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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Library treasure from an island paradise

Tengaepu o te Rangi Tararo with his Cook Islands version of The Pilgrim’s Progress , published in 1892 and restored by Akatarawa bookbinder Bill Tito.

From the DomPost

Talk about a serendipitous discovery.

Fossicking through an online used book sale can turn up amazing treasures.

It cost just $10 on Trade Me, but to Tengaepu o te Rangi Tararo it's a book worth much more than that.
It's a version of John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress written in Cook Islands Maori and published in England in 1892 for use in Sunday schools and religious classes.
"It's priceless. It's part of our history. I'm delighted by it," he said, after daughter Dorothy Hosking presented it to him.
She had found it on the auction website.
Hosking had it restored by Akatarawa bookbinder Bill Tito, who also said the book was remarkable.
"It's the first time I've seen anything like this in the Cook Islands language. It's nice to be able to restore a book like this. There's a real good feel factor about it."
Te Tere o te Tuitarere was published by the Religious Tract Society, in conjunction with the London Missionary Society, for distribution throughout the Cook Islands.
The Pilgrim's Progress was first published in 1678, and was begun while Bunyan was in jail for breaches of religious law. It has been translated into more than 200 languages.
Tararo, of Ascot Park, Porirua, was born on the island of Mauke in the Cook Islands in 1931. He said that as a Presbyterian, he did not get to spend too much time at Sunday school in his youth.
"I only had three years at school. I was not well in my younger days. We had no doctors on Mauke and a lot of my generation died young because of it."
When he arrived in New Zealand in 1961, he left about 1000 people living on Mauke. "There's only about 300 there now," he said.
Reading the unusual book in his own language had forced him to think about the island life he reluctantly chose to leave behind all those years ago.
He wants Hosking to make the decision about what eventually happens to the book. "She gave it to me, so I'll leave it to her to see whether it stays in the family."

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Never underestimate a pigeon

Some time ago, I was very amused during a train ride from Wellington.  While the train was waiting at the station, someone opened the door ... and a pigeon hopped in.  It didn't seem at all alarmed when the door shut, or even when the train got going with the usual jerk.  Instead, it wandered up and down the car as if it was filling in time.  We passed a couple of stops with no reaction from our feathery passenger, but when the train got to Tawa, it was different. It stepped up to the door, waited for someone to push the open door button, then hopped out, and waddled briskly up the platform, nodding happily to itself.  Obviously, it knew exactly where it was going.

Now, the news of another use of modern contrivances by pigeons has surfaced.  According to the newspaper, pigeons are riding the escalator up to McDonalds, which is on the second floor of a building on Lambton Quay, the "Golden Mile" of Wellington.

And someone has complained about it.  What Maccas is going to do about it remains a mystery, but meanwhile the pigeons ride and fatten.  That lack of exercise surely can't be doing them any good.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Kangaroo drawing could change Australian history

Does this look like a kangaroo to you?

It certainly does to me.

Trouble is, it is in a 16th century Portuguese manuscript, confounding all conventional understanding of the European discovery of Australia.

Sophie Tedmanson reports.

The Dutch ship Duyfken, which landed in Australia in 1606, was thought to been the first European ship to dock on the mainland. However the discovery of the long-lost manuscript has led historians to believe that images of kangaroos had been circulating for decades before then.

The 16th century drawing was proof that the artist had either been in Australia or heard reports about the country and its native animals from other western European travellers, according to Les Enluminures researcher Laura Light.

‘A kangaroo or a wallaby in a manuscript dated this early is proof that the artist of this manuscript had either been in Australia, or even more interestingly, that travellers' reports and drawings of the interesting animals found in this new world were already available in Portugal,’ Ms Light told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Portugal was extremely secretive about her trade routes during this period, explaining why their presence there wasn't widely known.’

The manuscript also features of male figures adorned in tribal dress, baring naked torsos and crowns of leaves in the text, which Ms Light said could depict Aborigines.

The pocket-sized manuscript contains text and music for a liturgical procession. It is inscribed with the name Caterina de Carvalho, who is believed to be a nun from Caldas da Rainha in western Portugal.

Dutch explorer Willem Janszoon has long been credited with being the first European to discover Australia when he docked the Duyfken at the mouth of the Pennefather River on the Cape York Peninsula in Queensland in 1606.

Some historians, including author Peter Trickett, have long debated that the coast of Australia was actually first mapped by a Portuguese maritime expedition nearly a century before the Dutch landing.

‘It is not surprising at all that an image of a kangaroo would have turned up in Portugal at some point in the latter part of the 16th century. It could be that someone in the Portuguese exhibition had this manuscript in their possession,’ Mr Trickett told the paper.

Other historians theorised that the drawing could be the result of expeditions made by Portuguese explorer Jorge de Menezes to New Guinea – which has similar flora and fauna to northern Queensland where the Duyfken landed – in 1526.

National Library of Australia curator of maps Martin Woods said the kangaroo-like image was not proof enough to rewrite history as it could actually depict a number of other animals from south-east Asia.

‘People will continue to look, but for now, unfortunately the appearance of a long-eared big-footed animal in a manuscript doesn't really add much,’ he told the paper.

The Les Enluminures gallery will exhibit the manuscript - valued at $US15,000 ($16,600) - as part of a new exhibition Sacred Song: Chanting the Bible in the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

Since this news was posted, the manuscript, called "Processional (Monastic Use, perhaps Cistercian," was sold.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Polynesian navigators to get a Disney cartoon movie

From Michael Field for the Dominion Post

Polynesians including Maori are to get Disney cartoon treatment earlier than expected in a kind of haka meets "Frozen" in the South Seas.
Walt Disney Animation Studios said in a statement the movie "Moana", would be a sweeping, computer-generated animated comedy-adventure about a spirited teenager on an impossible mission to fulfil her ancestors' quest.
The original screen play was written by Wellington's "What We Do in the Shadows" director Taika Waititi, Filmdivider reported today
It will hit the screens in late 2016, two years earlier than planned, in the wake of the multi-million success of "Frozen."
"Moana" will be directed by film-making team of Ron Clements and John Musker (The Little Mermaid, The Princess and the Frog and Aladdin).
Just as Native Americans were defined in "Pocahontas" and felines in "The Lion King," Disney said Moana would be their "newest princess of colour . . . a Polynesian adventurer, and she sounds awesome".
Musker said Moana was "indomitable, passionate and a dreamer with a unique connection to the ocean itself."
"She's the kind of character we all root for, and we can't wait to introduce her to audiences."
Clements said creating Moana would be one of the thrills of the team's career.
"It's a big adventure set in this beautiful world of Oceania," he said.
Disney said that "in the ancient South Pacific world of Oceania, Moana, a born navigator, sets sail in search of a fabled island".
No details are given, although smart money would say that Hawaiki is certain to make an appearance.
"During her incredible journey, she teams up with her hero, the legendary demi-god Maui, to traverse the open ocean on an action-packed voyage, encountering enormous sea creatures, breathtaking underworlds and ancient folklore," it said.
The news of Disney's 56th animation is getting a lot of Hollywood and business press, and its share price jumped in the wake of Frozen which has so far grossed US$1.2 billion (NZ$1.5 billion)"
Business magazine Forbes  says that "along with the fact that they are not remotely trying to hide the female-centric nature of the story, it goes to show that come what may, Walt Disney is not backing down from providing female-centric entertainment to go alongside their Star Wars and Avengers entries".
"That wasn't a sure-thing just a few years ago, but the successes of the likes of Frozen and Maleficent seems to have changed all of that," Forbes said.
Frozen was not just female-centric animated fable (two lead female characters), but it was actually named for the female title character.

Wow.  I can't wait!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Why read Moby-Dick?

Guest post from Bud Warren

Why Read Moby Dick? 

It's a question many of us have been asked.  

It’s now the title of a book by Nathaniel Philbrook who wrote about the whaleship ESSEX.

Like many of you, MD is part of my life.  It has been for some time.  My wife just shakes her head when she catches me at it again..

I first read MD sitting high in the crotch of an old pine tree, swaying back and forth in the coastal winds of Maine, watching the tides come and go, quickly scan-reading many of the non-narrative parts, but smelling the whales and feeling the spray of their exhalations in my mind’s eye once Melville got back to the story.  I’d run across the Modern Library version with Rockwell Kent’s images, which also became part of my life. 

My next reading was in a junior high school English class, a condensed version with a nearly-orange cover; I felt I had a leg up on my buddies, having already voyaged on PEQUOD, but felt a bit queasy at how easy it was this second time at sea with Ishmael.  Maybe I was missing something, I thought, and vowed to try it again some day.    Next time was on my own time during a college summer vacation – not as an assignment -  and was moved but still overwhelmed.  Back at it several times more in my middle years with better results.  Two years ago, before a rather long trip, I took MD with me as a book on tape, and (as with O’Brian) found the prose aurally magical, catching deeper currents and nuances missed in half a dozen readings.  Several times even heard myself laughing out loud as I listened in my empty truck.  Now in my 80th year, I’m half-way through it again, and I guess Philbrook is going to tell me why.   

Can’t wait.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Reasons your Indie book is hanging

Five reasons your self-published book isn't selling, according to Crystal Ponti

The first is a great tip -- part of assessing your market all the time you are writing and designing your book.  It is no good trying to sell a raunchy romance under the banner of contemporary thriller -- the thrill the reader might or might not get is not the kind of thrill he or she is expecting.

1. Obscure or Broad Subject
The most popular books fall within specific niches or categories -- large publishers know this, most self-publishers do not. That's one of the nice things about working with a large publishing house: they are able to fine tune a book to appeal to a certain audience. If your book is so obscure or if it's too broad, it might have a difficult time being properly categorized or resonating with a target readership.
For example, a book about growing up in Maine might be more difficult to sell than a book about living off the wilderness while growing up in Maine. See the difference? Fine tune your angle or focus and you'll sell a lot more books.
And number two is the obvious.  How many Amazon reviews have you read complaining about the number of typos? 
2. Low Quality (Writing, Editing, Layout...)
When a book is published by a major label, it takes months (sometimes years) of planning, editing, and formatting to get things right. This allows for an impeccable, high quality end-product. Independent authors often take shortcuts to quickly get their books to market.
This can result in a book that looks every bit self-published. You need to take your time and really make sure that the writing is tight and that you hire someone (or multiple experts) to do the proofreading, editing, and layout. These are not areas you want to tackle on your own or hand off to a friend or relative (unless they are experts).
Three is also a given. And always remember that thumbnail -- complicated images and designs don't work on postal stamp-sized images.  Keep the text on the front of your jacket to a minimum.
3. Cover 
I cannot tell you how many times I've gone online to check out a book only to be greeted by what looked like a snipped Word doc used as a makeshift cover. No. Don't. Please. This is the other aspect of self-publishing where you'll want to hire a pro. The cover makes the first impression. If someone goes to look at your book and the cover appears to be done by a two-year-old, chances are they are going to keep looking.

Four addresses a real problem -- but is it answered adequately?  Price your book too low, and you will regret it.  Perhaps the rule of thumb should be the same as pricing goods in yard sales -- you can always come down in price, but you can't go up.
4. Priced Inappropriately
Here's a little secret: In order for your book to sell, you need to be realistic and price within the range of similar titles. If you price your book at $20.99 for a print copy and competing titles are selling for $7.99, eyebrows are going to go up. It's true, if someone really wants your book , they will indeed pay a higher price. But if someone is looking to read something in a genre they enjoy, they're going to look for a competitive price. This is especially true if you are a new author.
Number five also poses questions.  An author can do only so much at a time, and while constant marketing would be nice, it could be much more important to get going on that next book.
5. Flagging enthusiasm
At the onset of any project, we have a lot of energy and enthusiasm. We throw ourselves into every aspect, excited to see the end result. The same is true with publishing a book. Many self-published authors give everything they've got to see their book listed on Amazon and spend a few months aggressively promoting the title. Then suddenly they lose steam, stalling or stopping their marketing efforts. This is a BIG no, no.
Marketing a book is an ongoing, long-term commitment. In order for you to sell copies, you need to create and continue to generate awareness and interest. Don't get frustrated if you're not meeting your expectations as quickly as you had hoped. If you expect the masses to come knocking down your door just because you hit the "publish" button, you'll be sorely disappointed. Success doesn't happen overnight. Just stick with it and keep pushing forward.
Any more ideas? 

Let me know

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Fear Index

A new genre?

Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad

I am a huge admirer of Robert Harris's historical thrillers. The series based on the political career of Cicero is absolutely firstclass, in my opinion, and the truly volcanic Pompei held me enthralled.  Then, when Harris ventured into new territory with the political thriller The Ghost, I was just as impressed, so I had no trouble at all in picking up The Fear Index.

The book is gripping from the very start.  Geneva-based Dr Alex Hoffman is a brilliant scientist whose computer program, VIXAL-4, is making mega-millions for his company with its uncanny accuracy in predicting stock market trends. 

In the first moments of an explosive twenty-four hours, Hoffman finds that some mysterious benefactor has sent him a pricey first edition of a book by Darwin that explores human emotions -- terror in particular. Which is uncanny, because VIXAL-4 predicts stock movements by tracking human fear. 

Then, in the throes of an uneasy doze, Hoffman wakes up to find that someone has broken through his state of the art security system. And, when he creeps downstairs and outside in the garden, to peer through his own firstfloor windows, he finds a cannibal sharpening knives in his kitchen.

Someone is trying to destroy Hoffman -- not just physically, but with cyber attack, too. Have the algorithms that track fear turned on their creator? Is VIXAL-4 another HAL gone mad?  While the stock markets of the world go crazy, and the novel takes on a breakneck pace, Hoffman reacts with increasing desperation.

This is a new genre.  Call it an economic thriller, if you like.  It definitely borders on the best of science fiction -- the man vs. robot story might be old hat, but this is very, very different.  It is also very convincing, in the mode of Michael Crichton and Fred Hoyle.

I will never regard algorithms in the same way again -- even those on Amazon.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Win the latest Dawlish Chronicle

Exciting competition combined with exciting news

Old Salt Press, that exciting development in fine maritime independent publishing, is on the verge of proudly overseeing the publication of the third in the Dawlish Chronicles series, the as yet unnamed latest adventure of a most unusual naval hero.

Nicholas Dawlish arrived on the historical naval fiction scene with a virtual crash of cannon.  Have a look at my post about the first in the series, Britannia's Wolf, to see what I mean.

This was followed by a second, Britannia's Reach, that could not have been more different in tone and setting, but was a thriller grounded in the same thorough research, with the same sense of being there that only very good writers can convey.

Now the third is on the stocks, and set for the launch.  All it needs is a title.  And the three prospective readers who make the closest guess will be lucky winners.

As author Antoine Vanner explains on his blog, "The title, for now, is “Britannia’s X” – with “X” being undisclosed for now. I’m therefore offering signed copies of the novel to the first three successful guesses as to what “X” stands for."

Clues?  Well, having read a recent draft of the book, I can drop a couple of hints.  The action happens April to November 1881. It begins in the northern Adriatic and then rapidly shifts continents. And American readers are going to like this book, a lot. And, like the first two books, it relies on technical innovation and technical brilliance.

As I said some time ago, Vanner is the Tom Clancy of historical naval fiction.

Send it your entries to before 10 November 2014.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Book signings

Author James L. Nelson shared a quote from Dave Barry, today.  It runs like this:

The way a book signing is supposed to work is: You sit at a table, people come up with books they've purchased, and you sign them. Except that sometimes nobody buys your book. This is Author Hell. You sit there, at your little table, and people stare at you as they walk past, or ask you where the astrology books are. Or sometimes they pick up your book, examine it, and and then put it down as if its a piece of goat dung. After a while, the bookstore employees, feeling sorry for you, start lying. "Don't feel bad!" the say. "We had Madonna in here last week, and nobody came to see her, either!"

Well, we authors have all been there and done that.  In fact, there have been a couple of book signings where I have been the person who sought out the astrology books, in the hope that next year promises better.

But, is it the author's fault?

How many authors have actually gone up to a bookseller and said, "How about setting out a table, with a few books on it, so that I can sit there are sign the books people buy?"

It doesn't happen like that. Book signings are organized by the publisher, or by the book store, or whatever.  Never by the author, who (usually reluctantly) agrees to be the guy in this particular side show.  And sometimes they are organized very well indeed.  I remember turning up to one where the crowd about the table was so dense that I thought I was early, and sat quietly on a bench waiting for the crowd to disperse.  Then I heard the bookstore assistants saying to each other, "Where is the author?"

And the author was me!  But I take none of the credit.  The bookstore had earned it all, with lots of advance publicity, an interview and maybe an advertisement in the local paper, and lots of invitations sent out.

So, dear fellow writers, if the Dave Barry situation happens to you, don't take the blame on your own shoulders.  It isn't likely to belong there.