Some Background and Research into The Curse

The Smuggler’s Curse is a story set in Broome, a wild and lawless town in the north-west of Australia in 1896 and is about a boy who is sold by his mother as a cabin boy to a sea captain. Captain Black Bowen turns out to be the most notorious smuggler to ever sail the wild Western Australian coast. Before too long, they are at sea and involved in out-running customs patrols, being chased by murderous pirates, nearly killed in a cyclone and entangled in smuggling guns to guerrillas fighting the colonial Dutch in Sumatra.

Red, the narrator, is the son of Mary Read, owner of The Smuggler’s Curse Hotel which sits high on the cliff overlooking Roebuck Bay in Broome. I borrowed her name from a famous 18th century female pirate of the Caribbean, as well as Red’s name from the pirate, Red Rackham. The other main character, as far as I’m concerned, is a beautiful Baltimore Clipper sailing ship called The Black Dragon owned by Captain Bowen.

The Smuggler's Curse by Norman Jorgensen

On holiday a few years ago, I stayed in a lighthouse on the southern tip of the Shetland Islands off the coast of Scotland, where I discovered I was in the exact room where Robert Louis Stevenson had written Treasure Island, my favourite book as a kid. Later that night, imaging to the ghost of RLS looking over my shoulder, I tried to write my own pirate story set in 1810, but it quickly evolved into a smugglers’ tale. Later on, I moved the story up to 1895 and reset the plot in Broome and South-East Asia.

The plot is grounded in real history, as are all the places mentioned such as Broome, Singapore, Sumatra, Aceh, Cossack, Fremantle and Albany. There was a fierce and bloody war raging between the colonial Dutch and the Sumatran resistance fighters at the time, Chinese and  Malay pirates roamed wild and Broome was a hotbed for smuggling pearls and opium. Into this late part of the 19th century,  I added my characters and gave them perilous adventures. There are possibly a few more explosions and guns firing than in the real Broome at that time.

Reading a lot about Broome and the pearling days, I had no idea smuggling was so rife in the colony. Among all the other contraband goods, opium was hidden in banana boxes from Singapore and pearls smuggled out in payment.

To absorb the atmosphere and imagine scenes, I visited Broome, Singapore, and the places in South-East Asia where I set the action in the book, including treking to a longhouse in Sumatra where the recent descendants of head-hunters still have skulls hanging from fishing nets in their ceilings. That was a shock. Luckily, they ceased collecting them about 1948.

I also discovered the little-known Aceh Independence War and learned about Ibu Purbu, the female leader of the Sumatran resistance, who continued the war against the Dutch invaders for almost forty years. When her father and husband were captured and executed, she immediately took over as leader and led a savage revolt where over five thousand Dutch soldiers were killed. She is now a national hero in Indonesia, with her picture on the 10,000 rupiah note. Having discovered her story, and being impressed with her courage, I couldn’t resist including her as a character in the book.

Although the story begins in Broome, it quickly moves to South East Asia, where the tropical feel of the heat, the humidity, the vivid colours, the huge tides and unfamiliar culture all impact on Red and the crew of The Black Dragon.The ongoing fate of Red, the young hero, remains, however, the main focus as we see him fighting bravely, sometimes against impossible odds, and being forced to grow up very quickly indeed.

I hope it is an exciting yarn. I had a lot of fun researching the history and locations, but my most enjoyable experience was imagining the perils Red, Captain Black Bowen and the rest of the crew encounter. I wanted the settings, the seamanship, atmosphere and life on board the Dragon to be as realistic and as authentic as I could make them. I learned how to haul in a jib, handle a ship’s wheel, read a compass, shoot a blowpipe, fire a musket and load a cannon, all essential skills for a smuggler.

Recently, I made a visit to Cocos Islands District High School as Writer-in-Residence, where the school kids provided me loads of fabulous ideas for an exciting story about The Black Dragon being shipwrecked off their island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. They want a sequel to The Smuggler’s Curse, so I had better start thinking about it.

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The Smuggler’s Curse by Norman Jorgensen

9781925164190_WEBLARGE

My new  novel The Smuggler’s Curse is scheduled to be released by Fremantle Press on October 3rd, 2016. It started out in the first draft as a historical novel for high school aged kids, but as it developed, the manuscript somehow turned into more of a straight out adventure for younger readers.

I’ve found that manuscripts and characters in them do take on a life of their own and no amount of pre-planning from me is going to stop the characters doing whatever they like as soon as I get beyond the first page.  They are completely out of my control, and this one was no exception. Where did the storms at sea, explosions, cannons firing, gun- runners, murder and savage head-hunters all come from? Probably the  Saturday afternoon matinees I enjoyed as a kid at Narrogin Cinema, but I’m not admitting to that.1024x102434The Black Dragon

Between now and the publication date, I’ll share some of the twisted pathway this book took on its long journey from the initial idea on the back of an envelope to the hopefully,  glowing new cover on the finished book. I’ll pass on  photos I took while researching smugglers of the 19th century and include pictures of various places I used as locations in the story. They range from tropical  Broome in North-western Australia to Singapore, Sumatra and  Aceh  as well as Cossack, Fremantle and Albany back in Australia.Headhunter
And just to start off this blog, here is the opening of The Smugglers’ Curse:

Chapter 1

The Captainimg_9675
I cannot believe it. My mother has gone and sold me. I’m her only child and she has sold me to the most notorious  sea Captain to sail the wild, west coast. What sort of a mother would do such a thing, knowing full well I will be carried away in a black-painted sailing ship to face untold dangers and probably death a hundred times over on treacherous seas and in exotic ports?

Sold? I never imagined something like this could happen in these modern times. After all, the twentieth century is only a few years away and the British Empire outlawed slavery seventy or eighty years ago. Did Ma somehow miss that? Maybe she did. She is a busy woman.

My Ma runs a hotel in Broome, all by herself. Broome is a rough, ramshackle pearling port in the north of Australia and one of the most remote towns in all of the Australian colonies, and maybe even the Empire…

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Coming Up with a Decent Title

Coming Up with a Decent Title.

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A Great Week at Tom Price Primary School


thTom Price Primary School

An Independent Public School

Writer in Residence

Visiting Author
This week we have had visiting author, Norman Jorgensen working with all students. Mr
Jorgensen has been sharing his stories with the children, answering questions and
working with our writers club on how they can enhance their own writing. Each day I
have had students full of enthusiasm sharing what they have learnt. For a full write up
from our Literacy Coach, Mrs Penny Bingham, see over the page.

IMG_5240Popular Western Australian children’s author, Norman Jorgensen entertained students from Kindergarten to Year 7 during his recent residency at TPPS. Norman kept students enthralled as he shared amusing stories of his childhood and early years of schooling in Narrogin; of the teachers and people in his life who have been reinvented as characters in his books.IMG_5242

In the weeks leading up to Norman’s residency, students had the opportunity to explore, in detail, a range of his publications, including Jack’s Island, In Flanders Fields, The Last Viking, Call of the Osprey and A Fine Mess.
Students’ understanding of these texts was enhanced as Norman shared with them some of the background to his stories and the process he went through to draft and redraft the stories before sending them to the publisher and finally seeing them in print.
Students from the writers’ group were particularly privileged to have Norman provide some valuable insights for aspiring authors and to hear him read the text from his latest picture book. With the working title, Blind Faith, this is a poignant story of loyalty, commitment, adversity and courage.
As a result of Norman’s visit, students have commented that they are inspired to read more of his books and some have indicated a renewed interest in writing.IMG_5344_1

 

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The Ghosts of Gettysburg

The Ghosts of Gettysburg

July 27, 2012

Almost one hundred and fifty year later, I too stood at the tree line on Seminary Ridge where General Robert E Lee, the brilliant tactician of the American Civil War, and one of most popular generals in history, directed the most vital battle.  ImageI looked out over the same wheat field towards Cemetery Ridge. The same ridge he sent 12,000 Confederate troops to attack, in what later became to be known as Pickett’s Charge. 5,000 men became casualties in less than an hour trying to cross these one and a half kilometres of open field into a hail of cannon fire and against a smaller but well-fortified and well-armed Union Army. This wheat field became the site of one of the bloodiest battles of that most tragic of wars, and the battle that marked the first major defeat of General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and ultimately led to the fall of the Confederacy.

The valley is now peaceful, save for the breeze stirring the trees and quiet reverential murmur of pilgrims. Most are pilgrims, and not tourists, for Gettysburg Battlefield has become a sacred site. A site where military buffs, and school children on excursions, arrive excitedly, but soon fall silent, quickly overcome by the quiet significance of where they are, and by the spirits of their ancestors, the 51, 000 men from both sides who were killed or wounded in three days of fierce fighting, in a war where brothers and cousins and best friends were often on opposite sides. Many of the opposing officers had been cadets together at West Point Military Academy under its commander, Robert E Lee, only a few short years before, and now witnessed acts of immense bravery and absurd courtesy being played out against the most appalling savagery of relentless cannon fire and bloody hand to hand combat.

General Lee’ army was headed north after a decisive victory at Fredericksburg and almost by accident came across the Union Army of the Potomac, lead at this time by General George Meade, at the small village of Gettysburg, in rural Pennsylvania. Lee’s cavalry, his scouting corps, lead by General JEB Stuart, was away raiding and Lee had no way of knowing the Union Army’s whereabouts or strength until they met on June 30th.  The armies formed their forces into two long rows on opposite sides of the valley at the edge of the town; the Confederates on Seminary Ridge and the Union on Cemetery Ridge. They began fighting the next day and for three days the areas known as McPherson Ridge, Little Round Top,Image Wheatfield, Peach Orchard, Culp’s Hill, Devil’s Den, Plum Run and Oak Ridge echoed to sounds of cannon and gunfire as scenes of horrendous slaughter unfolded.

On the final day, General Lee, who had been extremely unwell with heart problems, made one of the few poor decisions of his long and distinguished military career.  He and Confederate Lt. General James Longstreet Imageargued over the wisdom of attacking the centre of the Union lines across the open field, but Lee won out, confident they could achieve success after a sustained cannon battery. The Confederate artillery pounded Cemetery Ridge for two hours and then Lee’s force of 12,000 Confederates marched in long lines into what became a dreadful massacre in the open wheat field. They fell, still in line, as if being were mown down by an giant invisible scythe. ImageSome of his men did manage to cross the killing field, even reached the Union lines, but they were repeatedly driven back by the 7,000 well-established Union soldiers. From his position on the ridge General Lee could do nothing but watch helplessly as countless troops, hundreds of officers and even several generals fell like so many sheaves of wheat on that decisive day.

The National Park Service now maintains the battlefield as close as possible to the way it was at the time. Many original cannon, fences and buildings have been replaced and restored and the original stone barricades built by the Union Army are still visible.

The local farmers who lease the fields are restricted as to how they bale the hay and work the land, and modern roads are situated so that the landscape as seen by General Lee, General Meade and by the soldiers who fought on this very ground would still be recognizable to them.

The Park Service also runs a Visitor Centre and the Gettysburg Museum of the Civil War, an engrossing museum of artefacts, uniforms and weapons from the war. It is here that visitors can book licensed battlefield guides who are available to drive your car for a tour and explain in detail the history of Gettysburg.  My guide, Kurt, a retired Pittsburgh cop, and a man obviously born in the wrong century, had an infectious appreciation for his new chosen profession and filled two hours with endless enthusiasm and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the landscape, the commanders, the men and the conditions.

His tour went by in what seemed like minutes and left me with a quiet and overwhelming sense of sadness. It took little imagination – for all you need do is squint and to look out across the golden landscape toward the lines of restored cannon on the horizon to see the long, long lines grey uniforms once again advancing through the rolling wheat field into the smoke, and to hear the pounding of the guns, the roar of the rifles and the squeal and sickening thud of the minnié balls. And you just know for certain that all the soldiers would have been too young to be there amidst such carnage. And you are convinced you can feel that the ghosts of so many of those young men still there on the tranquil rolling slope.Image

At the National Cemetery directly across the road from the Visitor’s Centre stand neat rows of blackened tombstones of the six thousand soldiers buried beneath the green lawns and shady trees. Another stark reminder that you don’t need for the whole area is a constant homage to those young men.

Close by is the Lincoln Speech Memorial, the site where later in 1863 President Abraham Lincoln’s delivered one of the most famous speeches in the English language. Though only two minutes long, his moving, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent… and … government of the people, by the people, for the people,” Gettysburg Address at the dedication of the cemetery is still regarded a classic declaration and has been recited by countless American school children every year since.

With casualties of 28,000 men and his troops too badly devastated by their losses to fight on, Lee’s forces retreated from Gettysburg on the evening of 4th of July under the cover of darkness and a rainstorm. General Meade’s Union forces were too exhausted and weakened to pursue them, having themselves lost 23,000 in the three days of fighting.

Although the Confederates fought on for another two years, Lee only fought defensive battles from then on and it was simply a matter of time before the losses and shortages of men, food and equipment lead to him surrendering to General Grant at the Appomattox Courthouse in 1865.

After the war, General Grant became President of the USA, General Meade stayed on in the army and died of pneumonia in 1872 and General Lee, still enormously respected by both sides and with his reputation reaching legendary status in spite of this disaster, served as Chancellor of Washington College before dying of heart disease in 1870, seven years after Gettysburg,

The most imposing monument on the edge of the battlefield and the one that attracts more pilgrims than any other is a huge statue of General Robert E Lee astride his horse, Traveller. ImageHe is a figure in stone, proud and defiant, gazing forever down into the valley where in three days his beloved Army of Northern Virginia, now the ghosts of Gettysburg, achieved heroic glory and bitter defeat in America’s most costly war.

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A Good Read: My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira.

ImageI read a remarkable book last night called My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira, about a young midwife in the 1860s who wants to become a surgeon years before women were accepted into medical schools. It is not until she serves as a nurse in the American Civil War and learns the trade through overwhelming, ghastly necessity that she is eventually accepted.

It was a fascinating but increasingly difficult book to read, as page after page had descriptions of the horror and suffering of the war wounded on a scale unimaginable.  Her mental images of squalid, disease ridden hospitals, where doctors had no idea that filth and squalor caused disease and infection, and where most patients died long, lingering and painful deaths are graphic and detailed, but her hero, the strong and determined Mary is a gallant, gutsy role model for everyone.  Robin Oliveira’s research has obviously been meticulous, but she has not let that overwhelm decent, page-turning storytelling. I couldn’t put it down.

I had read somewhere that Louis M Alcott, the author of Little Women, had also worked as a Civil War nurse in  Georgetown, D.C, where she, not surprisingly, contracted typhoid fever. It wasn’t until last night that I had some understanding of how traumatic that experience of being a nurse back then must have been, and how her whole life must have been distorted by those times. Image

Here are some reviews I took from Robin Olivera’s website.

MY NAME IS MARY SUTTER is a remarkable book, one of the most assured first novels I’ve read in a long, long time. Robin Oliveira brings the Civil War era vividly alive, and her heroine is a character who, once encountered, few readers will forget. Bravo!

— Ron Rash author of Serena, Saints at the River

In MY NAME IS MARY SUTTER it seems as though Robin Oliveria brought Mary Sutter back to life rather than imagined her. With her description of the Sutter home, the reader becomes a guest at the dinner table. This is a finely written novel of the medical failings and opportunities presented by the war. But it is really the story of a woman who lives her life with the passion and stubbornness needed to take her through the strains of battlefield hospital work, through her grief for family loses and the war wounded; it is the story of the extraordinary need that propels her to become a surgeon. Even in the darkest days, Mary’s enormous compassion and healing touch shine forth. Thank you so much for sharing it with me.

— Mary Gay Shipley, owner of That Bookstore in Blytheville

Oliveira’s voice is urgently compelling in its detail and so authentically pitched, she might have been transported directly from the tumult of Civil War Washington to report this story.

— Debra Dean, author of The Madonnas of Leningrad

“MY NAME IS MARY SUTTER is a magnificent Civil War epic, a saga of female liberation and a gorgeous love story. Mary Sutter’s quest to become a surgeon when women were barely allowed to be nurses is one of the great untold stories of American history. She is indomitable, fearless and captivating. From Ireland’s Corners, New York, to the over-crowded hospitals of Washington to battlefield surgeries to a meeting with Abraham Lincoln himself, Mary Sutter’s progress is gritty and passionate–a riveting read.”

— Douglas Glover, author of Elle

“There’s more than a whiff of the classic in Robin Oliveira’s charming, compulsively readable historical tale about Mary Sutter, a young midwife and aspiring physician making her way through Lincoln’s war–a new iconic American heroine.”

— Janice Lee, author of The Piano Teacher

“MY NAME IS MARY SUTTER is a powerful debut – equally compelling for its portrayal of the horrors of surgery during the Civil War as it is for its human drama. Mary Sutter is unforgettable, not just because she’s quirky, odd and persistent in her quest to be a surgeon, but also because she is alive inside anyone who knows what it is to dream.”

— Xu Xi, author of The Unwalled City

I am deeply impressed by MY NAME IS MARY SUTTER. Oliveira weaves the strands of civil war history, history of medicine into a novel with dynamic and believable characters. Mary is a wonderful heroine, with extraordinary gifts and weaknesses too. That every man is in love with her is no wonder. A thrilling debut.

— Carla Cohen, Politics and Prose Bookstore

“A vivid, dramatic novel about love, medicine, and the Civil War, MY NAME IS MARY SUTTER features an indomitable, memorable heroine whom the reader will root for until the very end.”

— David Ebershoff, author of The 19th Wife and The Danish Girl

“Historical tale among best… enthralling and well-researched debut novel…”

— Atlanta Journal Constitution

“…This impressive historical epic deserves a large readership.”

— Booklist

“… This unforgettable novel of the American Civil War should become a classic. I highly recommend My Name Is Mary Sutter to readers who wish to gain a better understanding of the war and its effects on those who lived through it.

— Historical Novels Review – Editors’ Choice

“…Oliveira’s scrupulously factually researched canvass allows its readers to witness through human experience the agonizingly complex relationship of disease, mutilation, death, and healing in war.”

— Journal of American Medical Association

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The voters are never wrong, right?

Here is a truckload of my most popular photographs as voted on by the members from Flickr, the photonerds website that is a lot like Facebook, but without any references to what you had for breakfast, or how cute your dog is, or a poster about striving to get a head. Assuming you don’t have one, of course.

If asked what my favourite toy is,  my Canon 7D digital SLR camera and Tamron lens would always be near the top of the list. I love the way you have to look at the world in a slightly different way as you consider each scene as a potential photograph , and I  especially love traveling with my camera at the ready in case some interesting texture or unusual light shines on a building or a street, and I’ll be the first one to see it. More often than not though, what I see and click and then what appears on my screen doesn’t usually match up as good as I expect, but every so often, about 1 in 100, the screen is better and it makes the other 99 duds worthwhile.

Click on the first thumbnail and you should get the slideshow… Oh, good, I can hear you. What a great way to waste ten minutes.

So here, in no particular order are pics other people thought were worth commenting on…

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