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Monday, September 29, 2014

Ebooks still lagging

From Publishers Weekly

But young readers point the route to the future

E-book sales accounted for 23% of unit sales in the first six months of 2014, according to Nielsen Books & Consumer’s latest survey of the nation’s book-buying behavior. Paperback remained the most popular format in the first half of the year, with a 42% share of unit sales. Hardcover’s share of units was just ahead of e-books, accounting for 25% of unit purchases.

Within the trade book category, adult fiction and the young adult categories both saw e-books take a 30% share of unit sales in the first half of 2014. E-books have been a significant part of adult fiction sales since the format first gained traction, but became a bigger part of the young adult category in 2012 with the success of the Hunger Games trilogy and related films. In 2014, the format has benefited from strong e-book sales in the Divergent series as well as John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. E-book sales represented only 22% of unit sales in the adult nonfiction category in the six-month period and 13% of children’s sales, excluding young adult.

And romance is another driver

Among some of the major book categories, e-tailers’ share varied from a low of 25% of units in the children’s category to a high of 47% in the romance category. The high market share of romance sales through e-commerce sites no doubt reflects the higher percentage of romance titles that are bought as e-books. YA was the bestselling category at chains, while mysteries and adult nonfiction were tops at independent bookstores.

While bookstores are still hugely important

In the first half of 2014, 12% of book buyers said that they learned about the titles they purchased through in-store displays, pointing to the important role that bookstores play in discovery. The second most widely reported discovery method was similarly low-tech: 10% of consumers said that they heard about the books they purchased from friends and relatives. And 8% of the book buyers surveyed said that they discovered the titles they purchased by browsing the websites of online retailers.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Taiwanese author snares big prize

From Publishing Perspectives
An international jury has selected the Taiwanese novelist and screenwriter Chu T’ien-wen as the winner of the fourth Newman Prize for Chinese Literature. She is the first female Newman laureate. Sponsored by the University of Oklahoma’s Institute for U.S.-China Issues, the Newman Prize is awarded biennially in recognition of outstanding achievement in prose or poetry that best captures the human condition, and is conferred solely on the basis of literary merit. Any living author writing in Chinese is eligible. A jury of five distinguished literary experts nominated the five candidates last spring and selected the winner on September 17, 2014.
Ms. Chu will receive USD $10,000, a commemorative plaque, and a bronze medallion at an academic symposium and award banquet at the University of Oklahoma, Norman on March 6, 2015. The event will be hosted by Peter Hays Gries, director of the Institute for US-China Issues, which seeks to advance mutual trust in US-China relations.
“All five nominees are exceptionally talented and accomplished writers,” said director Gries. “It is a testament to Chu T’ien-wen’s remarkable literary skills that she emerged the winner after four rounds of positive elimination voting.”
The Newman Prize honors Harold J. and Ruth Newman, whose endowment of a chair at the University of Oklahoma enabled the creation of the OU Institute for US-China Issues. The University of Oklahoma is also home to Chinese Literature TodayWorld Literature Today, and the Neustadt International Prize for Literature.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Unpublished Baxter poem discovered.

From the Dominion-Post

J.K. Baxter, looking suitably dour
A previously unpublished poem by James K Baxter, written to fellow poet Dennis Glover, seems sure to resonate across the decades when it goes on sale next month.
Baxter was a celebrated Dunedin poet, who published from 1944 till his death in 1972, and Glover was a Dunedin poet and publisher who founded the literary journal Landfall.
Baxter earned himself a dubious national celebrity through his time at a commune in Jerusalem, on the Whanganui River. Keynotes were his bearded and shabby appearance, and his outspoken attitudes towards authorities.
"How can I live in a country where the towns are made like coffins
"And the rich are eating the flesh of the poor
"Without even knowing it?" -- or so he lamented, not long before his death in 1972.
He often wrote poems to friends, and a new one cropped up every year or two, said Anna Blackman, curator at Otago University's Hocken Library. This one was unusual for being typewritten, and the Hocken hoped to add the poem to its archive.
The typewritten two-page Letter to Denis Glover was probably written more than 50 years ago, but its sentiments are likely to be just as keenly felt by the poets of today.

The work bemoans the financial lot of poets, even those, such as Baxter and Glover, who had already achieved some renown.
"One can't warm, though stoked by fame
"One's backside at a mental flame," he writes.
The poem would appear to critique Allen Curnow, a poet and columnist referred to as "Uncle A---". Curnow was missing the point in his "harangue" about the difficulty of success for New Zealand poets, Baxter wrote.
Simply making a living was the problem.
Prime Minister Sidney Holland, the Marxist Left, and the church are then berated by Baxter for their failure to help. The church did not care how its "dead branches" fared, "But keeps her gaze beyond the stars/On socials, gossip and bazaars".
Holland was prime minister from 1949 to 1957, which might date the poem to those years.
The pages were discovered tucked inside a nondescript book bought in a job lot by a Kapiti Coast man, according to Dunbar Sloane auction house's head of rare books, Anthony Gallagher.
"They just stumbled across it. It's absolutely amazing," he said. "These things just don't crop up."
It is due to be auctioned on October 15, and was expected to fetch $1500 to $3000, Gallagher said.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Those email chain letters

Huge changes at Penguin-Random NZ

2014 has seen major changes at Random House New Zealand, but the latest is a real shock.

 Nicola Legat (pictured above), who was publishing director when RHNZ, published the prize-winning Tupaia, the Remarkable Story of Captain Cook's Polynesian Navigator, is departing from the firm.

Perhaps it was signaled back on April 30, when it was announced that Margaret Thompson, managing director of Penguin New Zealand, was to take over as MD of the combined operation, Penguin-Random -- even the order of the words is a clue!

This appointment meant that Karen Ferns, joint managing director of Random House Australia and Random House New Zealand, left the firm in May.  As the old hands at RHNZ sadly noted, she was going to be badly missed -- "Karen has made an invaluable contribution to Random House growing the sales and company over many years. Highly respected within the publishing industry, Karen has been a passionate advocate for New Zealand and New Zealand publishing."

Personally, I remember the basket of goodies and lovely signed card that was waiting in my hotel room when I was a Random House author at the Auckland Readers and Writers bookfest.

Karen Ferns was farewelled by more than 90 people from all parts of the industry at a function in Auckland. Publishers and booksellers came from across New Zealand to thank her for her support of the industry.
There were tears in many eyes as Karen’s contribution to the industry, her leadership of Random House, her professionalism and the personal mentoring that she has given to so many were highlighted.
That was bad enough.  But to lose Nicola Legat is a massive blow.  As The Listener observed as far back as January 2008, "If you're reading a new New Zealand book this summer, chances are that Nicola Legat has influenced your reading habits."

Jenny Hellen, who was deputy publishing director of RHNZ when she bought the non-US rights to Tupaia, left in June, to take up the newly created post of New Zealand publisher for Allen & Unwin.

That was great news.  Fingers tightly crossed that there is a great future for Nicola Legat, too.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Romantic story of brigantine Romance

The Brigantine Romance started her life in the Ring Anderson Shipyard, designed for the Greenland trade. In 1965 she was purchased to be used in Mitchener's movie "Hawaii." Rerigged by Commander Alan Villiers, she became a faithful re-creation of an 1800's vessel. After her stint in the movie, she was laid up, awaiting a new owner. Captain and Mrs. Kimberly were looking for a vessel to call home. When they found out about the brigantine in Hawaii, it did not take long to make the deal. They had found a vessel that would serve them and their guests well for many years.

Here is her remarkable life history:

1936 Grethe built
1965 Movie "Hawaii"
1966 Kimberlys purchase Romance
1967 1st Virgin Island Season
1971 Galapagos Cruise
1975-77 1st World Cruise
1978 Pitcairn Island
1980-81 2nd World Cruise
1983 Grenada Crisis
1984 Quebec Parade of Sail Hurricane Klaus
1986 Romance's 50th Anniversary and Romance's 20th Cruise Year  And Movie "Pieter von Schulton"
1989 Movie "Amazing Grace" Romance sold
1996 ex Romance scuttled after hurricane Luis.


TV Films
American Adventure
Virgin Quest
Dutch Piracy in the Caribbean
Atlantic Realm
Tall Ship on the Spanish Main

TV Commercials
Old Spice (3)
Cutty Sark (2)
Dortmunder Beer
                                The trailer of her upcoming documentary.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

19 versions of DRACULA

Back a million years ago when I was a university student, I made money ushering at a movie theater at night. And so I saw a lot of horror movies (midnight sessions were particularly grim), including several goes at the great Bram Stoker-generated vampire genre. And at the age of 17, Bela Lugosi still resonated, even at the 15th viewing.

That might have been the reason I picked up this book as I whistled past the library shelf in a hurry. I like short stories, I love science fiction, and I was curious to see how many versions of Dracula there could be in one volume.

And I didn't regret it.  The book is a lot of fun. Just as expected, there is that great energy and enthusiasm and willingness to think outside the square that characterizes SF writers.  All the stories are well written, but with surprising differences in approach.  There were some echoes, as three writers explored the impact of AIDS on bloodsuckers -- or the reverse, how vampires caused and spread the vile disease. A remarkable number were laugh-out-loud funny, including one ("A Matter of Style") where the novice vampire had trouble forming a body that would snare the babes. Dan Simmons' "All Dracula's Children" had a dark, disturbing social message, and others had a go at being scary.

The most successful, in my opinion, was Karen Robards's "Sugar and Spice and..."  First, it was original.  Second, it was creepily close to everyday reality. Third, it was so deftly written that what could have been a mildly amusing Wimpy-Kid-meets-Dracula's-Daughter became genuinely terrifying. A story to ponder after it has been read.

Note to self.  Look out for more of her work.

The Master of Rampling Gate - Anne Rice
All Dracula's Children - Dan Simmons
A Matter of Style - Ron Dee
Selection Process - Ed Gorman
The Vampire in His Closet - Heather Graham
The Tenth Scholar - Steve Rasnic and Melanie Tem
Nobody's Perfect - Philip José Farmer
Dracula 1944 - Edward D. Hoch
The Contagion - Janet Asimov
Sugar and Spice and... - Karen Robards
Vampire Dreams - Dick Lochte
Much at Stake - Kevin J. Anderson
The Name of Fear - Lawrence Watt-Evans
The Dark Rising - W. R. Philbrick
Los Ninos de la Noche - Tim Sullivan
A Little Night Music - Mike Resnick
Mr. Lucrada - John Lutz
In the Cusp of the Hour - John Gregory Betancourt
Children of the Night - Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Dead white men replaced by live women

Excerpted from story by Maev Kennedy in The Guardian

Students at an Oxford college will return this term to find an entirely new
set of faces staring down on their meals in the great hall: the portraits of
dead white men, dim under their cloudy varnish, have been swept away,
replaced by striking black-and-white photographs of female fellows and

Emma Smith, an English lecturer and fellow since 1997, who curated the
exhibition, said: "We haven't gone for our most famous, most successful or
richest. They're not necessarily intended to be aspirational figures ­
they're just some individuals who have done some interesting things." It has
been warmly welcomed by students, graduates and staff, though Smith did get
what she describes as "a few political correctness gone mad letters".

The exhibition celebrates the fact that in 1974, when the philosopher
Geoffrey Warnock was the principal, Hertford was among a small group of
formerly all-male Oxford colleges that took an audacious leap into the 20th
century and decided to admit women as undergraduates. By then Stephanie
West, the senior figure among the portraits, magnificent in a stripy jumper
against a cliff face of books, had already been on the staff as the head of
classics since 1966. It took a little longer for female fellows: the critic
Julia Briggs was the first, in 1978. She died of a brain tumour in 2007, and
hers is the only archive photograph: "So many people mentioned her, and so
fondly," Smith said.

The college has a patchy history, dating back to the 13th century with a
roll call including Donne, the satirist Jonathan Swift, the radical
politician Charles James Fox, and the Maltese prime minister Dom Mintoff.
However, the story includes repeated near bankruptcy and closure, literally
reaching a new low in 1820 when most of the medieval facade collapsed into
the street. Even when the broadcaster Natasha Kaplinsky ­ whose glamorous
portrait is included ­ arrived to study English in 1992, she was told it was
"so poor it could easily be swapped for a packet of mixed biscuits".

"That's what made this so easy," Smith said. "We have no glorious history,
we're not hidebound by ancient traditions, we have none.

"Taking down all the portraits was helped by the fact that nobody felt the
slightest affection for any of them, with the exception of John Donne."

The new portraits will be formally unveiled by the principal, Guardian
columnist and former Observer editor in chief Will Hutton, and will remain
for a year.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Getting rid of Sweet Page

Replacing the innards of your computer brings a host of problems, I find. Even if the migration of files is sweet, the accumulation of unwanted, intrusive add-ons is distinctly not so.

Drivers used to come on disks, and you had plenty of time to check what was actually there -- though I lost count of the times that Google Chrome came along, too.  Now, even if you are careful to load only by the "custom" path, the unwanted extras arrive.

Reloading Google Chrome brought a weird take-over of my search engine called "Sweet Page" -- which seems really odd and strange and all that, considering that Google has a perfectly good search engine of its own.  Sweet page calls itself a search engine, but it is merely an advertising tool, which gathers cookies like it has just come off a diet, and uses them to flash marketing across your screen, blocking off your view of what you want to see.  Believe me, my virus checker was going crazy trying to keep up with getting rid of the rubbish.

But how to get rid of this so-called search engine?  There are lots of ideas on the web, I found, but in the end I stumbled across a very simple solution.

On your Google or Google Chrome page, got up to the little grid in the top righthand corner of your ribbon.  It looks like three dashes, one under another.  Hit it, bringing up a menu, and run down the menu to settings. And you should bring up this screen.

Run your cursor down to Search, and then click on Manage search engines.

This will bring up a list, including Sweet Page.  Hover your mouse over it, and you will see a cross appear on the righthand side.  Hit the cross.  Firmly.  Do the same for any other search engines you're surprised to find there.  Then make one of the ones you do want your default.

Go out, close, and reboot. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Series and serials


They are all the rage, right now, as are the series of novels that continue a single story, which are more rightfully serials.

Hunger Games
The Millenium Trilogy
Fifty Shades ... of Gray ... Darker ... Freed

You can blame these megasellers for the fashion, if you like, but authors have been writing sequels since before Alice Through the Looking Glass, and once a sequel to the sequel is written, you've got yourself a series.

Or a serial. A sort of paper or eBook version of "Dynasty" or "Coronation Street."  You can blame TV for that, perhaps.  But it can work very well indeed -- think Shayne Parkinson's bestselling "Promises to Keep" serial.

But how easy is it to bring off a trilogy or a series or a serial? If the second (or third, or tenth) book is a dud, the first book, no matter how brilliant and well-reviewed, is going to suffer reader backlash.  The writer would have been wise to stop at book one.

Often it is the bridging -- or lack of bridging -- from one book to the next that fails.  Too much repetition of what went before, and not only are the previous book or books spoiled for the new reader, but the story is so stalled that it is really easy to put the book or Kindle down.  But, if the writer leaps right into the next book without bothering with any echoes of what went before -- not bothering to describe the major characters again, for instance -- the new reader feels alienated.  It's like walking into a room halfway through a conversation, which might be fascinating for those who have been there all along, but is baffling to the newcomer.

Hunger Games is a prime example of how to get it right. The first book sets the scene -- reality TV gone crazy -- and introduces the major characters.  There's a satisfying resolution.  It feels like a complete novel. So it must have been quite a challenge to pick up the setting and story again.

Collins, deftly, does it through character development. Her protagonist Katniss has become wise and cynical, and reacts to tension quite differently. We watch her change from bewildered participant in a game that is controlled from outside, into a budding terrorist, subject to other controls, and finally the resolute woman who takes fate into her own hands. And that final, final resolution, in the third book, Mockingjay, is a total shock. It's a book that makes you think for a long time after you have finished, and makes you want to start reading the series all over again.

Well worth studying.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Girl on a whaleship

Some time ago, I had the privilege of helping with a wonderful website project that was accomplished by the Martha's Vineyard Historical Society.  In their archives they have a first-hand account of a whaling voyage as seen and written about by a young girl, and this was the focus of their interactive exhibit..

The site was selected as a 2014 'reader's favorite' in the annual round-up of web sites cataloged by the Scout Report service at University of Wisconsin

Whaling History: Laura Jernegan, Girl on a Whaleship

It’s not hard to see why this whale of a tale was the third most shared resource by our readers. This well crafted site provides a window into the life of a young girl on a whaling ship in the 1800s. One of our favorite aspects of the site is the option to read Laura’s journal in her original handwriting, allowing readers to watch her penmanship develop and steady as her journey progressed over the years. Educators and students will also love to explore the map, artifacts, and ship features in order to get a better sense of what life must have been like for this young girl, who affectionately signs off each journal entry with, “Good by for today.”

In October 1868, 6 year old Laura Jernegan from Edgartown, Massachusetts set out on a three year whaling voyage with her family and the ship's crew to the whaling grounds of the Pacific Ocean. Her story lives on today via her fabulous journal which has been digitized and placed online here, courtesy of the Martha's Vineyard Museum. The site's interface includes a "Magic Lens," an innovative tool that allows readers to see typed text superimposed over Laura's handwriting by mousing over the section of interest. First-time visitors should click on Laura's Story to learn about her life story via photographs, journal entries and what happened to her after her return. The Map of Whaling is a great way to to learn about Laura's journey, major ocean currents, migration patterns, and other major whaling routes. For folks with an interest in visual culture, the Artifacts area contains dozens of items that one would have found on a whaling ship, including a small water cask, serving mallets, waif flags, and several sextants.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Amazon rejigs its offerings

Repricing reigns, along with revamping and new offerings.

(Reuters) - Inc ramped up its push into hardware on Wednesday with the debut of six new or upgraded devices, including a high-end $199 e-reader called the Kindle Voyage and its cheapest-ever touch-screen tablet.
The No. 1 U.S. online retailer also revamped its basic Kindle e-reader to include a touch screen. It will cost $79, about 15 percent more than the current basic model.
Other new devices unveiled on Wednesday are a $99 Kindle Fire HD tablet, which includes a smaller, six-inch screen as well as a tablet designed for kids that starts at $149. Amazon also upgraded its 7-inch and 8.9 inch Fire tablets.
All the upgraded and new devices start shipping in October.
The expanding Kindle lineup underscores Chief Executive Jeff Bezos' commitment to developing devices as a way to retain users and bolster its core business of retail and shopping.
This year alone, Amazon has launched a set-top box, a grocery ordering wand and a Fire smart phone, which debuted in July to lackluster reviews.
Amazon, which entered the hardware sector with the 2007 launch of the Kindle, has adopted a strategy of selling the devices at cost, and it profits when users buy content or goods.
It has been investing heavily in content, inking a deal this year to stream some HBO shows including "The Sopranos" and "The Wire" to members of its Prime subscription program.
"The vast majority of people are still using the tablets," David Limp, vice president of devices for Amazon, said during a briefing with reporters in New York.
Executives touted the Kindle Voyage as the thinnest device Amazon has ever made. The company hopes heavy readers might adopt the device, which more closely mimic a paper book.
The $79 Kindle is crucial to attract new users, particularly in markets like ChinaJapan andGermany, where e-readers are starting to gain traction, executives said.

(Writing by Deepa Seetharaman; Editing by Ken Wills)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Dreaming of garnets

A recent acquisition for the Rare Books Collection at the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, is a gorgeously hand-bound poem by Alfred Tennyson.

The binding is blue-green goatskin, embossed with a floral design and inset with five garnets and eight turquoise cabochons. Jeweled or "treasure" bindings have a long history, monarchs and monasteries commissioning bindings adorned with gold, silver, gems, and enamel-work, sometimes with carved ivory panels.  Naturally, because they were so hugely expensive, there are very few examples around.  So this is a wonderful acquisition.

This particular volume of A Dream of Fair Women was created by Sangorski and Sutcliffe, a leading firm of craftsmen binders that was founded in London in 1901.  Probably the pinnacle of their work was a copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam that was so extravagant that it was known as "the Great Omar."  As well as gold tooling, it was embellished with 1050 jewels.

Who knows what it would be worth today?  At the time it was created, Sangorski put it on the market, first by sending to New York in the hope of a better price than it would fetch in London. Stalled by Customs, it was sent back again, and finally sold at less than its intrinsic cost to an American customer.  So back to New York it sailed ... on the doomed Titanic.

Watch the strange story of the cursed Great Oman here:

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Teenager inspires

Among all the stories of countries spying on each other and on their own citizens, plus dirtier than usual electioneering in New Zealand, comes an inspiring story  of a New Zealand teenager.

Like many teens, Matt Wilson fills in free time with sport, music, mates and homework - but unlike most, he has also led a $115,000 aid mission to a Pacific island.
The Masterton 17-year-old built an extension to a Niuean hospital to make a difference, get real- world training, gain friendships and - maybe best of all - do something cool with his dad.
Matt's father, Wairarapa police sergeant Garry Wilson, was the inspiration behind the year 13 Rathkeale College student's unusual school holiday project.
Having seen too many troubled teens lacking goals and parental input, Wilson set Matt a challenge. After research they settled on an extension to an aged-care facility at Niue's Foou hospital.
The hospital was rebuilt after a 2004 cyclone, but there was one thing missing, Matt said - space.
"There were eight elderly in four rooms and a little walkway in front where they just sat . . . now they get to move around, get on with their lives, meet with their families and eat at a table instead of always in their beds."
Matt's innovative design includes a five-unit day-bed wing which can be converted into a multipurpose room, a landscaped garden and a services block based around a modified shipping container complete with kitchenette, laundry and toilet.
It was prefabricated in Masterton and shipped to Niue for assembly during a July working bee by Matt, five Rathkeale friends and a group of adults, including his father.
Beforehand, Matt pitched his project far and wide during 15 months, eventually raising around $80,000 from more than 40 companies and individuals, as well as Niuean government input of $35,000.
"I'm really proud of what he's achieved," Garry said. "It was reliant on him stepping up to the plate and he did that, and beyond."
Matt said a special moment was incorporating a round, grey boulder from the Ruamahanga River, which runs past his school and home, into a white, Niuean stone wall bordering the new structure. The name Ruamahana ("warm haven") was chosen for the new facility to echo the river's name, which Matt, of Ngai Tahu descent, translates as "the joining of two".
A Niue government representative hailed Ruamahana as a "new-forged bond" between Niue and Wairarapa.
It wasn't all work. Matt said Niue, population 1500, was "pretty wicked" and described swims with metre-long sea snakes, bombs off seaside cliffs and a village seafood cookoff with dancing and a "massive big feast".
His dad's participation meant a lot. "It was something we did together."
He is now applying for Victoria University's architecture degree course.

I was intrigued to see the Niuean on the far right wearing a Cook Islands t-short.  Polynesians still voyage the Pacific!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Today's Drabble

NINE SECONDS by Joan Curry

3 am and brandy warmed her belly. Lights winked across the water lapping at the piles under the bridge. She flung her arms wide, giggling: “iconic Titanic!” And then, “look out world, here I come!”

An urgent rush, and the explosive release into light. She blinked, bawled. Hands wrapped her in towels, faces loomed. Later, pigtails with red ribbons, the squeak of chalk on blackboard and sandwiches, hopscotch. Yay, London! The VW combi. 

She found Dermott, wicked smile, enchanting accent. Gorgeous Dermott, bloody Dermott and that skanky slut – how could this be … 

Nine seconds later black water enveloped her. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Tupaia's lorikeet

To my surprise, today I received an envelope from Valerie in Australia, containing a print-out of an item that had been shown on ABC news over there.  The post-it attached read, "Joan, Perhaps this might be of interest. We met on Pacific Pearl in July 2011 -- mostly in the coffee shop."

How thoughtful of her, because the item certainly was of interest. In my biography of Tupaia, the extraordinary Tahitian (originally from Raiatea) who sailed with Captain Cook on the Endeavour, I related an anecdote about the bird that Tupaia captured at Botany Bay in February 1770, and kept as a pet. Weakened by severe scurvy, Tupaia died in Batavia (Jakarta) late that same year, but Joseph Banks looked after the bird, giving it to collector Marmaduke Tunstall after he arrived in London.  It was a story I also told in my lecture on Tupaia and Captain Cook on the cruise ship, and evidently Valerie remembered.

Well, the painting I showed of Tupaia's bird was the one at the top of this post.  Stilted in pose -- as was usual with natural history paintings then -- it is very brightly colored.

It was painted by Peter Brown, a natural history artist who exhibited at the Royal Academy, and was the author of New Illustrations of Zoology, which includes this painting, the earliest published illustration of an Australian bird. The painting is dated November 3, 1774.

Well, according to the ABC news item that Valerie sent me, there is another painting of Tupaia's bird. It created by Moses Griffith in 1772, and is estimated to be the first painting of an Australian bird. It has recently been acquired by the National Library of Australia.  I have no idea what they paid for it, but according to the Sotheby's catalogue  $150,000-$200,000 was confidently expected.

It is certainly a beautiful painting, more graceful than the highly colored Peter Brown version -- but is it the same bird?  If so, why is it so much more drab?

The catalogue gives an excellent explanation. Tupaia, it seems, collected his pet when it was at the junior, perhaps even nestling stage, and so when Griffith painted it in 1772, the lorikeet was still in juvenile plumage. By the time Brown got around to it, two years had passed, and the bird was flaunting full adult colors.

The bird was stuffed after it died, and was put on show for years, finishing up in the Great North Museum, Hancock.  But whether it is still there is impossible to tell, as no one could find a trace of it when I asked.  Maybe it molted away -- but at least two beautiful paintings remain.


Note: The Peter Brown painting is also an illustration in the prizewinning Random House NZ edition of the biography (Tupaia, the Remarkable Story of Captain Cook's Polynesian Navigator) but not in the largely unadorned US Praeger version (Tupaia, Captain Cook's Polynesian Navigator). It is not in the digital version, either, that edition being text-only.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Strange Story of the Drabble

The word "drabble" was first found in a compendium of Monty Python humor called Monty Python's Big Red Book (which, though a play on the notorious Little Red Book, was actually blue).  In the Python book a game is described in which four players sit around a fire drinking brandy, and the first one to write a novel wins.  And the game was called DRABBLE.

For some strange reason the idea was taken up by science fiction fandom, notably the Birmingham University's science fiction club. The problem, as Dave Langford describes in "A Very Short Anthology," was to choose the length of the novel, which obviously had to be rather short. So a host of SF fans and writers put their imaginations to work.

The great British SF writer, Brian Aldiss proposed a set length of 50 words, which led to a newspaper competition, which in its turn, led to 33,000 entries, all of which Aldiss was forced to read.  One of the entrants was an unnamed member of the Royal Family, who not only was obviously a fan of Monty Python, the Goons, and so forth, but was unable to count to fifty.

A length of 8 words was then proposed, and the definitive version came along very soon, penned by Colin Greenland. "Aliens disguised as typewriters? I never heard such..."

One hundred words became the standard, though there is some argument about hyphenated words and whether the count should include the title or not.  Because of its origins, the 100-word story (and it is supposed to be a coherent anecdote, not simply playing with words) is usually in the SF or horror genre.  Shaggy dog stories are also very popular.

Then came the Drabble Project, where exactly one hundred drabbles were published in a book that cost one hundred shillings, and the profits were given to charity. It contained drabbles by famous writers like Terry Pratchett, and a wonderful example of the genre by James Steel.

More Dumb Monsters, by James Steel

The monster climbed. Fighter aircraft, dwarfed by its massive bulk, fired missile after missile into the scaly armour of the beast's hide. Roars shattered the windows of the city and reverberated far into the hills beyond. Artillery lined up in the streets below, ready to deliver their crushing firepower against the foe. High-pitched screams of terror, barely heard between the roar of collapsing buildings, announced the creature's hostage to be still alive.

The creature paused and brought a huge scaly hand towards its mouth.

"I've got the specimen," it said. "Beam me out of here and level the place."

The Drabble Project page will tell you how to buy the book, and its two successors.

Feel like writing a drabble? The trick is to write a draft without worrying too much about length. The real writing exercise is the editing of that draft.  Take out unnecessary words.  If all else fails, take out whole sentences. The aim is to make your writing crisp and economical.

Friday, September 12, 2014


Published on September 4th, 2014 | by Booknotes

New Zealand guest of honour in Taiwan

Open hearts, Open minds, Open books
發現紐西蘭 樂讀新世界
Ngākau aotea, Ngākau māhorahora, Pukapuka wherawhera
New Zealand is to be the Guest of Honour at the 2015 Taipei International Book Exhibition (TIBE 15), and is taking advantage of the opportunity to promote the country in as many ways as possible. The Guest of Honour Programme, managed by the Publishers Association of New Zealand, will have a Visiting Author programme, a Cultural Programme, a substantial publisher presence (both trade and educational publishers selling rights to NZ material) and other yet-to-be announced elements.

The initial selection for the Visiting Author Programme for TIBE 2015 (which is held in February) is highlighted by Booker Prize winner Eleanor Catton and Dame Joy Cowley. Joining them are Gavin Bishop, Jenny Bornholdt, Paul Cleave, Joan Druett, Witi Ihimaera, Heather McAllister, Mark Sommerset, Judith White and Sarah Wilkins. Other writers and/or illustrators will be added to the programme. The programme is funded by Creative New Zealand and is in partnership with the Taipei Book Fair Foundation.

The criteria for the initial invitation is that an author must have a book available in the Taiwanese market at the time of TIBE 2015 and a Taiwanese publisher must support the author’s visit with co-operative events. The authors will be involved in a series events at the NZ Pavilion in the fair exhibition hall and in other venues in conjunction with their Taiwanese publishers.

The Cultural Programme is headed by the popular Te Puia kapa haka group from Te Puia in Rotorua. They will perform daily at the TIBE and other venues, while a traditional Māori carver, with help from members of the group, will carve from a large log of Taiwanese wood.
Kevin Chapman, Project Director for NZ Guest of Honour says: “The Visiting Author Programme and the Cultural Programme are the cornerstone of the Guest of Honour project. We are pleased to have such a diverse group of successful and talented authors and performers to showcase New Zealand at TIBE 2015.”

Paoping Huang, Director of TBFF says: “We look forward to welcoming the New Zealand writers, illustrators and performers to TIBE 2015.  The Visiting Author Programme will introduce new writers to Taiwanese readers, and welcome back some old friends.”
TIBE opens on Wednesday 11th February 2015 and closes on Monday 16th February. TIBE 2014 attracted almost half a million visitors and 648 publisher exhibitors from around the world. TBFF will offer free entry for students for the 2015 event.

The Guest of Honour Programme at TIBE 2015 is supported by Creative NZ, Education NZ, The Publishers Association of NZ, NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the NZ Ministry for Culture and Heritage.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Franklin expedition ship discovered


Sir John Franklin led the two ships and 129 men in 1845 to chart the Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic.

The expedition's disappearance shortly after became one of the great mysteries of the age of Victorian exploration.

After more than 160 years of searching to understand the fate of English explorer Sir John Franklin’s fabled arctic voyage, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced a Canadian team has located one of Franklin’s historic ships and solved one of the world’s greatest archaeological mysteries, informs Parks Canada.

Expedition sonar images from the waters of Victoria Strait, just off King William Island, clearly show the wreckage of a ship on the ocean floor.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Today's drabble

Today's drabble comes from Sallyann Sack, who also belongs to the Martha's Vineyard writers' group, but says she is "only a summer person."  It has been enormous fun, she says; the people are so warm and friendly (I can vouch for that, too), She returns home to New York soon, and hopes to find a similar group of writers, who maybe will get hooked into this drabble-writing fashion. And I assume that she is not the Sallyann of her story?


Bad Timing

Hot new singer Tony Bennett came to town. Members of The Cleveland Press Teen Board, including Sallyann, interviewed him. The telephone rang that night. It was Bennett’s manager. Tony wanted her to “do the town” with him.  As she excitedly asked parental permission, her father erupted from his chair. Grabbing the telephone, he bellowed his outrage. “She’s only sixteen. Find someone your own age, you cradle snatcher!”  Mortified and furious, Sallyann stormed to her room.

Twenty-five years later, in a Waldorf Astoria elevator, Sallyann again came face to face with Bennett. 

“Hello! Remember me?”

“Do you still want a date?” 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Novel by Committee

It's not a bad idea, and full kudos to Lee Child for his continuing efforts to get other crime writers noticed. Under his sponsorship (he wrote the introduction) twenty authors played a sort of pass the parcel with a premise, the idea being to come up with a joint novel.

Maybe it takes you back to memories of childhood games, too.  Someone writes a stirring paragraph, then passes on the paper to the next in line, who adds another paragraph, and so on and so forth, the story developing in fits and starts as it goes along, until some lucky person gets to write the ending.

It also reminds me of a long-ago conversation with one of the writers for the English boys' magazine Eagle. The way he told the story, he was the co-author of a serial (in words, not comic form) where he and the other author wrote the episodes for six weeks, and then handed it over. Their game was to leave the boy hero in such an impossible situation that the other writer would have to carry out contortions to get out of the mess.

Mike told me that one time he had outdone himself.  He left the hero at the bottom of a pit with forty-foot sheer walls, and snakes writhing amongst pointed poisoned stakes all around him. Then he went off to France for the next three or so weeks, wondering all the time how boy hero would survive.  Then he got home, grabbed the issue that followed his last, and read four deathless words ...

With one mighty leap...

Anyway, back to Inherit the Dead.

"Twenty thrilling writers, one chilling mystery" says the banner at the top of the cover.  Well, whoever wrote that was more creative than the authors, who all too obviously were never readers of the Eagle serial.  The story starts well enough, though the premise is hackneyed -- ex-copper turned PI with a cute name -- Pericles Christo (and yes, that did remind me of M. Connolly's Hieronymus) -- is given the job of contacting a rich woman who wants to report the loss of her daughter.  Rich woman's ex lives in a mansion in the Hamptons, and so Perry heads up Route 27, taken over by another writer.

I lost count of how many times he drove that route. The road itself, as I know from experience, is incredibly boring, and yet writer after writer gets him back behind the wheel.  Perry's personality flexes slightly as each author takes him over, but boy, not as much as some of the other people, including the rich woman and her ex.  The best character by far is an East Hampton police chief by the name of Gawain, so much so that I must look up books by the writer of that chapter, Bryan Gruley.

As I said before, great idea, well worth following. Pity that it fell so flat.

Today's drabble

Today's drabble comes from Irwin Pikus, and all the way from the historic island of Martha's Vineyard, in Massachusetts.  Irwin's better half belongs to a writing group that has enthusiastically taken up the challenge to write drabbles. When she told him about it, he set to and dashed off this drabble.  Spymouse whispers that the ladies of the writing group are both impressed and envious.

Remember, a drabble has to be exactly 100 words, and has to convey a strong message or tell a story.  Just playing with words doesn't work....



She rode the enameled ponies in wide sinusoidal circuits created by their up and down motion as the carousel went round and round. Music blared distorted, repetitive melodies.  She beamed a child’s innocent smile – can a smile convey exuberance? When the ride was over she begged for yet another.

Skip forward some twenty-five circlings of the earth about the sun.

Another child, her daughter, now rode the very same carousel, playing the same melodies, tracing congruent trajectories.  The daughter’s face beamed as her mother’s had before.

The scene played out, evidencing yet again the fundamental cyclic nature of life.  

Friday, September 5, 2014

The terrorist photographer and the Greenpeace calendar

Featured large in the DominionPost today is a Greenpeace blunder.

It might have happened 29 years ago, but the bombing of the protest vessel Rainbow Warrior on July 10, 1985, is still fresh in the memories of New Zealanders.  It was the first act of terrorism on New Zealand soil, resulting in the death of Fernando Pereira, who was a Greenpeace photographer.

Which is ironic, because one of the men who killed him (Alain Mafart, who was found guilty of manslaughter) has a photo in the 2015 Greenpeace calendar, having metamorphosed in the meantime from spy to photographer.

The Kiwi deckhand who lost a comrade in the bombing is aghast that one of the French agents responsible for the act has had a wildlife photograph published in an international Greenpeace calendar.
"You couldn't make it up," said Bunny McDiarmid. "And he's got a different name now. Who thinks about what spies do in their second life?"

Mafart, after capture
In a statement posted on its website, Greenpeace USA said that during the production of its 2015 calendar, the calendar's publisher, Workman Publishing, sourced an image from a nature photographer, Alain Mafart-Renodier.
"It was later discovered that Mafart-Renodier is also Alain Mafart, one of the French military operatives who was involved in the bombing of the Greenpeace ship, the Rainbow Warrior, in New Zealand in 1985."
Greenpeace USA said it "deeply regretted" the error, and had ordered the recycling of the 14,000 calendars in its possession.

Workman Publishing is not being as cooperative about the 19,000 calendars it has distributed to retailers. They refuse to request a recall unless Greenpeace trumps up with a quarter of a million dollars "for costs and lost profits."

Not a good look.  As Greenpeace regretfully says, they can't pay that, as it is not the best use of donor money.

The organization confirmed that it had returned all royalty payments and ended its relationship with Workman.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

How to find a BetaReader

Finding someone who will consent to read your baby for free, and give educated, but kind advice is probably about as hard as finding an agent or a publisher.

However, there are avid readers on GoodReads who have formed a group where you just might be able to find a few who are willing to read your baby and so forth.

It looks good, and certainly well-intentioned.  I haven't met anyone who has tried this, either on or off the internet.  Any comments from those who have?

The invaluable Belinda Pollard has a few more ideas on her Small Blue Dog blog.

Number one is a very strong suggestion.


Not only will they critique your work, but they will tell you if it should be writers' group or writer's group.

I have mixed feelings about writer's (or writers') groups.  I have talked to some, and have always wondered why they are sitting there listening to me instead of sitting at their computers or lined jotter pads, or whatever.  You know what I mean.  Writing.

Also, there are jealousies involved.  Rosen Trevithick has a very funny portrayal of a writers' group made up of competitive women in her very funny book, My Granny Writes EroticaAs we all know, women can be catty, in thought if not in actual word.

It is also only going to work if the other members are keen on the same kind of writing that you are.  It is no good belonging to a group if you write techno-thrillers and they write hot romances -- unless, of course, your character list includes a few passionate robots.

Part of the job of a BetaReader is fact checking, which means that if you are writing a novel about scuba divers, you're not going to get much out of experts in flower arranging.  So, be careful about what kind of writers' group you decide to join.

Another very good idea is to use social media.  The GoodReads group is only one example of what you can find on the internet. LinkedIn has similar groups.  Those people you chat to through twitter, Facebook, or by email might develop enough interest through hints you've dropped about your book to want to have a look.

An idea of my own is to ask people who have a special interest in your area -- scuba diving or flower arranging or whatever -- to supply a blurb.  Flattery will get you everywhere, and in the process of composing the dozen words you will proudly display on the back cover they might drop a few hints that will help when polishing your final draft.  They will certainly tell you if you have any of your facts wrong.

Good luck.  And remember to be politely grateful.
Because they can use social media, too.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Whale in Wellington

A friend in Island Bay emailed in obvious excitement -- a "real" whale was coasting by his house.

"It was about 2 car lengths long, and the right fin of it's tail was at least 5 metres long," he said.

They didn't measure whales like that in the old days.

And, despite what looks like a long dorsal fin out there, it is not an orca.  It's a humpback, evidently strayed from his (or her) pod on the migration route through the Tasman Sea to Vanuatu, Fiji and Tonga.

The Dominion Post has more.

A humpback whale has been spotted near Island Bay.
Island Bay Marine Education Centre discovery programme manager Julian Hodge said the whale had been at the surface for about 15 minutes before diving under water again, about 10am. 
It had just returned to the surface and was doing tail flips.
It was about 80 metres off the coast, near Princess Bay.

Apparently, it is cavorting with surf boards and dive boats.

That didn't happen in the old days, either.