Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Author’s Apprenticeship

From Apprentice to Master Craftsman

Like all worthwhile crafts, to be successful at it takes time, dedication and constant practice.
It took me years to become a published author and, when I started out, I was very raw (and no spring chicken either).
Allow me to share with you here some of the steps I took along the way.

1) Doodle – scribble your inspirational thoughts onto paper. Write prose and poetry. Never throw anything away – one day you might turn those ideas in a novel (I did).

2) Write and submit ‘Letters to the Editor’ of magazines or newspapers. I still have the cutting of the first article that ever bore my by-line (name).

3) Take on a newssheet editorship (a neighbourhood or hobby group perhaps), or become a regular contributor to an association’s magazine. Usually this is on a voluntary basis. (For several years I was editor of a Goat Association’s newsletter).

4) If you write on subjects about which you know a lot, you will find the words flow easily. Submit your work to magazines. But if/when you are published – don’t be disappointed if you don’t make much money from it. (I was paid $80 for my first published article.)

5) Try writing in various forms and genres – step outside your comfort zone – you might be pleasantly surprised at what you are capable of.

6) Belong to a local or on-line critique group, or form your own. Read other writers’ work. Observe how they write, plot, build tension and create characters. Compare your strengths and weaknesses with other writers, and in the process get used to accepting criticism (most important).

7) Enter writing competitions for short stories or poetry. Submissions generally cost money and they are very competitive, but this is an excellent exercise to make you follow and write within the parameters that have been set.

8) Become a member of a writing organisations in your town, state/county or country. Attend meetings. Contribute.

9) Follow social media pages (on Facebook) for aspiring authors, creative writing, promotion, fiction, poetry, short stories etc. There are dozens to choose from. You can learn a lot by lurking but you will learn more from participating and interacting on these pages.

10) Attend Writer’s conferences – be prepared to travel and accept the costs. It is not only the advice learned from the keynote speakers that is invaluable to you but the social networking with other delegates. Plus the boost to your confidence and enthusiasm is an added bonus and it costs absolutely nothing.

11) Study the craft of writing through on-line courses, correspondence, evening classes. (I did them all). Initially I undertook a course in Freelance Journalism by correspondence. I followed this with a Children’s Writing correspondence course, then in 2001 I embarked on a Bachelor Degree in Writing. My first novel was published in England in 2005.)

12) When you feel you are ready and the muse grabs you – sit down and write the novel you always knew you had inside you.

Margaret Muir (writing historical fiction) M.C. Muir (writing nautical fiction)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Advice to budding authors on publishing alternatives

Since Self-Publishing crawled out from under a stone, dusted itself off and faced the world with confidence, writers have been presented with a viable alternative to the traditionally accepted road to getting published.
Detailed below is a set of signposts for authors who want to see their work in print and subsequently make money from it. These guidelines are not new and there is no get-rich-quick card (for most of us). But a modest and regular income can be achieved by new authors if they are prepared to work for it.
After having five books published by a well-respected house in London, I turned my back on the traditional route and opted instead to self-publish. Since then, I haven’t looked back.
So, here are the two main publishing pathways and some of the stepping stones to be navigated along the way.
After completing a writer’s Apprenticeship (that is another post) you now have your completed novel in your hands. It is your baby. You are proud of it and you will feel inclined to guard it jealously. But in order for your work to see the light of print, you must decide the best route for it to take.
There are two choices - the traditional way, and the self-publishing path.

ROUTE ‘A’ – Traditional publishing pathway
(However, if you want to go straight to self-publishing, bypass ‘A’ and go straight to ROUTE ‘B’)
What all authors wish for is to write the world’s next bestseller or at least to see copies of their book in the window of every book shop they visit. (That was once my dream – now I can live without it!)

To enter/compete in the very competitive publishing arena you must:-
1) Polish your manuscript to the nth degree – edit, edit and re-edit. Seek constructive advice.
2) Learn how to write a submission letter that will be read. Phone the agent or publishing house you are targeting and get the name of the current submission’s editor. Don’t make any silly mistakes on your cover letter. Check the literary agent’s requirements and submit what is stated – no more, no less.
Note: I admit to bending the rules when it comes to submitting to only one agent at a time. Waiting for a reply can take months (even years – believe me), so send out multiple submissions.
As for publishing houses, most will not accept unsolicited manuscripts (mss) – they require every submission to have been vetted by an agent before it reaches them. If this requirement is not stated on their website then a phone call to the editor might confirm that you can send your ms directly to them.
3) When submitting your work, remember that the cost of sending a complete script by mail can be quite expensive. Today, electronic submissions are accepted by many literary agents.
4) Wait patiently for a response (write something new in the meantime). Waiting times are 6 weeks to 6 months to Never. Set your own limit as to how long you are prepared to wait for a reply before following your submission up.
5) Be prepared for rejection letters. These can be demoralizing and hurtful as they are referring to ‘your baby’. Accept the advice they give (if any is offered) and bounce back quickly to send your manuscript elsewhere.
6) If you strike it lucky and are offered a contract, open a bottle of bubbly and celebrate!
Lucky? Yes, lucky! That means the right person picked it up your ms from the mail tray or slush pile and liked what they read. Consider J. K. Rowling – she was rejected 12 times before 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone' was accepted by Bloomsberry – and that was only at the insistence of the chairman’s eight year old daughter.
7) Receive an offer and a book contract and you will be over the moon. But BEWARE! You may be floating on a sea of euphoria and you are about to step into the unfamiliar territory of the publishing world.
8) Read the contract carefully. Get legal advice if you are uncertain about anything. You are probably signing a contract that locks you in for this book and possibly 2 or 3 more (which you haven’t even written yet).
9) (From my own experience) You may be offered an advance on Royalties of £400. Not having read all the fine print, you think this is great and you can already visualize your book gracing bookshop shelves throughout the county. You are not yet aware that the meagre Royalty Advance is all you will ever see for your writing.
10) Over the coming weeks and months, your edited ms is returned to you for checking. The galley proofs follow. If these are actual pages, the postage costs of shipping the ms back and forth can be hefty.
11) From personal experience with my first book – only 400 copies were ever produced in library-quality hardback, and not a single copy was ever circulated to British bookshops and the titles were never printed in paperback. The recommended retail price in Australia per single copy was $54.00 (Exorbitant!).
12) Despite all this - you have a celebratory book launch (costs money). You order and pay for a supply of your books and sell a few (at cost price), but when you try to interest local bookshops, you find there is no interest. You are an unknown author and the price is too high.
13) You make every effort to promote your book; you have flyers printed (costs money) and send out media packages (cost of postage). You write and distribute press releases, write blog posts, guest posts and send out review copies (cost to me, as author, $34 each plus postage).
14) Reality sets in. Your book has sold out (all 400 copies in a matter of weeks, but you discover, to your great disappointment, that the publisher does not intend to reprint despite over 100 back orders). So, whoopee!, you are now a published author but you are going nowhere and making nothing financially. In fact when you add up your expenses in promotion and publicity, you have already spent more than you earned.
15) Undeterred, you write your next and subsequent books, fulfill your contractual obligations and continue to promote your books and your name.

ROUTE 'B' – Take the self-publishing path

1) Learn all you can about self-publishing, independent (indie) publishing, assisted publishing, and know the difference. There are presently dozens of companies on the Web offering to publish your book for you, but BEWARE - don’t get caught by companies anxious to feed your ego. A few copies of your book could cost you thousands of dollars and there is no guarantee the title will sell. Self- publishing (done completely on your own) is easy – if I can do it, so can you.

WRITERS BEWARE: These words from David Gaughran (The Author Exploitation Business May 4, 2013.)
“Publishing is a screwed up business. The often labyrinthine path to success makes it much easier for those with nefarious intentions to scam the unsuspecting. But it doesn’t help that so many organizations who claim to help writers, to respect them, to assist them along the path to publication are actually screwing them over.
“But identifying the crooks is not easy because, the scammy vanity presses are owned by traditional publishers who are marketing their methods as the “easy” way to self-publish – when it’s nothing more than a horrifically expensive and terribly ineffective way to publish your work, guaranteed to kill your book’s chance of success stone dead, while emptying your bank account in the process.
“And it’s much harder to tell the scammers from the legitimate organizations when they are owned by the same people. Take Penguin-owned Author Solutions, one of the worst vanity presses out there.”

2) Write a new book or request the return of the rights of your previous titles and self-publish.
3) For paperback editions (POD - Print On Demand) – if you want to go it alone – try, Createspace, Smashwords. (I opted for who charge no fees. All you pay for is the cost of each individual book and postage. Lulu and Createspace both supply the ISBNs.)
4) Have your work edited. Consider paying a professional editor. Prepare you ms as best possible and transfer it to the appropriate template from the company you are working with.
5) Create your own cover images – Bigstock Photos have hundreds of thousands of images that can be purchased for a few dollars each.
6) By following the instructions (e.g. on or Createspace) you can produce your own paperback book
7) To publish e-books on KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), or other e-reader devices, follow the specified guidelines. You can upload your ms yourself or pay a formatting company to do it for you.
8) Build your author name as you add more titles on Amazon then sit back and wait for customers to buy your book.

Important things to consider:

1) Your budget – how much do you want to outlay – $0.00 to thousands of dollars?
2) Buy your own ISBN number (Thorpe Bowker) or use the one provided (as with Lulu/Createspace). By that means, libraries or bookshops can order your book.
3) Get a US - ITIN number (Tax number) – if you are likely to earn money from e-books marketed in USA. Otherwise Amazon will withhold 30% of your earning.
4) Be aware paperback titles from unknown authors do not sell well.
5) E-books – if sold at a reasonable/competitive price ($2.99), do sell well.
6) Several mainstream authors are turning from the traditional route to self-publishing.
7) The stigma of self-publishing/vanity publishing has almost disappeared.

Benefits and financial savings to authors who self-publishes wisely:

1) No more trying to sell expensive copies of your book.
2) No more hawking books around – let Amazon be your promotional platform
3) No more book launches (unless you want to reward yourself).
4) No more sending expensive MSS by mail
5) No more waiting 6 weeks to 6 months to Never, for a response. Publish today!
6) No more being locked in with binding contracts.

Things worth worrying about:

1) You don’t have enough time to write all the books you want to write.
2) What will the tax man say now that you made several thousand dollars from your first book in only the first few months?
Now that is a problem I can live with.

Good luck on your publishing journey.

Margaret Muir (Historical fiction) /M.C.Muir (Nautical fiction)

Friday, May 23, 2014

Nursery Rhymes have been described as ‘tiny masterpieces of word craftsmanship’.

So, what is their relationship with today’s writers?

Possibly the oldest line from a nursery rhyme is ‘Eena, meena, miny, mo’. It is reputed to have been recited by the Druids thousands of years ago when they picked their victims for human sacrifice. A study of 200 old nursery rhymes listed in The Annotated Mother Goose reveals that half have subversive elements in them e.g: ‘21 case of death (unclassified), 7 relating to severing of limbs, 1 case of cutting a human in half, 23 cases of physical violence, 1 case of decapitation, 12 cases of torment and cruelty...’

Despite the weird and sometimes gruesome content matter, Walter de la Mare said nursery rhymes: ‘charm the tongue and ear, delight the inward eye, and many of them are tiny masterpieces of word craftsmanship’ he added, ‘they are not only crammed with vivid little scenes and objects and living creatures, but, however fantastic and nonsensical they may be, they are a direct shortcut into poetry itself’.

Traditional rhymes, repeated over and over again, are certainly one of any child’s earliest encounters with the English language. They provide an introduction to the poetic richness of spoken English long before the commencement of formal education.

I remember singing to my son:
Rock-a-bye baby, on the tree top!
When the wind blows the cradle will rock…

And though I sang this verse many times, I cannot remember where or when I first learned it.

In a short survey I conducted with a group of students, I asked them to recite the first few lines of Humpty Dumpty and Baa baa black sheep.
They all succeeded, but not one of them could tell me when or where they had first heard these verses.

So, what is so special about nursery rhymes?
Why are they able to deliver a powerful and memorable message?
What makes the effect more lasting than that of a regular story?
Obviously, nursery rhymes are repetitive and they rhyme. This makes them easy to remember.
Sing a Song of Sixpence a bag full of Rye,
Four and twenty naughty boys bak’d in a Pye
(Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book c.1744).
Also the words relate to everyday events, (albeit centuries ago), and through ‘Alphabet Rhymes’ children are introduced to letters – the first step in learning to read.
‘A was an apple-pie, B bit it, C cut it, D dealt it, E eat it…’
These lines were used in the reign of Charles 11.

In the early rhymes, sentences were enriched with figures of speech, such as tongue twisters (How much wood could a woodchuck chuck) and alliteration, (Sing a Song of Sixpence). They were recited by children from the 1600s.

In the 18th century children’s books proved very popular, e.g. The famous Tommy Thumb’s Little Story-Book and The Top Book of All, For Little Masters and Misses(c.1760), published by Benjamin Collins – a ‘most eminent bookseller’.

For hundreds of years, the child’s appreciation and demand for books has provided poorly paid writers with an outlet for their work, and subsequently a modest income. The constant demand for books also kept publishers, like Benjamin Collins in business from the late 1700s.

Modern English of the 20th and 21st centuries has been modified with changes in culture and society. For millennia there have been wars, plagues and revolutions and today, space exploration and DNA cloning are things of the past.

Yet, despite this, nursery rhymes have survived and many of the writers and philosophers of tomorrow will be men and women who cut their teeth on Baa Baa Black Sheep and Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

UNDERSTANDING DEMENTIA - something everyone should know

Dementia is not an illness invented in the 20th century, though it was in the early 1900s that Dr Alois Alzheimer recognized and gave his name to the most common form of Dementia. He observed that the brain of a demented (that is the correct term) person was shrunken. Subsequent research has shown how neurons die, and confirmed what Alzheimer recognized that Amyloid plaques in the brain, and tangles in the neurons disrupt and eventually destroy our cognitive functions.
One reason the disease was not widely seen in earlier centuries is that life expectancy was perhaps half of what it is today, and dementia is a disease mainly associated with older age groups (though not exclusively).
Shakespeare described King Lear being unable to recognize his daughter or his surroundings in his play of that name. No doubt the Bard was writing about a case he had witnessed.
One thing is certain, no one has natural immunity to dementia. Consider Ronald Regan, Charles Heston, Rita Hayworth, Perry Coma and Peter Falk - they all fell victim. It is a disease which no amount of money can cure or prevent.
At the present time, the processes are incurable therefore the best we can do is to learn more about it, how to cope with it and how best to care for those who are afflicted by it.
While Alzheimer’s Disease is classified as the fifth biggest killer today – it more likely ranks the third, as many who die from pneumonia probably die as a result of being unable to breath or swallow due to their Alzheimer’s illness.
The University of Tasmania (AU) offers a massive FREE OPEN on-line course which runs for 9 weeks. Averaging about 3 hours a week, it takes participants through the three major areas of concern – The Brain, The Disease, and The Person. There are no prerequisite qualifications and no exams (some short multi-question tests as you progress) or assignments. At the end of the 9 weeks you will receive a certificate of completion.
Having just finished the course, I have nothing but praise for the way it is delivered and presented and thoroughly recommend it to anyone irrespective of whether or not they, their family or friends are currently affected by Dementia.
To find out more and register your interest in the next course go to:

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Cherry Blossom at Fuji Volcano by arcipello

Cherry Blossom at Fuji Volcano, Japan.
I saw this striking example of Digital art on Facebook and had to share it.
The artist invites you to use this image as a desktop background.
I love it as it depicts the awe and wonder of nature - serenity v destructive violence side-by-side.

Artwork by arcipello

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Sea – a source of inspiration for writers

According to evolution, our ancestors emerged wet and naked from the water. From the very beginning, the influence of the sea was installed deep into our psyche. It is also said, we have salt in our blood. And certainly, for those of us who live on an island surrounded by water, the sea is an inextricable part of our heritage.

For centuries, the English Channel was a shield against invaders – a thin coat of liquid armour protecting a crumbling coastline. But the waves and currents flowing around Britain’s shores also served to carry ships abroad to far off lands and from there evolved stories of adventure and derring-do, and children’s classics like Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe. Fiction writers have never been without tales to tell of smugglers and pirates, of great whales and sea monsters, of fleets of fighting ships and cannon raining fire onto the sea.

But for some writers, the sea merely provides the backdrop to a story portraying it in passing as impersonal and characterless. Yet, for others, at times, the sea takes on distinctive roles, transforming in an instant from calm to aggressive, prone to violent outbursts, malevolent tantrums, capable of unleashing untold terror on the unsuspecting. This dominant gendered sea forever lurks in wait ready to challenge the brave souls who dare venture into its realm. Yet its opposing persona is soft, serene, bountiful and beautiful. La mer extends its all-encompassing arms to cradle the weary mariner and rock him throughout his slumber.
For centuries, most folk had some connection with the sea – a husband or brother being a sailor or fisherman, a cooper or shipwright being known to the family. Even the food people ate, the cloth from which their clothes were made, and the sugar they added to their tea, provided a connection to the sea, albeit loosely.

With two brothers who rose to the rank of Admiral, Jane Austen was intimately connected to naval life, an influence that filtered into some of her books. After being inspired by the battles fought during the Age of Sail, the classic seafaring novels of CS Forester (Horatio Hornblower series) and Patrick O’Brian (Jack Aubrey/Master and Commander) were spawned. From Vikings raiders pillaging coastal villages, to the arrogant Spanish fleet sailing up the Channel, to the threatened invasion of England by Napoleon’s forces, many stories have already been penned, while false lights, shipwrecks, cannibalism and survival have also coloured the pages of literature.

For non-fiction writers, the list of real-life heroes and their ships is never ending. Francis Drake in the Golden Hinde, Walter Raleigh, Horatio Nelson, and more lately Ernest Shackleton and his ship Endurance, whose enemy was not the freezing winds blowing up from the South Pole, but the frozen waters of the Weddell Sea that gripped the ship’s hull and dragged it down into the deep.
Writers of all genres, including film and poetry, have long been inspired by the sea’s mysteries. Few folk have never heard of Coleridge’s, Rime of the Ancient Mariner and the ‘death fires (that) danced at night; The water like a witch’s oils, Burnt green and blue and white,’; or failed to have been stirred by the lilting words of John Masefield as he vowed: ‘I must go down to the seas again’; or the haunting words of William Whiting’s hymn, Eternal Father, reminding us of ‘those at peril on the sea’. Loss of life through misadventure or mutiny is at the root of many an evocative story.

The sea is a vast ocean of inspiration with many tales still waiting to be told - stories of early emigrants, the pioneers who populated the Atlantic littorals, whether as willing migrants, as slaves, or as felons transported in chains. Each is a story worth telling.
And it matters little what era you set your story in, be it Tudor, Elizabethan, Napoleonic or latter-day. Nor does it matter whether the characters are conveyed in coracles, canoes or caravels, the sea is ageless. It provides a dependable backcloth and, by being able to reflect atmosphere, fluctuating emotions and heightening tension, the sea can play an integral part in any story.

As a writer, what does the sea invoke in you?
An idyllic South Sea island setting? Stories of stowaways, storms or sunken treasure? Or sword-wielding pirates and swashbuckling romance?
My love–affair with the sea began after sailing on a tall ship on the Indian Ocean. Amazed by the bioluminescent particles that shine like diamonds in the black water. I was inspired to write my first novel, Sea Dust. Today, ten years on, I continue to set my stories on the ocean.

This brief excerpt reveals one captain’s relationship with the sea:

For Oliver Quintrell, the sea was his comfort and companion and, when licking the salt from his lips, he had no doubt she was his mistress. Despite her foibles and fickleness, moods and mysteries, she was soft and sensuous – beguiling in her calms and tantalising in her tantrums. She was the force that heaved beneath him every day and lulled him to sleep every night. By constantly challenging him, the sea made him fearless (not reckless), and it was the sea that would receive him into her arms on the final day of reckoning.

(Floating Gold 2006 – M.C. Muir)

This post was first presented to the Ship’s Ahoy panel at the Historic Novel Society’s conference in London in 2012.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Punishment according to the Laws of the Sea

"Every such person…shall suffer death."
Horrific and cruel laws relating to all seamen dates back centuries and many of those regulations remained unchanged for hundreds of years.
The first laws affecting seamen were prepared by Richard the Lionheart when he headed off, by ship, on his first Crusade. The Ordinance or Usages of the Sea of Richard 1 was recorded in the 13th century. According to these regulations:

He who kills a man on shipboard, shall be bound to the dead man, and thrown into the sea; if the man is killed on shore, the slayer shall be bound to the dead body and buried with it.
Anyone convicted by lawful witness of having drawn his knife to strike another, or who shall have drawn blood of him, he is to lose his hand.
Anyone convicted of theft shall be shorn …; boiling pitch shall be poured on his head and he shall be set ashore at the first land the ship touches.

From this early set of ordinances, the Black Book of the Admiralty emerged in the 15th century.
The punishment, according to the Black Book, for the first offense of sleeping on watch, was mild. The sailor suffered a bucket of sea-water to be poured over his head. But if caught for a fourth time, the punishment usually proved fatal.
The offender was slung in a covered basket hung below the bowsprit. Within this prison he had a loaf of bread, a mug of ale and a sharp knife. An armed sentry ensured that he did not return aboard if he managed to escape from the basket. Two alternatives remained – starve to death or cut himself adrift to drown in the sea.

The Articles of War, formalized by an Act of Parliament in 1661, were based on this old Admiralty code of discipline and apart from some amendments made in the 18th century much of the content, and the brutal punishments they carried, remained the same throughout the age-of-sail.
As readers of nautical fiction are aware, the penalty for many minor misdemeanours, as well as serious offenses, carried the death penalty. Crimes ranged from abusive behaviour, negligence of duty, disobeying orders and mutiny, and the Articles of War applied equally to the lowliest ship’s boy as to the senior naval officers. Every man aboard ship was reminded of them on a regular basis – usually on a Sunday following the public Worship of God Almighty, which was also stipulated in the Articles.
While crimes and subsequent punishments at sea seemed exceedingly harsh, in 1800, the courts in England listed hundreds of minor offenses that were punishable by death. Crimes ranged from common assault, to burglarizing, to stealing a loaf of bread. For the lucky ones – mostly young males, a plea for clemency resulted in the sentence being commuted to transportation to the colonies – over the seas and beyond the seas. However, for some, enduring years of depravity in chains and subjected to the lash, resulted in a lingering death.
On land, death at the end of a rope usually came as the result of asphyxia. With a short drop through the trap door (the long drop was not introduced till later), the noose tightened but failed to separate the vertebrae, failed to cut off the blood supply and therefore failed to cause unconsciousness. Depending on where the rope was placed around the man’s neck, the victim gasped for breath as his neck muscles attempted to protect his windpipe from being crushed and the root of his tongue being forced further up his throat.
Writhing in mental, if not physical agony, it could take up to half-an-hour before a man was declared dead. Hence the body was left dangling for that time to ensure the hangman had done his job satisfactorily. It was not unknown, on land, for friends of a condemned man, or members of his family, to leap forward and pull down on his feet in order to tighten the noose and hasten his demise.

At sea, the most common punishment for a man sentenced to suffer death was to be hung from one of the upper yards. This was done by reeving a sturdy rope through a block on the end of a yardarm. After his hands were tied behind his back and his ankles lashed together, the condemned man was then blindfolded or hoodwinked and a noose placed around his neck. The slack on the other end of the rope was taken up by a dozen men – often the worst types on board, and when the signal was given, the drums rolled, a gun was fired and the line was hauled lifting the condemned man from the deck and up into the rigging. Once aloft, the signal was given to belay hauling and secure the line to a pin on the rail.
With the body jerking, the face livid, the eyes and the tongue protruding, the assembled ship’s company continued to observe until the writhing stopped. However, to make sure the man was dead, his body remained hanging in the rigging for half-an-hour before it was lowered to the deck. After examination by the ship’s doctor, confirmation of death was pronounced.
But hangings were not a punishment which could be meted out by a single captain. For crimes which carried the death penalty a Punishment Warrant from the Admiralty or a Court Martial had to be convened. Without this body of senior officers to hear the case, captains were limited in the punishments they could deliver aboard their ships. Floggings, therefore, were a common form of shipboard punishment.
During the Nelson era, according to Admiralty regulations, one dozen strokes of the cat o’ nine tails was the maximum that could be given. Some captains appear to have ignored this ruling, while others were loath to flog their men arguing that it bred hatred and did not foster respect.
The barbaric sentence of being flogged around the fleet could only be delivered by a Court Martial. The result of such a cruel punishment was tantamount to a death sentence, plus it guaranteed a far more painful death than the short drop from the gallows.
When a man was sentenced to such a punishment, he was delivered into a ship’s boat in which a frame had been erected. With his hands and feet lashed to the frame, the victim was rowed to every ship of the fleet where a Bosun’s mate would inflict the prescribed number of lashes. The addition of a left-handed flagellator, approved by some sadistic captains, created a criss-cross pattern of stripes drawn by the leather thongs on the victim’s back.
The doctor, attending the proceedings in the boat, was not on hand to halt the punishment, but to advise if and when the man was dead. In some cases the floggings were continued on a lifeless corpse.
A speedy and far less painful exit from this life could be achieved when sentenced to death by shooting. One such sentence was carried out in 1757. The findings of a British Court Martial determined that Admiral John Byng, while serving in the Mediterranean, had contravened one of the Articles of War. He was accused of failing ‘to do his utmost’ to defend and hold the port of Minorca, which, as a result, was taken by the French. Byng’s argument, that his fleet had been poorly supplied by the Admiralty and was under-manned, was ignored and pleas for clemency were rejected by King George ll.
Admiral Byng was taken aboard HMS Monarch in the Solent, and in front of his own men and the company of other ships, he knelt on the quarterdeck and was summarily executed by a firing squad.
Byng’s only consolation was that this mode of punishment provided him with a quick death, whereas men put ashore on a deserted island or cast adrift in an open boat faced a lingering death – death from exposure, thirst, starvation, and eventual madness. The events surrounding the life of Alexander Selkirk were famously fictionalized by Daniel Defoe in his book Robinson Crusoe. Cast ashore, after arguing with the captain, on Juan Fernandez Island in the Pacific Ocean, Selkirk did not die, as most expected, but survived alone for several years.

In other circumstances, when sailors found themselves adrift following the sinking of their ship, the survivors adopted the role of judge and jury, and passed sentence on the first unlucky victim who was to be slaughtered and eaten. Cannibalisation is not uncommon in the annals of history and if survivors were eventually found, their only defence was to quote the unwritten law of the sea. In his book, The Custom of the Sea, Neil Hanson quotes dozens of recorded incidences of cannibalism.

Finally, the most diabolical sentence handed out aboard ships of various nations was keel hauling. While it was not a death sentence per-se, it invariably resulted in the sailor’s relatively quick but cruelly painful demise. Rigged on a line that was run below the ship’s keel, the victim’s hands and feet were tied. The rope around his chest tightened as a group of sailors hauled him from the deck, dropped him into the water and pulled him under the vessel.

As he was dragged across the barnacle-encrusted hull, the razor-sharp shells ripped the skin from his face, arms and body. The more months the ship had been at sea, since its bottom had been scraped, the more lethal the punishment it provided. If the victim did not drown in the process, he did not survive long from his shocking injuries.
Keel hauling, in the Royal Navy, was discontinued in 1720 but continued until 1750 in some other European navies.

For any man who would suffer death at sea, death on the gun deck from an enemy’s broadside was a far sweeter alternative to being punished according to the Royal Navy’s Articles of War, which changed little over the centuries.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

A tip for self-published authors - Having trouble selling your titles?

Are your E-books slow to sell?
Have your titles flat-lined?
If so, here is a proven tip to breathe life back into those dead books.
A few months ago, I noted the sales of some of my self-published e-books had fizzled to only a handful each a month.
Offering Freebies or Countdown incentives was not the answer. So, I decided to repackage three of my historical fiction titles by combining them as a Box Set through Amazon Kindle.
With a purposely designed Box Set cover, I presented the three stories under the umbrella of YORKSHIRE GRIT, a title that reflects the stories’ settings. After uploading the manuscripts to KDP, I offered the Set at an attractive price ($4.99 US).
For two months, this Box Set has performed well, particularly on Amazon UK, selling over 300 copies a month returning £2000 (approx. $4000) over 8 weeks. I am currently selling a dozen copies a day – a result which has both surprised and pleased me.
With very little effort it is possible to breathe life into titles that are otherwise dead in the water.
If you have titles which are in danger of going under – why not give it a try?
You can find YORKSHIRE GRIT here for US readers or here for UK readers.

The three titles in the Box Set are SEA DUST, THROUGH GLASS EYES and THE BLACK THREAD. These are all still available individually and as paperbacks through LULU.
Margaret Muir is author of seven novels and two other books. Nautical Fiction stories in the Oliver Quintrell Series are published under the by-line M.C. Muir.