Often called "the most mysterious manuscript in the world",
the Voynich Manuscript was discovered in 1912 by the antiquarian bookseller Wilfrid Voynich in the Jesuit Villa Mondragone in Frascati,
Its mystery comes not only from its 200+ pages of as-yet-undeciphered writing,
and from its curious pictures (many depicting distorted plants, or small naked women popularly known as "nymphs"),
but also from the fact that its age and origins have remained, despite the efforts of countless researchers, completely unknown.
Many people have suggested that the manuscript was (or might have been) a hoax, often linking it
to the Elizabethan magus John Dee and/or by Edward Kelley, supposedly fabricating it to con the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II.
Yet this relies on there being a connection between it & Dee, a notion which is now strongly disputed.
Most recently (in 2004), computer scientist Gordon Rugg proposed that its cipher-like text may have been generated using cunning sets of
tables and various grid overlays (similar to the cryptographic technique known as a "Cardan Grille").
However, this relegates the entire status of the pictures in its text to no more than window-dressing:
and doesn't tell us anything useful about what the Voynich Manuscript is,
only that something like it could conceivably have been generated in the late 16th century.
The whole idea of an object enciphered centuries ago gives it a wonderfully romantic appeal -
without knowing what it says, all you have to go on is your imagination, fired up by its hauntingly strange illustrations.
Many researchers ('Voynichologists') have studied it for decades without success:
though it shares a few similarities with other late medieval / early modern documents, it resolutely sits in a class of its own.
Perhaps surprisingly, its origins have long been shrouded in as much mystery as its strange writing.
When Mary D'Imperio collected together a number of academic opinions as to its date, the majority were in the range
1400-1550 ("The Voynich Manuscript: An Elegant Enigma" (1976), section 2.4, p.9): in historical terms,
this is still fairly unhelpful.
And even though most researchers agree on a European origin, the actual country or region of origin are far more varied:
England, France, Germany, Italy, Ukraine, and even the Near East have all been proposed.
Using computers and transcriptions of its text, researchers have dicovered many interesting patterns and statistical behaviours,
which seem to suggest it is well structured - that is written in an unusual language or cipher.
Yet if it is a language, it is one which no linguist has seen: and if it is a cipher, it is one no cryptanalyst has seen.
And therein lies the problem: a computer programme can only search for variations of a cipher if it already knew what the
implicit range of variations was... and this has yet to be properly determined.
German Voynich researcher Elmar Vogt coined the term to describe the research mystery surrounding this enigmatic manuscript:
why it is that so many clever people over the years have found so many erroneous solutions -
what is the nature of the "curse" that (it would seem) prevents them from understanding it?
I believe that any proper explanation of what the Voynich Manuscript is would also need to explain what the nature of the curse is -
and this is the angle I took when writing my book.
More than anything, I wanted to help the reader get close to the source of the mystery, & to understand the dynamics of what
happened when it was constructed - to see where this curse came from.
When I began researching into the Voynich Manuscript over five years ago, it was (as with most Voynichologists) merely a hobbyist interest.
But after a while I began to grasp its symmetries and patterns, from many tiny details in the pictures & writing shapes.
In late 2005, by linking all the research strands I had been pursuing together into a single historical tapestry,
I realised that I had become able to reconstruct the secret life of this elusive manuscript.
Even so, this was far too big a project merely for a website: even the cost of permissions to put images on websites is high.
I therefore decided to release it as a book - softbound to keep it affordable.
Nowadays, the overwhelming majority of first time authors receive little or no marketing support from their publishers: and a royalty
of no more than £0.25 or so, which they share with their agent (that being the main way to get books seen by publishers at all).
Yet all the (software) tools needed to write books and prepare them for press are available and relatively inexpensive:
and there have been a number of revolutions in the way that books are printed that means low-cost book production is accessible too.
And with an MBA from Kingston University under my belt, the answer is: why not publish it myself?