Saturday, May 27, 2006

Lost Lady of the Amazon

Unbelievable Amazon adventure
I have looked longingly at a voyage on a cruise ship up the mighty Amazon and added such a trip to my wish-list.
But imagine that journey in a rowing boat, battling the current all the way to the Andes. A voyage of 2700 miles that would take two thirds of a year.
And set the date in the 1760s! (Cook hadn't even set sail for Australia) - Remarkable!
Anthony Smith's narrative on the factual story of Isabela Godin includes Isabela's epic voyage from the Peruvian Andes in 1769.
''The Lost Lady of the Amazon is a true adventure story which any historical novelist would give his/her right arm to have thought of.''
I jotted down that statement when I was half way through Smith's book.
Then when I reached the chapter titled, Stranger than Fiction, I read the letter Isabela's husband had written to his friend telling him about her ordeal and saying that if you read it in a novel then you would ''accuse the novelist of not being true to life''.
His words were written in 1770.
Here is the synopsis:
The French scientific expedition that set off for Peru in 1735 did not have much luck. Five of its members died or went insane before their seven years' work was completed, but Jean Godin, the youngest member of the team, fell in love with and married a local girl - Isabela, the daughter of the local Spanish governor.
After a few years, Godin crossed the Andes and travelled the Amazon to test whether it was a route suitable for his family. Unfortunately, having safely reached Cayenne in French Guiana, he discovered the political situation prevented his return...After almost 20 years, the King of Portugal sent a boat to retrieve the family.
Isabela at last set off with her children, her brothers and her servants, over the Andes and down the Amazon, but the journey was to prove worse than the waiting. Smallpox, starvation, the torrential river and the horrors of the jungle beset the travellers. Some drowned, some ran away, others died of hunger.
In the end, Isabela alone survived of the 42 who set off - she was found wandering in the jungle sick and half-crazed.
The Lost Lady of the Amazon - is an unbelievebale adventure recounting a page from history that few people are aware of.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Smiling again

Had a slight hiccup.
Last Thursday, I thought I had indigestion but it wouldn't go away.
The surgeon said the appendix was green, so I guess it is better out than in!!
Glad it happened now and not when I was away in Europe!
Back to work...

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Writing tall ships tales - leaning to fact or fiction?

Sailing a coffin ship to the Horn (several times)
Fiction writers of tall ship tales lean towards swashbuckling adventures - mutinous men and cruel and tyrannical captains. Most are set at the times of the Napoleonic Wars. They make for exciting reading and have a huge following.
Having just finished FitzRoy, I can see that only an immensely capable seaman could have embarked on, and completed so successfully, the five year circumnavigation, as FitzRoy did in HMS Beagle in the 1830s.
Originally rigged as a brigantine, the Beagle fell into the category known as a coffin ship. They were ungainly vessels which easily turned turtle. They also lay low in the water and were prone to heavy seas sweeping over the deck.
Fitzroy knew this and on accepting the commission, he added a third mast, (for increased manoeuvrability, thereby converting the vessed into a barquentine.
After spending almost five years in undoubtedly some of the roughest waters in the world, the Beagle returned to England having not lost a single spar. That was due entirely to the Captain's meticulous care and caution.
Only five men died during the five year period, one from old age, one from a shooting accident and three of fever while on shore in Rio. Not a man onboard was not full of admiration for FitzRoy.

Note: When I wrote the nautical section of Sea Dust, I was advised by an acadmic that there wasn't enough blood and guts in my manuscript and that my Captain was too mild mannered.
I'm pleased to say I stuck to my guns.
But as I mentioned, the stories which sell - from Treasure Island to Captain and Commander -are riddled with ever manner of disaster.
Perhaps I should change tack - adopt a male pseudonmy and head back out with all guns blazing.
The idea has crossed my mind more than once.
Photo: Barquentine, STS Leeuwin, sailing the Indian Ocean off Western Australia - M Muir

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Books - FitzRoy

Robert FitzRoy's contribution to science, exploration and humanity was never fully acknowledged in his lifetime. Nor were the half million hand-written words he transcribed about his survey work and voyages. Being the Captain of HMS Beagle which carried amongst its scientific crew the young, Charles Darwin, Fitzroy's work, when published was dwarfed by Darwin's Origin of the Species . It was as recently as 2002 that Fitroy was acknowledged for the invention and instigation of a weatherforcasting system - a system which at the time of its first presentation to British Parliament was received with laugher in the House.
The boy sailor and marine luminescence
Born in 1805, like so many young gentlemen from artistocratic families, FitzRoy joined the Royal Navy at a very early age.
In 1818, at the tender age of only 13, he wrote a letter to his father.
It reads:
Last night when I was coming back, the boat I was in was going very quick, and I put my hand into the water and the little ripple of water it made Sparks, at least they looked exactly like it ... like from a flint and steel, and I could not make out what it was for the oars did the same...
He asks his father to write and tell him what it was he had seen.
FitzRoy and Sea Dust
It was during my first voyage on the tall ship, STS Leeuwin that I first witnessed marine bioluminescence.
I shall always remember the experience, sitting alone on bow watch in the early hours of the morning watching the tiny pin-pricks of light glittering in the sea, appearing and disappearing as if by magic.
I was amazed by the phenomenon and called the particles "illusive diamonds".
It was my "illusive diamonds" which inspired me to write my first novel, Sea Dust.

Reading the biography of FitzRoy by John and Mary Gribbin (2003), I felt an instant empathy for the boy sailor sitting in the small boat 200 years ago. I wanted to tell him I had marvelled at the sea's magic also.
Photo: FitzRoy by John and Mary Gribbin available from

Sunday, May 07, 2006

In Search of Robinson Crusoe

Fact and Fiction interlaced with travel and history
I never read Robinson Crusoe – in fact I never read as a child or for most of my adult life.
Let me qualify that by saying I never read fiction.
I used to spend hours pouring over encyclopaedias and reading non- fiction (or faction as my son calls it – which I think is a far better word).
I can probably list on the fingers of one hand the fiction books I read and reread up to the age of 50: Neville Shute’s A Town like Alice being my favourite.
Yet the irony is I stated writing historical fiction five years ago without having read other historical novels.
One thing University (2001-2004) taught me was to read fiction.
I had to – it was part of the curriculum.
And I started where I should have done 50 years ago with Children’s’ literature.
Now I know what I missed out on.
Now I wish I had more time to read.
As a new reader I try to read across the genres but I find I lean towards historical, and mystery. I like stories based on true events. I lean away from sci-fi, horror and romance.
Having just finished Where the Earth Ends (a journey beyond Patagonia) by John Harrison I must go out and buy a copy of Robinson Crusoe.
I didn’t know the true story of Selkirk, the Captain who was left on an uninhabited island (in the Juan Fernandez Archipelago off the coast of Chile - not in the mouth of the Orinoco), the man who trained goats and cats to dance, the man who the fictitious character of Robinson Crusoe was based on.
John also whetted my appetite for Drake’s voyages around the Horn in the Golden Hinde. I must read those real-life adventures, also Richard Henry Dana’s, Two Years Before the Mast, which tells of his sighting of the (Crusoe) Juan Fernandez Islands in the 1830s.
Fortunately I had recently purchased the biography of Fitzroy, by John and Mary Cribbin (2003). Captain Fitzroy, besides being the inventor of the weather forecast, was the captain of HMS Beagle which took Charles Darwin to the ends of the earth. I also have a copy of Darwin’s The Voyage of HMS Beagle sitting on my bookshelf.
My only problem now is lack of reading time.

Note for John Harrison: I thoughly enjoyed Where the Earth Ends (see posting below). It whetted my appetite to know more about the places, the people and the history of this region. It allowed me to relive the fantastic voyage I took from Valpariso in Chile, via Tierra del Fuego and the Antarctic Peninsular to Buenos Aires in Argentina.
The top of my wish list now is to sail on a square rigger from Ushuaia to the Antarctic.
Photo: M. Muir - Osorno Volcano - Chile

Thursday, May 04, 2006

May - Marg's update

Galley proofs arrived yesterday for The Twisting Vine.
This is when I check through all the changes that have been marked by the copy editor, proofreader and typesetter before the proofs are sent for printing and binding.
This is not the time for me to be making any further changes to the manuscript, but it is an opportunity to re-read the whole work.
If there are any mistakes which have not already been found, then I can make the necessary amendments.
Changes to the proofs should be kept to a minimum as they can be very expensive at this stage.
Note: Despite the most careful checking, I did find a couple of minor errors in SEA DUST when it came out in print. (I think it happens in most books).
Buck and does searated last day in April - that means no kids to be born from beginning of October.
Looking forward to holiday in six weeks.
For now a trip to Perth to see The Fastest Indian - with Antony Hopkins - my favourite actor - next in line - Antonio Banderas.