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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Britannia's Shark, interview with the author


Antoine Vanner, author of the Dawlish Chronicles, kindly consented to be interviewed about the latest in the series, Britannia's Shark

J.D.: Nicholas Dawlish is a fascinating character in the classical mode, a hero with a fatal flaw.  Who or what was your inspiration for such a complex person?

A.V.: There are a number of inspirations, all linked with the period 1845-1918, in which Dawlish lived. Several charismatic and influential British naval officers were born in the same decade, Fisher, Scott, Beresford - and later Jackson - among others. They joined a navy commanded by veterans of Nelson’s day but they themselves shaped the navy that fought WW 1, having introduced new technologies such as steam turbines, submarines, radio, torpedoes and even aircraft.

These men had very adventurous careers and managed a massive amount of change.  The closest character-inspiration for Dawlish belongs however to the generation that followed him. Sir Walter Cowan served on the Benin expedition in West Africa in the late 1880’s, captained a battle-cruiser at Jutland in WW1 and commanded British forces in the Baltic against the Bolsheviks in 1919. He then retired but came back into service in WW2, training with the commandos in 1941 at the age of 70. In the North Africa campaign he was to take on Italian tank crew singlehandedly when armed only with a revolver. He was to be the oldest officer serving in combat WW2, just as Dawlish was to have the same distinction in WW1 which, unlike Cowan, Dawlish was not to survive! 

Though of high moral character, all these men were driven by ambition and demonstrated the necessary degree of ruthlessness which was essential to achieve what they did. If this is a fault, then it is the one they share with Dawlish!

J.D.: Leading on from this who is your favourite fictional hero (apart from Nicholas Dawlish)?

A.V.: Since I first read Doctor Zhivago 53 years ago I have always been impressed with the character of Pasha Antipov, the schoolteacher from  a poor background who proves to have unexpected martial and leadership skills when called to the colours in 1914. In the Russian Civil War he becomes “Strelnikov”, a military expert in Bolshevik service.  Though his story ends in tragedy he has always seemed to me the embodiment of courage, conscience and dignity in the most extreme circumstances.  He is faced with impossible moral choices but he confronts them head on and does not shirk his destiny or ask for pity. As such he is the counterpoint to the much weaker character of Zhivago himself and his death – prefigured in a song sung by an old peasant woman earlier in the book – is of unbearable poignancy. Strelnikov was played brilliantly by Tom Courtenay in the movie and the memory of him thundering down the track in his armoured train is unforgettable.

J.D.: The Dawlish Chronicles can be read as separate novels, as the setting of each is so different.  Because the stories are historical the places where they take place no longer exist, per se, but still do you feel a drive to explore them?

A.V.: My own career has brought me all over the world and I have lived long term in 8 countries and undertook shorter assignments in a dozen others.  I have travelled in some 55 countries and this, combined with my enthusiasm for history, has afforded me ample opportunities for getting the feel for the locations – and, more importantly, cultures – in which my stories are set.  A good example is my novel Britannia’s Wolf which, though set in Ottoman Turkey in the 1870’s, reflects my own knowledge of Turkey and my experience of having lived and worked there for three years.  The search for new and challenging locations never stops and indeed I am dictating this answer on a visit to Sarawak, Northern Borneo.  Who knows whether I may find that Nicolas Dawlish himself might have encountered adventures here?  Only further research will answer that question!  

J.D.: Before your first Dawlish novel what else was written?  Are there unpublished short stories or memoirs lurking in a desk drawer?

A.V.: I wrote a fair amount over the years, including two novels, but never of a quality that deserved to see the light of day even after revision and re-writing. I was clear-eyed enough to recognise that! This material has, however, proved very useful in affording me opportunities to learn through my mistakes. Also, in the course of my business career I have had to produce, or edit, or approve, reports, reviews and submissions to governments which had major economic implications. This experience proved invaluable as regards fine-tuning documents so that every word counted and all ambiguity excluded. Such experience is invaluable.

I was inspired to start writing again – and this time with total commitment – by encountering the naval novelist Douglas Reeman (who writes the Bolitho series as Alexander Kent) at a book-signing session some years ago. I understood from him just how much dedication and professionalism is required to research, write and complete a novel. He was inspirational. The consequence was that I made the necessary time and within 11 months of that meeting I had produced Britannia’s Wolf.

J.D.: What are your recommendations for historical research?  How do you track down the little details that make your settings so convincing?

A.V.: The most important advice is that you don’t try write about a period you don’t already know a fair amount about. You need to understand the overall historical context – political, social, religious, cultural, scientific, technological and military.  The understanding of this background is something that one builds up over years – decades in my case. I continue to read very widely, normally up to sixty books a year, mostly non-fiction, and maybe 25% of these are related to the 19th Century. Reading contemporary memories is invaluable, especially as regards values and attitudes. 

Within this wider context one must create a plot that links credibly to the realities of the period and to populate it with characters who are of that time, not 21st century people in re-enactors’ costumes. That plot will demand more detailed research on aspects directly relevant to it – sometimes entire books, other times information from the internet. Google is invaluable, and often surprising in this regard.  Information coming from this type of research may often demand restructuring of the plot. Very specific details such as “In what year was Singapore linked to the outside world by telegraphic cable?” can be easily accessed on the internet only if and when needed. However, one has got to be careful not to go overboard.  Judging when “Enough is Enough” is the key to effective research. 

J.D.: Outside of writing and researching, what do you really like to do?


A.V.: I have a very active parallel life and, although retired from my business and academic careers, I play a role as an elected local councillor and as such am active in my community. My lovely wife’s horses and our dog are great sources of pleasure and I continue to enjoy travelling widely. My enthusiasm for history and literature remains unabated. Long may it continue!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Interview with a photographer


ROBERT A SCHAEFER, jr, kindly agreed to "talk" to me about his residence in romantic Barcelona.




Robert

Your work has received numerous international awards, most recent being a Bronze Medal in the Professional Photographers of Architecture Division at the Moscow International Foto Awards.  You also have recent memories of an exciting artist's residency, "Can Serrat," near the gorgeous port of Barcelona.  Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed about your experiences there.

It is I who thanks you, Joan, for inviting me to say a few words about my incredible experience in Can Serrat. One of the main reasons I wanted to get the residency program there was the close proximity Can Serrat has to Barcelona.  I had last been to Barcelona in 1974, way before it was greatly overhauled and beautified for the 1992 Olympic Games.  I was still a student of Architecture in 1974 and wildly interested in the very unusual architecture of Antoni Gaudí.  Unlike the currently situation, it was not so easy to get into some of these structures Gaudí designed and built, and I even had to get written permission from the city government and take it with me.  Lucky for me, I spoke Spanish very well.  So with all these wonderful memories of Barcelona, I was very excited to get an artist residency so close to Barcelona - there was a great bus connection with a stop just outside Can Serrat, and in forty minutes I was in Barcelona photographing all aspects of its architecture for my proposed project.  Spanish cuisine - especially from this region of Catalan is one of my favorites, and the meals at Can Serrat were such a treat. They were lovingly prepared by the two directors Marcel who is actually from the local village of El Bruc and Katrine who is French and from Paris.  I can still taste the Paella which was served on a huge rectangular rock slab used for the communal table.  It was outdoors with a trellis of vines over it in which several of their cats loved to hang out and keep us company while we were eating.  These meals lasted for hours as it was really the only time we came together as a group so there was a lot of debriefing as to what I had experienced and photographed in Barcelona that day or how someone’s painting was coming along.  





First, could you share your greatest moment?  Perhaps a serendipitous meeting, or a sudden glimpse of sunlight on an ethereal tower… 

My studies are in Architecture (BA of Architecture from Auburn University in Alabama my home state and an MA of Architecture from the Technische Universität in Munich, Germany so it will come as no surprise that my imagery in photography is very influenced by Architecture.  One of the great architects I studied was the German - Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe who was invited by Walter Gropius, head of the new design school called the Bauhaus in Weimar, to teach there. It was during this time - in 1929 that Mies Van Der Rohe won a design contest for a pavilion to be erected at the 1929 World’s Fair in Barcelona.  It was built on the grounds of the World’s Fair and its modernity caused quite a sensation.  He also designed the furniture which included rather wide lounging chairs known as the Barcelona Chair and still manufactured by Knoll Furniture Company today.  When the Fair ended in January of 1930 the Catalan city government of Barcelona contacted the Germans in Berlin to ask where the pavilion (it was entirely denotable) should be shipped. Unfortunately, Adolph Hitler and the Nazis had come into power and the reposed was to destroy this degenerate design as it was not wanted. This might have been the end of the Barcelona Pavilion except that in 1986, the architects of Catalan decided that the Barcelona Pavilion deserved a better fate, so they gathered as many drawings that history provided, approximated dimensions and rebuilt it on the very spot it had held during the Fair - on Montjuïc across from Plaza España. Having researched Barcelona before flying there for my residency, I knew that this incredible piece of architecture had been rebuilt, and I found it on my very first day in Barcelona.  When I stood in front of it, I was in total awe of the incredible proportions it has.  I was so overwhelmed that tears streamed down my face while standing in front of  this icon of modern architecture.  I spent hours inside it experiencing its perfect dimensions and taking endless photographs for my residency project. 



There must have been down times, perhaps even moments of panic. Any culture shock? Tell us about it.

Actually, the only negative aspect of the residency was that so many of the other artists participating in it were from the US, Canada and Australia, so there were few chances to improve my Spanish which was another reason I was interested in a residency in Spain.  Of course I spoke it with the directors and when I went into Barcelona, but I had hoped to speak it constantly.  Also, although my Spanish is very good, my Catalan is zero - and sometime I would encounter the inability of the locals to understand Castilian Spanish.  




What inspiration did you bring away with you? How did this exotic experience affect your subsequent work?

Besides my wonderful encounter with the Barcelona Pavilion, I also was quite inspired by the work of Gaudí and in photographing his wonderful Park Güell overlooking the city of Barcelona as well as the Sagrada Familia which is filled with the incorporation of natural forms of plants and flowers into the architecture.  I recorded all of these architectural elements with my digital camera (Canon EOS) in raw format and made digital negatives out of various selected images.  These I am printing with the Cyanotype Process (12” x 15.5”) to add to my series of Architectural Blues Series.  Also, I am working on a future exhibition of many of the Barcelona images to be held in New York City.  


If there was one Spanish artist (dead or alive) you would have loved to find there, who was it?

I would love to spend days with Antoni Gaudí.  I did make it to the city of his birth - Reus where an incredible museum has been built to inform visitors of his vision.  Though I had seen many of his buildings before, I was amazed to find out many things I did not know about him.  He designed a building for the city of New York though it was unfortunately never built.  Besides architecture, Gaudí also designed furniture and was very innovative with structural design so that his parabolic arches not only added grace and beauty to the interior of a structure like the Sagrada Familia, they eliminated the need for flying buttresses, which are so incorporated int the design of Gothic Cathedrals.  Gaud also designed columns supporting the outlook of Park Güell.  They are hollow in their core so that when it rains there, the water runs through drains in the ground of the outlook, into the columns and is then collected in a sistern and used to irrigate the beautifully landscaped grounds of the park when there is not enough rain.  I would like to hear his opinions on some of the current world architecture. as well as suggestions to provide methods to capture rainwater with aspects of the architecture and then use it for irrigation - especially in large cities like New York or those with water shortages such as Yemen and Perth.  

Thank you, Robert, for sharing your wonderful experience.


Award for new study of Katherine Mansfield





AWARD FOR NEW BIOGRAPHY OF KATHERINE MANSFIELD

A research project into the childhood and early life of Katherine Mansfield has won the 2015 Friends of the Turnbull Library (FoTL) Research Grant of $10,000.

Dr Gerri Kimber, a leading United Kingdom authority on Katherine Mansfield, has been working on a new biography of Katherine Mansfield’s early years and has already located previously unpublished material relating to her first 19 years in New Zealand. Dr Kimber will use the FoTL Research Grant to explore the collections of Wellington’s Alexander Turnbull Library, which is renowned for its substantial archives concerning Mansfield. This material includes the recently acquired literary and personal papers from the estate of John Middleton Murry, Mansfield’s husband.

Dr Kimber expects to complete the biography in 2015, and the book is to be published by the Edinburgh University Press.

‘Gerri Kimber’s work will shed new light on Mansfield’s early life and the significant influence of her New Zealand childhood on her writing.’ said Rachel Underwood, President of the Friends of the Turnbull Library. ‘This research project will enrich our understanding of KM and reinforce the immense value of the archives of the Turnbull Library.’

The Friends of the Turnbull Library used two generous bequests to establish this Research Grant, which supports the distinctive contribution that a research and heritage library makes to public knowledge. It celebrates the significant role of ongoing research and publication based on the Alexander Turnbull Library collections and the knowledge of the staff. 

The Friends’ Research Grant attracts a large number of applicants each year. Previous grants have been awarded to Philip Norman for his biography of Douglas Lilburn; Tim Beaglehole for his biography of historian JC Beaglehole; Alex Bremner for his study of colonial Anglican architecture; Paul Diamond for his photo-biography of Makareti (Maggie Papakura); Jennifer Shennan for her biography of dancer Poul Gnatt; Paul Meredith to research a book based on the journey to England of the Māori King Te Rata in 1914; to Philip Simpson for his book, Totara: Te Mahi a Rauru; to Charlotte Williams for a history of relations between Māori and the National Party 1936-1996; to Doug Munro for a history of the NZ Opera Company 1954-1971; and to Lucy Treep for a biography of writer, Maurice Shadbolt.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Lydia Wevers awarded prestigious medal


From the DomPost

Kiwi writers are producing more work than ever before, in defiance of dire warnings about the future of the book-publishing industry.
That is the message from literature researcher Lydia Wevers, who was awarded a Royal Society of New Zealand medal last night for her career-long promotion of the study of literature, history and culture.
"In the world of New Zealand fiction writing, there's just a lot more of it than there used to be," said Wevers, a professor at Victoria University. "That's partly due to writing courses. Lots of people come and do MAs and PhDs and produce novels and other things. I think there's a much more energetic culture of writing."
Wevers said another boon for the writing scene was Eleanor Catton's Man Booker Prize win last year.
"Every time we win the Booker Prize - all two times we've won it - it really gives us an international profile and it means that people are more likely to have a crack at reading something from New Zealand. That's been fantastic."
Her fascination with literature is that it offers a rare glimpse into the inner minds of Kiwi societies, both now and in the past.
Her nomination alone, as well as the win, was a delight, she said. "I was sort of thrilled and gobsmacked."

Monday, November 24, 2014

Fake sea surgeon's journal exposed



Years ago, when I was researching the "Women of War" chapter for Hen Frigates, I came across a sea-surgeon's journal that had been published in three volumes, apparently ably edited by Ernest Gray, and containing what looked like gold.  Not only did it cover a little documented period of surgery at sea, the Seven Years War, but it was remarkably racy reading.

Intrigued, I wrote to the archivist at the Apothecaries' College, asking for details of the surgeon's training, to receive a brief reply saying there was no record of the man.

But that was impossible, I protested.  The details were clear. His examining board had been appointed from the College of Surgeons, and included a Mr Sainthill, a member of the Old Surgeons' Corporation.  Accordingly his reports should have been deposited in the library of Surgeons' Hall.

Sorry, no, the archivist repeated.

Alarm bells were ringing.  Some of the battle and ship details were out of place.  People (including Dr Sam Johnson) were described in unlikely places. So I appealed to the wise members of marhst-l, a discussion group devoted to maritime history, and got the usual lively responses, including many comments from Dr Martin Evans, who was -- to say the least -- intrigued.

More and more details were pointed out as wrong.  Anachronisms abounded.  Whether Dr Knyveton ever existed was extremely doubtful.  Correspondence with an extremely helpful deputy librarian at the Royal College of Surgeons, Tina Craig, then made it plain that Mr. Gray, Knyveton's "editor," had perpetrated a very successful hoax on the world, by adapting a real memoir of a real surgeon without citation. At this stage my editor and I panicked a little, the book being in production, but we fixed it by putting quotes about the surgeon's name, and adding the following footnote:

While this journal is fictional, the social details are well founded, the book being based on a "Memoir of my own Life, written in 1779," by Thomas Denman, M.D. (1733-1815), and which was published as an introduction in the seventh edition (London, 1832) of his textbook of obstetrics, Introduction to Midwifery.

I was very lucky to have avoided an embarrassing blunder.  Others, however, have kept on quoting from, and citing, the "journal" kept by "Knyveton" in the belief that the diary was real.  So, forthwith, Martin Evans has pursued his quest and his quarry, and this month the International Journal of Maritime History, has published the paper he has co-authored with Geoffrey Hooper. And so the hoax is (hopefully) exposed to all.

Here is the abstract.

Three misleading diaries: John Knyveton MD – from naval surgeon’s mate to man-midwife

Abstract

This article re-examines three books published between 1937 and 1946: Diary of a Surgeon, Surgeon’s Mate and Man Midwife. They purported to have been edited and annotated by Ernest A. Gray from an old journal written by a John Knyveton (1729–1809) who had served as a surgeon’s mate in the Royal Navy between 1752 and 1762, after a short training in surgery in a London hospital. The books had been criticised and their authenticity doubted. Now additional errors have been revealed, making it certain that the books are essentially fictional and written in the twentieth century. Although drawing inspiration from a biography of the eighteenth century Dr Thomas Denman (1733–1815), and very readable, the stories are marred by errors, altered dates and events taken from other periods of time. These books have been cited by many writers and researchers who mistakenly believed them to be eighteenth century sources. We hope that this article will make their unreliability and fictitious content more widely known.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Marijuana plants ablaze at Hamilton rotary


The Silly Season has started early, downunder.

As of just minutes ago...

The Fire Service has doused a scrub blaze at a Hamilton roundabout, which turned out to be a marijuana crop going up in flames.
They received a number of calls about the fire at the busy Avalon roundabout.
Their air brigade was sent to deal with it, and found three marijuana plants on fire.
They were quickly put out.
A Fire Service spokesman says when it comes to callouts they receive, it was certainly 'different'.


Yet another dragon for Wellington




Wellington airport has just regained the great eagle that fell down in a (relatively) minor earthquake.


And has gained Smaug the dragon, too.

Now, it appears that Wellington International Airport (WLG) could get very crowded, as yet another dragon is about to feature in the city.

PETE'S DRAGON

Walt Disney studios has confirmed that it would start shooting a big-budget remake of the classic musical "Pete's Dragon" (but without music) in New Zealand early next year.

The base will be Sir Peter Jackson's Stone Street Studios in Miramar, on the scenic peninsula in the city south.  Filming will be all over the country, including Canterbury (hopefully without earthquakes), and the Bay of Plenty.

In the corridors of power in Wellington much delight is being expressed.  With the final "Hobbit" about to be released, it looked as if there was going to be a pause on the headlong rush to make Wellington the film capital of the world.  As the mayor memorably uttered, it will fill a gap in the roller-coaster.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Mystery of missing miners' ship solved




In 1902 the ship Ventnor set out for China with the bones of 499 Chinese men who had died in New Zealand. The men were being returned home to the care of their families and ancestral villages. Most were old goldminers from the Otago / Greymouth area who had not been able to make enough money for their return passage home.
Under the auspices of a charitable association, the Cheong Sing Tong, community members pooled their money so that the remains of their countrymen could be returned home.
Tragically the men never made it.  The Ventnor hit a rock off the Taranaki coast and eventually sank off the Hokianga Heads (pictured). This was a great catastrophe for the community, as it was believed the men’s spirits would not be at ease. Far from family and in a watery grave, there would be no-one to tend to their needs in the afterlife.
As soon as it got news of the sinking, the Cheong Sing Tong hired the steamer ‘Energy’ from Auckland to try and locate the wreck and possibly recover as many of the coffins as possible.  This was not successful.  Then it was found that some of the bones had washed up and were buried by local Maori iwi who lived along the coastline, leading to the chance to locate the burial sites and hold religious ceremonies.
And now the wreck of the ship itself has been found.

From NZnewswire

The wreck of a ship carrying the remains of 499 Chinese gold miners has been discovered off Hokianga harbour 112 years after it disappeared.
SS Ventnor sank in 1902 on the northeast coast of the North Island while carrying the remains of the miners who had worked in the Otago goldfields.
The ship had been chartered by a Dunedin-based Chinese businessman to transport the exhumed remains of Chinese men who had died in New Zealand so they could be reburied at home.
On Wednesday the group who had been searching for the missing ship confirmed the wreck, which was found last year, was the Ventnor.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Oddball art featured at Taipei International Book Expo


From the DomPost


What started as a protest against the Wellington inner-city bypass has turned into an international publishing business for two capital ex-pats.
Taipei-based editors Ron and Mark Hanson have been commissioned to produce a special bilingual magazine showcasing left-field Kiwi arts, music and history at the Taipei International Book Exhibition, one of the largest book fairs in Asia.
New Zealand is the guest of honour at next year's exhibition and three of our best and brightest artists will be featured in the Hansons' special edition of Subconscious Restaurant and will visit Taiwan for the event.
While the magazine, and sister publication White Fungus, can now boast sales everywhere from Wellington's Adam Art Gallery to London's Tate Modern, the brothers found themselves in the editing game almost by accident.
Their impetus to start White Fungus in 2003 was in protest at Wellington's inner-city bypass, which was to displace much of the artists' district of upper Cuba St.
The pair wanted to get the word out about the importance of the area, Ron said.
"We wanted to write about the history of Cuba St - everyone seemed to be forgetting," he said.
"I profiled a lot of the artists that were being kicked out of their studios, including Taika Waititi, Bret McKenzie, Plan 9 who did The Lord of the Rings soundtrack."
Ron admits the first edition of 400 copies was a bit of a rush job.
"The first issue was made on a photocopier . . . We just threw ourselves in and learnt on the job." Over the 12 later editions, White Fungus has morphed from its protest roots into an international arts, culture and political showcase.
Ron hoped the book fair publication would help to teach the wider world a little bit more about Kiwi culture. One article would focus on the country's DIY approach to music production over the years.
There was a lot of interest in New Zealand's "oddball talents", Ron said. He saw it as perfect timing to introduce these to the Taipei literary and culture world.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Sean Bean to star in new horror series.



News from GalleyCat @ mediabistro.com

In my own honest opinion, Sean Bean touched the pinnacle of his career in his energetic and attractive depiction of Richard Sharpe, Napoleonic era soldier, in the adaptation of Bernard Cornwell's series of adventures.  That was a great show, and certainly not shadowed by his role in the first Lord of the Rings movie.

He has become more prominently featured on the small screen, however, with "The Game of Thrones."  And now we are to see more of them than ever ....

Sean Bean, an actor who has appeared in multiple book adaptations such as Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring movie and the Game of Thrones HBO series, will star in a new six-part crime show called The Frankenstein Chronicles.
Bean (pictured, via) will play the main protagonist, Inspector John Marlott. Production is set to take place in Northern Ireland starting in January. The story was inspired by Mary Shelley’s FrankensteinFollow this link to download a free digital copy of the book.
Here’s more from Deadline: “Set in 1827 London, the drama begins when Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel recruits Marlott after a successful operation by Thames River Police to apprehend a gang of opium smugglers. As Marlott stands on the water’s edge contemplating the arrests, he makes a shocking discovery: A corpse washed up on the shore is not what it seems at first glance. Instead, it’s a crude assembly of body parts arranged in a grotesque parody of a human form. The mutilated child-like body leaves an indelible impression on Marlott who is tasked by Peel with tracking the perpetrator of this heinous crime.”