With its complex and fascinating history, hospitable people, and beautiful scenery, Turkey has always been one of my favorite countries to visit. So when I got an invitation from the Marti Publising Group to come to the Istanbul Book Fair, I was thrilled to accept. Marti, which means “seagull” in Turkish, has published a number of my thriller novels, and has the rights to my earlier romantic suspense novels as well. The Book Fair coincided with the Turkish release of “Under The Knife,” (a romantic thriller originally published by Harlequin Intrigue). With a new book in the shops, I was hoping that at least a few of my Turkish readers would come to the signings.
Way more than “a few” showed up!
And that was just the first day. Every day that followed was equally as surprising, with larger crowds of readers (several times in the hundreds) than I’ve ever seen at any U.S. event. The Istanbul Book Fair is a huge event, drawing crowds of 500,000 during its one-week run.
And believe it or not, here’s the line waiting for my SECOND signing day at the book fair. We had thought the crowd would be smaller, since I’d already signed there once. But it was even larger, and I signed for three straight hours:
These were wonderfully welcoming readers, who brought gifts and hugs and heartfelt joy. Even when they had to wait hours in line. Some of my most ardent fans were invited by Marti to a special dinner at the lovely Papalina fish restaurant, where I found out that many of them are aspiring authors, including one young man who’s already written 600 pages of his first novel. Afterwards, we posed for a photo with the Marti team:
And I had a fun chat with the Marti president Atif Ermis (directly on my right), and his very good friend Firat. Atif started the company after working for many years in the cruise ship business, and he’s a hands-on publisher who manned his own company’s booth at the fair, selling books and offering reader recommendations.
The book business in Turkey seems to be fueled by female readers, as it is in most other countries. Most of my fans everywhere are women, but what’s strikingly different about my Turkish readers is how young they are. Many were high school or college students or young women in their twenties. And they buy real books. E-readers haven’t yet made inroads in Turkey, and Turks will probably sample e-books by reading on their iPhones or iPads. Amazon is expected to arrive in Turkey about three years from now, so online bookselling will certainly boom. Already there is a Turkish online bookseller called Okuoku (owned by Marti) and its sales are growing.
Along with booksignings, there were also media events. I was interviewed by two Turkish television stations, and had a really fun photo shoot and interview with journalist Ozlem Yurtcu, who conceived this cool photographic theme around Agatha Christie, who lived for a while in Istanbul. So we met at the historic Pera Palace, where I rode the first elevator ever installed in the city:
The city of Istanbul itself, as always, amazed me. With close to twenty million inhabitants, it’s quickly outgrown its highway system, so we spent a great deal of time in the car, stuck in traffic. But that gave me a chance to look at the scenery, which is always fascinating — from the moment when I got up in my hotel room and saw this view of the Marmara Sea from my window…
I visited the Dolmabahce Palace on the Bosporus, home of the old sultans, where you can see the apartments of the Sultan’s wives and favorites.
Here too is the room where the founder of the Turkish Republic, Kemal Ataturk, died. The clock over the bed is frozen at 9:05, the time of his death. I noticed that several clocks in Istanbul are frozen at that precise time, to honor Ataturk. When you enter the palace, you may see guards marching past, and I managed to sneak in front of them for a photo:
On my free day, my publicist Kerem took me to the spice market, where I of course purchased some Turkish Delight for my husband, plus a powder called “Sahlep”, made from the ground bulbs of orchids. You add it to hot milk and sprinkle with cinnamon, and it’s the most luscious and warming drink on a winter’s day. Better than hot chocolate!
And of course there was the food. I was treated to a series of delicious meals by Marti, by my Turkish literary agents, and by my other publisher, Dogan. Turkish meals often start with an array of mezes. Here I am at the Cumhuriyet Restaurant in Beyoglu, with my translator Cumhur, trying to pick which delicacies to eat.
But the best part about Turkey is the people. Whatever your vision of what a “Turk” looks like, there’s no way to stereotype them. Some are blonde and blue-eyed, some are dark or Asian. Some wear head scarves, some wear mini-skirts and high heels. Walk through an Istanbul shopping mall, and you’ll feel like you’re seeing the whole world’s variety under one roof. And you’ll see astonishingly gorgeous women and strikingly handsome men. I had conversations with Muslims, Christians, and agnostics. What Turks do have in common is they are friendly, welcoming, and very, very proud of their country.