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Talking Location with author Barbara Nadel – Istanbul

13th April 2017

#TalkingLocationWith…. author of The House of Four, Barbara Nadel, sharing her love of Istanbul


Kamondo Stairs art deco staircase, Karakoy, istanbul

I consider myself very lucky to have been visiting the city of Istanbul for most of my life. I first went as a wide-eyed kid in the 1970s and I’m still going now. It’s changed enormously in that time. For a start there’s the population which has grown from 2 million in 1970 to 17 million now. Weirdly, in spite of population growth, a building boom and a whole new transport system, the city retains something of the quality of a village and I often meet people I know on the street in the most obscure parts of town.

One of the things that keeps me going back these days, is my work. So far I have written nineteen books based in Istanbul set around the exploits of my series characters Inspectors Cetin Ikmen and Mehmet Suleyman of the Istanbul Police Department. Ikmen, intelligent, middle-aged, grumpy and smoke-dried and Suleyman, younger, handsome and the scion of the old Ottoman Imperial Family, are old friends. What they have to deal with on the mean streets of Istanbul is forever changing and, over time, has become ever more complex and, at times, more dangerous.

Why do I write about Istanbul? When I started, in 1993, there was almost zero contemporary fiction set in Turkey. Travelogues existed, as well as work from the fifties and sixties by Eric Ambler and some works by Turkish author Yasar Kemal. But that was about it. I couldn’t understand it. Why wouldn’t authors want to write stories about an ancient city that sits between two continents? I didn’t know then and I don’t know now. So, in spite of not being an author at the time, I decided to do it myself. I didn’t get published until 1999, but that’s another story. This one, is My Istanbul.

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St Katherine’s Ayazma, Sacred Spring, Moda, Istanbul

My Istanbul is a scattered place, not really centred anywhere. At its most ‘touristy’ its ferry journeys across the Bosphorus and promenading down the city’s version of Oxford Street, Istiklal Caddesi. But then it’s also going to the Syrian Church of St Mary in the old Greek and Armenian quarter of Tarlabasi, walking on the roof of the Grand Bazaar and talking to old drug-casualties left behind on the hippy trail to Kathmandu in the 1960s in the backstreets of Sultanahmet. Everywhere I go there are stories and, most importantly, there are people eager to tell them.

My favourite places are the ones that are a little obscure. I love what is not much more than an alleyway leading off Istiklal Caddesi towards a street called Mesrutiyet Caddesi called the Balik Pazar. This is the city’s central fish market but is also much, much more. Stiff with street cats pitting their wits against the eagle-eyed vendors, it also contains a lot of Turkish street food stalls selling wonders like midiye (stuffed mussels) and kokorec (spiced lambs intestines), both absolutely fantastic with a large hunk of bread and a glass of black tea. There is also an entrance to a church (Armenian) called Uc Horon halfway down the Pazar on the right. Accessed via a modest wooden doorway, the church complex is huge, ornate and beautiful. My favourite bookshop, Simurg, is also nearby on Kalyoncu Kullugu Caddesi. This is a modest looking place, popular with Turkish authors and famous for its provision of tea and pampered cats who lie. amongst the books usually sleeping.


The original House of Four, Moda, istanbul

My research consists of a lot of talking and walking. In spite of the fabulous new metro system, I still go around on foot for much of the time because that way I feel as if I’m not missing anything. I can also find things that I didn’t know existed and that includes the ayazma or sacred spring, that I discovered in the Asian district of Moda and which features in my latest book The House of Four.

1472234642.01.ZTZZZZZZThank you so much to Barbara for her wonderful personal insights and tips.

You can buy The House of Four here and follow Barbara on Twitter.




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  1. User: Heather Turnbull

    Posted on: 06/10/2022 at 1:27 pm

    It would be so much more enjoyable if one could follow the steps of Cetin Ikmen & co. on maps, however basic, through the course of a book or even a simple map at the front of the book.


  2. User: Andrew Smith

    Posted on: 13/04/2017 at 2:51 pm

    Really interested to read about Istanbul as your ‘character’ location in your books. Place is often such a huge element. You may be interested in a recent blog I wrote on the subject.
    See: http://andrewsmithwrites.com/?p=362


  3. User: Judith Works

    Posted on: 13/04/2017 at 2:11 pm

    I’ve visited Istanbul several times and find it fascinating. I do wish there wasn’t so much trouble there now.