Nina Kulagina and the frog’s heart

Nina-Kulagina-e1379555713400One of the inspirations for some of the weird stuff in Trinity was the extraordinary story of the Russian psychic, Nina Kulagina, who became very famous in the Soviet Union and well beyond for the spooky demonstrations of her talents in telekinesis–or as it’s sometimes known, ‘mind over matter’ –the ability to move objects solely by concentrating on them. Feted by the Soviet secret services, paraded as an example of Soviet superiority in ‘out-there’ research, Nina was a real character—a Red Army tank driver who became a soldier at the age of 14, she said she first realised her mind-power came originally from great anger, but its full potential could only be achieved through restraint and meditation. Back in civilian life, she was quickly spotted by the secret services, and more than 40 scientists, including two Nobel prizewinners, studied her, while weird black and white films of her demonstrations popped up all over the world. It was one of those films that I saw many years ago at school, as part of a documentary on Cold War rivalry(for the Americans, spooked by the apparent success of Soviet psychic research, quickly instituted their own research project, dubbed the Stargate project–later immortalised in the film, ‘Men who Stare at Goats’!)

I’ve long forgotten most of what the documentary said; but those few jerky scenes of Nina staring at a frog, and apparently stopping its heart then restarting it, simply, apparently, by the power of her mind, always stayed with me, and has now resurfaced in my book. You can see films of her abilities now on You Tube–check it out!

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A tasty look at Russia

DSCN9800Over at my food blog, A la mode frangourou, to celebrate the launch of Trinity: The Koldun Code, I’m reposting some articles about the culinary aspects of Russia, which I wrote while I was there in 2010 and 2012. Also there will be recipes! Here’s the first in the series of posts about the tasty side of Russia.

Firebirds and talking wolves

DSCN0095 DSCN0093When Trinity’s heroine, Helen Clement, first arrives in Russia, she’s put in mind of a book she once owned as a child, sent to her by her mother’s Russian-American friend, Professor Bayeva. It’s a beautiful illustrated version of the most famous of all Russian fairy tales, The Tale of Tsarevitch(Prince) Ivan, the Firebird, and Grey Wolf. The story’s an amazing, thrilling blend of adventure, magic, quest and romance, with a good dose of danger and betrayal thrown in, and features vivid characters: not only Ivan, his beautiful beloved Yelena, and his wicked older brothers, but especially the mysterious Firebird and the shape-shifting Grey Wolf who is Ivan’s helper, protector and saviour. Teamed with beautiful illustrations by the great classic Russian artist Ivan Bilibin, it’s a story to stick in the memory of any child.

As it certainly stuck in mine. That classic fairy tale was an important part of my own childhood reading, in its incarnation as a Soviet-era picture book that preserved the great beauty of the illustrations and the straightforward nature of the original 19th century retelling. That edition was one of a series of English-language books of fairy tales, published in Moscow, that introduced to Western children not only wonderful stories like that one, and others such as Fenist the Falcon, Vassilissa the Beautiful, and The Frog Princess, but also the gorgeous illustrations of Ivan Bilibin. And those books have stuck in my imagination ever since, with their rich strands working their way into my writing as an adult, in books such as The Firebird, Scarlet in the Snow, and now the Trinity series.