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Friday, August 30, 2013

Smashwords expecting to hit big with pre-orders

This is how their announcement runs:

Here's how preorders work:

1.  You upload your book from the normal Smashwords Publish page and set a release date (aka your "onsale" date) that is in the future.  We and our retailers recommend at least four weeks in the future to get the most benefit from preorders, though you can do less.

2.  Your fans reserve their preorder copies in advance.  When the book officially goes onsale in the future, their credit card is charged.

3.  At Apple and Kobo, all accumulated preorders credit all at once on the same day, which can cause your book to spike in genre or store-wide bestseller lists.  *THIS* is the magic of preorders.  This increases the visibility of your book, which increases discoverability and sales, which then leads to a virtuous cycle of more sales driving more sales.

4.  Preorders allow authors to stage strategic, advance marketing campaigns prior to your release date.  The longer your preorder runway (the time your book is available for preorder), the greater your opportunity to accumulate preorders.

5.  Advance delivery so your book is ready for purchase at these major retailers on your official release date.  No more wondering when the retailer will list your book.  By working in advance with a preorder, the retailer has more time to process, list and promote your book.

And the internet was supposed to be instantaneous ...  But that was not how it worked, at all.

With distributors (like Smashwords) logging a definite time-lag in listing changes (such as price) in your book, staging promotions was a hit-and-miss affair.  Hopefully, with this initiative, that will be fixed.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Nautical blog-hop

Watch for this exciting event, where nautical bloggers talk about ships, the sea, and the men (and women) who sailed the ocean.

Participants so far: 

Organized by the incomparable one-woman hive of industry, Helen Hollick.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Retail head of B&N cashing up

One does tend to wonder about rats and sinking ships...

Aug 26 (Reuters) - Barnes & Noble Inc's retail group head Mitchell Klipper sold about two-thirds of his shares in the beleaguered retailer in the past few days, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Klipper, 55, who has been the chief executive of Barnes & Noble's retail group since March 2010, sold about 400,996 shares at prices ranging from $13.99 to $14.53, raising more than $5.5 million, the filing showed.

As of the company's recent proxy filing dated July 29, Klipper owned 622,000 shares. He is the second-highest paid executive of the company and owns about 1 percent of its outstanding shares.
The disclosure comes a week after the largest U.S. bookstore chain's founder and top shareholder, Leonard Riggio, suspended plans to make an offer for the retail business.

Creative puns

A testament to the flexibility of the English language...

The roundest knight at King Arthur's round table was Sir Cumference. He acquired his size from too much pi.

I thought I saw an eye doctor on an Alaskan island, but it turned out to be an optical Aleutian

Though she was only a whisky maker, he loved her still.

A rubber band projectile was confiscated from algebra class because it was a weapon of math disruption.

No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery

A grenade thrown into a kitchen in France would result in 'Linoleum Blownapart.'

Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie

Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like an apple.

A hole has been found in the nudist camp wall. The police are looking into it.

Atheism is a non-prophet organization

I wondered why the baseball kept getting bigger. Then, it hit me!

A sign on the lawn at a drug rehab center said, 'Keep off the Grass.'

A small boy swallowed some coins and was taken to a hospital.
When his grandmother telephoned to ask how he was, a nurse said, 'No change yet.'

A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion.
A backward poet writes inverse.

In democracy, it's your vote that counts. In feudalism, it's your count that votes.

With thanks to Jacqueline Church Simonds.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Spirit of New Zealand

My post about the upcoming visit of STS Lord Nelson seemed to be illustrated enough -- and yet was inspired by the sight of the STS Spirit of New Zealand gliding over the waters of Wellington harbour.
So here you are, photographs taken by Ron Druett.
The Spirit of New Zealand, probably the busiest youth-training sailing vessel in the world, belongs to the Spirit of Adventure Trust.  
The Trust was set up quite a while ago, back in 1972, in response to the surge of public interest in sailing vessels -- the same surge that led to Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander becoming a hit after years of languishing on library shelves.  The first vessel was a neat little topsail schooner, Spirit of Adventure    Then, in 1997, she was replaced by the larger Spirit of New Zealand, and was sold to tourist interests in Fiji, where she sails as the Spirit of the Pacific.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Sail-training ship in NZ waters in October

Yesterday, I looked out the window to see the barkentine Spirit of New Zealand gliding across the mirror-like waters of the inner harbour, under full sail.

What a beautiful sight.

In October, the chances of seeing ships under sail in Wellington will increase, with the arrival of the luxury sail-training bark Lord Nelson (pictured above) for a series of coastal voyages.

Lord Nelson is a remarkable ship, as well as very easy on the eye.  Commissioned by the Jubilee Sailing Trust (JST), she is the 'flagship' for the Trust's mission to enable people with disabilities to sail.

Designed by Colin Mudie -- who took a series of tall ship voyages for primary research -- and built at Wivenhoe, Essex, by the appropriately named James W. Cook, the Lord Nelson first began to take shape in October 1984, after funding was secured through a generous donation from Sir Jack Hayward. Sir Jack performed the keel laying ceremony on a date which was chosen to be as close to Trafalgar Day as possible, the day in 1805 when Admiral Lord Nelson achieved his most famous victory.

Many decisions had to be made about the final layout of the ship, to enable her to be functional and practical for people of all physical abilities. It was almost a year after the formal keel laying that the ship was launched, by Lady Aitken whose late husband, Sir Max Aitken's generous donation had enabled the JST to set up its first office in London.

Monetary problems at Cook's yard meant a series of hitches, and eventually the final work was completed by Vosper Thornycroft in Southampton and at Cole’s Yard on the Isle of Wight. In October 1986 Lord Nelson made her maiden voyage. Since then Lord Nelson has taken over 24,000 people on a voyage, of these 10,000 were physically disabled and nearly 5,000 were wheelchair users.

I look forward to seeing this remarkable ship.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

"Spy Bill" passes in New Zealand

John Key, New Zealand's version of GWB's crony, Tony Blair, has pushed a spy bill through legislation today.

Spy agencies can now legally watch Kiwis.

In a landmark law change, the shadowy Government Communications Security Bureau has been given explicit powers to spy on New Zealanders when it is acting under warrant and for agencies including the Security Intelligence Service, police and defence.
Parliament ushered in the change last night by a vote of 61 votes to 59, almost a decade after it passed the 2003 act promising that the foreign intelligence gathering agency would not be used to spy on New Zealanders.

Leading academic Dame Anne Salmond has accused Attorney-General Chris Finlayson of "gutter politics" after he criticised her opposition to the spying bill as "shrill and unprofessional".

During debate on the bill's third reading yesterday, Mr Finlayson said the "high and mighty, such as Dame Anne Salmond", were wrong in their opposition. He labelled statements likening the GCSB bill to Nazi Germany as "disgraceful".

In two newspaper columns, Dame Anne mentioned that in Nazi Germany, critics were told "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear", and likened that to arguments by the bill's supporters.
In Parliament yesterday, Mr Finlayson also slated former Labour prime minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer, who he said allowed the GCSB to operate during his time with "no legislation at all".

But he claimed the "worst contribution" had come from Dame Anne - an anthropologist and the current New Zealander of the Year - whom he accused of being "shrill and unprofessional".

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Collective nouns


We all are familiar with ....

a herd of cows,
a flock of chickens,

a school of fish
a gaggle of geese,

a pod of whales

a pride of lions.

Less widely known is:
murder of crows

an exaltation of doves

a charm of finches

congress of owls

a cackle of tuis

a cacophony of kookaburras

Now consider a group of Baboons.

They are the loudest, most dangerous, most obnoxious,
most viciously aggressive and least intelligent of all primates.........
And what is the proper collective noun for a group of baboons

Believe it or not
A Parliament

With thanks to Judith Smith.  And yes, I did make up the cackle of tuis and cacophony of kookaburras.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Should New Zealand get an Oscar?

In the BBC magazine, Megan Lane makes  an interesting point.

Is New Zealand itself a character in the many award-winning films that have been shot on location here?

"If a country could be eligible for a best actor award, New Zealand could be in the running for every gong going, with its contrasting moods showcased most recently in The Hobbit and Top Of The Lake," she says, and then asks, "Is the scenery more than just a dramatic backdrop?"

I certainly agree that there is something more to the spirit of New Zealand than the stunning scenery.  Many New Zealanders share the ancient Maori belief that the country itself has spirit and life.  Both Maori and pakeha (the more recent settlers) identify with a mountain, a river, a lake, and/or a particular stretch of the coastal sea. 

Delight is taken in the growing of native plants, and the watching and feeding of native birds.  There is a sense of pride in seeing tui foraging the blossoms of the pohutukawa trees that grow in the grounds of the parliament buildings -- a pride that is oddly proprietorial.

So, should our scenery earn an Oscar? 

For versatility, perhaps.

New Zealand can shift from one idea of the land to the other - pastoral to gothic, cultivated to wild," says Prof Laurence Simmons, head of media, film and television at the University of Auckland. "It's been used by filmmakers to fit a variety of global locations and historical periods, from small-town America in Peter Jackson's The Frighteners to 19th Century Japan, let alone Middle-earth and the landscape of Avatar."

Many of these films have helped to attract visitors to the country, just as the New Zealand Film Commission hoped would happen when it first started funding home-grown features in the 1970s.

In a survey conducted in the first quarter of 2013, one in 10 international arrivals said The Hobbit sparked their interest in New Zealand as a destination.

"We estimate that 47,000 visitors a year visit a film location," says Danielle Genty-Nott of Tourism New Zealand.

And that number is bound to increase.  Rumor has it that the eighth Doctor Who season will be filmed in other-worldly New Zealand

(And no, that third picture is not upside-down.  It is a reflection in a lake.)

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Day after the Earthquake

Overheard in a train

Usually, people who roar into cellphones on public transport or in restaurants are simply rude and annoying.  But every now and then you can guess what the unheard person on the other end of the line is saying, and the result can be intriguing.

On Friday, New Zealand had another series of earthquakes, which shook up Blenheim and Wellington rather a lot.  Yesterday, Saturday, a woman across the aisle in a train had a cellphone conversation about it.  And this is how it went:

"Was I hurt? Yes!"


"I hurt my shoulder!"


"I hurt it fighting a man to get under a desk."


"Well, he was a big, burly fellow, and very determined."

The woman, as it happens, didn't seem to be hurt or in any pain, but obviously, whatever gallantry her co-worker owned had been shaken out of him.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Joseph Banks and George Stubbs's kangaroo

I was intrigued to see a BBC report that the National Maritime Museum claims that Canberra's Stubbs's paintings don't have enough Australian interest for the Aussies to keep them.  And the man behind it? No less than Sir David Attenborough, who should know his history better.

Accordingly, money is being raised, and an import licence has been applied for, and legal efforts made to get around Canberra's export ban.

How ridiculous.  It is an intrinsic Australian story, deeply connected to the first charting of the eastern coast by James Cook in the Endeavour.  And it is an amusing story, too.

‘Land animals are scarce’, declared Captain Cook in his description of the coast of Australia.  Those in ‘the greatest plenty’ were ‘the Kangooroo, or Kanguru so call’d by the Natives; we saw a great many of them about Endeavour River, but kill’d only Three which we found very good eating’.  No one, apparently, thought of taking a live kangaroo to England — or even carrying one or two for eating along the way — but Joseph Banks did carry back two skins.  One of these was inflated (probably over a rubber lining) to look as lifelike as possible, and Banks commissioned George Stubbs to paint the result, complete with an imaginative background.

            The illustration engraved from this painting, published in Hawkesworth’s bestselling Account of the Voyages, made the kangaroo a popular sensation.  Scientists, puzzled by the concept of a pouched marsupial, and not knowing how to classify it, debated vigorously and at length.  The public response was much more frivolous:  a dance called the ‘kangaroo hop’ was invented, which took Europe by storm.  Even the great Dr Samuel Johnson was intrigued enough to gather up his coat-tails, and entertain his friends by jumping like a kangaroo.

From Tupaia, Captain Cook's Polynesian Navigator, Joan Druett.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

E L James top-earning author

It pays to have "James" in your name

We haven't heard much about that infamous sex-romp, Fifty Shades, lately.  But now the BBC reports that E L James, the creator, is the top-earning author of 2012.

The success of the Fifty Shades trilogy has propelled EL James to the top of Forbes' list of the highest-earning authors.

The British writer earned $95m (£61.5m) last year, the business magazine said.

She knocked crime author James Patterson off the top spot after three years. He took second place with $91m.

James's first novel Fifty Shades Of Grey sold 70 million copies in eight months. At its peak, the entire trilogy earned her more than $1m a week.

The Fifty Shades novels have been a publishing phenomenon, and have had particularly strong sales in the e-book market.

The series began as a piece of fan fiction, inspired by Stephanie Meyers' Twilight series, but was re-written before publication as a novel.

Meyers, who took 13th place on the Forbes list in 2012, did not make the top 15 this year.

James's success is almost unprecedented, said Forbes, as most of the names on its annual list are established authors whose earnings derive from sales of their extensive back catalogues.

James Patterson, meanwhile, will release his 115th book later this year.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Captain William "Old Glory" Driver

A Salem shipmaster, and one of America's most flamboyant captains ... William Driver, the man who gave the United States flag its famous nickname, OLD GLORY.

Apparently, August is supposed to be the anniversary of the date (August 10, 1831) when Captain William Driver nicknamed the flag, but I can find nothing to substantiate this.  It was not his birthday; the flag had been made for him about seven years earlier, and in August 1831 he was in Tahiti.

But enough.  This long post is taken from a paper I wrote about Salem captains in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand, and is dedicated to this remarkably flamboyant and noteworthy man. The facts were mostly taken from his logbook and his journal, as well as Salem newspapers of the time.

William “Old Glory” Driver was born in Salem on March 17, 1803, and went to sea at the age of fourteen, then rose in the ranks over a series of Mediterranean voyages.  His first South Seas voyage, beginning in 1824, was as first mate and trading officer of the Salem trader Clay, under the command of Captain Benjamin Vanderford (who was later famous for being turned down by Fijian cannibals, who considered him too skinny to be worth cooking, so allowed him to go free; he died as a pilot for the U.S. Exploring Expedition). 
Vanderford's brief from the ship's owners, Nathaniel L. Rogers and Brothers, was to take the Clay to the Fijian Islands, and procure a cargo of bêche-de-mer—sea-slugs—which were in hot demand in the East as a tonic for flagging virility, and would fetch up to 40 Spanish silver dollars per picul in the Manila market.

Getting a good haul of the slow-moving, gristly, phallus-shaped creatures was easily managed, by scooping them off the bottom of some reef-enclosed lagoon.  However, they had to be cured in a particular manner, or the cargo would be unmarketable—and William Driver had no idea how to do it.  Providentially, however, he was accosted by “set of  Manila pirates, who had murdered their captain, Hosea Boyes, and all his officers, destroyed his brig, the Conception”, and now were selling off the trappings of the looted ship.  Not only did the pirates show Driver how to cure the catch—a complicated process of gutting the slugs, boiling them in some large cauldron like a whaling trypot, rinsing them thoroughly in fresh water, and then smoking and drying them in a specially built “batter” house—but they sold him the necessary kettles.  A cargo weighing 600 piculs was taken to Manila, where it was sold at the equivalent of $32 US per quintal, for a total of 25,600 silver dollars.  “Never was a voyage so dependent on good luck and so successful,” reminisced Driver in a letter to the Salem Register 

The ship returned to Fiji, where Driver had left a gang of assorted natives and pirates catching and curing sea-slugs, and took on another cargo, which was sold at the same gratifying price. Vanderford then decided that it was time to go home.  As the Clay headed east, however, they spoke the Quill, another Rogers-owned trader. William Driver shifted over to the other ship as first mate and trading officer, and headed back to the Fijian lagoons. 
It was not until 1830, after obtaining and selling well over 1,000 piculs of bêche-de-mer, that he returned to Salem, where he was  given command of the Charles Doggett.  On January 14, 1831, as the American flag was hoisted up the spanker gaff to signal his departure, he famously exclaimed, “There goes Old Glory”—and not only has the Stars and Stripes had that nickname ever since, but Driver himself was known from then on as "Old Glory."

The ship left Salem in a snowstorm, and had a very slow passage to the Pacific. Then a five-day gale forced him to bring the Charles Doggett into the Bay of Islands, to repair damages and replenish his freshwater barrels. Driver arrived at midnight on 4 June, and next morning, he visited the mission at Paihia, “on the other side of the Bay, a distance of seven miles, to get water.”  The missionary, Rev. Henry Williams, confirmed this entry in Driver's log, writing in his journal the same day, “The Captain landed with whom we had much conversation".  Then he angrily went on to record Driver's boast that “it is universally observed that the crews of the American Ships conduct themselves with that propriety which is unknown by our own [English] countrymen in these seas.”

From there the encounter went rapidly downhill.  Williams tried to buy trade goods from Driver at the advantageous rates he was used to getting from the whaleship captains:  “Occupied a considerable time with the American Captain, endeavouring to purchase some trade—too dear,” he wrote.  Consequently, when Driver requested free access to the mission stream at Paihia, it was easy for Henry Williams to refuse. Driver found a chief, Pomare, who was willing to be paid a musket to escort the brig's boat to Paihia and supervise the filling of the barrels, but Williams simply sent Pomare and the boat away.  Driver resorted then to a written complaint, Williams recording on 19 July that he, “rec’d a note from the American ship respecting the watering on our ground, as his people had rec’d notice to quit.”  

The missionary cancelled prior appointments, “as I had a very unpleasant matter to settle with the American Captain”, and made his way to the Charles Doggett, where he found “the Captain very angry and highly indignant that his people were prevented from watering on our ground." 
Driver demanded to know what right the missionaries had to deny him water, and Williams retorted that the stream was on private property, and as private citizens they could do with it as they wished. Then, as he wrote:

He [Captain Driver], however, did not appear disposed to consider anything but his own convenience, and said that he had desired Pomare to water the ship and he should require him to go to the place in question, for which he had promised him a musket, and if that would not do he should give him two, if that would not accomplish it he would give him ten, and if that should fail he would give him something that would do.

Seduced by this increased offer, Pomare proved “as obstinate as the Captain”, leading a party of his own people to the stream to fill the casks.  Williams had arrived there first, however, and as the chief “was there with natives only”, he was intimidated enough to take his men and the empty barrels away.  To make sure that it could never happen again, Williams's "boys" felled the trees that grew about the stream, effectively preventing boats from coming up, and set a fence across the entrance.  Then, to emphasise that this was private property, they dug up a nearby field for a garden—and Captain Driver took the hint, and sailed away.

A trivial matter, but one that augured badly for future relationships between the mission and Salem captains, who fought with each other from then on.  There was an even more important outcome, however—because of what Driver learned during his fruitless attempt to fill his empty barrels.
As he reminisced a half-century later: 

I learned there from Gilbert Marr [Mair], merchant, amd Mr. Williams of the mission at "The Pai," that the port of Sydney, N.S.W., was open, and that "a good trade might be done there by us," in staves, oars, pitch, resin, flour, tobacco, and a sprinkling of New England rum … Thought a ship bound to Manila or China, during the Northeast monsoon, could save some thumping and would lose but little time by bringing such "traps" here and selling or consigning them, and then away for Sunda or Timour Straits

Driver communicated this in a letter to the brig's owners, which he consigned to Salem via the homeward bound whaleship Harvest.  That done, he set sail to Tahiti for the provisions and fresh water he hadn't been allowed to load at the Bay of Islands.  And there, he was accosted by 65 descendants and wives of the Bounty mutineers, who had been carried away from their island refuge of Pitcairn Island by the British, and were desperate to get back. 
William Driver took them all on board the Charles Doggett, leaving Tahiti on August 14 and delivering them to Pitcairn Island 23 days later.  They were so grateful for this act of kindness that he was plied with gifts made of fragments from the Bounty wreck, and for generations afterward, children were named after him -- one being named William Driver Christian, for instance.
After tearing himself away, Driver headed for Fiji and Manila.  Finally, in the northern spring of 1832, he arrived home with a full freight of sugar, plus a between-decks cargo of 1,600 pounds of tortoiseshell (actually turtle shell) worth over $20,000, and "bundles of bows and arrows, war clubs, etc.".  There, he found Rogers Bros., having received his letter, fitting out their ship Tybee for the south Pacific trade.

The Tybee cleared from the Salem Custom House on April 27, 1832, with one of their most experienced captains, Charles Millett, in charge, and a crew of thirteen that included Nathaniel Rogers' protégé, 20-year-old John Brown Williams, who served as her clerk.  In November the ship called at the Bay of Islands to build and set up warehouses "some miles distant" from Kororareka, where consignments could be stored, just as had been done in Mauritius 46 years earlier. By May 1833 the Tybee was in Sydney, the first American vessel to enter that port since the war of 1812-15.  Leaving on June 8, the Tybee made a quick passage to Salem, mooring at Derby Wharf on 20 October 1833, to discharge Australia’s first export cargo ever to the United States.  It included 4,800 cattle hides, and 1,000 kangaroo skins.

Meantime, Driver had been given command of the bark Black Warrior.  He sailed directly to Sydney with a freight of naval stores, arriving in October 1833 to find "almost a famine” and the government in desperate need of flour.  Leaving his ship in charge of his first officer, Joseph Rogers, he went on shore to set up an office and a depot store, while the Black Warrior sailed back to the States.  In August 1834 Rogers returned with 1,600 barrels of flour, which had cost just $4.64 per barrel in New York, and which Driver sold to a Sydney firm for seventy shillings ($16.75) per barrel, at a profit of almost $20,000.
Such were the profits that the Salem shipmasters and merchants made from their ventures in the Pacific -- and all because Captain William "Old Glory" Driver ventured into the Bay of Islands to refresh his barrels of drinking water. 

Jane Austen museum to keep her ring

A 100,000-pound donation means that a ring that once adorned Jane Austen's finger will remain in the UK

From the BBC

A ring which once belonged to Jane Austen is likely to stay in the UK after a Hampshire museum received an anonymous donation of £100,000.
US singer Kelly Clarkson bought the turquoise and gold ring for £152,450 at auction last year, outbidding the Jane Austen's House Museum.

Culture minister Ed Vaizey put an export bar on it until 30 September.

The museum has now raised enough to "show a serious expression of interest to buy the ring".
It has until December to raise a further £49,000. The museum, in Chawton, Hampshire, is Jane Austen's former home.

Fundraiser Louise West was involved in the initial attempt to buy the ring.

She said: "We could see the writing on the wall.

"We knew it was going to go for much more than we could raise in that short space of time."
After the export bar was put on the ring, she said there had been a "grass roots" campaign from the supporters of the museum to help them raise the funds to match Clarkson's bid.

Staff at the museum have invited Clarkson, 2002 winner of the American Idol TV, to visit the house where Austen wrote and revised all of her six completed novels.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Maori head to be repatriated

From the Huffington Post

'A mummified head said to be that of "a South Sea island chief" is to be sent back to New Zealand after more than 150 years in the UK.

'The Maori head, or Toi moko, was brought to Britain in the 1840s and has been kept in Warrington Museum in Cheshire since 1843.

'Today the museum announced it was to be sent back to its motherland due to its "great cultural importance". '

For some reason (say I) this has become a big news item around the world, variously reported.  The illustration is of a plaster cast of the head, which is presumably not as insensitive to have on display as the head itself, which would be very insensitive indeed.

The markings were tattooed, not painted, in the distinctively Maori art of ta moko.  Elsewhere in the Pacific, tattoos were pricked into the skin, but in Aotearoa (New Zealand), they were carved into the skin, much as wood was carved, and in very similar curvilinear patterns. A sharp chisel was the implement, often made of a bird bone with a wooden handle, and this was tapped with a small mallet, so that the point cut right through the skin.  The blood, which flowed freely, was wiped away, and a pigment, made from special soot, was rubbed in.

It was such a painful process that it was not even attempted until the subject had reached maturity -- and, indeed, was a sign of maturity.  Only a small part of the moko was created at one time, as the agony and swelling were so great.  When the lips and cheeks were tattooed they swelled up so much that the subject had to be fed through a special funnel.

The appalling mokomokai trade in preserved Maori heads was begun by Joseph Banks, who forced a Queen Charlotte Sound chief to sell the head of a fourteen-year-old boy, first by bribing him with a pair of old white drawers, and then "shewing Him a musquet" when the old man tried to escape without giving up the head.

Why Europeans would want to collect such things is a mystery, but over the first three decades of the nineteenth century hundreds of preserved tattooed heads were sold to captains and explorers, and carted off to Europe and North America.  Recently, there has been a campaign to repatriate to New Zealand the hundreds of mokomokai held in museums and private collections around the world, either to be returned to their relatives or to Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand -- for storage and certainly not for display.

Bizarrely, the toi moko is to be displayed by the Warrington museum to New Zealand and Samoan rugby league players before repatriation in the autumn.

The DNA of Mona Lisa

Tomb opened in Da Vinci-style quest

Scientists in the Italian city of Florence have opened a tomb to extract DNA they hope will identify the model for Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa.

The tomb contains the family of Lisa Gherardini, a silk merchant's wife who is believed to have sat for the artist.

Writer and researcher Silvano Vinceti plans to compare DNA from the bones with that of three women buried at the nearby convent of Saint Ursula.

Lisa Gherardini died there as a nun in 1542.

It is hoped that some of the bones will belong to at least one of her blood relation, probably her son, Piero.

"When we find a match between mother and child - then we will have found the Mona Lisa," said Mr Vinceti.

He added that once a DNA match is made, an image of Gherardini's face can be generated from the skull and compared with the painting.
Leonardo da Vinci took about 15 years to complete what has become one of the most famous paintings of all time.

One of the artist's favourite paintings, he carried it with him until he died in 1519.

It was acquired by King Francis I, who ruled France from 1515 to 1547. The painting was put on permanent display in the Louvre in Paris at the end of the 18th century.

Friday, August 9, 2013

No Remorse and resourcefulness

Not long ago, I was in Brisbane, and called by the iconic Aussie bookshop, Angus & Robertson.

While there, I was intrigued to see that an energetic young man had hauled out a school desk and chair to the street frontage, and was busily touting his self-published book to passersby.

Impressed by his resourcefulness, I first checked that the store actually stocked his books (it did, which accounted for the tolerant expressions on the faces of the bookstore staff), and then got into conversation with the author, Ian Walkley.

Had he sold many books?  Quite a few, he said, and promptly tried to sell me one.  I declined the kind offer, but did ask him to autograph one of the postcards he was handing out -- as, after all, with his kind of resourcefulness, he might turn out to be Australia's answer to Ian Fleming.

Today, while hunting through one of the piles on my desk for something else, I turned up the card, and had no trouble at all remembering how I had obtained it.

So, how were the book and its author doing?  Not badly at all, judging by his entry on  The book has won something or other, judging by the sticker, and there is a very respectable number of rave reviews. 

Definitely much of it is due to his personal drive.  Not only has Ian Walkley paid for a Kirkus review, but he has a prominent presence on Shelfari and Good Reads.

One hopes that he can spare the time from all this to produce a second volume.  Judging by the customer reviews, it should be well received.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

A reminder from Old Salt Press

The Elephant Voyage free on amazon for just two days.

August 7 and August 8.

Grab it before the deadline is up. 

Amazon review:

"Elephant Voyage' (Kindle edition), by Joan Druett, is an engaging read. Like a modern day Robinson Crusoe adventure, `Elephant Voyage' tells a chilling latter-day real-life story, in which a group of seal fishermen are castaway on a desolate and uninhabited sub-Antarctic island through a deliverable act of negligence by the skipper of the `Sarah W. Hunt'.
"The fact the men are eventually rescued is remarkable, and almost didn't happen. Much vital time was lost as officials argue over cost and availability of vessels to attempt a search and rescue mission. In the end it is only providence that saves the men's lives.
"And why the captain abandoned them and sailed away leaving them to suffer starvation and potential death, is the question everyone asks.
"Carried away with the dramatic events as they enfolded, exceptionally well told by Druett, I was jolted back to reality once the legal proceedings begin. Here the book takes on a non-fiction feel with the men's evidence being repeated almost word for word.
"`Elephant Voyage' is a remarkable story of survival and rescue, tied up in red tape and government bureaucracy, which must be fully unravelled if the reasons behind Captain Miner's blatant act of neglect are to be thoroughly investigated."
-- M. Muir.
Republished by permission 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The rejection letter

Being yet another selection from the correspondence column of the Girl's Own Paper ...

CLYTIE:--"The real name of Mark Twain is S. L. Clemens, and the reason why he writes under a nom de plume is, we suppose, the same that induced you to call yourself Clytie."

WISHING TO KNOW:--"Judging from your style of composition, spelling, and handwriting, we would not encourage you to send any MS to a publisher."

EMILY LEWIS:--"We are much obliged for your poem, and regret to decline it."

NANNIE:--"We do not know why four verses, all dissimilar in metre, the emphasis falling on the wrong syllables, and the rhymes so unusually incorrect, were sent to us. 'Hard' and "fold,' 'clasped' and 'past,' and 'together' and 'heaven' certainly do not rhyme respectively one with another."

INQUIRER:--"We cannot say if you could earn a living by type-writing in England as ladies do in America."

KARL:-"Your letter was of the class that should have gone into the waste-paper basket."

AN IRISH GIRL complains that "Irish girls never by any chance are awarded the prizes even though their compositions are much better than those awarded the prize." If the Irish girls who compete for prizes be usually as impertinent, we are not surprised that they failed in obtaining them. We advise her to mend both manners and pen."

CHRISTMAS BERRIES:--"We should like to please our little friend by telling her that her verses were 'poetry,' but grieve to say they are not.  Still, she has our best wishes."

E.C.:--"Your writing is so bad we could scarcely read your letter, and we regret that we are unable to make use of the verses you enclose. The rhythm is incorrect, and they lack any new idea."

MOSS ROSE "is thanked for offering to write a story for our paper.  We do not encourage our girls to send us their first attempts, as we regret disappointing them. We employ experienced writers, whose stories and articles are of value in the literary market. It would not be fair to our readers, nor to the success of our magazine, to do otherwise."

MANUKA:--"The verses are not up to our mark, but as you have doubtless felt pleasure in writing them, like most young people, they have answered a purpose. They show, however, that you are quite ignorant of the rules of rhyming, and also that you have read little poetry, as you appear to have been guided by no rules of any kind as to the construction."

And, at last, some encouraging words...

AN ONLY DAUGHTER wishes to know "what she is to do with her old diaries," reports the editor of this fine magazine for girls, and goes on to muse, "Perhaps she might induce some publisher to purchase the copyright, and so do good service to herself, and possibly to him and us."

Monday, August 5, 2013

More other-worldly advice for girls

More from the Answers to Correspondents column ...

A.D.E.E.G.:-- "Where is your own feminine reserve and dignity? Why do you not tell your friend to show a little more self-respect? It is the man who should seek her acquaintance, not she his. It is he who should be introduced to her, not her to him! She ought to be ashamed of herself for being so forward."

LITTLE SNOWDROP:--"We think that your mother is the right person to settle all such matters, in reference to the attentions of her servants to your father and his guest, not her little girl.  Try to learn how to spell and to write."

A whole episode of Downton Abbey could be written about this!  And here's another one ...

WARWICKSHIRE LASS:--"We advise your asking permission to attend the practising class of the choir of the church you attend, or the singers of a chapel, if not of the Church of England.  Have you named your wish to your mistress?  She might like to hear where and how you spent your fortnightly evening out."

COUNTRY LASS:--"We could not possibly form an opinion as to your qualifications as a child's nurse; but we can do so to your absolute incapacity for teaching children, as your spelling, grammar, and pronunciation (shown by your spelling) are very bad."

BETH H:--"You must obey your father."


ONE IN DOUBT:--"What do you mean by your half-sister?--your father's or mother's daughter by a former marriage? If so, you cannot marry her."

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Advice from the distant past

The Girl's Own Paper

As a child, I inherited a battered annual of The Girl's Own Paper, published in 1885 by The "Leisure Hour" Office, 56, Paternoster Row, London. 

I'm not sure at all of its provenance.  In the front it has the inscription "Nellie Phillips, With Mrs. Westenra's best wishes, Xmas 1890," so perhaps Nellie was in service (as they used to say in those days), and perhaps she was my grandmother's aunt, or great-aunt, because as far as I know my grandmother did not have a sister Nellie. What I do know is that the annual has been loved by four or five generations of small girls, who took turns in their time to color in the pictures.

Nowadays, it provides a great deal of entertainment, as well as a glimpse into the world of young women a very long time ago.  There is a column that is particularly interesting, being "Answers to Correspondents."  The letters are not quoted, so you have to guess what was being asked from the reply given, an exercise that can be very amusing indeed.

Today's samples:

PUG DOG:-- "Cards may be frosted with pounded glass.  Beware how to leave it about, as it may be mistaken for sugar."  

A budding murderess, perhaps?

HELEN ADAIR:-- "Of course, you cannot sell your cards as original if you copy them."

Aha, pirating existed even in those days...

L.A.P.:-- "You would require a special knife to cut the picture mounts, and we doubt your attempt being satisfactory."

Well, how encouraging is that!

TEMPUS FUGIT and HOPEFUL:-- "The 26th January, 1873, was a Sunday. Nelson was greatest as a naval and Wellington as a military commander. They cannot be compared one against the other. Horatia and her husband are dead: their children are living. Private families cannot be subjects of remark in a public paper."

Tell that to the paparazzi!

A.B.C.:-- "You subjected yourself to the caprices of a stranger in a most reckless and undignified way. When that person presumed to address you, you should have taken no notice and walked on, and if there happened to be any natural reason to excuse such presumption on the part of a stranger you should have declined walking with him, unless on a proper introduction, as your family had not the pleasure of his acquaintance.  We are shocked to hear that your family know nothing about it. You should never walk out with any man without the permission of your mother.  It is a gross act of impropriety and ignoring of parental authority. If this man desired your acquaintance he should have set about it in the proper way, and obtained an introduction, acting opening, and not taking advantage of your ignorance of common propriety, and forcing his acquaintance on you clandestinely."

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Island of the Lost

Back in 2007, Algonquin published my account of two shipwrecks on an hostile sub-Antarctic island

It was called ISLAND OF THE LOST

One wreck was of the Australian sealer Grafton

The other was of the Aberdeen square-rigger Invercauld

Both ships collided with iron-bound cliffs and rocks on Auckland Island, in the year 1865.  In both cases, the survivors had to grapple with nature to stay alive  And, because of the terrain, neither knew that the other group was there. Both were isolated, to find death or life on their own.

One group did extraordinarily well.  The Grafton survivors, led by their captain, Thomas Musgrave, ably supported by the amazingly resourceful Francois Raynal, built a substantial cabin, established a civilized route that included Bible readings, a school where each man taught his fellow his particular skills (French and mathematics, in the case of Raynal), and eventually built a getaway boat, which was navigated all the way to New Zealand.

The other, after their captain succumbed to depression, descended to chaos and dissension, and perhaps even cannibalism. They were eventually rescued, but only by accident.

It's a cautionary tale, that has inspired many readers.  The book is now used as a text in courses on leadership in American universities.

I get a great deal of fan mail.  But I particularly liked the letter that arrived today.

I don't normally write to authors but I am just finishing up Island of the Lost and wanted to tell you what an incredibly gifted writer I found you to be......I enjoy historical non-fiction, particularly about maritime history, and have read most that has been written by and about Shackleton, Scott, Mawson, etc and this book should be on the same shelf with all of held my attention the entire time, had the right mix of background with on-gong events and efforts of the castaways to remain alive, and was just truly enjoyable........


Is the next Dr. Who a woman?

The next Dr. Who will be unveiled on Sunday...

In the UK, that is.

From the BBC

The new star of Doctor Who will be revealed in a special live programme on Sunday, the BBC has announced.

The half-hour show, presented by Zoe Ball, will feature an interview with the new lead, as well as 11th Doctor Matt Smith and executive producer Steven Moffat.

"The decision is made and the time has come to reveal who's taking over the Tardis," Moffat said.

"For the last of the Time Lords, the clock is striking twelve."

Doctor Who Live: The Next Doctor, is on BBC One at 7pm on 4 August.

According to the official announcement, Ball "will unveil the 12th Doctor in the first ever interview in front of a live studio audience set against the backdrop of a swirling vortex, amongst Daleks and the Tardis".

The 11 Doctors
1. William Hartnell (1963-1966)
2. Patrick Troughton (1966-1969)
3. Jon Pertwee (1970-1974)
4. Tom Baker (1974-1981)
5. Peter Davison - pictured (1982-1984)
6. Colin Baker (1984-1986)
7. Sylvester McCoy (1987-1996)
8. Paul McGann (1996)
9. Christopher Eccleston (2005)
10. David Tennant (2005-2010)
11. Matt Smith (2010 - 2013)

Smith, who has played the Time Lord since 2010, announced in June that he would be bowing out in this year's Christmas special.

The announcement sparked much speculation about who might take over, with Peter Capaldi, Ben Daniels, Rory Kinnear and Ben Whishaw among the bookies' favourites.

Ben Stephenson, BBC drama controller, said: "Amongst all the speculation and betting, there has been lots of fun and intrigue at work as we've been using the codename Houdini as a decoy.

"It's the biggest secret in showbiz, even those working with the new Doctor on other projects at the moment have no idea they are in the presence of the 12th incarnation."

Oh, if only it could be a comeback of either David Tennant or Christopher Eccleston, who struck such wonderful vibes off the sexy and charismatic Billie Piper.

Unfortunately, that's not likely,

But, if I was betting, I would wager that the next Dr. Who is a woman.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Perceptive review of The Elephant Voyage

From Old Salt Blog

Joan Druett's The Elephant Voyage is a fascinating historical account of sailors who find themselves castaway on a desolate, wind-swept sub-Antarctic island, while on an ill-fated voyage to hunt elephant seals in the late 19th century. Their rescue and at least partial redemption also tells a tale of the lively and complex world of colonial New Zealand at the dawn of the 20th century.

In 1883, New Bedford, Captain Sanford Miner and his investors, outfit the schooner Sarah W. Hunt and recruit a crew with no real sailing experience, yet who are nevertheless logged as able seamen. Captain Miner and his green crew set sail and successfully navigate to Macquarie Island, a tiny speck halfway between Tasmania and Antarctica, only to find the beaches deserted, with not an elephant seal to be seen. They sail on to Campbell Island, another tiny but rugged rock in the Southern Ocean, where they find a safe anchorage for the schooner. The captain sends the mates and crew off to search for seals along the shore in two whale boats. A storm blows up and one boat is blown out to sea, never to be seen again, while the other just barely manages to row back to the island. After several days of arduous rowing, they make it back to where the schooner had been anchored, only to find it gone.

The captain, in a feat of considerable seamanship but blindingly poor judgment, has decided that the crew has been lost in the storm and, with the limited assistance of the cook, sails the schooner to New Zealand. Captain Miner's arrival causes quite a furor. There are calls for a rescue mission, which immediately get caught up in political and bureaucratic maneuvering and intrigue.

What is so engaging about The Elephant Voyage is that once the surviving crew is ultimately rescued, an entirely new story unfolds with surprising consequences. It is as if the rescue is a large stone dropped in a quiet pool, where the ripples spread rapidly outward, rocking many boats and lapping unexpectedly on distant shores. The attorneys and prosecutors maneuver, in and out of court, during the trial of Captain Miner for abandoning his men. Local politicians become involved. The captain maintains an amusing running battle with his usually intoxicated cook. The US consulate gets involved and the newspapers join in the circus as the proceedings attract international interest.

The Elephant Voyage captures both the hardship of sailing in the Southern Ocean and the fascinating world of a rapidly developing colonial New Zealand. Highly recommended.