19 October 2017Last updated

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Dubai-based lawyer Stephen Field’s literary travel app BiblioTrek is all about awakening wanderlust in children and adults alike, says Shiva Kumar Thekkepat

By Shiva Kumar Thekkepat
13 May 2016 | 12:00 am

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  • Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.

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  • A lawyer by day and bibliophile by night, Stephen first came up with the concept of BiblioTrek as a board game.

    Source:Anas Thacharpadikkal/ANM Image 3 of 3

Stephen Field has a startling bit of news for fans of Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1850 classic adventure novel, Treasure Island.

‘I’ve discovered where Treasure Island is,’ says the 55-year-old lawyer who practises construction arbitration at the DIFC Courts in Dubai.

Pick up a copy of the Penguin Classics edition and the introduction will inform you that the island in the book has never been found.

So, how did Stephen find it?

‘I searched for it because I had a suspicion that the author may have put some treasure there, because if you read the book you’ll realise the author is inviting the reader to find it!’ says Stephen, excited to share the secret. ‘On the first page, the narrator, Jim Hawkins, says: “I am going to tell you everything about Treasure Island except where it is...” I feel that’s a 
clear challenge.’

And what’s the clue?

‘It’s the nutmeg tree!’ exclaims Stephen. ‘They were available only in one place at that time – the Banda Islands near Indonesia – for political reasons. The nutmeg was more valuable than gold then. The Dutch owned the trees and controlled its production to make it expensive. They protected it more carefully than they would gold. If a local tried to sneak off with a branch, they killed him. They wiped out about 70 per cent of the island’s population because of this.’

He postulates that when Stevenson wrote the book, he knew the history of the nutmeg and proceeded to weave it into a mystery about the island whose identity is never revealed.

‘Obviously it was a not coincidence that it is mentioned in the book,’ says Stephen. ‘That was his clue to the reader about where the Treasure Island was.

‘The best part is, even the people on Banda Island do not know it is their island at the core of the book. I’d love to write to the town council to go there and tell them all about it.’



Kangaroo by DH Lawrence


You may wonder what a lawyer has to do with finding a fictional island. 
But then, Stephen is more than just a member of the bar; he’s an ardent bibliophile. And he has created a map immersion app called BiblioTrek, which allows the user, at the touch of a prompt or a pin, to find books and authors at a given location, or follow an author or book on their travels around the world. Available for free on iOS, the app features more than 700 books, authors and key locations across the globe, including fictional locations with their own BiblioTrek location.



Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie


Why fictional locations? ‘I believe there’s a BiblioTrekker in all of us and the seasoned BiblioTrekker is not content with the limitations of reality,’ says Stephen. ‘He or she follows, or walks beside, authors long passed on and fictional characters as they wander real streets or beaches, and take real or imaginary journeys. Let’s face it, books are the easiest way to travel. Naturally the advanced BiblioTrekker visits fictional locations, including supposedly secret ones.’

Exploring is clearly in his blood. Even as we make our way to the meeting room for the interview, Stephen ducks into a small passage along the way curious to check out what’s in there.

‘I’ve always loved to explore and have a hunger for knowledge,’ he grins. ‘I like to know what’s there, meet people and get to know them, find out more about a place, what makes it tick. I’ve always liked books, and the fact that you need not always travel physically to wander. If you have a book it can take you to a place.



Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert


‘If I’m going to Mumbai for instance, I’ll read a book about it and familiarise myself with the place... establish a connection with it. And if I read a book about how Mumbai was in, say 1850, and it talks about a railway station, then I’ll go there and see how it is now. If it talks of something which is no longer there, I’d look around and turn 
it into a mystery to unravel!’

There’s a story behind BiblioTrek. Five years ago, Stephen’s younger brother Roderick, a product designer, had an offer to create a range of cups and notebooks to be sold in John Lewis department stores in the UK.



Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne


‘He asked me to come up with an idea for a game that could perhaps be marketed along with the cups,’ says Stephen. ‘I thought about it and pitched BiblioTrek as a board game where you have to travel the world on the roll of a dice, and visit all the places mentioned in books you choose from a pile of books in the BiblioTrek library. It’s basically about travelling from London and back, like Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days.

‘For instance, suppose you choose Life of Pi. While you are going around the world, you’ll have to get off at India and visit all the places mentioned in the book.

‘Then, you move on to the next country mentioned and so on. You can buy tickets, send your opponents to prison, or, if you land on the same square as an opponent, you could send him away to a castaway island.’

Soon, Stephen made a prototype game, designing a board in the shape of the world map and with BiblioTrek currency to travel. The lawyer realised it would cost a lot of money to get the map designed by a professional, and print special currency for the game.

But luck favoured him. ‘The player in my game starts off with 50,000 BiblioTrek pounds so I had to get that amount made in BiblioTrek currency for the game,’ he says.

‘I was at my home in Bromley, Kent, when I popped down to the toy store to buy a Monopoly set for the currency. On the way, I came across a charity shop selling used stuff, went in and, what do you know, found a game called Make Your Own Monopoly for just a pound!

‘It had a CD-ROM that allowed you to make your own personalised Monopoly. I ran it on my computer and it asked for the name of my game, I typed in BiblioTrek, and it said print. When I printed it out, I had BiblioTrek currency! It was like providence.’



The Travels of Marco Polo by Marco Polo


To create the board, Stephen took a one-day map-making course because the map of the countries had to be very specific – 1.5cm apart.

‘I saved a lot of money and had the game, but I needed somebody to produce it,’ he says. That’s where the BiblioTrek game came undone. ‘I did this about three years ago, and have been updating for the past two years.’

While his brother got the cup deal, Stephen’s game remained stillborn. 
‘I stopped because I needed money to develop it,’ he says. ‘But since I had all the information I’d gathered on my database, I thought it would make a nice app and worked on it.’

Happily, the BiblioTrek app was released in 2013, since which time it has been downloaded close to 500 times.

What really spurs Stephen to keep working on it is the fact that many teachers use it as a teaching aid. ‘I believe it is great tool to learn about books for both children as well as adults,’ he says.

‘When a child sees the places and locations live in front of him, it provides him with a new dimension of learning. It renders what could be a boring lecture interesting and interactive.’

Stephen still has hopes for the BiblioTrek game. In the meantime, there is a proposal to turn the app into a television series. ‘My daughter Phoebe Jo, 23, works for a television company in England and she’s asked me to write to them with a proposal,’ he says.

‘Who knows, it may just work out!’

And with Stephen’s thirst for knowledge and mystery, something always does.

By Shiva Kumar Thekkepat

By Shiva Kumar Thekkepat

Features Writer