The Curse of the Voynich

The Story Behind "The Curse of the Voynich"

Back in 2000, having working nearly 20 years in the computer games industry, I felt it was time for a change; and so began to look round for an alternate career. I wanted one that combined a technical "attention-to-detail" type of working (that the programmer half of me enjoyed) with the thrill of producing things that other people find entertaining (that the games author/designer half of me enjoyed). As mainstream games had become larger and costlier, these two halves had become separated, specialized, & fragmented: I wanted something that let me "do it all" again, as I had done in the "old days" of games programming.

So... having been to creative writing evening classes (with writing teacher Naomi Lyons), and having written short screenplays and hundreds of song lyrics, some kind of writing seemed fairly sensible - but what? After a lot of thought, I began to plan and write a novel around a set of ideas that I thought would be really intriguing - Opus Dei, Knights Templar, cryptography, stigmata, false conspiracies, real conspiracies, etc. Of course, a certain Mr Dan Brown was tuned in to the very same radio station at the same time: but just as I was getting going, events took a step sideways for me... into the world of non-fiction.

A computer industry friend (Charles Cecil) had written a historical-conspiracy back-story for his latest computer game (Revolution Software's Broken Sword 3), and - because he knew of my research interest in those same things - asked if I would critique the historical side of it. One thing he had used as a story mechanism was a mysterious (but very real) document called The Voynich Manuscript - though at that time I'd looked at other cipher mysteries (such as the Beale Papers), this was one which had managed to escape my gaze.

Then, when I started to read about this manuscript, and to see pictures of its enigmatic text and pictures on the Internet, I had a moment when I very distinctly thought to myself that, yes, this was something that I could make a difference to - a dark corner I could cast some light upon. At that point I filed away my novel, and have never returned to it since.

And that was it, really: ever since, this enigmatic object (as for so many of the Voynicheros caught in its spell) has occupied far more of my time than I'd care to tally up. I found a great deal of support from the members of the international Voynich mailing list: and until 2005, all of this remained no more than a hobby for me, just as it is for most Voynich researchers. However, following a number of lucky breaks in my research, I became convinced that, even if I could not crack its cipher, I could still break its history, and tell its lost story: and that this secret history would be fascinating to many people. I contacted a few literary agents, who politely turned it down (of course): my proposal was still highly speculative, and Kennedy & Churchill's book on the manuscript had only recently been released.

Ouch - it seemed like I had reached a dead end: that without a publisher, however good (and timely) the story I was reaching towards actually was, I would not be able to find a way of funding the writing through to completion. But this was when I discovered how digital printing had transformed the publishing industry, making self-publishing a viable option. Thanks to books such as Dan Poynter's "Writing Nonfiction", I began to see how I could use the skills I had learnt on my MBA course to become not just a writer, but my own publisher as well!

I began to work out an approach that would help me bring it all together, both to write and to make the various research trips (to Milan, Philadelphia and New Haven) dictated by the logic of the book. Then, at the start of 2006, I was lucky enough to find a part-time consulting role (with Grandeye Ltd in Guildford), which allowed me the space to bring what I think is something very special to completion. I hope you enjoy the result of this - my book The Curse of the Voynich!

Nick Pelling, 28th November 2006