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Sunday, October 2, 2016

Kiwi poet killed in Seattle

Dog refuses to leave side of dying Kiwi poet

NZ poet Max Richards, pictured a week before he died crossing the road.
NZ poet Max Richards, pictured a week before he died crossing the road.

A New Zealand-born poet and academic has died after being hit by a car while crossing the road in his new hometown of Seattle, Washington.

Max Richards, 79, was walking his labrador Pink near his home in the city's Capitol Hill district when he was hit on a crossing by a car driven by woman in her 40s, and died that evening of his head injuries, according to local media.

The accident happened on September 21. Two days later Richards' wife Marilyn Black wrote a public Facebook post about how "in a space of a second, I lost my whole world. And the world lost a special human being".
Pink, the labrador who stayed by Max Richards' side after he was struck by the car.

Pink, the labrador who stayed by Max Richards' side after he was struck by the car.
Black wrote that when police returned Pink to their house, the officer told her the dog had refused to leave his master as he lay dying in the middle of the road, surrounded by a ring of cars and emergency services.

Richards, who was born in Auckland in 1937, was the son of schoolteachers and the grandson of AS Richards, a cabinet minister in the first Labour government. He studied English at Auckland University, and his poetry was widely published in New Zealand journals including Landfall and Islands, but in 1963 he left New Zealand, taking academic posts first in Edinburgh and then Melbourne, where he lectured in English until his retirement in 2005. His poetry was also widely published in Australia.

Two years ago he and Black, his second wife, moved to Seattle where she was pursuing post-graduate studies.

On Saturday Alan Roddick, fellow poet and Richards' friend for 60 years, said Richards often composed while walking the couple's two dogs, and his poetry was filled with observations of the life and the natural world of the streets and parks, as well as reflections on life and death.

"He was a very accomplished and prolific writer," said Roddick, "with a relaxed style which could also be sharp, witty, and touching."

In her Facebook post, Black said Richards' face had been serene as he died, which she linked to his "final vital experiences: a stunning Fall morning; a devoted family Labrador sharing fully in all his pleasures, and pains; and a circle of communion, holding his hand throughout the ordeal".

She thanked him for "two decades of purest joy", but asked: "How is it that he's not lying beside me on our bed tonight? The dogs and I can't fathom it. R.I.P. dearest beloved."
 - Sunday Star Times

Friday, September 30, 2016

Maritime Murder Mystery in the Making

It looked like a sad accident .... but from there the story unravels.


A great post on Old Salt Blog

On Monday, Nathan Carmen, 22, was rescued in the Atlantic ocean, 115 nautical miles from Martha’s Vineyard, by the Chinese freighter Lucky Orient. He had spent eight days in a life raft after his 32′ center cockpit aluminum boat sank suddenly while on a fishing trip. His mother, Linda Carman, 54, who was also on the boat when it sank, is presumed to have drowned.

On September 17th, Nathan and his mother set off from the Ram Point marina in Point Judith, RI on a fishing trip in a boat named Chicken Pox. He said that they were fishing for tuna on the 18th, roughly 100 miles offshore in the area known as Block Canyon.  He said he heard a strange noise in the engine compartment and saw water in the boat, which sank quickly. He managed to get into the life raft, whereas his mother did not. There was no distress call. When the mother and son were reported missing the next day, the Coast Guard began a search covering some 60,000 square miles but found nothing and gave up after six days. Two days later, Nathan Carmen’s raft was spotted by the Lucky Orient.

Up to this point, the story sounds like just another needless tragedy on the water. But, it takes a strange turn....


Thursday, September 29, 2016

ISLAND OF THE LOST -- the 400th review

The four hundredth review is quite a milestone.  There have been long, thoughtful reviews, short snappy reviews, and strange reviews (an outstanding one being the video trailer of his own book that somebody posted).  So it was natural, I suppose, that I wondered every now and then what the 400th would be like.

And it's great.

5.0 out of 5 stars EXCELLENT survival story: Second only to Endurance and other tales of Shackleton's voyage, September 26, 2016
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Island of the Lost: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World (Kindle Edition)
Great read, very factual and not dramatized. Very interesting to hear about the history of shipwrecks on a remote island on the cutter route, and especially to read of the dichotomy between an organized crew and a disorganized crew, and how they fared so differently on the island.

If you are a sailor or adventurer, I highly recommend this read.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

New Zealand a big cruise destination this summer

New Zealand is gearing up for a bumper cruise season, with a record number of cruise ships headed for our shores.

Cruise Lines International Association Australasia commercial director Brett Jardine said 33 ships will be cruising local waters between October 1 and April 30, with nine making their inaugural calls.

In the same period last year, New Zealand welcomed 28 ships.

There will be 33 cruise ships visiting New Zealand over the summer.

There will be 33 cruise ships visiting New Zealand over the summer.

The ships will make more than 600 calls to ports around the country, including close to a dozen maiden calls for cruise lines at destinations including Stewart Island, Wellington and Kaikoura.

Among the visitors will be the largest ship to sail to New Zealand, Royal Caribbean's 167,000-tonne Ovation of the Seas, as well as the youngest and most luxurious ship to cruise local waters, the Seabourn Encore, which will arrive in New Zealand just one month after she is officially named in Singapore.

Jardine said the record season reflected New Zealand's growing popularity as a cruise destination, as well as continuing growth in Kiwi passenger numbers.

Figures showed close to 70,000 New Zealanders took a cruise in 2015, a 10 per cent increase on the previous year.

"New Zealand's popularity as one of the world's hottest cruise destinations will be clearly evident this summer," Jardine said.

"Not only will there be more ships visiting than ever before, there will be scores of inaugural calls around the country as cruise lines extend their itineraries to take in a wider range of beautiful ports around the North and South Islands."


Why it's a game changer: Launched in April 2016, the 4180-passenger Ovation is the latest Quantum-class ship and will be the newest, biggest, most advanced ship to sail in New Zealand waters.

Features: Skydiving and surf simulators, North Star viewing capsule, spectacular Two70 entertainment venue, Seaplex activity space, 21 restaurants and cafes, solo, "virtual balcony" and family cabins.

Essentials: Ovation will arrive in Fiordland on December 21, followed by Dunedin on December 22. See


Why it's a game changer: Encore will be the youngest, most luxurious ship to grace local waters.

Features: The elegant 604-guest ship is slightly larger than its three Odyssey-class sisters; it will have an extra deck, all-balcony suites, an aft watersports marina and new restaurants.

Essentials: Seabourn Encore's first Australian season includes 15-night cruises to New Zealand and the Pacific. It will debut in Milford Sound on February 9, followed by Oban on February 10. See


Azamara Cruises - Azamara Journey. Arrives in Milford Sound on February 28 and Dunedin on March 1, the first of 10 maiden calls.

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises - Europa 2. Debuts in Auckland on December 20 and will make eight inaugural calls around the country.

Holland America Line - Maasdam. Debuts in Tauranga on November 20.

NCL - Norwegian Star. Debuts in Dunedin on February 13, the first of seven maiden NZ calls.

Oceania Cruises - Sirena. Arrives in Dunedin on April 17 and will make six maiden calls to local ports.

P&O Cruises Australia - Pacific Aria. Arrives in Auckland on November 20.

Princess Cruises - Emerald Princess. Sails into Miford Sound on November 20.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Island of the Lost -- a belated book review

 Good lord -- a newspaper book review, nearly a decade after the original launch.

And it beats most of the 399 reviews on Amazon, and matches many of the over 2,000 reviews on Good Reads.

It appears in the Summit Daily, Colorado.

"Nothing makes for better reading than an adventure on the high seas," it begins. "Throw in a good old shipwreck, and the story ramps up quickly. The icing on the cake, of course, is when the story is true. Joan Druett’s book “Island of the Lost: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World” covers all those bases, and it’s a captivating read by any account. Druett, a noted maritime historian, pens her book to read like a narrative nonfiction, which brings immediacy to the powerful survival story that unfolds quickly from the first page onward.

"The action opens on the docks in Sydney, Australia, in 1863, at the height of the windjammer era of naval exploration. A pair of adventurers, Captain Thomas Musgrave and first mate, Fran├žois Raynal, were in search of a ship, one that was sturdy enough to sail 1,500 miles in rough waters but small enough to be managed by a crew of five. The goal was the remote Campbell Island in the Southern Ocean, where the men hoped to make a killing mining the volcanic island’s rumored veins of silver-bearing tin.

"The many islands scattered south of New Zealand are notorious for their jagged and dangerous shores, so the men planned their ship’s sandstone ballast carefully, knowing such a small crew would require all hands in synchronicity if any problems arose. Barely out of port, the men encountered treacherous waters, and storm after storm threatened to break their vessel, The Grafton, apart. Their hopes for Campbell Island proved to be a bust, as the island was a veritable wasteland, so the decision was made to try for a moneymaking load of sealskins from the nearby Auckland Islands before they set their sails for home.

"As they neared the rocky coastline, another storm began to build, and Captain Musgrave struggled to find safe harbor among the unfamiliar rocks with an anchor chain that was too short. Darkness arrived, and still the ship was not securely moored, given the intensity of the gale, which raged all night. Prophetically, at midnight, the ship broke free and foundered, sending the men into a lifeboat with minimal provisions to make a dash for land.

"Druett capably evokes the mood that the men must have felt, which is that, for all intents and purposes, they had fallen off the bottom of the world. No one knew where they were, as the Auckland Islands had not been their initial destination. Before sailing, they had alerted their loved ones that a search was to be commenced if they did not return in four months, but their ship had wrecked only weeks into their journey.

"Druett makes what could have been a dreary and monotonous read — akin to watching paint dry — into an exciting documentation of the day-to-day fight for survival that the men underwent from the moments their sodden feet made land. With winter fast approaching, finding shelter and enough food to sustain life and limb became the daily struggle, as the island was poorly supplied with native flora and fauna, save the seals they had hoped to pack home as riches. Even the seals began to desert them, quickly growing wise to their intentions.

"The men spent their days trying to sustain life and hope, keeping their minds fixed on the unlikely possibility of rescue, and Druett uses many primary sourced references from the men’s journals and letters to build the narrative, documenting what lengths they had to go to finding food. Seal meat became a staple, but the men knew that to prevent scurvy — the scourge of every sailor — plants would have to be a part of their diet. The islands were windblown and barren, so the struggle to find nutrients became an epic challenge. 

"What the men did not know was that only months after their ship wrecked on the southern side of the island, another ship suffered a similar fate just off the northern shore, resulting in 19 men struggling to shore with only the clothes on their backs. 

"This is where the book’s pace intensifies, for the author tells the fates of the two groups of men in parallel, which makes for an intriguing study of human nature and the varying effects of deprivation on the human body and spirit. Unlike the smaller initial five survivors, who quickly selected a leader and established a daily routine for survival, the larger, less-cohesive group to the north floundered in disarray and animosity, with fear and suspicion cloaking their efforts from their first moments on shore. 

"Like a real-life “Lord of the Flies,” the second group of men became quickly fractured and prone to violence, and cannibalism became a very real concern. Thankfully for the initial five, the two groups never encountered each other, but the contrast of the survival rates between the two groups makes for fascinating reading. “The Island of the Lost” takes its rightful place among some of the most riveting true-life accounts of survival. Written with clarity and with a scholarly voice, Druett delivers a masterful adventure story that will have the reader cheering when rescue finally arrives."

Karina Wetherbee wrote the review, as a Special to the Daily. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Heroic archivists

We were all horrified at the sacking of the libraries and museums of Baghdad, the cannoning of the great Buddhas in Afghanistan, and the destruction of Palmyra in Syria, but a surprising amount has been saved -- because of the heroism of archivists.

A wonderful article in the latest New York Review of Books -- of which this is a very short extract:

In almost every major modern conflict in which efforts to save art and historical monuments have had substantial success, they have depended on the actions of local curators, art historians, and activists rather than international laws or foreign interventions.

During the civil war in Beirut (1975–1990), when the National Museum of Beirut was on the front lines of the conflict, it was the museum’s own curator, Emir Maurice Chehab, who saved much of the collection, including Phoenician sarcophagi and monumental statuary, by encasing them in concrete in the basement.

In Afghanistan, the Bamiyan Buddhas were lost, despite huge international outcry; but the National Museum’s Bactrian Hoard—more than 20,000 extraordinary gold, silver, and ivory objects from a Bronze Age burial site—was quietly saved, thanks to the courage and ingenuity of a group of Afghan curators who kept them hidden for years in a vault under the Central Bank in Kabul. And in Timbuktu, when jihadists overran the city in 2012, intent on wiping out the city’s extraordinary medieval Islamic heritage, it was local librarians who spirited away to safety thousands of rare manuscripts—by truck and canoe.

The mosaic museum in Ma’arrat al-Numan, northwestern Syria, following an airstrike by the Syrian government in May 2016; mosaics at left were protected by a wall of sandbags
The DayAfter Heritage Protection Initiative. TDA-HPI. 
The mosaic museum in Ma’arrat al-Numan, northwestern Syria, following an airstrike by the Syrian government in May 2016; mosaics at left were protected by a wall of sandbags
Though little noted, local preservationists have already proven crucial in the Syrian conflict itself.

One of the most striking cases is the Ma’arra Mosaic Museum in a region of Idlib Province in northwestern Syria that has been bitterly fought between various rebel groups and the regime. The museum, which occupies a historic Ottoman Caravansarai, was hit twice by the regime in a barrel-bomb attack in June 2015 and in a second air strike in May of this year. But its collection of large-scale Roman and Byzantine mosaics—including an extraordinary series depicting the life of Hercules—has largely survived because of the efforts of a group of local activists, who had encased the works in protective glue and sheeting, covered by sandbags, a few months before the first attack, and resandbagged before the second one.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

A Promise of Gold Countdown

The A PROMISE OF GOLD trilogy -- Judas Island, Calafia's Kingdom, Dearest Enemy -- is now available as a box set.  A LOT of reading, in just one download, and at a bargain price.

For one week, starting this weekend on and, it will be available as a countdown deal.

The first day, the price is about one-seventh of the list price. The next day, it jumps a little.  By the eighth day, it is back to its proper price.  So be quick to get the best bargain.

Because of time zones, the promotion starts at different times.  Keep watching.

And, for those who prefer print, the complete trilogy will be out in print by Christmas.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Latest newsletter from McBooks Press

Essay-- Stunning Victory: William Eaton leads United States Marines "to the shores of Tripoli" by Seth Hunter

Interview with Julian Stockwin 

Book Reviews--

* Inferno
by Julian Stockwin
* The Powder of Death by Julian Stockwin * The Notorious Captain Hayes by Joan Druett * and Night Wolf  by James L. Nelson.  

George Jepson reminisces about visiting English novelist Alexander Fullerton.   

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Life in a lighthouse

"All had a tale to tell, and most were expert embroiderers."

In the early Seventies I worked as a lighthouse keeper on three islands off the west coast of Scotland. I was between art schools and before taking the job I didn’t really think through what a lighthouse keeper actually did. I was attracted by the romantic notion of sitting on a rock, writing haikus and dashing off the occasional watercolour. The light itself didn’t seem important: it might have been some weird coastal decoration, like candles on a Christmas tree, intended to bring cheer to those living in the more remote parts of the country.

I was 19 when I was interviewed for the job of relief keeper by the Commissioners of the Northern Lights in the New Town of Edinburgh. My hair hung well below my shoulders. I had a great set of Captain Beefheart records and I walked about with a permanent grin on my face as I had recently, finally, lost my virginity. I rolled my own cigarettes, was a member of Amnesty International and had just read Kerouac’s Desolation Angels. In short, I was eminently suitable for the job.

At the time, there was a shortage of lighthouse keepers. This was not because the lights were being automated – that would come later – but because most of the men who would traditionally have entered the service were finding better wages building and manning oil-rigs in the North Sea. I turned 20 around the time I received the letter telling me how to get to my first posting. It read like something out of a Graham Greene novel. I was to purchase a second-class rail ticket and travel to Glasgow, staying overnight at the Seamen’s Mission. From there I was to take the local train to Girvan, a ferry to the island of Arran, and in ever-diminishing steps involving buses, a tractor and a rowing boat, I would eventually come, they promised, to the tiny uninhabited island of Pladda, and there would be initiated by three seasoned keepers into the ancient art of keeping watch.

I was greeted by the three of them on the jetty. One was in his sixties and clutched a black Bible in his potato-like fist. Another was middle-aged and wiry. The third, in his thirties, had a little corgi by his side, and was one of the few bachelors I met during my time on the lights. He often blamed the dog for making it difficult to form a lasting relationship with a woman, but I could never see the connection.

The three of us and the dog hopped onto an old trailer while the principal keeper started up the Massey Ferguson tractor and pulled us up a steep hill to the beacon. To my relief, I found that the tower of the light was surrounded by numerous outhouses in which we would live, eat and sleep. Later, I would hear tales of other lights, such as the legendary Skerryvore where the keeper lived in a tower: the bedroom walls were cylindrical and there was a circular hole in the floor and ceiling to allow the enormous metal weight which turned the reflectors to be winched up and down at 30-minute intervals throughout the night.

Over the coming weeks the keepers would teach me how to shear sheep, build roads, construct a jetty, fish for mackerel and lay lobster creels. They would also teach me the true function of the lighthouse keeper. The principal keeper, an elderly Gaelic speaker and a member of the Wee Free Church, took me aside and encouraged me, in an avuncular way, to stop referring to the four-hour watches we all undertook twice every 24 hours as ‘shifts’. This lapse was a hangover from my previous summer working in the Pig and Whistle bar at Butlin’s in Ayr, just across the water from Pladda.

Being on a lighthouse resembled nothing so much as being in a spaceship. We had comfy armchairs, Tetley tea and coal fires, but we also had the night sky, the aurora borealis, and the luxury of leaning on the rail at three in the morning, a hundred feet above the sea swell, watching satellites track across the Milky Way. It was the summer of 1973 and the Watergate hearings were beamed live by satellite (possibly one of the ones we watched circling overhead) to our island outcrop, yet we lived in many ways an early 19th-century life with our paraffin beacon and steam-driven fog signal. We made our own entertainment. Often we received a week’s newspapers at once, thanks to the generosity of the skipper of a fishing boat. (In return, we gave him the giant conger eels that got caught in our lobster creels which he would then sell to a Chinese restaurant on the mainland.) Supplied with our stack of newspapers we were able to bet among ourselves on Saturday’s horses at Newmarket or Ayr, having painstakingly studied the form and the weather conditions, then immediately check our results in Sunday’s papers.

There are three types of lighthouse. Rock lighthouses come straight out of the sea and, as a keeper, you spend all your time in the tower. Coastal stations skirt the British Isles and are on the mainland, allowing keepers to live with their families. Island lights are situated on uninhabited islands and I worked on three of them. A trainee lighthouse keeper entering the job for life (or until automation) would spend 18 months serving short periods of time on many different lights around Scotland, and would undergo strict psychological tests before gaining employment – something I body-swerved. Thereafter he (there were never any shes) would be posted to a variety of lights for three years at a time. In the space of less than a decade a keeper might find himself on a rock west of the Hebrides, then on mainland Orkney and after that in an inner-city coastal station.

Thus begins a marvelous essay by Peter Hill, in the London Review of Books.

READ THE REST of this entertaining and enlightening yarn, including the bloodcurdling story of the invasion by birds. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

The meaning of "Bully"

A quick scan through the Mighty Oxford reveals some answers to the question people keep on asking me.


1. A term of endearment and familiarity originally applied to either sex e.g. sweetheart. Later to men only, implying friendly admiration: good friend, fine fellow. Often prefixed as a sort of title to the name of the person addressed as in Shakespeare - bully Bottom. Now obsolete.

2. Brother, companion.

3. A blustery 'gallant' or 'swash-buckler', now esp. a tyrannical coward who makes himself a terror to the weak.

4. The protector of a prostitute, one who lives by protecting prostitutes.

With thanks to Elizabeth Caffin