer’s mother, isn’t too sure of Captain Pilkington herself; either that, or she flatters herself she looks best in profile. At the centre of the group sits Bessie, powerful and relaxed, wearing a floppy hat.

Look more closely. Unfazed by the towering emotions playing out around her, Bessie seems to be chatting to someone on her mobile phone.

Nothing breaks the mood like a duff note – a glaring anachronism, a remark made in inappropriate slang, or the moment when a character’s eyes change mysteriously from blue to brown. On the other hand, it’s important not to get too bogged down in verifying details when you’re writing. After all, it’s the story that counts, isn’t it?

Copy editing – which we’re doing now with The Baklava Club, Yashim’s fifth Istanbul adventure – is the time to address those niggles. Is the name of the street spelled correctly? Do baby artichokes really come into market before the asparagus? And the guns – are they alright?

A fowling piece by the celebrated French gun-maker, Nicholas-Noël Boutet (1761-1833). It was allegedly plundered from the baggage train of Joseph Buonaparte, King of Spain, following Wellington’s victory and rout of the French during the Peninsular War at Vittoria on 21 June 1813.

A fowling piece by the celebrated French gun-maker, Nicholas-Noël Boutet (1761-1833). It was allegedly plundered from the baggage train of Joseph Buonaparte, King of Spain, following Wellington’s victory and rout of the French during the Peninsular War at Vittoria on 21 June 1813.


The guns in question are a pair of fowling pieces belonging to Count Palewski, Polish ambassador in Istanbul, and Yashim’s friend. They were made in the early years of the nineteenth century by the Parisian gunsmith Boutet: exceptionally light and very beautiful. For this, and related detail, I consulted the Royal Armouries Museum, and my thanks are due to Mark Murray-Flutter who not only provided me with gunnery jargon but ultimately re-wrote a few sentences of The Baklava Club himself.

Greenback: The Almighty Dollar

The BBC recently made a radio series on the history of the American dollar, and asked me along to talk about it, as the author of GREENBACK: The Almighty Dollar and the Invention of America.

The Athenaeum portrait of Washington, wearing his uncomfortable false teeth

The Athenaeum portrait of Washington, wearing his uncomfortable false teeth


Surprised? Well, it’s not a Yashim mystery, for sure: it’s the book I turned to after I’d written the story of the Ottoman Empire, Lords of the Horizons. I wanted to describe the rise of another empire – and zooming in on the story of America’s money seemed the way to do it. Oblique, maybe – but an astonishing tale. BBC Magazine ran this piece on the series.

Gideon Fairman's engraving of Gilbert Stuart's portrait, on the dollar bill

Gideon Fairman’s engraving of Gilbert Stuart’s portrait, on the dollar bill


As the shows aired, I took a look at GREENBACK again. I had to agree with a reader who recently noted striking parallels between the nineteenth century financial skulduggery it describes, and the 2007 financial crisis. It was a pity, he thought, that I hadn’t published the book after Lehman Brothers collapsed, the world banking system teetered, and the euro – that other new currency – began to unravel, a nightmare for countries in the grip of a deep and problematic recession.

Coming at GREENBACK after a lapse of years, I read with a fresh and readerly eye – a version of the old put-it-in-a-drawer-and-leave-it-for-six-months advice handed out to aspiring writers. I saw where the book lagged, and where it needed a tweak or a correction. So over Christmas, between the holly and the pudding, I revised GREENBACK wholesale, and wrote a new preface. I even tracked down a half-chapter which for some unaccountable reason had fallen out of the original manuscript, and restored it – it’s about Sir Walter Ralegh’s search for American gold, and the fate of the first settlement at Roanoke, in Virginia. It makes for spooky reading, and sits well with the whole thesis about the role of money in America.


The new Kindle edition

The new Kindle edition


I’ve now published the revised book on Kindle.  Here’s a selection of the reviews:

“The story of the dollar is the story of the country’s independence and emergence – and it couldn’t have been told more engagingly.” The Guardian.

“His engaging ‘Greenback’ … approaches the empire of the dollar with a foreigner’s sense of wonder and a dry wit.” The New York Times.

“Splendidly entertaining, fast-paced, and revelatory. . . Goodwin, who possesses the gift of concision and an impious eye for character, is a master at weaving together monetary theory and historical anecdote.” The Boston Globe

“A fanciful and charming meditation on money and the role it plays in our society, history, and culture. . .[Written] with flair, anecdote, and amusing aside.. . . A beguiling narrative.” Chicago Tribune

“[With] tidbits and tales that read more like novels. . . Greenback is a giddy ride into the past.” Barron’s

“A riveting story with a quirky cast of American characters that includes a few of the Founding Fathers, inventors, counterfeiters, secret agents, bankers, and swindlers.” The Christian Science Monitor

Reader, I married her

Apologies to anyone who downloaded On Foot to the Golden Horn: A Walk toIstanbul to their Kindle and discovered that it was

squashed up

against the left hand margin

rendering it all

but unreadable!

It has been fixed, and I believe the Kindle will update your copy automatically. Maybe you have to push a button, but that’s it.

of cover

If you don’t know, it is an account of a trek I made from Gdansk to Istanbul in the Spring of 1990, walking for almost six months through the villages and landscapes of eastern Europe – Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and finally Turkey. It was the journey that kindled my fascination with the Ottoman Empire, as we walked through a world touched by its lingering influence – a minaret, say, in northern Hungary, or an encounter with a fierce shepherd dog, or a gulp of very strong black coffee, or the sight of gypsy women in glorious swirls of coloured skirts Istanbul, or Constantinople, was in the music, and in the orthodox churches, and in the air.

My companions were Mark and my girlfriend, Kate. Mark, understandably, decided to head off on his own, on another route, about half way through the trek; but Kate and I walked into Istanbul together. The book ends there; but the story continues…