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Friday, May 31, 2013

A glorious end...




Sunday, May 26, 2013

Ultimate Library and hotel book offerings

We all know what it is like to languish in a hotel room with nothing to read but the Bible in that bedside drawer.

Now, according to the Christian Science Monitor, the Ultimate Library aims to beef up hotel literary offerings.

Philip Blackwell, who once served as the CEO of his family’s bookstore business, decided it was time to upgrade the literary offerings available for guests at hotels and started the business Ultimate Library, which selects, then sells, books to hotels in an attempt to make the books offered at each location better for those staying there. The business was started in 2007, when there were not many people carrying Kindles and iPads in their cabin luggage.

“As frequent travellers and bibliophiles, we have always enjoyed reading about the places we visit and reading those books that best capture the sense of place, whether fiction, traveller's tales or even poetry,” Ultimate Library’s website reads. “Reading great books has always been an integral part of every holiday we have been on. But we have always been dismayed by the poor quality of reading material offered in hotels and have never understood why.”

What makes the idea relevant even in this tablet-reading era is that the books are chosen according to the hotel's location.

In addition to suggesting books for a library that are simply enjoyable to read, Ultimate Library notes a hotel’s location and selects books that are related to the surrounding area so guests can learn about where they are staying. Ultimate Library can select books for a hotel lounge, library, and/or guests’ rooms, depending on the hotel’s preference.

Blackwell told the Economist that the company works to create a selection from both second-hand and new titles so the hotel library they create doesn’t only have the current bestsellers.

“The library should not look like you walked into a bookshop in 2013,” Blackwell said. “It needs depth.”

Ultimate Library consults with writers and those who travel often to select books for a certain location. In addition, hotels can choose to have an Ultimate Library staff member come to the building to talk over book possibilities with management there. After the library has been created, the company then touches base with the hotel every so often to suggest new titles to add.
The company has supplied hotels all over the world, including chain locations such as Sheraton, Hilton, and Westin.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Shakespeare in solitary confinement

 "These big scary prisoners were frightened of Shakespeare."
-- Laura Bates, who teaches Shakespeare to prisoners in solitary confinement.

The concept of "Shakespeare behind bars" is not new. At least since 1995 there have been programs in some US prisons encouraging inmates to study and/or perform Shakespeare. But prisoners in solitary confinement? This group – considered to be the most dangerous and hardened inmates in the entire penal system – have always been excluded from such programs.

That is, says the Christian Science Monitor, until Laura Bates came along.

Bates, a professor at Indiana State University and author of Shakespeare Saved My Life, has inspiring stories of working with prisoners to tell.

One is about Larry Newton, a convicted murderer who had been in solitary confinement for 10 years

"Larry didn’t even know who Shakespeare was. I think that’s part of the beauty of this story. Larry [is like] so many other prisoner readers ... didn’t have a teacher at high school or college feeding them their Shakespeare. They directly connect to Shakespeare. And that’s something that Larry did on a very, very personal level. [While reading “Macbeth”] Larry said that he found himself questioning Macbeth’s motives: Why does he do this deed that he knows is wrong? Why does he give in to peer pressure?

"Larry [said that this led to] a very harsh analysis of himself: Why did I engage in a variety of criminal behaviors that I personally didn’t want to do? What was driving my motives? [And] that’s where he really found true freedom.

[Editor’s note: Mr. Newton’s improved behavior after he began studying Shakespeare eventually led to his release from solitary confinement. He has since written a manual to help other inmates read Shakespeare.]"

"Macbeth is the first play I have the prisoners read," Bates said. "I felt like they would connect, that they would relate to the character of Macbeth who is a good man who is contemplating making a bad choice in killing an innocent person."

Obviously, it is working.

Sir Ed a “great Briton”

They’ve stolen a Kiwi icon

The Aussies claimed our horse and our national dessert (pavlova with cream and kiwifruit), and all kinds of odd people infringe on Maori cultural rights, such as the various tattoos -- but so far (as far as I know), the Brits have been innocent of that kind of cultural theft.

But the Daily Telegraph is now celebrating the conqueror of Mount Evertest, Sir Edward Hillary, as a “great Briton.”

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

National Portrait Gallery to have Choir in Residence

The BBC reports that the National Portrait Gallery in London is to have a choir in residence - a first for any museum in the UK.

Gregory Batsleer, choirmaster

The Portrait Choir will perform a range of pieces in gallery spaces that relate to portrait themes and exhibitions.

Artistic director Gregory Batsleer said it was "an exciting new venture for choral music in the UK".

The three-year residency is due to begin with an inaugural performance on 28 June, part of the gallery's Late Shift programme.

"It has long been an ambition of the National Portrait Gallery to have a choir in residence," said the NPG's Pim Baxter.

The initiative, she continued, would enable the gallery to demonstrate "how portraiture and the human voice can complement each other".

Batsleer, currently chorus master with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, said he hoped the choir would become "an integral part of the National Portrait Gallery's work".

"The Choir in Residence programme aims to provide our visitors with new ways of appreciating portraiture and music," said the Manchester-born 24-year-old.

Featuring up to 22 members from some of Britain's most prestigious music conservatoires, The Portrait Choir will commission and perform one new work each year.

Gallery staff and visitors, mentored by experienced professional singers, will have the opportunity to take part in community singing and youth singing days.

There are also plans for up to two opera productions over the next three years, as well as engagements outside the gallery.

The choir will perform two daytime concerts on 29 June that will feature a newly commissioned work by composer Ben Parry.

What a wonderful idea.  It reminds me of that fine BBC (?) program, "The Choir," about a depressed housing estate in the UK being revitalized when a choirmaster moved in and got the populace singing.

Dr Who leaked

The Telegraph records a twitter plea from the BBC after Dr Who leak

The final episode of the latest series of BBC One's Doctor Who has been unintentionally leaked in America.

A DVD boxset which features the concluding episode was accidentally dispatched ahead of schedule over the weekend.

Fans who had pre-ordered the Series 7 Part 2 Blu-ray release unwittingly secured a copy of ‘The Name of the Doctor’, due to air in the UK on Saturday.

Doctor Who’s official Twitter warned “Some US DVDs of this series have gone out early. The #DoctorWho team would be hugely grateful if fans helped keep spoilers off the net."

In an effort to suppress any revealing details, the BBC has promised to release a special video starring David Tennant and Matt Smith, if the finale’s secrets remain under wraps.

Now then, if anything featuring the immortal Tennant (preferably with Billie Piper in tow) is released, I'm first in line to watch it.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013



My saga from the old whaling days, A Love of Adventure, will be free on Amazon for a limited time from May 21.

Born at sea and raised on shipboard, adventurous young Abigail Sherman wants nothing more than to be wedded to the ocean for life. Like her mother, a pioneer seafaring woman, Abigail is convinced that her destiny is to be a captain’s wife at sea.

Instead, fate conspires against her. Beset by problems with the British administration in New Zealand, her widowed father packs her off to Puritanical relatives in New Bedford, Massachusetts, to learn proper womanly decorum. Arriving on the same day as the momentous news of the discovery of gold in California, Abigail does her best to conform, despite being involved in the Women’s Rights movement, and a sensational murder trial.

News of her father’s brutal murder drives her into a marriage of convenience with a strongwilled young whaling captain. Her legacy is the ownership of the brig she grew up on, and a puzzling rhyme that may lead to a fortune. But, before she can return to New Zealand to collect, Abigail must outwit the grumbling seamen of her husband’s ship, a mystery murderer, and her own attractive, strangely hostile husband.

When originally brought out (as Abigail), this colorful seafaring saga attracted enthusiastic reviews. “Lots of adventure, a colorful cast of characters, and enough whaling details to provide a first-rate vicarious experience,” wrote Joan Hinkemeyer for Library Journal, while Publishers Weekly applauded, “Excellent characters in full sail amid tangy salt air and creaky timbers offer prime entertainment ... engagingly captures the atmosphere of whalers and their world.”
Now re-published by Old Salt Press, A Love of Adventure now includes an extensive glossary of whaling and sailing terms and words.

 This follows promotions of Rick Spilman's nailbiter Hell Around the Horn, and a Wiki Coffin mystery -- also set off that grim outpost of the world.

To read A Love of Adventure, you do not need a Kindle e-reader. With the free Kindle app, Kindle books are readable on iPads, Blackberries, android tablets, smart phones and desktop and laptop computers.

Dr Who finale

There are six reasons to watch the finale, according to The Telegraph

ONE: At last we find out the Doctor's real name.  (Isn't that an invasion of the Privacy Act?)

TWO: We find out the real significance of Clara Oswin Oswald, who keeps popping up throughout space and time, then dying. First she was a Dalek, then a Victorian governess-cum-barmaid. Now she’s a modern-day au pair. (My guess is that she is a reincarnation expert.)

THREE: There will be Guest Stars. Alex Kingston as the Doctor’s wise-cracking wife River Song and Richard E Grant (as Doctor Simeon/The Great Intelligence) both return.

FOUR: New Monsters. Show supremo Steven Moffat said he wanted new monsters for the finale. Hence the undertaker-like Whisper Men, who are mysterious and almost faceless creatures, who do ... what? (Personally, I reckon he should pick up the Wooden Tops, mysterious and almost faceless creatures from Victorian children's fiction, which terrified me when I found the book in my grandmother's attic.)

FIVE: It's written by Moffat himself.

SIX: It's the Telegraph critic's last fix for six months.

Monday, May 20, 2013

eBook sales slowing

Over 40% sounds like a wonderful increase in annual sales

But according to the Christian Science Monitor, it is not.

The good news: The number of e-books sold last year grew by 43 percent.

The bad news: After three years of triple-digit increases in sales, that’s a serious slowdown.
That’s the latest news from the Association of American Publishers, which released its annual BookStats study Wednesday. The report found that digital books remain the fastest-growing segment of the publishing market, but that record growth is hitting a plateau after years of runaway sales.

Among the report’s findings:
• E-book sales grew by 43 percent in 2012
• E-books now represent 20 percent of all books sales
• Some 457 million e-books were sold in 2012, compared to 557 million hardcovers sold in last year
• Even if e-book sales have slowed, the industry has made massive progress: the 457 million e-books sold in 2012 represent a 4,456 percent increase over 2008 when 10 million e-books were sold.
As for the reasons behind the e-book slowdown, analysts’ explanations vary. Some, like Hachette Book Group CEO Michael Pietsch, cite the enduring strength of the print format, which continues to outsell digital books by a margin of 4-to-1.
“In all the talk about e-books, we often lose track of the fact that more than three out of four books sold in the U.S. are still printed ones,” Pietsch said, as reported by USA Today.

Hobbit filming recommences

It's hardly an unexpected journey ...

Actors involved with The Hobbit movie trilogy have returned to Wellington from around the world, with filming for the final two films expected to resume today.

Director Sir Peter Jackson could not be reached for comment yesterday, but industry insiders say his Stone Street Studios in Miramar will be working on new scenes for the next 10 weeks or so.

Lord of the Rings fan site said it was able to confirm "from the very best of sources" that work on the remaining two films would kick off today.

"It seems likely that most of the principal cast will return for the segment, although not all are specifically confirmed," the website said.

"Lots of actors have reported through social media that they are returning and we know this block of filming has always been in the plans."

British actor Adam Brown, who plays the dwarf Ori, tweeted on Saturday evening that he was at Los Angeles International Airport with "half"' of The Hobbit crew, getting ready to fly to New Zealand.

What happens to pirates after they are caught?

They go to paradise, apparently

Anthony Denselow, in the Seychelles, contributes a fascinating story to the BBC magazine.

There are more than 1,000 convicted Somali pirates in prisons around the world. Some of them end up in a UN-funded jail on the tiny island nation of Seychelles.

The pirate prison is situated high in the hills -- and tourists paying big bucks to stay in thatched villas on the beach have not a clue it is there.

"I am in Victoria, the islands' capital, to witness an astonishing sight that is about to disappear forever," writes Denselow.

"In the heart of town is the beautiful black and white Creole courthouse.

"Outside, lolling on benches are groups of handcuffed prisoners.

"It is a sun-kissed Dickensian scene that I cannot imagine anywhere else.

"Six Somalis, in flip flops and chained in pairs, are brought into the tiny court where a judge and nine lawyers clad in black and wearing wigs barely give them a glance.

"These six were arrested last August hundreds of miles north - nearer Yemen than Seychelles.

They are accused of attempting to board a merchant ship and were captured by the Dutch navy with help from a Spanish helicopter.


Charles Brown is a barrister from Cumbria and one of two UK Criminal Prosecution Service lawyers who have been seconded to the attorney general's office in Seychelles to help prosecute pirates.

He says that they can look pretty shell-shocked when they first arrive in these lush islands, but describes the Somalis as a "cheerful and reasonably intelligent lot". "

Naturally, the men claim to be simple fishermen (though their boats seldom have nets, and never refrigeration equipment), or maybe even boat people, but with more intensive patroling of the Indian Ocean, they are not getting away with it.  Guns are usually thrown overboard, but grappling hooks are enough to get them arrested.

In fact, so many are being arrested that until recently they were simply dumped on some Somali beach.  But it is now much more organized -- and in Somalia itself, there is now a secure prison funded by the UN, where convicted pirates serve sentences that can be decades long.

Others serve their time in foreign climes ... including the idyllic Seychelles.

Yahoo to buy mega-blogger

Yahoo squandering a billion on Tumblr

The BBC reports

Yahoo's board has approved a deal to buy New York-based blogging service Tumblr for $1.1bn (£725m), US media reports say.

The acquisition is expected to be announced as early as Monday.

The deal was a "foregone conclusion" and was a unanimous vote by the board, tech blog AllThingsD reported, citing sources close to the matter.

If confirmed, it will be CEO Marissa Mayer's largest deal since taking the helm of Yahoo in July 2012.

Analysts say that by acquiring Tumblr, Yahoo would gain a larger social media presence and enhance its ability to attract younger audiences. It will also help Tumblr generate more revenue from advertisements.

On its home page, Tumblr says it hosts 108 million blogs, with 50.7 billion posts between them.

Under the terms of the acquisition, Tumblr would continue to operate as an independent business, the Wall Street Journal said, citing unnamed sources familiar with the situation.

About 700 million web surfers visit Yahoo's website every month, ranking it among the top in the global industry.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Record-breaking art sale

Christie's art sale out-plays expectations

A contemporary art sale at Christie's in New York has made $495m (£325m), the highest total in auction history.

The sale included works by Jackson Pollock, Roy Lichtenstein and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

The sale established 16 new world auction records, with nine works selling for more than $10m (£6.6m) and 23 for more than $5m (£3.2m).

Christie's said the records reflected "a new era in the art market".

The sale featured works from institutions and private collections, including that of the late singer Andy Williams.

Paintings from the Williams estate included Edward Ruscha's Mint, Willem de Kooning's Untitled XVII and Basquiat's Furious man.

The top lot of Wednesday's sale was Pollock's drip painting Number 19, 1948, which fetched $58.4m (£38.3m) - nearly twice its pre-sale estimate.

Lichtenstein's Woman with Flowered Hat sold for $56.1m (£36.8m), while another Basquiat work, Dustheads, went for $48.8 (£32.1m).

All three works set the highest prices ever fetched for the artists at auction.

Christie's described the $495,021,500 total - which included commissions - as "staggering". Only four of the 70 lots on offer went unsold.

Brett Gorvy, head of post-war and contemporary art, described the amount as "the highest total in auction history".

"The remarkable bidding and record prices set reflect a new era in the art market," he said.

Steven Murphy, CEO of Christie's International, said new collectors were helping drive the boom.

"Twenty-five percent of our buyers last year were new to Christie's," he told Reuters. "And four or five of the key lots tonight went to people who have never bought here before."

Mark Rothko's Untitled (Black on Maroon) from 1958 was the fourth most expensive sale, raising $27m (£17.7m).

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Pirated 50 Shades a boomer in China

Contraband erotica is popular, according to The Telegraph

And censorship be damned.

Ever since Fifty Shades of Grey was translated into traditional Chinese for the Taiwan market last August, contraband copies have been making their way onto the bedside tables of the mainland.

As many as 400 booksellers on Taobao, China's enormous shopping website, are stocking pirated versions of the novel, with the whole trilogy costing roughly £13.

Wrapped in the same distinctive blue steel cover, these copies are printed off in the southern city of Guangzhou from smuggled Taiwanese editions.

The Good Union bookstore, which usually sells school textbooks, said it had sold roughly 80 sets of the trilogy in the past month.

"Not many people know about it yet," said a spokesman for the Foreign Multi-Resource bookstore. "There has been no publicity, so it is only a cult book at the moment," he added.

Opinion, however, is divided about the merits of Christian Grey's - or, in the Chinese version, Ge Lei's romance with his young female conquest, Si Di'er.

"Most of the feedback we get is that it is very repetitive," said the spokesman.

The users of Douban, a Chinese social networking website, gave the book just 5.3 out of 10, complaining of its "tedious style".

So whether it will lead to a population boom in the Celestial Kingdom is moot...


Thursday, May 16, 2013


Now available from Old Salt Press:


The first book in the Promise of Gold trilogy

As she stood on the deck of the brig Gosling, Harriet Gray was forced to face an unhappy truth. She had been duped, yet again. At eighteen, the lovely English actress had already known more than her share of betrayal. And now, a dishonest shipmaster had stranded her on board a ship that was manned by a lusty, treasure-hunting crew, with a pirate captain whose dangerous smile barely concealed his fury. And whose quest for the dark secret of Judas Island was about to unveil an ancient tragedy…


The second of the Promise of Gold trilogy

Like a phantom dogging Harriet Gray’s trail, Frank Sefton is polished, charming—and utterly ruthless. Once, he abandoned the actress to a miserable fate on the far-flung shores of New Zealand.  Now, he is back in her life—full of devious schemes to rob and mortify her, far from the protection of Captain Jake Dexter, and his gold-seeking crew.


The third book in the Promise of Gold trilogy

That the Gosling Company should become a theatrical company was a preposterous idea—as crazy as the actual fact that Captain Jake Dexter, once a respectable Yankee mariner, was now an infamous pirate. Yet, he had already travelled such a long, strange path as a fortune-hunting adventurer that metamorphosing into the manager of the first theatre in Sacramento was just another step.

But Jake Dexter could never imagine the danger that this would involve for his actress, Harriet Gray, or that his own life would be so threatened.

Topless Terrace

It was a city council blunder

City officials in Wellington, New Zealand, realized that they made a mistake when they installed a street sign. It is supposed to be Torless Terrace NOT Topless Terrace! Ironically, the street sign had been vandalized several times before with people changing the name to Topless Terrace either with tape or paint.

City Council spokesman Richard MacLean said, "The council's usually managed to avoid the temptation. Now we are abreast of the situation we'll do a bit of an investigation and get things fixed to protect the honor of the good people of the lane. We don't want it turning into a tourist attraction or to be overrun by tittering schoolboys."

Now the blunder is being used to support breast cancer awareness.  The sign, hastily removed, is destined for sale on TradeMe (New Zealand's version of eBay), with the money destined for that charity.

And it has also inspired restauranteur Todd Hunter of Leuven, to stage breast cancer awareness breakfasts, all profits also to go to the charity.

And when she handed the sign over to the Wellington Chapter of the New Zealand Breast Awareness Foundation, our mayor, Celia Wade-Brown, bared it all.

Todd was there (complete with huge grin) because he and his wife, Karen (who recently went under treatment for breast cancer) are huge supporters of the Foundation.

"Poor proof-reading provided a huge opportunity for us to support a good cause," said Wade-Brown. "I was happy to turn this spelling boob into a lift for the Breast Cancer Foundation."

Among world's best

Yes, I am talking about the Museum of Wellington, City and Sea

This is the museum I take overseas visitors to -- and they invariably love it.  Small on the outside, it is large on the inside, replete with experiences from Wellington's past -- much of it Wellington's seafaring past.

In the Dominion Post today, it is announced that the Museum has been listed with the top fifty museums in the world, a list that includes the Smithsonian.

Britain's The Times commissioned a panel of ''inveterate'' museum-goers to come up with the a list of the world's 50 best museums.

The list largely favours European and United States museums with just a handful from the Southern Hemisphere.

No other New Zealand museum made the list and only the Australian Museum in Sydney got a mention in Australia.

AND, among the big names, at number 41, is the small Museum of Wellington City & Sea on Queens Wharf.

The Times says Wellington has a tiny population but a great heritage ''as this museum proves''.
"Set on three floors, it takes in social and cultural history from early Maori and European settlement through to its maritime past, including a memorial to the 1968 Wahine ferry disaster.''

The Times recommended seeing A Millennium Ago, a show about Maori creation legends.

Museum director Brett Mason said it was an honour to be included on the list.

''Being named alongside museum heavyweights like the Smithsonian Institution, British Museum and Acropolis Museum reaffirms the work we are doing as Wellington's museum," he said.

I have to admit I love the Australian museum in Sydney, too.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Teacher's book collection under the hammer

The BBC reports that a Stirling teacher's book trove holds hidden gems

It's amazing what a man can collect on a school teacher's salary.

A first edition of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is among a treasure trove of books being auctioned in Edinburgh this week.

The collection of the late Stirling-born English teacher Bruce Ritchie has an estimated value of up to £230,000.

It also includes first editions of F Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, with a note signed by the author.

And a first edition of James Joyce's Ulysses could fetch £3,000.

The copy of The Great Gatsby, the subject of a new film adaptation starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is expected to fetch about £700. A first edition of children's classic The Wind in the Willows will also be on sale.

Mr Ritchie attended Dollar Academy in Clackmannanshire and studied English and German at St Andrews University before taking up a post at Merchant Taylors' School in London, where he was described as an "inspirational" teacher.

He retired to Stirling and died in October last year.

His collection is being sold by Lyon and Turnbull on Tuesday.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Unexpected ending

Jack decided to go skiing with his buddy, Bob. So they loaded up Jack's minivan and headed north.

After driving for a few hours, they got caught in a terrible blizzard.

They pulled into a nearby farm and asked the attractive lady who answered the door if they could spend the night.

'I realize its terrible weather out there and I have this huge house all to myself, but I'm recently widowed,' she explained. 'I'm afraid the neighbors will talk if I let you stay in my house.'

'Don't worry,' Jack said. 'We'll be happy to sleep in the barn, and if the weather breaks, we'll be gone at first light. 'The lady agreed, and the two men found their way to the barn and settled in for the night.

Come morning, the weather had cleared, and they got on their way.

They enjoyed a great weekend of skiing.

But about nine months later, Jack got an unexpected letter from an attorney.

It took him a few minutes to figure it out, but he finally determined that it was from the attorney of that attractive widow he had met on the ski weekend.

He dropped in on his friend Bob and asked, 'Bob, do you remember that good-looking widow from the farm we stayed at on our ski holiday up north about 9 months ago?'

'Yes, I do.' said Bob

'Did you, er, happen to get up in the middle of the night, go up to the house and pay her a visit?'

'Well, um, yes!,' Bob said, a little embarrassed about being found out, 'I have to admit that I did.'

'And did you happen to give her my name instead of telling her your name?'

Bob's face turned beet red and he said, 'Yeah, look, I'm sorry, buddy, I'm afraid I did.' 'Why do you ask?'

'She just died and left me everything.'

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Valuable mementos of Wilde and Yeats

The BBC reports

Poems by two of Ireland's most famous writers in their own handwriting, alongside photographs of them, have fetched more than £130,000 at auction.
The manuscript of an early poem, Heart's Yearnings, by Oscar Wilde, written at Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1874, sold for £67,250.

It had an estimate of £12,000 to £15,000.

A famous photograph of Wilde taken in New York and signed by the poet went for double the estimated price at £16,250.

It was the work of Napoleon Sarony and was taken to publicise Wilde's writer's tour of America.

Draft copies of William Butler Yeats' poems, Are You Content? and The Spirit Medium, were sold for £15,000.

The manuscript of one of Wilde's most original poems, Les Ballons, sold for £16,250. It is the only known copy of the entire poem in Wilde's hand.

The manuscript was formerly in the collection of John Stetson Jnr, whose father, also John, invented the Stetson hat.

A photograph of William Butler Yeats taken by another American photographer, Alice Boughton, in 1903, was sold for £18,750.

The picture was signed by Yeats in pen and ink and by Alice Boughton in pencil on the image and in ink on the back. It had an estimate of £4,000 to £5,000.

The items were auctioned at Bonham's in New Bond Street, London.

Friday, May 10, 2013



This month the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra is performing Orpheus in Rarohenga, a stunning modern choral work by local composer John Psathas, both in Wellington (Friday 10 May) and Auckland (Saturday 25 May).

Based on an epic poem by Robert Sullivan, combining European and Polynesian mythology, the work covers James Cook’s exploration of the Pacific, his death in Hawaii and his journey into Rarohenga, the underworld. Originally commissioned in 2002 for the 50th anniversary of the Orpheus Choir of Wellington, the work has previously had only a single performance.
John Psathas was little known a decade ago, but subsequently composed the music for the opening ceremony of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens and is now recognised as a leading 21st-century composer on the international stage. The work is typical of Psathas, with a large percussion section, jazzy rhythms and a battery of drums depicting armed conflict. The Orpheus Choir is singing in both performances.

When originally performed there were mutterings about the unflattering image of James Cook presented in Sullivan’s libretto. I am from a generation that was taught to believe in Cook’s virtues – that he was an exceptional navigator, treated his crew fairly and was responsible for the elimination of scurvy. Certainly Cook was regarded as humane in European eyes, but this was not the experience of native peoples as he travelled around the Pacific. While he preferred to negotiate for water and supplies rather than use force, his ships always carried a troop of marines armed with muskets, and Cook didn’t hesitate to use them if talking didn’t work, or if the ship or the crew were threatened.

Recent books such as Anne Salmond’s The trial of the cannibal dog and Joan Druett’s Tupaia paint a more realistic view of Cook’s impact on the communities he visited, both in terms of violence and the spread of disease. In 2013 Sullivan’s libretto is much more acceptable than it was a decade ago.

Te Papa currently has a large portrait of the Tahitian princess Poedua on display. Nicknamed the ‘Pacific Mona Lisa’, its romantic setting hides a darker side of how Cook ran his expeditions. While anchored off Raiatea two of Cook’s men deserted. He reacted quickly, abducting members of the local chief’s family and holding them hostage until the deserters were returned. Poedua was painted by John Webber while being held captive on board ship.

Near the end of his third voyage, Cook made landfall in Hawaii at Kealakekua Bay. He and his crew outstayed their welcome, and there were quarrels and pilfering by the Hawaiians. After one of the ship’s boats was taken, Cook tried to forcibly abduct a local leader as a hostage for its return. The landing party was overwhelmed, and Cook and four of the marines were killed. The events leading up to Cook’s death form the dramatic climax to Orpheus in Rarohenga.

To hear a sample work by John Psathas, HIT HERE

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Sight problems solved with Kindle app

The Royal National Institute of Blind People rejoices

Amazon has developed an app that will allow millions of blind and partially sighted people to read Kindle books.

The Bookseller reports

The app works with the in-built magnification and speech functions of iPhones, iPads and some other Apple devices, while also creating an electronic Braille display.

Amazon consulted with blind and partially sighted people in the UK to help develop the app, which has previously been impossible due to compatibility issues with Apple's own accessibility features.
Fazilet Hadi, the director of inclusivity at the RNIB, said: "This fantastic breakthrough from Amazon means that people with sight loss can now read the 1.5m titles in the Kindle store. RNIB helped Amazon by getting feedback from blind and partially sighted people who tested early versions of the app.

"It is important that this level of accessibility is now replicated across all of the apps and devices in the Amazon Kindle range. We urge Amazon and all other developers and manufacturers in the e-book industry, to continue their work in making e-books, devices and apps usable by everybody."

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Bodleian buys Hopkins manuscript

The BBC reports that the Bodleian has bought a "significant" manuscript poem

A draft manuscript of Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins' celebrated work Binsey Poplars has been bought at auction by Oxford's Bodleian Libraries.

Oxford University said it was the most significant item of the poet's work to be auctioned in more than 40 years.

The "late autograph draft manuscript" of the poem, it continued, had been the last known major Hopkins manuscript in private hands.

The poem was first published in 1918, 30 years after the poet's death.

Hopkins, who died in 1889 at the age of 44, wrote Binsey Poplars while he was a curate at St Aloysius's Church in Oxford.

The Oxford alumnus penned it in response to the felling of trees running alongside the Thames in Binsey, a village on the west side of the city.

"O if we but knew what we do, When we delve or hew - Hack and rack the growing green!" the poem's second verse begins.

It was first published when his friend, the poet Robert Bridges, edited a volume of Hopkins' poems.

The only other known manuscripts of Binsey Poplars survive in four copies kept in the Bodleian at the University of Oxford.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Sea-going Cats

A cat is a kind of ship

And it is also a feline that loves going to sea

Julian Stockwin writes about the latter kind of cat in the May issue of Quarterdeck

When it became apparent that the mighty140-gun first rate Spanish ship-of-the-line Santisima Trinidas would not survive the raging storm that followed the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805,” he begins, “every effort was made to save those souls still alive on board. Officers and seamen were lowered with ropes from the stern and quarter galley windows as boats from nearby British warships came to rescue them. A lieutenant from HMS Ajax, whose boat was the last to leave the scene, reported, ‘everything alive was taken out, down to the ships cat.’

“The boat had put off from the starboard quarter of Santisima Trinidad when a cat ran out on the muzzle of one of thelower-deck guns and gave a plaintive ‘miaow.’ Ajaxs boat promptly returned to the stricken ship and carried the grateful creature off to safety.

“Scratch most mariners and you will find a soft spot for cats. I remember during my own time at sea strapping great engine room stokers, who you would pick a fight with at your peril, lovingly crafting miniature hammocks for the ships cat from scraps of canvas.”

In the May issue you can also read an interview of author JOSEPH HEYWOOD by editor GEORGE JEPSON, with a review of Heywood's latest, RED JACKET

There is also a story about Henry VIII's flagship, MARY ROSE

Download the free periodical HERE

Isn't the cover gorgeous?

Picture is of our much mourned last cat, Mystic, named after the seaport in Connecticut.  Because of the serape, it seemed appropriate....

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Anne Bronte's gravestone corrected

The BBC reports

Anne Bronte, who wrote Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (which was a huge bestseller at the time, but hardly read, these days), died in Scarborough in 1849 after succumbing to tuberculosis at the age of 29.
But her headstone in St Mary's Churchyard gave her age as 28.
A new plaque on her grave has been officially unveiled during a service of dedication.
Anne is the only member of the famous literary family who is not buried at their home in Haworth, West Yorkshire.
She travelled to Scarborough because she loved the resort and hoped that the air may improve her condition. But she died just three days after arriving.
Anne Bronte's original gravestone Anne Bronte's original gravestone has deteriorated over the years
Her death came during a bleak period for the Bronte family. Brother Branwell had died eight months earlier, followed by Emily, who had written Wuthering Heights.
Anne's original gravestone was refaced three years after her death, when Charlotte returned to discover five errors on it. The other mistakes were corrected but the age was not.
The Bronte Society has installed the new plaque alongside the original, which has deteriorated over the years.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Should Amazon pay more tax?

International giants seem to get away with paying risible amounts of tax in foreign countries.


Think Starbucks


And Amazon

Now The Bookseller reports that a petition about the latter's tax status has been handed in to Downing Street. At number 10, of course.

A husband-and-wife bookselling team have described handing a petition into Downing Street calling for Amazon to pay more UK corporation tax as a “proud moment” in their lives.

Francis and Keith Smith [pictured], from Warwick and Kenilworth Bookshops handed in the petition to Number 10 at 11am today (24th April), accompanied by Public Accounts Committee chairman Margaret Hodge; Warwick and Leamington MP Chris White; author Danny Dorling; and their son David Smith and his partner Jennifer Sterjevitch.

Stephen Fry expressed his support for the petition yesterday (23rd April) and Booksellers Association chief executive Tim Godfray also attended in support.

More than 150,000 people have signed the petition calling on Amazon to pay its fair share of corporation tax in the UK, after an investigation revealed the online giant paid a tiny amount of corporation tax in the UK on sales of £3.3bn in 2011.

Frances Smith said: “It is a very proud moment to have reached this stage and the next step is to talk to Margaret Hodge and Chris White and keep putting pressure on the government to so something in the long term.”

She added: “A hundred thousand people are telling the prime minister to take action on this issue. We’ve heard some warm words from government on clamping down on the tax avoiders, but not so much action. Surely it’s about time that all companies who choose to do business and make profits in this country pay a reasonable amount of tax on their operations, just like we do.”

Brie Rogers Lowery, UK campaigns director at, the website where the petition is registered, said the Smiths had shown the internet meant everyone could get involved in campaigning. “Their campaign has taken the fight direct to Amazon via Downing Street —and shown that the power to build movements is firmly in the hands of the people,” she said.

Amazon sales increase 22%

From The Bookseller

Amazon has reported a 22% rise in sales over the last three months, the same growth increase as the previous quarter. The internet giant said it achieved a net sales hike of 22% to $16.07 billion (£10.41bn) in the first three months to 31st March 2013, compared with $13.18 billion (£8.5bn) in the first quarter of 2012.

It also reported a rise in gross profit margin, but net income decreased by 37% to $82million (£53m), or $0.18 a share.

Amazon’s results also revealed the company spent 31.6% more on marketing in the last quarter compared with the same quarter in 2012, shelling out $632m (£409.5m).

 Digital titles in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library have increased to over 300,000 books.