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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Jack Reacher short story saga

This is the cutting edge of the digital revolution, I guess.

A wow of a marketing ploy, anyway.  Lee Child has produced a short story.  It's about Jack Reacher, of course.  The twist is that the independently minded hero is 13 years old.

It's called Second Son.

The story is a digital original, which means that you have to have an eReader to read it.  Both length and price are undescribed, but there is a promise that you get a teaser for the next Jack Reacher thriller to come with it.

Right now, you can preorder it.  If you feel so inclined.

Price drop launches eBook bestseller for Connolly

From Chris Meadows @ teleread

Price matters.

Say that again.  Price matters.

Michael Connelly (pictured) is doing great (I gobbled down The Brass Verdict to pass away travelling hours just a couple of days ago), but seemingly he is doing even better.

Since the end of June his 1992 novel The Black Echo, the first book in his mega-selling series, has suddenly shot up to the top of the eBook bestseller charts.  And why? 

Because the price dropped from $7.99 to 99 cents.

It's a new marketing ploy for authors and publishers of a long-running series.  Make the first book an irresistible ourchase, and the rest of the series will (hopefully) follow.

For Michael Connelly, that means that the sales of the 16 more books in the series should zoom.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Shortlist for Ngaio Marsh award announced


THE FINALISTS for the 2011 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel, which will be presented as part of the upcoming Christchurch Arts Festival, have now been announced today.

The award, now in its second year, is made annually for the best crime, mystery, or thriller novel written by a New Zealand citizen or resident. Its namesake, Dame Ngaio Marsh, is renowned worldwide as one of the four iconic “Queens of Crime” of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. The award was established last year with the blessing of Dame Ngaio’s closest living relatives.

Blood Men: A ThrillerOver the past two months an expert panel consisting of seven local and international judges has been considering the best examples of locally written crime and thriller fiction published in New Zealand during 2010. The judges are now pleased to announce that the finalists are:

  • BLOOD MEN by Paul Cleave (Random House);
  • CAPTURED by Neil Cross (Simon & Schuster);
  • HUNTING BLIND by Paddy Richardson (Penguin); and
  • SLAUGHTER FALLS by Alix Bosco (Penguin).

CapturedThe judges praised BLOOD MEN as “a gruesomely gripping story” told “in clean, sharp prose, with authentically laconic dialogue and flashes of very dark humour”; said CAPTURED was “fascinating”, with “amazing twists and turns” and a “main character who was drawn so well”; rated HUNTING BLIND highly for its “sense of downright creepiness” and “some fascinatingly complex characters”; and were impressed by “the depth and complexity” and “well-executed plot unfolding at a good pace” in SLAUGHTER FALLS.

This year’s winner of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel will be announced at a ceremony at the conclusion of the “Setting the Stage for Murder” event at the TelstraClear Club in North Hagley Park on the afternoon of Sunday 21 August 2011. New York Times bestselling international crime writers Tess Gerritsen and John Hart will also be appearing at the event. The winner will receive a distinctive handcrafted trophy designed and created by New Zealand sculptor and Unitec art lecturer Gina Ferguson, a set of Ngaio Marsh novels courtesy of HarperCollins, and a cheque for $1,000 provided by the Christchurch Writers Festival Trust.

“The four finalists are a great representation of both the quality and depth of contemporary Kiwi-written crime fiction,” said Judging Convenor Craig Sisterson. “It was a particularly tough decision for the panel this year, as judges were impressed by each of the books on the longlist, and there was a real diversity of storytelling, settings, and styles. There were some very good local crime novels published in 2010 that haven’t become finalists, but that’s a good sign of the growing strength of our own indigenous interpretation of a genre that’s popular around the world.”

Like Dame Ngaio in her heyday, local crime writers are now showing that they can stand shoulder-to-shoulder, quality-wise, with their more well-known international contemporaries, said Sisterson. “We should be proud of our best crime writers, and support and celebrate their success, just like we are justifiably proud of other New Zealanders who achieve great things in their chosen field.”


For more information, please contact:

Craig Sisterson, Judging Convenor: or (021) 184 1206

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Pirate surgeons and their books

The books that pirates wrote

Back in more swashbuckling days, a young medical man who had just walked out of Surgeons' Hall with his certificate in his hand could find all the adventure he could possibly want. If he approached the right person—or was captured by the right person—he could be the surgeon of a Caribbean buccaneer, and earn a salary of 250 pieces of eight, plus a share of any booty. Not only was he on the way to a fortune, but a surgeon on a pirate was awarded a great deal of respect, being considered the second most valuable man on board, the first being the navigator, or “sea artist.”

One such enterprising medical soul was Lionel Wafer, who first went to sea in 1677 as surgeon’s mate in the Great Anne of London, Captain Zachary Brown, on a voyage to Java. He enjoyed it so much that within a month of returning home in the Bombay, he was off to sea again. However, it seems that it didn't go nearly as well as the last cruise, because Mr. Wafer left the ship in Jamaica to set up in private practice—which was fortunate, because when the Bombay touched at Mexico, the captain was taken prisoner and sold as a slave to a baker.

Despite this narrow escape, Dr. Wafer found that running a private surgery was not exciting enough for him. He sold up and returned to sea-surgery, voyaging first with the buccaneer Bartholomew Sharp, and then going around the world with William Dampier. He finally returned to London in 1690, to write a little book about his adventures, which was readily published in 1699, the printer and the public being not at all shocked at the prospect of reading the confidences of a pirate.

Back then, medical careers did not suffer permanent damage from association with crews of rough and dissolute plunderers. After all, international trade agreements are a comparatively modern development, and armed aggression aimed at both the defense and seizing of cargoes was regarded as the essence of commerce until very recent times. Edward Coxere, a Kentish sailor who first went to sea about the time that Charles I lost his head, and voyaged on merchant vessels throughout the Cromwell era and on into the restoration of the Stuart monarchy, made his living as a seaman in a most interesting century, and had appropriately interesting experiences. He fought for all sides, serving the Spaniards against the French, the Hollanders against the English, and the English against the Hollanders, not because he lacked any sense of patriotism, but because he had no choice. Then, when his ship was captured by the Turks, he served against the English, French, Dutch, and Spaniards — in short, as he said, against “all Christendom” — simply because he perceived that his duty was to serve his master and save his ship and cargo from seizure, no matter which flag he was sailing under at the time. A merchant sailor had to know his gunnery, even if all he had to defend was a load of dried cod.

Considering the hazardous conditions in which pirates lived, working out of places that were hotbeds of malaria, dysentery, and various fevers, it seems as if they were either remarkably healthy by the standards of the time, or else that their surgeons did a remarkably good job. That the famous pirate Henry Morgan managed to gather a force of 1,500 men capable of hacking a trail through jungles and marshes to cross the Isthmus of Panama, is a testimony to the skill of his surgeon, John Esquemeling, even if Esquemeling did write an extremely disloyal book about his employer afterwards. Not only did Morgan’s crew survive conditions that defeated the French canal-builder De Lesseps two centuries later, but they managed to seize and loot the City of Panama at the end of the nightmare crossing — quite a testament to their physical condition, considering that they had been reduced to cooking and eating bits of leather on the way.

Years afterward, Morgan was interviewed by the eminent doctor and naturalist, Sir Hans Sloane, who was collecting specimens for the Chelsea Physic Garden at the time. This was a place where exotic plants from all around the world were cultivated for the use of medicine and science, one of the crops being the cotton seeds that were the foundation of the industry in the Southern United States. Later — in 1722 — Sir Hans presented the garden to the Apothecaries’ Company, on condition that they maintained it for “the manifestation of the glory, power, and wisdom of God, in the works of creation,” presumably with Sir Henry Morgan’s donated plants still forming part of the collection.

It was not unknown for swashbuckling surgeons to finish up in command of ships. One such was “the Quicksilver Doctor,” Thomas Dover, who for many years was in private practice in Bristol, but then, at the strange age of 48, suddenly decided that life had got tedious, and went to sea with the famous privateer captain, Woodes Rogers. First, Dover rescued Robinson Crusoe (a.k.a. Alexander Selkirk) from his self-imposed exile on the island of Juan Fernandez. Then, in 1709, in command of a captured Spanish ship, he sacked the port of Guayaquil, sailing off with a fortune in loot. When plague struck his ship, Dover cured 172 men by bleeding them from both arms until they fainted.

After that, much enriched by the money his adventure had earned him — comprising a salary of 423 pounds sterling, one hundred pounds “storm money,” twenty-four pounds “plunder money,” and a share of the booty that totaled 2,755 pounds — he set up in private practice in London. He was a great believer in mercury as a medicine (the origin of his nickname), and also invented Dover’s powder, a mixture of opium and a Brazilian root called ipecacuanha that was prescribed for colds, coughs, insomnia, rheumatism, pleurisy, and dysentery, well into the twentieth century, until it was supplanted by antibiotics. Dover set forth his theories in a book called The Ancient Physician’s Legacy to his Country, which became a steady bestseller, and so it probably goes without saying that by the time he expired at the age of eighty-two, Captain/Doctor Thomas Dover was a very rich old fellow.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Shades of Anne Boleyn

In a manner bound to bring memories of many page-turners set in tumultuous Tudor times, Kate Middleton’s wedding dress is being exhibited on a headless mannequin.

The Alexander MQueen-designed dress is being shown on a headless mannequin in the ballroom at Buck Palace. The tiara and veil the Duchess wore at her wedding are suspended, halo-like, above it.

How ghostly can you get! And none less that Her Majesty the Queen agrees. She reportedly described the set-up as “creepy” during a private tour of the exhibit. She was also heard to utter the words “horrible” and “horrid.”

Surely the shades of remote beheaded ancestors were listening. And nodding – if they could.

More Murdoch scandal repercussions

Cameron’s appointment of ex-News of the World editor as media chief criticized

British Prime Minister David Cameron is facing a storm of criticism over his appointment of Andy Coulson, former editor of Murdoch’s disgraced tabloid News of the World as his media chief.

In return he said that James Murdoch had “questions to answer” over claims that he has misled parliament.

James Murdoch, chairman of News International, his father Rupert’s media empire, gave evidence to a parliamentary committee last weekend that is now being challenged.

Records of his testimony have been handed over to the police.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Christchurch Press and Tupaia

TUPAIA: The Remarkable Story of Captain Cook’s Polynesian Navigator. By Joan Druett. Random House, 440pp, $55

Reviewed by Joan Curry

Tupaia almost sidles onto the stage, whispering into the ear of the imposing woman whom the men of a visiting British frigate assume to be the queen of Tahiti. It was 1767, Tupaia was about thirty years old, he was the advisor to a Tahitian chief and the lover of the chief’s wife, the stately Purea. He was a gifted politician with an impressive range of talents, and Joan Druett suggests that he was the Machiavelli of eighteenth century Tahiti.
Tupaia was already a seasoned traveller, the product of a long tradition of sailors and explorers of the South Pacific. He was a reader of stars and currents, able to sniff the winds for guidance, and understand the behaviour of birds and fish. He had studied history, geography, religion and astronomy. His tattoos reflected his noble and priestly status, and his special skills lay in ocean-going navigation; he could island-hop throughout the South Pacific using dead-reckoning alone if necessary. Soon he would be in the right place at the right time to meet Captain James Cook and the Endeavour when they arrived in Tahiti for the transit of Venus in June 1769. Just as well; Tupaia had found himself on the wrong side of a bloody tribal war that ended in a massacre and he was in hiding.
In this lively and sometimes lyrical biography of a forgotten man Joan Druett goes a long way towards righting a wrong. She goes so far as to say that the story of Endeavour’s first voyage to the South Pacific should be that of three extraordinary men instead of only two, namely James Cook and Joseph Banks. In this book she sets out to prove it, with meticulous research and an extensive knowledge of the ways of old-time sea-farers.
Without Tupaia’s help Cook and his team of scientifics would have found their dealings with the Tahitians hampered by ignorance and misunderstandings. He had status and influence. The visitors were sometimes too ready to fire muskets and even cannon when startled, but Tupaia was quick to learn enough English to act as interpreter, and he was intelligent, and wise enough to calm things down when difficulties between two cultures threatened. It is no wonder that Cook invited him to sail in Endeavour when she left Tahiti to visit other Pacific islands and then to search for the mythical Terra Australis Incognita.
Things did not always go well. On board Tupaia pined for the fresh fruit and vegetables to which he was accustomed and he developed the dreaded scurvy. He made few friends among the crew, and found it difficult to intervene when the Europeans blundered over the culture and customs of the islanders. Cook’s attitude towards him was somewhat ambivalent and mean-spirited. Having taken Tupaia on as a navigator Cook often ignored his advice and undervalued his skills, although he later reluctantly acknowledged the advantages of having him on board. He had the ability to pick up the basics of language, both in New Zealand and Australia, and work out the bits in between with intelligence and understanding so that free and friendly conversations could take place.
Banks was more appreciative of Tupaia’s talents, and more observant about how, for example, Tupaia was reverentially received by the Maori at Tolaga Bay. That didn’t stop Banks from seeing him as a trophy to be displayed like the specimens other explorers had captured and transported home: “I do not know why I may not keep him as a curiosity as well as some of my neighbours do lions and tigers” he wrote. This was not the only insensitivity Banks displayed. He was inclined to put his foot in it sometimes, as when Maori at Ship Cove brought tattooed heads to him. Banks, having forced an old man to sell him a head (the first known instance of the trade in mokomokai), declared that the Maori clearly lived “entirely upon fish, dogs and Enemies”.
Captain Cook’s obituary of Tupaia was ungenerous, describing him as proud, obstinate and disagreeable, but Druett has balanced the scales with this absorbing story of a man who deserved better by rescuing him from obscurity and giving him the credit long overdue. It isn’t easy to meld a raw jumble of research material into a cohesive and lively narrative but Druett has managed it with both scholarship and flair. She steers a scrupulous course between fact and speculation, and employs her novelist’s instinct for a good story to augment her academic respect for history.
This handsome book is liberally illustrated with engravings and watercolour sketches, some executed by Tupaia himself, and you can almost hear the conch shells wailing eerily in the background.

Whaling in Wellington

An American whaler recruits in Wellington.
A recent visit to Wellington Harbour by two southern right whales is a reminder of colonial days, when the port of Kororareka was a roistering port famed throughout the Pacific for its loose morals and plentiful grog. That was in the Bay of Islands. Wellington, by contrast, was not a popular anchorage with the American whalers. On August 24, 1854, however, one lone full-rigged sailing ship arrived, one of her crew being a young adventurer by the name of Charles Stedman, who left an entertaining record of activities in the harbour.

The whaleship, named Mount Wollaston, had set out from the port of New Bedford, Massachusetts, on December 21, 1853. “The crew being all green & the wind ahead, we found some difficulty in getting underway,” Stedman noted.

Stedman was very much a greenhand himself, for not only was this his first voyage as a seaman, but he'd been forced to run off to sea and abandon a comfortable life at home, because of some indiscretion. “My feelings are rather difficult to describe,” he admitted on New Year's Day. “Leaving home suddenly, entirely unaccustomed to work, and especially to the exposures of a sailor's life, I naturally am somewhat downhearted.”

Not only was the food awful, but the company was rough, the time off-duty being “diversified with sleeping, smoking, chewing, eating, swearing & playing cards.” Another time, the crew amused themselves by beating up one of their fellows, for the very good reason that he had “vermin” and “was exceedingly filthy.”

After eight months of cruising all over creation for whales, however, the ship made port in Wellington, and Stedman found out that the seafaring life held opportunities for fun, as well as hard work. He thought Wellington “a Splendid anchorage” and the crew celebrated their arrival by “making merry with a drum, tamborine, accordion, bones &c &c.”

The next day, “Saw any quantity of Mourys and some very pretty ones.” There were other diversions as well. “The 2D mate got us some liquor on shore and some of the fellows got pretty drunk.” In the afternoon of the second day, everyone “went ashore to have a ramble and shake out the scurvy,” but none of them had any money, for the captain was convinced they would spend it all on grog. This made no difference, however, for they swapped their shirts for booze — all except Stedman, that is, for he went exploring, instead. “Found the place very handsome, with billiard tables, ten-pin allies, and other places of amusement.”

The Mount Wollaston stopped in port for three weeks, and so the crew came to know colonial Wellington very well indeed. Their favourite haunt was the “Wellington coffee house”, and their common recreations were drinking, fighting and planning desertion.

On September 7, 1854, `All hands called as usual,' Stedman recorded. `After breakfast half the ship's company went ashore with the skipper, with permission to remain till sunset.' He himself was one of those on liberty. `Roamed about from one shop to another, played a game of billiards, some got drunk as usual.”

The customers of the Wellington coffee house got more entertainment than they had expected, for “The mate and 4th mate had a row, and dared each other to fight — the mate dared the 4th mate to fight him with his fists, and the 4th mate challenged him to fight with pistols.” The mate backed down at that, saying “that he had a family to support, and therefore could not run the risk of being shot.” And so the roisterers moved on to another tavern.

Perhaps it was not surprising, then, that so many of `the chaps' (as Stedman often described them) deserted. When the Mount Wollaston set sail, on September 15, eight Maori men had been shipped, to make up for those who had disappeared. Captain William Potter was not a skipper to give up easily, however. On 26th September the ship turned back to port, to find two of the deserters locked up in jail, and that the six others had “taken up the shore whaling business” on Soames Island, a few southern right whales having strayed imprudently into the harbour at the time.

And so, while Potter was collecting these men, the citizens of Wellington were entertained again, the seamen predictably getting drunk on shore and then smuggling more grog on board. Charles Stedman was more enterprising, buying ten pounds of sugar and setting up a little home-brew operation, selling the product to his shipmates on board.

And then at last, on September 30, 1854, having gathered up her crew, the whaleship Mount Wollaston finally departed from Wellington, undoubtedly much to the local residents’ relief.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Paradise Lost to be filmed

Wonder of wonders, they are making a movie of John Milton’s immortal epic poem Paradise Lost.

And, what’s more, they are making it in Sydney. (Wouldn’t Wellington have been more appropriate?)

The New South Wales government made the announcement with a justifiable flourish. To be directed by Alex Proyas (I, Robot), it is touted to be worth $88 million to the state.

The film will be made at Sydney’s Fox Studios, creating 1,300 jobs.

It will star Bradley Cooper as Lucifer, and has a release target of 2013.

Failed case against JK Rowling may be tried again in Sydney

Dead author’s estate convinced of plagiarism

The estate of English author Adrian Jacobs took the creator of Harry Potter to the English court of appeal, alleging she had lifted the plot of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire from Jacobs’s book The Adventures of Willy the Wizard, which was published back in 1987.

The case failed last week, simply because the estate could not afford to pay a one million pound bond to the court as security for costs.

Public relations executive Max Markson, the Sydney spokesman for the Adrian Jacobs estate, said that the case could be brought to Australia, where presumably it is more likely to be heard.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Mating snakes wreck Cairns clubroom ceiling

Every now and then something pops up in a newspaper that I just can’t resist passing on, even if it has little or no relevance to the World of the Written Word. Such an item is the attention-grabbing headline about destructive amorous serpents.

Apparently, in Cairns, Australia, there is a female python in heat. (That snakes go into heat was news for me, too.) She has taken refuge in the roof of the Hekili Outrigger Canoe Club at Yorkey’s Knob, and has been joined by no less than six suitors, who are fighting each other for her attentions.

These are no small snakes. They measure at least 3.5 metres (Americans, read “yards”), and weigh up to 50 kilos (over 100 pounds). Indeed, the club members have named the female “Nagini,” after the giant snake in the Harry Potter books.

And their antics are bringing down the roof.

Lord alone knows what will happen when Nagini gives birth, or lays eggs, or whatever female scrub pythons do. Maybe the walls will come down.

Julian Assange to make virtual appearance

The Australian-born Wikileaks editor Julian Assange will take part in a debate at the Sydeny Splendour in the Grass festival.

On Friday July 29, a discussion panel will be held, involving Assange’s mother Christine, his Australian lawyer Grace Morgan, his co-author Dr Suelette Dreyfus, leading internet security analyst Patrick Gray, and ABC TV’s presenters Marc Fennell and Nick Hayden.

Julian Assange’s part in the debate will take the form of a pre-recorded video message from his house arrest in Britain. According to the release, he will be discussing the WikiLeaks cables scandal, the story of his arrest, and what it all means for young Australians.

Young people from other countries are bound to be interested.

Scene of farce during Murdock hearing

Murdock’s grilling by parliamentary committee interrupted by undignified scuffle

The media mogul was doing his best to apologize to a UK parliamentary committee of inquiry into the phone hacking/police bribery scandal when he was rudely interrupted by a protestor who leapt up and threw a foam pie.

What kind of foam (shaving foam? detergent foam?) is undescribed, but Murdock’s wife, Wendi Deng took umbrage. She bounded from her seat and slapped the pie-tosser.

The farcical fracas was brought to a halt by police, who dragged the protestor out of the room. Presumably hiding their expressions, the members of the committee then resumed their cross-examination.

Meantime, in Australia, PM Julia Gillard is making noises about having questions of her own for the Aus-born magnate. Australians, she said, had been disturbed by events in the UK.

John Hartigan, chairman and CEO of Australian Murdock company News Limited, replied with spirit, saying he’d be happy to answer any “hard questions” Ms Gillard might pose, though he found the allegation offensive. “The prime minister’s comments seek to draw a link between News Corporation operations in the UK and those here in Australia,” he said, comments that he considered “unjustified and regrettable.”

Ms Gillard said, “When people have seen telephones hacked into, when people have seen individuals grieving having to deal with all of this, then I do think that causes them to ask some questions here in our country, some questions about News Limited here. Obviously News Limited has got a responsibility to answer those questions when they’re asked.”

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Murdock whistleblower found dead

Death of former News of the World reporter investigated

British police are investigating the unexplained death of whistleblower Sean Hoare, the man who broke the story of government involvement in the Murdock empire.

Hoare, a former journo at the Murdock tabloid News of the World, implicated Prime Minister David Cameron’s ex-spokesman in the phone hacking scandal. Now, in a twist reminiscent of the heated run-up to the war in Iraq, he has been found dead of unstated causes.

Ironically, it also echoes a spoof page that has been set up by the Lulz Security hacker group in imitation of The Sun’s online edition, with a headline blaring that Rupert Murdock himself is dead.

In truth, he is in deep consultation with public relations consultants, getting primed and ready for a grilling by a Parliamentary committee. John Whittingdale, the chair of the Culture, Media, and Sport committee, has vowed that the questioning will be “forensic,” going some way to satisfy public anger over the hacking, which apparently even included eavesdropping on various royals.

James Murdock, Rupert’s son and heir to the empire, will be cross-examined about alleged payments to hacking victims, while Rebekah Brooks, Murdock’s protégé, will be questioned about admissions she made back in 2003 concerning payments to police officers for inside information.

Award-winning Aboriginal actor found dead

David Ngoombujarra, known as “Starr” to his friends, has been pronounced dead at Fremantle Hospital after being rushed there from a park.

Police are waiting for toxicology reports, but say there are no suspicious circumstances.

Known for roles in films such as Rabbit-Proof Fence, and three-time winner of Australian Institute awards, Ngoombujarra was just 44 years old.

Auckland school asks parents to invest in iPads

Parents at Orewa College are requested to dig deep into the family purse

In a letter to parents, the college confesses that while the classroom desktop computers are going out of date, the school can’t afford to buy new ones. Yet one to one access to the internet is considered essential for year nine students.

“We need your help,” the letter reads. “We need you to purchase a one to one computing device and our preference for that device is an Apple iPad 2.”

Quotes were provided, ranging from $799 to $1148.

The fellow (or fellowess) who represents Apple in Auckland must be one hell of a marketer – not that I want to knock the iPad, as it is a very neat little gadget indeed. Just rather expensive.

One is also temped to wonder aloud whether senior library periods will be cut. Presumably it would be easier for the students to download books to their iPads, than to leaf through the dog-eared contents of bookshelves. Could it herald yet another surge in the digital revolution?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Kiwi TV program accused of plagiarizing American material

That a New Zealand-made television program should be imitative of something that did well in the States seems hardly world-breakingly unusual, but Current Affairs show Close Up has found itself in the gun.

A segment on the show, called “Made in New Zealand,” which analyzed one family’s use of foreign-made products, was just too flatteringly imitative, it seems.

Ana Samways, a columnist for the New Zealand Herald, has pointed out that an almost identical show was broadcast on the ABC network in America in January. The difference was that it was about the use of American-made products. The treatment, it seems, was pretty much the same.

Harry Potter storms Australian box office

The film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II opened on 753 screens over the weekend, with takings of over eighteen million dollars.

With figures like that – and the onset of the school holidays – it is hardly a surprise that it has zoomed to the top of the ratings, sending the previous top-seller, the latest in the Transformers series, down to second in the list.

Murdock scandal explodes

Rupert Murdock is due to face the fury of British MP’s.

Allegations of phone hacking and police bribery are flying all the faster after the arrest of Rebekah Brooks, Murdock’s former British newspaper chief, and the resignation of the head of Scotland Yard, Paul Stephenson.

Both Brooks and Stephenson have strenuously denied claims of wrongdoing, but no one is buying their stories.

Brooks, 43, often described as Rupert Murdock’s surrogate daughter, was arrested over the weekend, as British police investigation of the mogul’s inner circle gained momentum. She was released on bail twelve hours later, but attention is now on Les Hinton, Murdock’s crony, who has resigned his job as publisher of The Wall Street Journal. There is also speculation that Murdock’s 38-year-old son and putative heir, James, is being investigated.

Both Rupert and James are to be grilled by a parliamentary committee. Top of the agenda will be accusations of hacking into the phones and voice mails of celebrities, politicians, rival journalists, and families of dead soldiers and murder victims. Prime Minister David Cameron is to face particular fall-out – as late as last Christmas, one of his dinner guests was Rebekah Brooks.

He and his fellow Conservatives are facing an intensifying barrage of embarrassing questions about their close relationship with Murdock’s media empire.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Murdock challenged to break up his empire

Media mogul faces calls to dismantle his media operation.

Despite issuing a second public apology for the phone-hacking scandal, Rupert Murdock has been challenged to break up his British media empire. UK opposition leader Ed Miliband, jumping on the bandwagon, has called for new ownership laws that would remake the British media game.

Meanwhile, Britain’s top police officer is under pressure concerning his close links with Murdock’s executives, adding to the storm of allegations concerning the Aussie-born magnate’s influence in the corridors of power.

Miliband told The Observer that politicians should take careful note, saying, “I think it’s unhealthy because that amount of power in one person’s hands has clearly led to abuses of power within his organisation.”

Undoubtedly, the ramifications are going to hark all the way back to events leading up to the ultimately disastrous British-US-led invasion of Iraq.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Jude Law sues newspaper

Actor Jude Law has sued The Sun for allegedly hacking his phone, in what is believed to be the first legal action against the Rupert Murdock daily tabloid.

News International, Murdock’s parent company, dismissed the action as “deeply cynical.”

Law had already sued the News of the World, the recently defunct weekly tabloid. His former girlfriend, actress Sienna Miller, won an apology and a hundred thousand quid from the same paper before it folded.

Harry Potter as magical as ever

The last episode of the Harry Potter film series opened in the US this weekend, grossing aa ballpark figure of $43.5 million – a record in even that over-inflated business.

Confirming its record as one of the most successful movie franchises, all time, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II, opened with a special midnight screening.

It is the second of two films based on the seventh and last HP book by JK Rowling.

Another Murdock aide flees the controversy

In another symptom of a bloodbath in the Rupert Murdock newspaper operation, Les Hinton, CEO of Dow Jones in the US – who had worked for Murdock for FIFTY-TWO YEARS, no less – quit his media empire.

British PM David Cameron is also chewing his nails, as it is revealed that he had 26 meetings in 15 months with Murdock chiefs, a cogent sign of the malign influence the Aussie-born mogul wrought in British politics.

Murdock is now trying the humble-pie-eating ploy. In a distinct contrast to his earlier defiance, he has published full-page signed apologies in seven national British dailies this weekend.

Australian Attorney-General rules out new media regulations

Australian Attorney-General Robert McClelland sees no need for laws to regulate media ethics.

Speaking at a multilateral meeting of New Zealand, Australian, British, United States, and Canadian attorneys-general in Sydney, Mr McClelland admitted that the Murdock empire phone-hacking scandal probably will trigger worldwide public debate.

However, he ruled out the need for government intervention to rein in the media.

There was no place for this in Australian society, he intimated, saying, “There’ll be no suggestion of the government regulating the media.”

It seems likely that the other members will concur.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Kiwi songwriter wins award

Singer/songwriter Kimbra has won the 2011 Vanda and Young Songwriting Contest, earning her a purse of 50,000 Australian dollars.

The New Zealand-born writer hasn’t even published an album yet, which makes her feat even more amazing.

Her single, Cameo Lover, beat 4,000 other entries to scoop the prize – a truly great way to gain recognition so early in her career. “It’s awesome to have the hard work that went into Cameo Lover acknowledged at this level,” Kimbra said.

Born Kimbra Johnson, she is now based in Melbourne.

Rebekah Brooks no longer Murdock CEO

The embattled CEO of Rupert Murdock’s British newspaper empire, Rebekah Brooks, has resigned in the midst of the fallout from the phone hacking scandal.

This creates a hiatus in a meteoric career. Red-haired Brooks, 43, started out as a humble 20-year-old secretary at the tabloid News of the World, was promoted to the editor’s chair in the year 2000. In 2009 she became chief executive of the entire UK newspaper operation. Now, she is looking for a job.

Prime Minister David Cameron led an outcry for her resignation, following allegations that the voicemails of murdered teenager Milly Dowler and of the families of certain dead soldiers had been hacked.

Murdock’s company, News International, which publishes The Sun, The Times, and The Sunday Times, closed down News of the World in a vain attempt to save Murdock’s bid for pay-TV giant BSkyB.

Brooks will be replaced by Tom Mockridge, CEO of Sky Italia, who faces an uphill battle, having been given the daunting brief of restoring the faith of shareholders in Murdock’s British newspaper empire. Meantime, the fallout is visible as far as stockmarkets downunder.

British Library seeks £9m to buy oldest book in Europe

Maev Kennedy reports on that a £9m appeal has been launched by the British Library to buy the oldest intact book in Europe.

This is no great illustrated volume, but instead a palm-sized leather-bound copy of the gospels, which was buried 1,300 years ago in the coffin of Saint Cuthbert, which is at Durham Cathedral.

Called the Cuthbert Gospel, it has been on loan to the British Library since 1979. Now, the National Heritage Memorial Fund has offered a £4.5m grant, half the purchase price. The Art Fund and the Garfield Weston foundation have each promised £250,000. The challenge is to raise the rest – a mere four million pounds.

If the appeal succeeds, the library has agreed the gospel will be displayed half the time at Durham cathedral, where it was found with the body of the saint when his coffin was reopened in 1104.

Cathedrals make great archival vaults, being cool and dry, because of the great weight of stone between the interior and the world. The gospel is still in its original 7th century leather cover, which has survived in perfect condition.

And this is despite early pirate attack. Believed to have been buried with St Cuthbert on Lindisfarne in 698, it survived the journey when the monks fled from Viking raids two centuries

later, taking with them their treasures, the body of the Northumbrian saint, and sacred objects he had owned. After several stops, and more raids, the saint and his gospel were buried in what became the great cathedral of Durham.

Lynne Brindley, the chief executive of the library, described it as an “almost miraculous survival from the Anglo-Saxon period, a beautifully preserved window into a rich, sophisticated culture that flourished some four centuries before the Norman conquest."

Rich and sophisticated? That doesn’t quite match my image of the Anglo-Saxons. A copy of the gospels with such an interesting history is certainly worth preserving, but I do wonder why it merits such an enormous price.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The 2011 Ngaio Marsh Award

Craig Sisterson, the founder of the New Zealand-based award for mystery writing, reports that the process is well underway. “The international judging panel is currently considering the eight longlisted titles,” he says. “Feedback has been very positive so far, with overseas judges praising the overall standard.”

The finalists will be announced in early August, with the presentation of the trophy and prize to the winner on Sunday 21 August, at the “Setting the Stage for Murder” event that is part of the Christchurch Arts Festival.

He further announces, “We have now just launched a global competition for people to win a full set of the eight longlisted titles – to enter they have to take a photo of themselves reading any New Zealand crime novel.”

This seems a wonderful idea. As Craig comments,”Hopefully this will help further promote NZ crime fiction in general (both the competition itself and the photos of people reading NZ books), and get more people thinking about crime writing here. You can see more information about the giveaway here: .

“The photos will later be shared on the official Facebook page for the Ngaio Marsh Award – which I guess could become an unofficial home page for New Zealand crime writing in general. You can see that page here: .

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Murdock shares suffering in Australia

The Australian-listed shares of Rupert Murdock’s News Corp have dived by nearly eight percent since the British News of the World was felled.

Dogged by the failure of the tabloid following the phone-hacking scandal, pressure is piling on the Murdock media empire.

News Limited chairman John Hartigan protested that “Some media outlets, certain commentators and some politicians have attempted to connect the behaviour in the UK with News Limited’s conduct in Australia,” despite lack of evidence.

“This is offensive and wrong,” he declared. A “thorough review of all editorial expenditure over the past 3 years” would be conducted “to confirm that payments to contributors and other third parties were for legitimate services.”

He felt positive that the result would clear all suspicion. “I have absolutely no reason to suspect any wrongdoing at News Limited,” he asserted.

Maybe so. News Corps’s Australian stock ended up at $14.74 on Wednesday. But who is buying?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Can a library with no books be a real library?

Is a Bookless Library Still a Library
By Tim Newcomb
We've been hearing about it for years, but the bookless library has finally arrived, making a beachhead on college campuses. At Drexel University's new Library Learning Terrace, which opened just last month, there is nary a bound volume, just rows of computers and plenty of seating offering access to the university's 170 million electronic items. Scott Erdy, designer ofthe new library, says open, flexible space  the furniture is movable and the walls act as one giant whiteboard allows student and staff "knowledge transfer," a concept reinforced by Danuta Nitecki, dean of Drexel's libraries. "We don't just house books, we house learning," she says.
The trend began, naturally, with engineers, when Kansas State University's engineering library went primarily bookless in 2000. Last year, Stanford University pruned all but 10,000 printed volumes from its new engineering library, making more room for large tables and study areas. And the University of Texas at San Antonio ditched print in lieu of electronic material when it renovated its engineering library in 2010.
But when books disappear, does a library lose its definition?

Read on

Copyright © 2011 Time Inc.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Stars dine with British royals

Hollywood stars, including Nicole Kidman, are among the invitees to a British Academy of Film & Television Arts (BAFTA) dinner in Los Angeles.

The cause: the party is in aid of British creative talent.

Guests of honor: Prince William and his wife Catherine.

Guest list: includes Jack Black, Tom Hanks, Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Lopez, Stephen Fry.

Google should help you with unfamiliar names.

News of the World calls it quits

News of the World hits newsstands for the last time

Britian’s News of the World hit newsstands for the last time on Sunday July 10 after being closed amid the phone-hacking scandal, ending 168 years of scoops, exposés, gossip, and assorted scandal, with the heading THANKYOU AND GOODBYE.

In a full-page editorial, the top-selling weekly apologized for the long-running hacking controversy, saying, “Quite simply, we lost our way.”

The dust is still to settle, though. Owner Rupert Murdock is on the way to London to take charge of the crisis. He could face more than gossip and speculation – it is rumoured that police are interested in interrogating his top British exec, Rebekah Brooks.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Waiheke Weekender review

David Waters discusses Tupaia.

After remarking on the discovery that Tupaia was the caricaturist who created an amusing cartoon of Joseph Banks in a battle of wills with a Maori during a trade exchange of a lobster for a piece of cloth, David Waters goes on to say that Tupaia, the skilled linguist and navigator who contributed so much to the success of the voyage of the Endeavour, has been largely ignored by history.

“The imbalance is at last corrected in the recently published book Tupaia, the Remarkable Story of Captain Cook’s Polynesian Navigator by New Zealand author Joan Druett.

“After years of exhaustive research that included travelling to Tahiti, Australia, London and Connecticut, Druett -- already established as an accurate and understanding author regarding European ships and navigation in the sailing ship era – has come up with an intriguing account of Tupaia’s life and contribution to the voyage.

Her research has revealed an incredible amount of information buried in libraries and archives around the world. Consequently she has been able to chronicle Tupaia’s life from birth until his untimely death seven months before the Endeavour arrived back in England...

“This is a very interesting book with many relevant contemporary artworks, maps and plans, which provide a real flavour of the Pacific into which the early European navigators ventured. It offers plausible and well corroborated ideas on how both peoples thought and viewed each other, analysing the numerous cultural and social blunders on both sides in the light of what we now know about Polynesian culture.

“And as an account of European exploration of our coasts it is fascinating.”

YA book for strong-stomached young adults




When Jamie Carpenter’s mother is kidnapped by strange creatures, he finds himself dragged into Department 19, the government’s most secret agency.

Thus reads the blurb on the back of the paperback of Will Hill’s Department 19.

Consequently, when I added it to my pile of children’s/young adults’ books, I imagined I was buying a spin-off of Anthony Horowitz’s mega-selling Alex Rider series about a teenaged James Bond. Instead, however, I found just another ...

... vampire book.

Oh dear. Will Hill has an afterword in which he thanks a number of people, many of them with the surname King. He also gives several writers credit for inspiration, a list that includes Stephen King and JK Rowling, but not the dreaded Stephanie Meyer. Yet, if there was ever a spin-off from Meyer, this is the one. There are even vampires that control their base desire for human blood and prey on animals instead, just like Meyer’s coven – though Hill does have the sensitivity to have them feeding on cows, leaving endangered species in peace.

There is also an unacknowledged debt to Horowitz – though Jamie Carpenter has much less character and angst than young Rider, he has natural skills with all kinds of guns, earning himself lots of claps from admiring Department 19 toughs. Instead of human villains, he battles vampire nasties, with the help of teenaged vampire Larissa, who is not only beautiful (except when her eyes go red) but is also the only well developed character in the book.

Larissa can’t bear to suck human veins, so feeds on the blood scattered around the walls – and there is plenty of that. The word “abattoir” is used quite a lot. The vampire nasties are also incredibly sadistic, in the legendary Bram Stoker mode.

So, it sounds as if it would take a strong-stomached teenager to enjoy this book. It is quite harmless, however , being so comic-book in style that it is impossible to take it seriously.

Hill does have a fertile imagination, and writes well enough to make this a page-turner. If he turned to adult science fiction/fantasy, the result could be very interesting.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Q&A with Linda Hall

My interview with Linda Hall

From Linda:

This book is absolutely fascinating.

From the tale itself to the drawings, paintings and sketches it really is something anyone with an interest in history should read. In fact I think it would make a great addition to school's history reading. I love the way it is written, almost like a novel with the characters emerging and growing before your eyes.

Tupaia the Remarkable Story of Captain Cook's Polynesain Navigator takes readers onboard the Endeavour, introduces them to sailors good and bad who were with Cook when he landed in New Zealand.

According to author Joan Druett, Tupaia, a Tahitian, sailed with the Endeavour from Tahiti and was one of the ship's most important artists and helped Cook's crew with the language barrier when thy landed at different islands around the Pacific.

I asked Joan some questions about her book.

Q: How did you discover Tupaia?

A: I was aware that a Tahitian named Tupaia sailed on the Endeavour, because his name kept on cropping up in academic books and journals, but my image of him was very vague — he was a man without personality. Then I read an interview with Dr Paul Tapsell in which he said that  the noble priest, Tupaia, considered by the Maori to be the most important man on board, would have been the one who was gifted the precious taonga that Captain Cook and Joseph Banks carried to England, and presented to royalty and museums as if they had rightful ownership.  I felt a rush of sympathy for this man who had been cheated after his tragic death, not just by his shipmates, but by history, too.  He turned into a real human being for me.  I suddenly wanted to know a great deal more about him.

Q: You say his story has never been told so how did research him?

A: When it was pointed out to me by a friend that a biography of Tupaia had never been written, I realized it had to be done by a maritime historian — someone who understood what his daily life on the Endeavour would have been like, and could compare it to his previous experiences on voyaging canoes.  “I could do that!” said I.  And I set to work reading accounts of the earliest European voyages to Tahiti the very next day — 11 February 2008.  That is the way I work, by reading the logs, journals and memoirs of the people who were actually there.  Because I am a maritime historian, I understand what they are talking about, and can visualize their surroundings — I can read between the lines, as it were.  Once I had read all this basic, primary material, and had made my own deductions and opinions, I turned to what academics had written about the voyage of the Endeavour, which was very helpful.

Q: How long did it take you?

A: Just over two years.  The American edition went into production in September 2010, and was published at the end of the year.  More work went into the New Zealand Random House edition, as it is lavishly illustrated, and captions had to be composed.  This was a great pleasure, as I was able to add observations and anecdotes, but it took extra time.

Q: Apart from Tupaia, who else onboard the Endeavour stood out for you?

A: The four men who had already visited Tahiti, on the Dolphin in 1767 — John Gore, Frank Wilkinson, Richard Pickersgill, and Robert Molineux.  I had already come to know them well, through reading the journals these very young men kept on the Dolphin, and so it was a pleasure to see their characters develop through the Endeavour voyage.  I was also very intrigued to find a journal kept by Joseph Banks’s footman, James Roberts, in the Mitchell Library in Sydney.  It was a very unusual voice from the lower deck, and one that gave me extra clues to Tupaia’s character.

Q: What first sparked your interest in history?

A: I fell into a grave!  Seriously, while staying on Rarotonga in 1984, I became intrigued by a piece of wasteland that was reputed to be a graveyard for “outsiders”, and while exploring it I fell over the gravestone of the wife of an American whaling captain, who had died at the age of 24 in 1850.  I wanted to read a book about the strange life she led, and found I had to research and write it myself.  Luckily. I was given a Fulbright grant to travel to New England, so I was able to do it. Quite by accident, I became a world expert on the daily lives of families under sail.

Q: Tell us a bit about yourself.

A: I live in Wellington with my husband, Ron, who is a maritime artist.  We also lecture on cruise ships occasionally, so if you see us on the high seas, say hi!  I talk about women under sail, women pirates, shipwrecks and castaways (I joke that the audience should be wearing life jackets for that one).  And, of course, I talk about Tupaia.

Q: Who do you think would enjoy your book?

A: I work hard to turn history into a book that reads like a novel, and so I hope it will be widely read, and enjoyed by many people.  Everyone has heard of James Cook and Joseph Banks, but the story of the Endeavour should be that of three remarkable men, not just two.  I have my fingers tightly crossed that my biography of this extraordinary Polynesian will help to set the record straight, and make Tupaia’s name as famous as theirs.

Q: What's next on the agenda?

A: The nonfiction story of a rousing episode in New Zealand’s early maritime history — and a seafaring novel, set in the sunset days of the East India Company, in the South China Sea.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A comma and a twitter fight

A report that Oxford University had changed its comma rule left some punctuation obsessives alarmed, annoyed, and distraught. Passions subsided as the university said the news was imprecise, incomplete and misleading.

Catch the difference between the two previous sentences? An "Oxford comma" was used before "and" in the first sentence, but is absent in the second, in accordance with the style used by The Associated Press.

Guides to correct style differ and the issue became heated on Twitter after reports of the Oxford comma's demise.

But have no fear, comma-philes: the Oxford comma lives.

Oxford University Press, birthplace of the Oxford comma, said Thursday that there has been no change in its century-old style, and jumped into the Twittersphere to confirm that it still follows the standard set out in "New Hart's Rules."

The only explicit permission to dispense with the Oxford comma - apparently the cause of the alarm - was in a guide for university staff on writing press releases and internal communications. "It's not new, it's been online for several years already," said Maria Coyle in the university press office.

Yet the report caused a Twitterstorm.

"For teaching me that the Oxford comma resolves ambiguity, I'd like to thank my parents, Sinead O'Connor and the Pope," said Twitter user Aaron Suggs (ktheory), deftly illustrating the potential damage that can be caused to a sentence's meaning.

The kerfuffle at least answered the musical question posed by indie band Vampire Weekend: "Who gives a -- about an Oxford comma?"

Well, people like Heather Anne Halpert (blurryellow): "Are you people insane? The Oxford comma is what separates us from the animals."
Some style guides advocate the comma, others advise against it. Most also counsel using common sense to make the meaning clear.

William Strunk, Jr, who has guided generations of writers through The Elements of Style, wrote in the book's first edition of 1918: "In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last."

That position is backed by The Chicago Manual of Style and the style manual of the US Government Printing Office. The style guide of the BBC also commends liberal use of commas "in those pesky lists," and advises a comma to separate each item.
But style guides from The Associated Press and the London newspapers The Times and The Guardian dispense with a comma before the conjunction. The Queen's English Society agrees that "there is no need for a comma before the 'and' unless the sense demands it."
And there is even a third school, exemplified by Henry W Fowler. In The King's English (2nd edition), published in 1908, he gave this example his approval: "Industry, honesty, and temperance, are essential to happiness."

"We unhesitatingly recommend the original and fully stopped form, which should be used irrespective of style, and not be interfered with by rhetorical considerations; it is the only one to which there is never any objection," Fowler said.
Students at Oxford University are free to choose a style in writing their papers. "They are just expected to use proper spelling and punctuation," Coyle said.

British writer Lynn Truss observed in her popular style guide, Eats, Shoots & Leaves - another example of how a comma or no comma changes meaning - that there are strong opinions on both sides.

"I'll just say this: never get between these people when drink has been taken," she advised.

Thanks to Don Gilling.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Interview with CHRIS LAIDLAW

My great interview with Chris Laidlaw was broadcast Sunday morning

To listen to the podcast of us chatting about the legendary TUPAIA, tune into and search for my name...

Sunday, July 3, 2011

A Woman of Great Courage

Rose de Freycinet, lover, seafarer, castaway
A favourite in my bookshelf is a handsome translation of the letters of Rose de Freycinet, who stowed away on the corvette Uranie to sail around the world with her handsome husband, Captain Louis-Claude de Freycinet, and endured shipwreck on the homeward lap of the voyage. Called A Woman of Courage. The Journal of Rose de Freycinet on her Voyage around the World 1817-1820, her amazingly intimate and confiding correspondence was translated and edited by Marc Serge Rivière, and published by the National Library of Australia.

Dressed in blue frock-coat and trousers, 22-year-old Rose stole on board just after midnight on September 17, 1817, the day that the expedition sailed from Toulon. Her heart beat with fear and excitement, but the tolerant French officers welcomed her into the afterquarters, toasting her brave feat in wine. And, despite her cross-dressing, her illegal presence did not stay a secret for long. On October 4, the Monitor Universel declared, “This example of conjugal devotion deserves to be made public.” Reportedly, Louis XVIII was amused.

By contrast, the Lieutenant-Governor of Gibraltar, the first official to receive visitors from Uranie, was scandalized, and the French Ministry of the Navy was not very happy about it, either. One result of this was that every now and then the two artists of the expedition, Pellion and Arago, painted the same scene twice, one work being true to life, and the other sans Madame. This subterfuge was necessary for the official record, Voyage autour du Monde…exécuté sur les corvettes de S. M. l’Uranie et La Physicienne, which was prepared by de Freycinet and published between 1827 and 1839.

From Gibraltar, the expedition sailed for Western Australia via Tenerife, Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town, Mauritius, and Bourbon Island, and from there to Timor, the Moluccas, the Marianas, Guam, and Hawaii, arriving in Port Jackson on November 18, 1819. These “stopovers” (as the fluent and readable translation dubs them) were all described with great attention to detail by Madame, presenting a vivid and novel view of these places, partly due to the writer’s bright, pert personality, but also because she was so very French. For surely only a Frenchwoman would observe that a certain Australian lady was not just “very pretty,” but had “a ravishing ankle, or so Louis noticed!”

Departing from Sydney on Christmas Day, the corvette rounded Cape Horn on February 6, 1820, struck a submerged rock, and was deliberately beached in the Falkland Islands so that as much as possible of the scientific collection could be salvaged before the ship broke up. The party camped on the shore (Madame slept on a plank set up on two casks, with just a sarong for covering, but never complained). Their plight was soon noticed. Two American vessels – the whaler General Knox and the trader Mercury arrived, but alas, the captains were more avaricious than Christian. Instead of rescuing the desolate Frenchmen (and one Frenchwoman), they vied with each other to charge the most to carry the party to Rio. This was finally resolved, after many complicated maneuvers, by buying the Mercury and taking over the ship. They promptly renamed her Physicienne, but sadly for Rose, this did not make her any more comfortable or seaworthy.

An amazing and compelling tale, highly recommended to anyone interested in early nineteenth century Pacific and life on board a discovery vessel, here described from a fresh and beguiling perspective.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Shakespeare’s Bible?

Shakespeare’s “Good Book” on display in Sydney

Leesha McKenny reports in the Sydney Morning Herald that a collection of historic Bibles on display in Sydney is reputed to include one that has been initialled by the great playwright.

A 1607 Geneva Bible, touted to have been owned by Shakespeare is part of a travelling exhibit of 25 historic Bibles, which marks the 400th anniversary of the King James version.

It is also noteworthy that the English translation of the Bible authorized by James I includes even more quotable phrases than penned by Shakespeare himself, including such gems as:

“a broken heart”

“a sign of the times”

“at his wits’ end”

The exhibition can currently be seen at the Village Church, Annandale, NSW, where it will be on display until the end of July.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Family spat goes viral

Family Spat Goes Viral

“It is high time someone explained to you about good manners.”

Thus began an email from Heidi Withers’ future mother-in-law after what seems to have been a highly unfortunate visit to the family of her fiancé, Freddie Bourne, with whom Ms Withers lives (though she may well have moved out, considering the circumstances).

Freddie’s stepmother, Carolyn Bourne, was not the only one horrified by Heidi’s behaviour during the visit – the family dog, Bomber, was traumatised. Heidi committed several cardinal sins, it seems, staying in bed too late, cracking tasteless jokes in the wrong company, and forgetting to send a thankyou card.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Bourne listed her well-meant (?) advice in an email, which Heidi forwarded to a few choice friends. And from there it went viral.

Red faces all around. It is too easy to forget the power of the internet.

Designers get another gong

PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT designers score again

Sixteen years after winning an Oscar for their colourful costumes for the gloriously camp Aussie movie, “Priscilla Queen of the Desert,” designers Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner have won in Canada, scoring the best Costume Design award for their costumes for “Priscilla Queen of the Desert: The Musical.”

Newsweek “Diana at 50” feature reaps derision

Editor-in-chief Tina Brown, one-time friend of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, published a feature story imagining what the royal diva would be like today. The cover was equally imaginative, photoshopping Diana strolling alongside Kate, née Middleton, the daughter-in-law she will never meet this side of the cosmic curtain.

The journalistic feat met global derision. Vanity Fair came up with a wonderful parody, “James II at 310,” and discussing, tongue in cheek, the romance that never happened – between King James Two and Pippa, “the love that might have been.”

Samuel Butler, Utopian

Utopian novelist with close links to Victorian New Zealand

I was intrigued recently to see the online Oxford Dictionary of Biography feature Samuel Butler as one of its lives of the week, mostly because Butler also featured in lessons back in my school days.

Born in Nottinhamshire in December 1835, Butler began his life of self-questioning as a lay preacher at St James's, Piccadilly, where he got fed up with patriarchal Victorian hypocrisy, and expressed his views in a novel, The Way of All Flesh.

Then he aspired to become an artist, despite the disgust of his father, who declared to him that following such a course would "throw you into very dangerous company."  So, he headed off for New Zealand, the most distant British colony, with four thousand pounds from his father, who approved of the idea, believing that the rough real world downunder would knock all that artistic nonsense out of his head.

Butler, therefore, boarded the Roman Emperor at Gravesend (September 30, 1859) with his father's blessing.  After arriving in Canterbury, he set up as a sheep farmer, that kind of occupation being a popular one in that place at that time.  He wrote lots of letters home describing his new life, and his father was so impressed with them that he collected them together and had them published as A First Year in Canterbury Settlement, in 1863, with a preface written by himself.

An energetic young man, Samuel Butler engaged himself in the cultural life of the colony, wrote a utopian novel, organized the first art exhibitions at the Canterbury Club, and had essays published in the Christchurch Press.  The most famous of these is an amusing piece called "Darwin among the machines," where he imagines the consequences of the newly published Origin of Species.

In 1864, having amassed a tidy profit, he returned to London and his early ambition of being a painter.  He enrolled in art schools, produced some quite wellknown works ("Family Prayers" -- reproduced above -- being one), and dabbled in the new art of photography.  He was fated to become more famous as a writer, though -- in 1872, he finally published the utopian novel he had written back in New Zealand.  Called Erewhon, (an anagram of "nowhere"), and without his name on the title page or jacket, it received considerable acclaim -- and was fated, as I might have mentioned earlier, to feature in literature lessons in New Zealand schools.