Sunday 24 March 2019


Book ideas are funny things. Some take ages, years even, to form. Others take shape in an instant, like genies rising out of a lamp.

My latest work for Bloomsbury, the Golden Horsemen of Baghdad, belongs firmly in the second category. I was doing a school visit at a Bradford Primary a few years ago. It was a gloriously sunny day and we had lunch out in the playground, sitting in the shade of gigantic industrial chimney which the children were convinced was haunted.  We talked about our ambitions and one boy declared in the softest of voices, ‘my biggest wish is to go truffle hunting with my father in the Afghan mountains.’

Cover by Freya Hartas

The boy’s father was Afghani. Trapped in the fraught and long-winded process of sorting out his immigration paperwork, he still lived in Afghanistan. The son and his English mother visited once a year but never during the truffle hunting season.  It was a Eureka moment for me. Like most children growing up in the west, my ideas of the middle east were of the Ray Harryhausen and Arabian nights kind.  You know the sort of thing: flying carpets, evil viziers and that omnipresent genie in the lamp. But here was another version of that world. Not one based on myth, but on a reality - and still as magical and fascinating.

In an instant the schoolboy infront of me became the hero of a story, an adventure set in the Muslim past but that did not involve my cliched ideas of spells of and sorcery. Earlier that day I'd been talking with teachers about the lack of books about the golden age of Islam, which was now a part of one of the National Curriculum. 

And so The Golden Horsemen of Baghdad was born. It tells the story of Jabir, a boy whose family are threatened with eviction for falling behind with the rent. Travelling to Baghdad in search of a job, he is caught stealing food and thrown into prison.  But someone there notices that Jabir is good at carving, and he is released to help with a vitally important mission. The caliph, Harun Al-Rashid (yes, him of the 1001 Nights) is sending Charlemagne a water clock decorated with twelve gold-encrusted horsemen.  Jabir is to carve them but it seems the evil landlord has other ideas, setting in motion an adventure story that sees the boy fighting for his life.

The book is getting some very good reviews and I'm hoping that my readers in Leeds and Bradford are pleased with it too. Incidentally, about my  cliched ideas of flying carpets and genies in lamps? Jabir's water clock is partly to blame for that. When it reached Charlemagne's court in 804AD, no one there could figure out how it worked. The emperor's court came to the decision that it was simply 'sorcery', so propagating the myth of the magical middle east.

The Golden Horsemen of Baghdad is out now, as is Saviour's latest picture book The Unicorn Prince. Follow Saviour on twitter @spirotta.  

Want Saviour to visit your school and tell stories about the Islamic Golden Age? Visit his website at

A 1910 lithograph showing Charlemagne receiving Jabir's water clock.

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